Until we all work together, not on symbolic inclusion, but on free treatments for HIV, on access to housing and food and education, on dismantling violent border regimes and on the decriminalisation of sex work and drug use, then we will be doing the work of racial capitalism.
“In these poor, under-developed countries, where the rule is that the greatest wealth is surrounded by the greatest poverty, the army and the police constitute the pillars of the regime; an army and a police force...which are advised by foreign experts. By dint of yearly loans, concessions are snatched up by foreigners; scandals are numerous, ministers grow rich, their wives doll themselves up, the members of parliament feather their nests and there is not a soul down to the simple policeman or the customs officer who does not join in the great procession of corruption.” - Fanon, Wretched of the Earth
Recently, we have seen a wave of youth led protests within Nigeria against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Nigerians have taken to the streets to demand accountability for the crimes committed by this police force against mostly young, marginalised people.
On Tuesday the 21st of October, over a thousand young people gathered at a tollgate in Lekki, Lagos, to protest police brutality. They knew they were acting in defiance of the government, and there could be fatal consequences. They were proved right: soon after their arrival, dozens of soldiers and police officers arrived at the scene and fired bullets indiscriminately into the crowd. At least 12 people have been killed, and dozens more injured.
According to Amnesty International, SARS have “at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extra-judicidal execution [documented] between January 2017 to May 2020.” To date, no police officers have been prosecuted.
The impunity of law enforcement prevails, despite Black Lives Matter protests across the USA, Britain and the movement to #EndSARS. Black death is integral to white supremacist imperialist hegemony, and contours our understandings of what it means to be a citizen, a human, and what it means to be a commodity. Nigerian police brutality cannot be understood as separate from the blood-stained legacy of British colonialism.
A Colonial Inheritance
Prior to colonial invasion, communities across the region known today as Nigeria did not practice ‘policing’; rather, community led structures--intertwined with social and religious practices--were developed to deliver justice and accountability for harm
However, as Britain sought to expand across West Africa, they knew this would not be possible without the establishment of decentralised, local police forces. Thus, the emergence of the first police force across the Nigerian protectorates--Lagos colony, 1861--was with the explicit intention to entrench colonial rule across Nigeria.
Britain’s strategy was to rule by direct force, and where possible, collaborate with local chiefs and emirs to enforce indirect rule. Emirs across Northern Nigeria were able to rule over certain regions within protectorates, oppressing masses of people, but were ultimately dependent on the settler-colonial state for power. The function of the police force within Nigeria is unmasked when we analyse evidence from 1927 Annual Colonial Reports: the Southern Province suffered an increase in police force numbers when taxes were levied .
The first national police force was established in 1930, and it became the responsibility of the federal and regional governments. When Nigeria became an independent country--still plagued by British neo-colonial rule--the same basic structures remained. Local police forces were allowed to operate with near impunity, though they were eventually dissolved when the military seized power from Prime Minister Abubakar Balewa in 1966.
Nigeria’s police force became centralised, and in 1992 the Special Anti-Robbery Squad was established to combat a sharp increase in armed robberies and kidnappings. In the years following its establishment, many citizens have filed complaints around the use of excessive force, extortion and profiling of youths by officers operating within Lagos, Kaduna, Kano, Enugu, Port-Harcourt and many other cities.
Like many other police forces that surveil, brutalise and murder black people across the world--the USA and Brazil being just two examples--Nigeria’s police force is cast in the mould of a white supremacist, colonial state. British police officers were trained and deployed in the colonies, and then later established domestically to control working class, communities of colour.
Police forces operating within neo-colonial countries uphold the power and privileges of politicians and the national bourgeoisie, who in turn reap the profits of the working classes and peasantry. Their positions are entrenched through patronage, a system developed by Britain, which has now expanded to the oil industry. Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer, and the sixth largest oil producer in the world; thus, it is imperative for Britain, and Western oil magnates such as Shell that Nigeria is controlled by ruling classes favourable to their aims--extractivism.
Shell, a company notorious for its pollution of the Ogoniland region and Niger Delta, collaborated with the Nigerian government to suppress revolt; this ended with the execution of the Ogoni nine. Nigerians are also vulnerable due to living in areas that are sites of environmental disaster; Shell and Total are responsible for oil spills and routinely gas flare (burn off flammable gasses released at extraction sites) The resulting pollution has the byproduct of toxic air conditions. To date, Shell has not been held accountable for these crimes.
SWAT: A Reconstitution of Power
On October 12th, President Buhari dissolved SARS and unveiled a new policing unit: SWAT. He announced that former SARS officers would be deployed to new units, and SWAT would pick up the duties of the disbanded unit. This announcement has sparked a fresh wave of fury and protests, as Nigerians within the country and across the diaspora have criticised this move as one clearly intended to re-brand the same corrupt force.
In the midst of ongoing police brutality, the LGBT+ community in Nigeria are particularly vulnerable to violence. Gay men, butch lesbians and gender non-conforming people are primary targets of the police. They must navigate interpersonal and societal exclusion and marginalisation. A plethora of anti-LGBT laws in Nigeria cultivate and sustain this environment, such policies dating back to colonial-era sodomy laws. Despite this, LGBT+ Nigerians have been showing up to protests in numbers, and refuse to succumb to colonial, patriarchal hegemony.
In our efforts to support Nigerians in their battles against domestic police brutality, we cannot lose sight of the continuing ramifications of British colonialism. Too often ostensible “black on black crime” is pathologised as unique to Black people, which draws upon eugenicist notions of Africans lacking ability to govern ourselves. Oil companies exploit the lack of regulation in Nigeria and wage ecological destruction to satisfy capitalist accumulation, but blame black people for their socio-economic misery. Police forces are marshalled to defend imperialist interests by protecting their infrastructure: pipelines, ports and camps where expatriate communities reside. These privileges extend to the national bourgeoisie, but leave swathes of poor people susceptible to criminalisation.
Today, waves of young Nigerians are exercising democratic rights that are currently in suspension. Through struggle, they are developing themselves and further challenging parasitic imperialist forces. The future is theirs.
 Killingray 1986, p.412.
 Idowu 2013. p73.
Johnson, Idowu. (2013). Policing in Contemporary Nigeria: Issues and Challenges. African Journal for the Psychological Studies of Social Issues. 16. p71-77.
Killingray, David. The Maintenance Of Law And Order In British Colonial Africa. 1986. p411-437.