28-year-old Ifeoma Abugu had just finished the mandatory one-year National Youth Service (dubbed as NYSC) when she travelled to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, to visit her fiancé, Ugwuna. Ifeoma and Ugwuna recently did their introduction ceremony — as a precursor to them getting married later in the year. For many Nigerians, the dream is modest; go to school or learn a trade, become financially sufficient, get married, have a family, try to avoid being killed by Nigeria, and survive Nigeria for as long as your health and privileges can take you. Ifeoma had done the basic things; she graduated from the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu, she did her NYSC and was getting ready to start her family, when Nigeria happened to Ifeoma.
At her fiancé’s residence in Wumba Village, Lokogoma, a bunch of irate F-SARS operatives stormed the house, looking for Ugwuna. In the typical manner of F-SARS seeking alternatives when they miss their target, Ifeoma was arrested in place of her fiancé. Ugwuna’s offence was never revealed. Like several other young Nigerians, F-SARS might be hounding him for trying to make a living. Ifeoma tried to inform her fiancé, who made frantic appeals to an F-SARS operative he knew. He was told to wait until the next day. When he returned the next day, he was informed that Ifeoma was dead. The officers responsible claimed that Ifeoma had a cocaine overdose. Ifeoma’s brother, Alex, said when they saw her corpse, “there were signs that she was sexually assaulted”. Ifeoma’s killers are still roaming in F-SARS uniforms; justice is yet to come.
Like Ifeoma, several young Nigerian women have experienced brutality from operatives of the deadly F-SARS unit of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF). In 2019, Cynthia* was travelling to Ilorin for medical treatment when F-SARS stopped her bus, and an officer demanded sex from her. Using her frail physical form (due to her illness) as evidence, she said she was HIV positive and didn’t want to infect him. Unyielding, he introduced alternatives. According to her:
“he asked me to give him bl*wjob, I was crying that I cannot, he then asked me to stroke his d*ck till he c*ms. I did, and they stopped another car for me and asked me not to pay.”
But while it seems that F-SARS serves injustice to everyone, the entire NPF is at war with Nigerian women. In 2019, women were picked up in Abuja, illegally detained and sexually molested by officers of the Utako division of the NPF. This invasive behavior was extended to Cindy* after police officers raided her hostel in Ilorin. Cindy and her boyfriend were neighbors, and on this day, she was in her boyfriend’s room, even though he was not around. The officers came barging, demanding for ransom from students or you risk being arrested. Cindy said a female officer questioned why she was in her boyfriend’s room and demanded her mother’s number so she could tell her they had arrested her daughter for having a boyfriend while in the University. Unyielding, the female officer introduced new ways to harass Cindy, who was wearing a bum-short and an oversized polo tee-shirt.
“She asked if I was wearing underwear beneath my cloth… pant precisely… and I said yes. She requested to see it.”
In Kainene’s* case, she was stopped on the Oyo-Ogbomoso express road and accused. Her crime, in this case, was having her boyfriend’s picture as her wallpaper; an offence that cost her N120,000 ($313).
Chastity* never expected that she would face SARS brutality until July 2019, when she was arrested with her friend in Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State. Their offence was having iPhones, driving a car, and being supposedly too young to afford either. The two ladies were sexually harassed, beaten and extorted by the operatives. In a like manner, Ameena* was stopped in Lagos for owning an iPhone and driving her dad’s Toyota Rav4. Ameena, trying to demand her right when she was being harassed, received a rude shock in the form of a slap. “I remember the slap I was given… till today I can never forget the experience.”
Many Nigerian women who have been victims of Police brutality often refuse to speak about it, due to the trauma occasioning from their harassment. They would rather bury it deeply and pretend like it never happened. Some of them shared their stories but demanded that it should not be in print, even at the promise of anonymity. When asked what their demands were from the government, two words were consistent; justice and reform. Bella* who was arrested with her sister while returning from their restaurant said: “if they ban SARS, what about Police brutality? We should not forget about that too. What is the punishment for the ones that arrest innocent Nigerians in the name of raiding?”
Will Nigerians ever get justice? Several Nigerians get illegally arrested and detained every day, with little to no Police record to keep track of the victims or the officers responsible for their victimization. It has been alleged that armed robbers and kidnappers have reformed themselves as members of the Police force; dressing like SARS, behaving like SARS, and robbing people like SARS, because there are almost no differences in their style of operation. Nigerians continue to occupy streets in demand that #SARSMustEnd, but even if it does, will the victims of this brutality ever get justice?
*the names of the victims have been changed to protect their identities. This story was first published on ekonews.com.ng and is part of an #EndSARS series to amplify the stories of different categories of F-SARS victims in Nigeria.