In the Eastern part of Nigeria, the name CSP James Nwafor of Awkuzu SARS, Anambra, rings a bell. Another memorable name is Chijioke Illoanya, one of the hundreds murdered under Nwafor’s supervision. Confident that “nothing can happen to him”, Chijioke’s sister says that Nwafor made her father swim “in a river filled with dead bodies to see if he can find his son.” A little while later, Nwafor was promoted to the post of Senior Special Adviser (SSA) on Security to Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian Police, established in 1992 to curb crime in the country, has since grown into a monstrous unit plagued by unlawful arrests, rape, torture, and murder. While the youths are their target, an expensive gadget, nice clothes, tattoos and cars, make you even more susceptible.
Although the #EndSARS hashtag was first used in 2017, the recent protest that went viral online was sparked after a youth in Delta state in the South-West of Nigeria, was murdered and his car taken away by SARS. In 2020 alone, about 1900 Nigerians have died from police brutality. Since the protest, the number of casualties has increased by more than 10.
I recall the day my brother became a victim of this unit. On a dark day of February 2020, I waited for him to come home, and my mother was also waiting for me to call her back after his return.
Only a few years ago, in 2014, my cousin, Chijioke was framed for robbery in Enugu because he refused to share the N250,000 in his bag with the policemen conducting a stop and search. Fortunately, I was with him and was able to play the “Do you know who I am?” card. “Do you know who I am?” works every time, and this was no different. I am very aware of the sad fact that some people are above the law, and I used it believing it was for a good cause because as far as the police went “I was also above the law”. Fortunately for my ‘wailing’ cousin, this worked because after I made some calls, got a judge, and a commissioner of police involved, a magistrate arrived at the station with the DPO on standby waiting for more directives. I promised I would always be ready to use the same tactic whenever I came back to Lagos.
But I couldn't do it for my brother. It was 10 pm and my baby brother, Tochukwu, was yet to arrive. I remember my mother saying “don’t go out at night for the love of God. You know these people are dangerous” and how I called her bluff. For every time I stayed out after 7 pm, my mother went into a frenzy. To her, I, a 28-year-old woman, was too “stupid” to understand the country I was living in. I dropped my mother’s call afraid, because I was starting to think more like her. I was the nightcrawler, not my 17-year-old Tochukwu. I called his phone, but he didn't answer.
I had dropped Tochukwu off at Yaba bus stop because he needed to go to his theatre training class. I was in a hurry and said a quick goodbye.
The next 48 hours would be the worst of my life. My mother called from Enugu, crying on the phone that “I have killed her.” As far as I was concerned, “I was finished.” We didn’t know who to call for help. I started to get calls from people in Enugu, some consoling me and others trying to find out what happened. My mother landed in Lagos the next day. Eyes swollen, dark circles, dishevelled hair and with a broken spirit.
On Monday, my brother came back very early, quietly, weak and bruised. He had been ordered into a danfo (minibus) and taken to an unknown destination by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) immediately after I dropped him off. As soon as he returned, we took him to a private clinic. Fortunately, there was no internal bleeding. He told us, someone had arrived to bail a friend out, and the friend pleaded with him to get my brother out too. Tochukwu didn’t remember who the person, and the friend were.
To this day, I see how he shuts his eyes and curls himself when we drive past Yaba bus stop; how his eyes speak fear, and his voice turns into a whisper when unknown faces approach him. But my brother is not the only one who has changed. My perspective on life has changed too. At night, I no longer see myself dancing in the rain. I just want to leave the country. But before I leave, I will fight for my brother.
Written by Njideka Nnemba A.
Credit image: nairametrics.com