My first experience of the Police vs Software Developer harassment was about a year ago in Akure.
We got a call that a friend and his team just down the street in Oba-Ile Estate, Akure (As at then, the Estate was a cluster that had about 5 active startups) had been arrested and taken to the Police Station. Based on my experience as a former radio journalist in the State, having me join my co-founder and COO to the Station was an easy choice.
To cut the story short, after trying to pin a lot of accusations from Yahoo to several other tags, we had to make a few calls to Government House—as at then the AkureTech ecosystem had a community with a straight link to the Governor’s office—and our friends got released! It was a crazy experience.
The next major encounter was in Benin! I was in town for the Alumni convention of my campus fellowship, on my way to the market to get some stuff ahead of Grand Finale, I was stopped by SARS officers en route ring road. I was on a jean, simple top and my laptop bag (containing my Macbook) was sitting down on my lap (starter park for the stereotype Yahoo Boy dressing. Lol)
Come down! The officer shouted.
I calmly did. He asked me to open my bag, I did and out came my grey 2017 12 inch Macbook. Who are you? I am a journalist (one of the words they do not like to hear—some of the many perks that come with the profession apart from letterbombs and detentions, depending on what you write on). I showed them my ID card and that was the end of the conversation. But what of it I did not have it on me?
However, on those two occasions, I think I have come out lucky because I have heard stories of people who had their Identification Cards on and still got beaten and harassed. I think this formed a part of the reason why the recent social media outrage on the experience of a software developer who was harrassed and extorted somewhere in Lagos.
Toni Astro narrated how the officers threatened to shoot him and demanded money from him to bargain for his release. This is not new for a lot of young people, as we have come to see some officers of the law who are meant to be protecting us threatening young people and making them live in fear. From the choice of cars, clothes, gadgets and even where to go out and chill; we have to also consider places to avoid men on black uniforms (or anyone they decide to wear these days, considering that recent viral photo).
This is not the first time that the country has called for a complete overhauling of SARS and the police system in general, #ENDSARS was a popular hashtag for a while sometime early this year and several incidents of extra-judicial killings have necessitated different outcries at different points.
But for young Technology enthusiasts who have consistently focused on legitimate ways to make ends meet experienced different levels of shakedowns, extortions and harassment, the handshake is getting beyond the elbow and there is a reinvigorated effort by leaders in the community to find a lasting solution to the issue.
A new hashtag (#StopRobbingUs) has been launched and a multifaceted response is being thought about by the community who are obviously tired. In response, a fund has been set up.
According to Jason Njoku who has led by example with a commitment of about 10 million Naira to the project, the fund would be focused on defending young people who are helpless in defending themselves from experiences like this.
No doubt, solving this menace would take more online and offline efforts between the community and other relevant stakeholders; however, we have to keep the conversations going.
Meanwhile, there are reports that the officers involved in the extortion of Toni Astro have been arrested and are being investigated by the Force. But there are still apprehensions about these expectations as, despite the many stories of arrests of police officers who are supposedly said to be made as scapegoats, the issue is still reoccurring. Hence, there are questions: Is there systemic support to operations like these? Do we have reasons to be convinced that sections of the leadership in the force across different levels are not complicit in the menace?
However, we are hopeful that the reinvigorated calls for a reform of the police system across the board to deal with different excesses in their interactions with the public will result in tangible revamp in the security sector and a society where the young people are allowed to live their life without fear of looking successful.
In the same vein, in the coming weeks and months, I have no doubt that more clarity would be given on how responses, advocacy and interventions would be deployed from the funds being raised by the ecosystem.
While we understand that the private sector can play its part in correcting the menace and innovating around coping and preventive measures; we hope that the political structure is working to protect a sector that is determined to be the future as the world gets more digital. Are they really interested in protecting the rights of her citizens?
Featured Image: @EiENigeria