#EndPoliceBrutality: A Lived Reality
Published October 15, 2020
Published October 15, 2020
In case you missed it, Nigeria’s youth have found their voice and are demanding change from a system that targets and exploits them. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) are notorious in the country for their violent, unlawful acts against citizens, young people in particular. The youth’s crime? They’re young and work with technology. Some have tattoos or wear their hair in locs. Others own an iPhone and maybe use a VPN. For all these things and less, they are labeled thieves and fraudsters (“yahoo boys” in local slang) and extorted for outrageous amounts of money to buy their freedom. Many have been brutalized, imprisoned, and killed.
At Hugo, many of us have stories to tell, and here we highlight a few as well as some of the steps we’ve taken as an organization to keep our community safe.
I’ve been stopped by SARS twice before. Both times I was on my way home from work but this one time was really bad. I had my laptop with me as usual and at the time, I was providing back-office support for an apparel company so I had a lot of images saved on there. Nothing crazy, just product shots with models.
As expected when they stopped me, I was forced to open my laptop where they saw the photos I was working on. And that was it. I was labeled a fraudster and detained until almost midnight. That was when my parents were able to secure my release. While I was detained, I did receive a few beatings but thankfully no real injuries.
I happen to be lucky that they’ve never actually stopped me. They came close though. I remember once, I was on my way to work when they tried to stop my transportation. The driver didn’t hear them at first and by the time he was aware that they were trying to flag us down, we had already gained some distance. I had to beg him to speed up, and take a detour just so we could lose them. I ended up having to pay double the fare for that but I didn’t mind.
The reason I prefer to run? My parents think that if I don’t have a standard hair cut, or if I dress a certain way, or present a certain physical appearance, I’ll be labeled a criminal. I don’t believe that and I’d rather not give them a reason to double down on their beliefs.
But I know I can only say this because I haven’t been stopped yet so I remind myself that yesterday’s survivors are today’s victim.
These are just two stories of many that highlight the importance of creating safety protocols in a digital workspace, especially in this region. For example, we provide ID cards to our employees, especially for the teams that have to commute to the office on a regular basis. We also have a designated point of contact in the event that someone is illegally detained and as a standard measure, we verify all emergency contacts so we know exactly who to call first. These are simple, but important steps because at least if someone knows, there’s a way to get help.
Against this backdrop, we remain a fast-growing, mostly #RemoteWork organization driven by a mission to create jobs for thousands of youth in the region. It’s a mission that rings true perhaps now more than ever. As we watch our youth band together across the region, we’ve doubled down in our commitment to creating opportunities for meaningful work, and globally relevant skill-development for young people across West Africa.