'We will continue to speak': Nigerians in N.L. seek change amid cry for end to police brutality

·3 min read

For Nigerians living in Newfoundland and Labrador, watching their family and friends struggling as violence erupts during protests of police violence is painful.

"Everybody who's living here knows somebody back home or has a family member back home who has experienced this police brutality," says Chioma Nwanguma, on the board of the Nigerian-Canadian Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dozens of people attended a candlelight vigil in front of St. John's City Hall Wednesday night, mourning those hurt and killed in a shooting in Lagos. Similar demonstrations have been taking place across the country, as Nigerian-Canadians call for Canada to step in.

Nigerians protesting police brutality have been demonstrating in the streets for two weeks, and the hashtag #EndSARS has been trending on Twitter even after the police promised to dismantle the controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad unit earlier this month.

Terrified to leave homes

In Lagos, curfews have been put in place, as well as road blocks, and gunshots were heard in the city this week. To the surprise of protesters in Nigeria, the Lagos State governor, at a news conference on Wednesday, denied any deaths.

Nwanguma said her brothers in Nigeria are terrified to leave their homes, afraid of getting detained by the SARS force, which she said has been wrongfully targeting people for years based on things like their car, phone or clothing.

"If we have 1,000 Nigerians living here in Newfoundland and Labrador, each and every one of those 1,000 people know [someone] or have family back home — father, mother, sister, brother, cousin — who are trapped right now in the middle of all of this madness," she said.

"It's something we're all too familiar with, it's something we're all deeply affected by. As much as we're here, our mind, our soul is not at rest because we're worried for our family — we're worried for everybody back home."

The only way they can help to protect loved ones in Nigeria, she said, is to come out and stand in solidarity with them and raise their voices.

"I have two daughters. I want to be able to take them to Nigeria and know that they're safe," she told CBC's On The Go.

"I'm afraid of them going now because I don't know if some police man is going to brutally attack them or rape them. I don't want that for my children, neither does anybody want that for their children or their family or even for themselves."

Leon Neal/Getty Images
Leon Neal/Getty Images

SARS was established in 1992 to tackle violent crimes like carjacking, armed robbery and kidnapping. Because its original intent was as a covert force, officers did not wear uniforms.

Nwanguma said more recently, it took on tackling online fraud — the driving factor behind their targeting of people who appear to be well off, based on material possessions.

'Enough is enough'

Jennifer Agu, president of the Nigerian Students Association at Memorial University, said it's time for the violence to stop.

Agu said she doesn't plan to stop pushing for change in Nigeria.

"If the government of Nigeria does not pay heed to the request of the movement, of the protesters, we are not going to back down," she said.

"We've come to the point that we are standing up for our rights and we are saying that enough is enough, and we know that we will push this forward."

Sunday Alamba/The Associated Press
Sunday Alamba/The Associated Press

The sentiment is echoed by Nwanguma, who hopes something will change sooner rather than later.

"Like Jennifer said, even if they don't listen to us, we will continue to speak, we'll continue to lend our voices until the United Nations or whoever steps in and then probably helps, commits to some kind of agreement to make the situation better for everybody," she said.

"We will continue as one voice together to stand together and support everybody back home until we arrive at a point where we can make a change to our country."

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