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‘They’re beating us’ – Lagos street raids show little changed after #EndSARS protests

Despite recent widespread protests against police brutality, raids in Lagos this week suggest that little has changed about the way police treat people.

• October 30, 2020
Armed police officers on duty
Armed police officers used to illustrate the story

This week, police in Lagos arrested hundreds of people suspected to have taken part in the violent unrest that occurred in the state a week ago. The raids appear to have followed a familiar pattern of police brutality and civil rights violations, just after #EndSARS protests in the country about the same issues.  

Police brought in journalists to film the suspects sitting outside on the floor, and when they tried to remand more than 500 of them in prison, the prison authority in Lagos declined to accept them saying the suspects had not taken a COVID-19 test and overcrowding would raise infection risk.

Aishat Mohammed was one of the suspects. Sitting on the floor, she tells Punch in one interview that she and others were rounded up on a street by soldiers, who then handed them over to the police. She says they were held for six days without food, and without access to a lawyer or their family.

“I went to Jakande to buy soup things to cook for my children.” she says. “On my way, I met soldiers and saw some people running. But I didn’t run because I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. We were many [who got caught in the raid]. They asked us if we didn’t know there was a curfew. I told them I didn’t know that.”

Lagos proclaimed a curfew last week to stop attacks on police officers and state facilities. People were killed including police officers, while rioters burned and pillaged private houses and businesses. 

The police do not appear to have shown any evidence that Aishat was involved in that violence.

She says she and others had to pool money together to buy their own food after days in police detention. She also says police gave them no food.

“They’ve been punishing us and saying we’re criminals,” she adds, as she shows the reporter where police allegedly hit her in the leg.

“They’re beating us. When we tried to express ourselves that we’re innocent, they asked us to shut up. So we all resolved to keep praying with the belief that only prayers can set us free.”

There were widespread #EndSARS protests in Nigeria this month to protest against police holding people in conditions similar to the ones that Aishat describes.

Police commonly torture suspects and arrest people without the capacity to prosecute or investigate them. Denied legal representation, suspects usually end up in prison where they spend years without a conviction.

The police agreed to shut down its SARS unit this month as street protests intensified, and state governments established a probe into police brutality in their states. However, the raids in Lagos this week suggest that little has changed about the way police treat people.

* Comments revised to correct the source’s grammar. 

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