They are called “Yahoo boys”: the young Nigerians who earn their living in the vibrant IT scene of the most densely populated African country. They can be recognized from afar by their piercings or Rasta locks: many of them, like their Silicon Valley role models, wear Nikes and perforated jeans.
They usually travel in their own car or with a laptop bag, making them easy to spot. They have been complaining for years about attacks from the police, especially from the infamous members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) who are making their lives hell.
The “Yahoo boys” are by no means the only victims, but the most wanted victims of the corrupt police officers: they usually confiscate the techno yuppies’ smartphones, then accuse them of alleged crimes and demand gruesome fines for them. When the victims refuse to pay, the “law enforcement” use force. Earlier this month, SARS members in the port metropolis of Lagos shot and killed a young man who had previously been taken from a hotel and thrown on the street.
The scene was filmed with a cell phone and posted on social networks. Amnesty International recently announced that in the past three and a half years, at least 82 young Nigerians have been murdered by SARS officials: the human rights organization had evidence of torture, extortion and even executions. No police officer has been held accountable so far.
Wave of outrage
Under #ENDSARS, the video posted by Lagos on Twitter caused a wave of outrage – but this time the protest was not limited to the virtual space. Thousands of Yahoo boys and their peers took to the streets in many major cities across the country over the past ten days, demanding the disbandment of the special force, blocking arteries or access to airports.
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Such protests are uncommon in Nigeria: the last time there was a civilian uprising eight years ago after the government cut fuel subsidies. At the time, the protest failed because of the unions involved in a deal with the government. This cannot happen to the Yahoo boys: they organize their actions spontaneously and online and as a movement without recognizable leadership are not corrupt.
The police initially responded to the protests in their own way: they used water cannons and batons, arrested hundreds of protesters and shot at least ten young people. Encouraged by the global Black Lives Matter movement, Nigerians living in the diaspora also took up the fight against the Yahoo Boys: Afropop singer Wizkid spoke from London and rapper Kanye West was behind them in the US.
The army has to clean up
Even football player Mesut Özil made her case his. 77-year-old Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, was not unaffected by the global wave of protests: he ordered his police chief Mohammed Adamu to dissolve the controversial police unit.
Earlier this week, Adamu announced the formation of a new unit called the Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT), but that did not change the determination of the protesters. Even the promised release of all those arrested during the protests and the establishment of a committee to investigate the attacks failed to convince the protesters to stay at home. They just changed their hashtag from ENDSARS to ENDSWAT and want to continue to protest. It is doubtful that the will to change is actually present at the top of the state: meanwhile, the army leadership has offered to “get rid of the undermining elements and troublemakers”.