28-year-old Ifeoma Abugu had just finished the mandatory one-year National Youth Service (NYSC) when she travelled to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, to visit her fiance, Ugwuna.
Ifeoma and Ugwuna recently did their introduction ceremony — as a precursor to them getting married later in the year.
For many Nigerians, the dream is modest; go to school or learn a trade, become financially sufficient, get married, have a family, try to avoid being killed by Nigeria, and survive Nigeria for as long as your health and privileges can take you.
Ifeoma had done the basic things – she graduated from the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu, she did her NYSC and was getting ready to start her family, when tragedy struck.
At her fiance’s residence in Wumba Village, Lokogoma, a bunch of irate F-SARS operatives stormed the house, looking for Ugwuna.
In the typical manner of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) seeking alternatives when they miss their target, Ifeoma was arrested in place of her fiance. Ugwuna’s offence was never revealed.
Like several other young Nigerians, SARS might be hounding him for trying to make a living. Ifeoma tried to inform her fiance, who made frantic appeals to a SARS operative he knew. He was told to wait until the next day.
When he returned the next day, he was informed that Ifeoma was dead.
The officers responsible claimed that Ifeoma had a cocaine overdose. Ifeoma’s brother, Alex, said when they saw her corpse, “there were signs that she was sexually assaulted”. Ifeoma’s killers are still in SARS uniforms; justice is yet to come.
Like Ifeoma, several young Nigerian women have experienced brutality from operatives of the deadly SARS unit of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF).
In 2019, Cynthia* was travelling to Ilorin for medical treatment when SARS stopped her bus, and an officer demanded sex from her.
Using her frail physical form (due to her illness) as evidence, she said she was HIV positive and did not want to infect him. Unyielding, he introduced alternatives.
According to her: “he asked me to give him oral sex, I was crying that I cannot, he then asked me to stroke him. I did, and they stopped another car for me and asked me not to pay.”
But while SARS serves injustice to everyone, the entire Police Force seems to be at war with Nigerian women.
In 2019, women were picked up in Abuja, illegally detained and sexually molested by officers of the Utako division of the Police Force.
This invasive behaviour was extended to Cindy* after police officers raided her hostel in Ilorin. Cindy and her boyfriend were neighbours, and on this day, she was in her boyfriend’s room, even though he was not around.
The officers came barging, demanding ransom from students or they would get arrested. Cindy said a female officer questioned why she was in her boyfriend’s room and demanded her mother’s number so she could tell her they had arrested her daughter for having a boyfriend while in the University.
Unyielding, the female officer introduced new ways to harass Cindy, who was wearing a bum-short and an oversized polo tee-shirt. “She asked if I was wearing underwear beneath my clothes, pants precisely and I said yes. She requested to see it.”
In Kainene’s* case, she was stopped on the Oyo-Ogbomoso express road and wrongly accused. Her crime, in this case, was having her boyfriend’s picture as her wallpaper; an offence that cost her N120,000 ($313).
Chastity* never expected that she would face SARS brutality until July 2019, when she was arrested with her friend in Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State.
Their offence was having iPhones, driving a car, and being supposedly too young to afford either. The two ladies were sexually harassed, beaten and extorted by the operatives.
In like manner, Ameena* was stopped in Lagos for owning an iPhone and driving her father’s Toyota Rav4.
Ameena, trying to demand her right when she was being harassed, received a rude shock in the form of a slap. “I remember the slap I was given. Till today. I can never forget the experience,” she said.
Many Nigerian women who have been victims of Police brutality often refuse to speak about it, due to the trauma occasioning from their harassment. They would rather bury it deeply and pretend like it never happened.
Some of them shared their stories but demanded that it should not be in print, even at the promise of anonymity.
When asked what their demands were from the government, two words were consistent – justice and reform.
Bella*, who was arrested with her sister while returning from their restaurant said, “if they ban SARS, what about Police brutality? We should not forget about that too. What is the punishment for the ones that arrest innocent Nigerians in the name of raiding?”
“Will Nigerians ever get justice?” protesters have continued to ask. Several Nigerians get illegally arrested and detained every day, with little to no police record to keep track of the victims or the officers responsible for their victimisation.
Nigerians have continued to occupy streets in demand that #SARSMustEnd and police brutality must cease. Still, most wonder if the victims of brutality will ever get justice.
*The names of the victims have been changed to protect their identities
(This story was first published on ekonews.com.ng and is part of an #EndSARS series to amplify the stories of different categories of F-SARS victims in Nigeria.)