It’s A Crime To Be A Content Writer In My Country
As I write this my life is in danger. So is the life of every other young Nigerian.
Today I watched as protesters were gunned down for standing up for their right to live. The irony isn’t lost on me at all.
Last week, spontaneous protests broke out in Nigeria. The unifying cry was to end the rogue unit of the police, Special Armed Robbery Squad. Although their title does not imply it nor does their constitutional functional support this, these officers concentrated their efforts on “fighting” cybercrime. A task that an ex-police officer confirmed on national television they have no training in.
Let the profiling begin
Anyone with an expensive device or gadget of any kind is believed to be an internet fraudster or kidnapper. They engage regularly in stop and search operation on roads, targeting young people in cars and even those walking along the road. The summary? No one is safe once they look young and good.
When it comes down to it, their method of “investigation” is crude. In Nigeria, all suspects are assumed to be guilty until proven innocent. They don’t stop at accusations. They regularly assault, arrest, and even kill suspects. Women are not spared. Not long ago, females in hotels and clubs were rounded up and raped by officers of the law. They used sachets as protection.
They don’t kill everyone they harass, sometimes a mere gift of money (usually by driving the victim to an ATM to withdraw everything he/she has) suffices. It feels like we’re being guarded by robbers in government-issued uniforms.
In case you’re wondering yes, these incidents have been going on for years. But now with a large number of young Nigerians who are faced with unemployment going into the gig economy as well as remote work the assaults have escalated.
We hardworking and innocent young people feel the brunt of the cruelty of these officers. And are faced with an impenetrable wall when we try to explain to them and even the older generation our parents what exactly our jobs are.
This task is almost impossible. The lack of understanding of what actually constitutes cybercrime and what does not means that these people (who hold power and guns) will not understand why I do not work in an office. They will not understand that I write blog posts for businesses and I am not scamming my clients. They will not understand how I am able to earn in dollars legitimately.
The question of whether what we do is legitimate is harder to explain to an illiterate. It is saddening to say but the standards for getting recruited into the Nigerian Police Force are not high. With a certificate that can be bought, anyone can through a few weeks of training and handed a gun. His salary is low (a constable earns about $100) and his living conditions are poor. All because of misappropriation of government resources. But he does not turn to them to ask for better working conditions, instead, he directs his ire towards a young 25-year copywriter old driving a Mercedez Benz.
Because and I quote an officer of the law, there is no way someone between 20–30 years of age can afford a car worth $18,000 (7,000,000 NGN) without being from a rich home.
The problem of the Nigerian police and human rights violations goes beyond the rogue nature of a single unit. It ties into the decades of corruption and the use of force to suppress dissident voices in our country.
Bridging a generational gap
Before Nigerian millennials took to the streets last week, we’ve been accused of being complacent by our parents' generation. But now that we are out and need their support, they’re reluctant to give it.
Which is understandable, they’re broken people. If you’ve lived long enough in Nigeria, you’d understand how systemic oppression makes it hard for you to think of anything but surviving. Their generation endured and bore trauma and did nothing but mutter about it silently. It is easy to think Nigeria is a lost cause. But it is not.
This entire essay would be incomplete if I fail to mention that a lot of people think the protesters support cyber crimes. We don’t. It is us that suffer the brunt of these Nigerian princes. We’re denied jobs, gigs, business opportunities, and visas because of the evil of a few of us. We don’t support cybercrimes in any form.
Another reason the generation before us does not understand why we’re taking to the streets is that just like the police and SARS operatives they do not understand the nature of the new economy. Online work is strange to them. It has to be illegal to sit in your room all day and make money by typing or trading Forex from a hub. Getting paid to build websites or being a graphic designer are concepts that a large percentage of them are unable to wrap their heads around.
But we need their voices. We need every voice that can understand to amplify our struggle.
If you’re young and Nigerian please talk to your parents, uncles and aunts. They taught us to look the other way when someone else was in trouble and turn the other cheek when our leaders slap us. Let them know that our lives are in danger and we don’t support cybercrime in any way.
The North-South Divide
When the hashtag #EndSars started trending and gaining attention from eyes and ears all over the world, another one rose to counter it. the #ProSars campaign is led by some leader of an Arewa Consultative Forum of some sort. Based in Sokoto, he released a statement supporting the government-sanctioned assassins.
I was not surprised. For many years I have lived in Northern Nigeria and our experiences with police brutality is much different. The SARS operatives I have seen are relegated to the outskirts of town and there are next to no police checkpoints in the small town I live in.
Compare that with my experience when I went for my National Youth Service in Eastern Nigeria. As I traveled, I could barely take a breath without seeing a band of men clad in uniforms waiting to flag us down with guns. Of course, you could say the roads are unsafe, but then in the towns during the day, there are illegal checkpoints set up. Right now I can still see the images of cars reversing just to avoid having to encounter these men.
You don’t even have to be on the roads to get harassed. There have been reports of raids. Boys living in apartments picked up or their devices seized. No matter how you look at it, we’re not safe.
For people who have lived in the north all their lives and have not seen a human beaten to an inch of his life because he is young and was in the wrong place at the wrong time, it will be hard to understand why SARS needs to be disbanded.
I think the most fascinating thing that has occurred in Northern Nigeria due to the #EndSars protest is the rise of the #EndNorthBanditry. For years, the north has been ravaged by bandits and terrorists and not much fuss has been made about it. But as the cries for #EndSars went up from all quarters, they too remembered that they had something to fight for.
From hashtags to the streets
This is not the first time the call for SARS to be banned has been made. But this is the first time that we’ve refused to back down after receiving fake promises. I call them fake because the government has quelled cries for police reforms by releasing statements that they’ve reigned in their rogue agents only for pictures and videos with human rights violations to emerge later.
That is why this is no longer a hashtag. We are a generation that understands what real change will take. We know that the disbanding of a unit is not enough when the same men will remain with guns and will not be held accountable for their crimes.
The US is not coming to save you
In my second year in the university, a lecturer mentioned this statement, “The US is not coming to save you.” I knew he was right and that made me very afraid. It is the fear I carry to this day. Within my country, there is no internal will to change things or accelerate growth. Just today the government showcased their idea of a youth empowerment scheme by commissioning tricycles while young protesters were being shot down in cold blood.
From without the country, the growth of national interest above the collective interest of all nations has made the UN feeble and world powers that support human rights like the US and UK less likely to intervene in internal matters that do not benefit them directly.
And let’s not forget the COVID-19 pandemic and the US elections keeping the world’s top dog busy. Back when I was young we looked to the US as our saviors but now we know that they’re not coming to save us. Because we knew that only outside forces can call to a callous government to behave right.
Only we can stand and push back against a system that rewards corruption and kills creativity. We’ve no other choice than to crowd the internet with our voices and block the roads.
I write this in honor of everyone that has died so we can live peaceful lives, your deaths will not be in vain.
Not everyone can take to the streets of Nigeria to make it a safer place for us all. If you’re at home or far away reading this here are some things you can do to help
1. Pray. It will take a miracle to save this country
2. Donate to support the protests.
3. Tweet. Retweet and tweet again.
4. Call government officials
5. Educate everyone around you.
6. Sign online petitions
Remember not all of us can “japa”. A large number of youths are stuck here and we’ve to make this work for them because las las na him wei dey alive wei fit make money for Nigeria.
A concerned 22-year-old Nigerian.