December 3, 2020

Students organize protest against Nigerian police brutality

Webster students Igho Ekakitie and Brian Barlay are asking students to use the hashtag #EndSARS in order to raise awareness of police brutality in Ekakitie’s home country of Nigeria.

Webster student Igho Ekakitie was on his way to a conference with his friends in Nigeria. They were laughing, talking, slightly rushing to get to their destination on time.

Then, they were stopped by a unit of the Nigerian police, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

The members of the police force demanded Ekakitie and his friends’ laptops and phones. Pushing back, the group told the police they were not doing anything wrong, they were just on their way to the conference. This was not the group’s first encounter with SARS. They knew arguing with the police usually escalates the situation but they needed their devices for the conference.

The encounter ended with Ekakitie being slapped by a member of the SARS force. Ekakitie’s devices were not taken from him in the end, but the police force did take money from Ekakitie and his friend.

“I just thank God that I’m alive because not everyone has had the same experience with SARS,” Ekakitie said.

The pair have since joined with a national movement called #EndSARS in order to call for the disbanding of this special force. The movement is led by young Africans to protest the ongoing police brutality and killing of young people in Nigeria.

Brian Barlay (yellow sign) marches alongside nearly 200 people to protest the ongoing police brutality in Nigeria. Barlay and Igho Ekakitie are encouraging students to use the hashtag #EndSARS on social media in order to bring awareness to the global movement, Photo contributed by Brian Barlay.

So, on Oct. 18, Ekakitie took to the streets of St. Louis with Brian Barlay in order to bring attention to the movement.

“We have to gather everybody together, make a protest here to take a stand, to tell the world ‘Hey, this was going on in Nigeria,’” Ekakitie said. “We need your attention to be there because police brutality is everywhere in the world. No country is free of police brutality.”

Barlay and Ekakitie both showed up at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis at 2 p.m. to march through the streets. They were not expecting a huge turnout in the cold and cloudy weather but had several people come out to support the cause. The protest drew close to 200 people.

Barlay saw young Africans taking a stand and was excited because he thinks Africans worry about their visa status and often think of protests with a bad connotation.

“It was a feeling that I don’t really know how to explain it. A lot of emotion. I was excited about the amount of people that showed up. It wasn’t only Nigerian youth or African youth,” Barlay said. “They were like other young people from different cultures who have been fighting for social justice in St. Louis, since Mike Brown, the fight against police brutality is a universal fight for black people in Africa and in the diaspora.”

For Ekakitie, this was his way of “making good trouble,” a campaign that Webster has promoted to get students to honor Representative John Lewis’ legacy. Ekakitie stood in front of the 200 people gathered at the courthouse and told his story of his experience with police brutality.
Much like Lewis, Ekakitie focused on the power of organizing and taking to the streets to voice concerns with the government. Ekakitie and Barlay are not stopping with their one protest. They said they will continue protesting, continue to raise awareness, and write letters to the United Nations if that’s what it comes down to.

Barlay and Ekakitie both ask that Webster students use the hashtag #EndSARS to show support for the movement.

“Even though we are young, we are wise, we are ready, we are mobilizing, we’re trying to figure out a way in which we can create an infrastructure and infrastructure that would not facilitate [an] oppressive regime,” Barlay said. “We can walk together, we can make a stand, we can make a statement, you know, to make a difference.”

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