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The #EndSARS hashtag first surfaced in 2017, as activists in Nigeria sought to abolish a federal police unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad which locals said had abused its power. Known as SARS, protesters accused the unit of inflicting violence on residents.
That year, a movement to end police brutality was born.
Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. was inspired by the protests in Nigeria, which continue regularly. As host of the Resistance podcast, Mr. Tejan-Thomas spoke to several Nigerian activists for an episode titled “See You On The Road”.
I caught up with Mr. Tejan-Thomas to talk about his podcast, which describes itself as “stories from the frontlines of the black lives movement, told by the generation fighting for change,” and his talks with activists Nigerians. Our conversation has been changed slightly.
PL: How are the stories told by “Resistance” different?
STT: These are the personal stories you get from activists and ordinary people who become activists. This is the writing of the show. We spend a lot of time trying to make the writing intimate, precise and beautiful to listen to.
We really try to make it look like black people are talking to black people. Also, try to make it look like we are talking about these stories in a way that is outside of blank gaze. It’s a show that’s mostly for black and brown voices and black and brown voices and so we try to make sure that we speak that way. Let the show make it look like someone you know or someone I know is doing it.
PL: How did the episode “See You On The Road” come about?
STT: I discovered #EndSARS on Twitter over a month ago. A lot of my Nigerian and West African friends tweeted about it and so I started to lean into it and some of the things people were saying about SARS and their experiences with it seemed horrible. This is the kind of violence you hear about in Africa but nothing ever gets done.
I felt like I recognized him because I come from Sierra Leone and experienced the civil war in Sierra Leone as a child. I walked through the government fighting the rebels, the rebels fighting their own people and beyond I saw cops in Sierra Leone who are very aggressive and unashamedly asking you for bribes wine.
So I started calling and a Nigerian friend of mine put me in touch with his cousin, Joel, who lives in Lagos. I could just hear the anger in his voice, but I could also hear the belief that he was really dedicated and energized and wanted to do something to end this.
And then another member of our team Wallace Mack Jr., a producer, connected with a lot of activists around the world and he had a relationship with this woman Fey and he told us about the work that Fey had done with Safe House. in Nigeria to ensure the safety of gay Nigerians.
This was all automatically very interesting to me because we can talk about what’s going on in Nigeria – the police brutality, the corruption, the horrible things that the cops have been accused of doing – but what I think is probably in disappearing. it‘s inside the movement, and even inside the country. Homosexuals are pushed to the side and fight against marginalization.
So when Mack brought up the fact that gay Nigerians are also fighting this fight and trying to be on the front lines, it was really surprising to me because being queer anywhere is like a health risk. You risk a lot. But being queer in Nigeria is even more so.
To see that people were stepping in and just being blatantly weird, I felt like this was a story we needed to push to the fore and emphasize.
PL: It was really scary to hear Kokoma, a queer activist, talk about her nearly lost death at a protest and how her mother was more concerned about her being queer and telling her that she couldn’t. not go home. Why was it important for you to highlight these specific experiences?
STT: The series is meant to be heavy and dark because the things people fight against are often dark and heavy, but the lives of these people are also filled with color, joy, love, humor and much more.
With Kokoma, we felt we needed someone who had suffered violence from both sides. The violence of being repelled by your mother for being queer, but also the violence of the government. One that everyone, a lot of people in the country, queer or not, has experienced, like the Lekki Toll Massacre.
PL: How has the Lekki toll shootout affected the movement now?
STT: From the few people I spoke to on the ground in Nigeria, I feel like it was a major moment in the movement, before the Lekki toll shootout. there were tons of protests in the streets. After the protests, the government cracked down, and to be honest I think seeing a lot of people being shot and people dying is a big deterrent for people not to want to protest anymore.
Thousands of people went through something traumatic together and I think it really bonded them in some way and gave them, if nothing else, a dark and harsh understanding of the efforts that their government is prepared to do to prevent them from protesting. I think this is something that will probably stay with them for a long time.
PL: What do you hope people take away from the episode?
STT: That the movement for blacks is a global movement and that it is somehow happening all over the world. Wherever there are blacks, there is a fight. I think in Nigeria what we see is a really surprising wave of young people trying to determine the future of their country and really take it in their own hands.
Of course there will always be people fighting and organizing in these places like Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Haiti, but the numbers that Nigerians came out in were really surprising and I hope that people will take far as the fight across the globe for black lives will continue no matter what.
PL: Will there be other episodes in the future?
STT: We really want to continue to diversify. We want to have a big picture because at the end of the day the resistance movements that we see across the country are all interconnected at a time when things like populism, truly conservative presidents, and fascism are all the rage around the world. . There has to be a step back and a countermove to that. I think what we’re seeing right now is exactly that – people standing up and fighting back, people we didn’t necessarily expect them to ever do.