An Interview with Deshiy, 22, Media Professional
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Q: Have you had any bad experience with the Nigerian police or SARS? If yes, what happened?
Deshiy: Yes, I’ve had bad experiences with both the Nigerian Police and SARS but today I’m going to talk about my SARS experience.
Before I ever encountered SARS I used to hear the stories, I used to hear what people were saying and complaining about and I was like I think the main problem with Nigerians is that the average Nigerian doesn’t know their rights. Well, I’m an educated young man. I know my rights. Nobody can mess with me. Nobody can take my phone. Nobody can go through my personal belongings. Nobody can talk to me anyhow and all. I had that confidence and I felt like maybe because people succumbed to the pressure/force, that was why they were messed with.
One morning, a couple months ago, before the COVID-19 lockdown, my brother and I were going somewhere. Bright in the morning around 8 or 9 o’clock. I remember us being flagged down by some guys in plain clothes. They were wearing jeans and polo shirts with guns. They told us to park at the side of the road.
Look at us, two young men who were driving a car with A/c. They began to ask questions. They were questioning him (brother) at first because he was the one driving and it’s his car. So, they asked for his driver’s license, the documentation of the car. Everything was in order we thank God. Because it was very clear that that day they were looking for something. It was very early in the morning, they were looking for one thing, one discrepancy and they would have… (pause) only God knows what would have happened. They would’ve taken us to their station or whatever.
They took his phone and started going through it. One of them came to meet me on the passenger side and told me to get down. I saw the loaded gun and I felt it within me that anything can happen right now. I began to shake profusely. I was scared. There my brother was, being questioned by another man. There were two others in their minibus. We were clearly outnumbered. This man asked me for my phone with his gun. I remember what I used to tell people that “Omo nothing o. They cannot collect my phone. I know my rights.”
He said, “Give me your phone” and I said, “Yes sir. Take sir.”
My phone was locked (fingerprint) and he asked me to unlock it. My hand was shaking so much that when I put it on the phone, the fingerprint wasn’t even recognised. So, I had to give him my passcode. He opened the phone, went through my browser. When he was done, he read my messages—- some important and private chats. When he was done with that, he opened my photos and he was scrolling through. By the time he finished going through my pictures and he was just seeing football pictures of Arsenal players, I think he got tired. To be honest, it was early in the morning and there wasn’t really anything there. He handed me back my phone and started asking me tons of questions. “What do you do for a living?” and more. All I kept repeating was “Sir, I’m a student,” even though I was pretty much done with school. So, they were done with us.
After that encounter, I know my experience is not like other people’s experiences. People have been beaten, extorted and threatened. I’ve heard all those stories and even now when I hear those stories, I resonate with them more because of that face-to-face experience. If that was by 7 or 8 in the night, I know that it could’ve easily been a different story. The fact that they let us go was because everything was in order and it was early in the morning and they were like: “Omo we go find another person wey we go use chop.”
After that experience, I sat down to think about it and I’m like: in Nigeria it is not enough to know your rights. Knowing your rights in that situation does you no good. It’s so crazy and scary that a man who just woke up one morning, threw some clothes, probably didn’t have a shower or is half as educated as you is more powerful than you. Just because he has a gun.
Back when I was still an undergraduate, I used to be very free with my hairstyle. That was part of my identity. A few months after school, going for gigs with clients and stuff, it was very dangerous. For my own good, my own peace of mind and my family’s peace of mind, I used my own hand to go to a barber to tell them to cut the hair off.
They target people for how they look. Once there’s this appearance of you being well-to-do or doing something for yourself, you’re automatically a criminal. A cybercriminal known as a ‘yahoo boy’ I feel like that is just a guise to extort people.
Q: Have you had any good experience with the Nigerian police or SARS? If yes, what happened?
Deshiy: Honestly speaking, I don’t think that I have.
Q: What do you suggest must be done to ensure the good experiences outweigh the bad experiences?
Deshiy: It’s very simple o. As long as SARS exists, young people in Nigeria are not safe. This is not a case of ‘reduce the power of SARS’ or ‘restrict them & what they can do.’ This is a matter of #EndSARS. SARS need to be scraped from the surface of the planet. SARS have no place in a modern society/ a place that is not a military state.
On a daily basis, when I go out, I am afraid. Not of robbers but of the Nigerian Police or SARS— that they can harass me, round me up and take me anywhere because I am a young guy. I use an iPhone, I have a laptop, cameras and expensive equipment. When I’m going for a job in an Uber and I’m taking my camera and other things with me, I am always worried because if they stop us, search us and see all these things, anything can happen.
We are not safe here. That’s the truth. Until something is done, we are not safe here.