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#EndSARS: Why is Kano silent as Nigerians protest police brutality?

As Nigerians send a strong message about police corruption and brutality, where is the most populous in this historic movement?

• October 14, 2020
Kofar Famfo in Kano
Kofar Famfo in Kano

It is the second week since protests began spreading around the country, and what began temporarily in front of the Lagos House of Assembly has spiraled into an indefinite upheaval.

Young Nigerians in many states (and abroad) are asking the government to dismantle the police squad SARS that is widely perceived as corrupt and vicious. 

They are also asking the police to stop repressing the movement, unconditionally release all detained protesters and visibly begin police reform.

But where is Kano in this movement?

Kano is the most populous state in Nigeria with more than 13 million residents, and it is the state where people vote the most in this country. 

Nearly two million people in Kano voted in the 2019 presidential election. That is more than the number of people who voted in Ekiti, Bayelsa, Abia and Edo combined.

This time, Kano appears to be looking on as the rest of the country sends a strong message about police corruption and brutality.

One reason people in the state have barely participated in the ongoing movement is that SARS, which was originally the subject of this movement, is less loathed in the north than in the south.

SARS is widely resented in southern states like Lagos because its officers frequently harass and extort money from young people on the pretext of cracking down on internet fraud. Frequently, victims are killed.

A footballer Kazeem Tiyamiyu was killed in Sagamu, southwestern Ogun, when SARS agents seized him in February. 

Police say he jumped off a police car while they were taking him into custody, while witnesses say the SARS agents shot him dead.

Such incidents rarely happen in the north.

Mustapha Kabir is a writer based in Kano who writes about human rights and democracy in the region. He tells Peoples Gazette, ‘Police and the SARS almost never do things like that in Kano, and so most people here feel the current crisis is mainly a southern problem. 

This is partly why many people in Kano are not voicing support for #EndSARS.’

#EndSARS also has little popular backing in Kano because it seems to be viewed in the region as a threat to the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, who is from neighbouring Katsina and who the Kano governor Umar Ganduje looks to for political leadership.

Last week, Mr. Gandujesuspended his aide Salihu ‘Dawisu’ Yakasai when Yakasai tweeted criticism against Mr. Buhari in the heat of the moment. 

The aide had pointed to Mr. Buhari’s ‘zero empathy’ and ‘I don’t care attitude’ in his tweet, but he appeared to delete it after he was suspended.

While the governor of southwestern Oyo, Seyi Makinde, urged protesters in his state to ‘please continue’, and Lagos governor Babajide Sanwoolu even briefly protested alongside the young people in his state, Kano’s government has made no statement relating to the uprising – except announcing Yakasai’s suspension and warning appointees about ‘drawing unnecessary controversy and heating up the polity’.

On October 14, a week into the nationwide protests, Mr. Ganduje met with Kano youth protesting in support of SARS, Daily Trust reported.

President Buhari has for long been popular in the northwest because of his perceived uprightness – and also because he is from this region. 

He even won 77 percent of votes in Kano during the 2019 presidential election, but insecurity and economic hardship (unemployment is 27 percent) have disillusioned many of those voters. Anti-government sentiments in the region have increased but have been suppressed.

In June, there was unrest in Mr. Buhari’s home state Katsina where people held demonstrations against his government as insecurity worsened. Armed groups were freely combing the region, killing and displacing hundreds. 

Those protests were put down by security agents and at least one leader was arrested.

Mr. Kabir says People in Kano and the rest of this region share in the feeling nationwide that things aren’t right in the police. 

“But maybe they would care more if they really understood that this is a national problem that concerns them too,” he said. “That’s one thing with our country.”

“All parts of the country need to set aside their bias when facing a national problem and participate to resolve it. They should not be trying to protect their own side or one of their own,” Mr. Kabir said.

For now, young Nigerians of all ethnicities continue to demonstrate from Port Harcourt to Abuja, Ibadan, and  Kaduna with a remarkable level of unity. 

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