The Nigerian Government announced on Monday it would disband its Special Anti-Robbery Squad, better known as SARS. Founded in 1992, SARS used undercover operatives to randomly stop, search, and detain suspected criminals without a warrant in response to rising crime levels. Over the years, SARS became deeply unpopular in the country due to accusations of widespread and systemic corruption and criminality within its ranks, combined with zero accountability. Queer Nigerians were deliberately targeted for abuse, including theft and assault. Large-scale protests across the country had called for the elimination of the hated units, and the government finally agreed to their demands this week. While the announced elimination of SARS is an encouraging step, many Nigerians are greeting the news with skepticism.
Matthew Blaise is an LGBTQ+ activist in Nigeria who has been on the front lines of the #End SARS protests and has suffered abuse by SARS officers due to his queerness. He recently posted a video from the protests which received over 3 million views, and writes of his experiences here for Out.
The news about SARS being disbanded was post online after the assistant inspector general of police, followed by the president of the country, announced it. But like many Nigerians I have a strong distrust for the Nigerian government and its officials. They have shown so much dishonesty and insensitivity to the plights of Nigerians in the past. We all believe that this so-called disbanding is merely cosmetic, like the four or five other times it's been disbanded in the past. Nigerians want to see an executive order, legal documents, proof of some kind beyond just mere words. Besides, the disbanded SARS are still killing and maiming across the country so we are taking news of this "disbandment" with a grain of salt.
The dehumanizing profiling and illegal detaining of queer people is one way the SARS force works. They randomly roam around the streets and pick up feminine-seeming boys, and even straight-passing men. They go through their phones, violating their privacy. When they see queer content, these people are beaten, extorted, assaulted, and even after this, they are still outed to their loved ones. I have been in a situation where I was picked up when I was going to get drugs for malaria. I was very ill, and even when I told them about this, they laughed, dragged me, and mocked me. Queer people suffer all of this and more viciously as queerness is a crime even worse than theft or even murder here.
The main reason for the video that I posted was to let Nigerians know the different levels of oppression and the special flavor of it they are largely apathetic to, that queer people are subjected to. Cis heterosexual people are not harassed, assaulted, and killed by SARS or the Nigerian police based on their sexuality and gender identity or expression. Heterosexuality is the default, but LGBTQ+ people are harassed, assaulted, and killed based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Nigerians know this but they ignore and gaslight queer people because of the homophobia deeply entrenched in their minds. They need to be reminded of this oppression and how it affects us.
I don't really care what people think of my video. There is a revolution happening. And in a revolution, we don’t care what our oppressors care or think. In this I refuse to center them, as they already are centered. So I honestly don’t know how they are receiving it. Meanwhile the queer community really has no choice but to embrace and accept it. What choice does the oppressed have but to hate oppression and love and want their own survival?
If people want to help, I think people outside Nigeria should keep pressuring the Nigerian government in their various countries. Ask them why queerness is criminalized in the most populous country in Africa. Hold them accountable. Also help queer Nigerians financially as much as possible, as this is a huge human rights crisis. In a place where our lives, our very existence is criminalized, our source of income is affected. Earning, opportunities, living, and existing are highly threatened.
I hope that we keep this spirit and energy if we want queer liberation for ourselves and our younger queer sibs. It is important we maintain this spirit, that we have now. I wish we didn't have to be strong, to fight battles no one else has to fight, before fighting the ones everyone else does. But since we are here and have to, I hope we do it well, and win the prize that's our very own lives.
Matthew Blaise (He/Him, They/Them) is a Non-Binary LGBTIQ+ Activist from Nigeria. They are currently studying English and literary studies at a Federal University in Nigeria. Blaise is active in the #EndSARS, #EndhomophobiaInNigeria #SARSmustend and #EndPoliceBrutalityInNigeria campaigns which trended on Nigeria social media. They are also a 2020 Women Deliver Young fellow. Blaise dreams of butterflies and writes to emancipate themselves through social media rants and they hope to become a global activist someday to ensure safe spaces for everyone.(@Matthew.Blaise IG, @Blaise_21 Twitter,)