Police brutality: Will more artistes take a stand with Ruggedman and Vector?
It seems like every week, or at least every other week, there’s a new picture or video floating around exposing the latest act of Nigerian Police brutality. For decades, the Nigerian Police Force has been notorious for the extortion, humiliation, unlawful arrest, torture and extrajudicial killing of the people it swore to protect, but thanks to technology, the world is able to view some of these incidents in near real-time. It hasn’t looked good.
Within the space of a few days, a drunk policeman in Calabar allegedly shot a 32-year old woman dead in front of her young daughter after reportedly saying he ‘felt like’ shooting someone; a university student sustained life-threatening injuries from jumping down Cele-Okota bridge to escape arrest under questionable circumstances; a video emerged of a young lawyer who was manhandled for reportedly demanding his salary from his employers, and, the night before she was due to pass out of NYSC, a female Corps member was allegedly killed by a trigger-happy policeman in Abuja.
These instances of police brutality all occurred in July. What’s even scarier is that we haven’t even reached mid-month yet.
Admirably, Nigerians aren’t taking things lying down; they are now using every tool available to them to fight back at a Police Force that, last year, was rated the ‘worst’ in the world. The people may not have guns and batons, but what they do have is advocacy, smartphones, social media and now, music.
Two veteran rappers have bitten — what they’ll be hoping is only — the proverbial bullet by releasing songs speaking against police brutality. Ruggedman recently released ‘Is Police Your Friend?’, a song that interpolates a popular Kegite rebellion anthem and poses an important rhetorical question, while Vector backed up last year’s wide-ranging, socially-conscious ‘Gunshots’ with the more piercing and concise ‘SARS Is Around (S.I.A)’.
The videos for both songs are powerful, but they take totally different approaches to the same subject. While ‘Is Police Your Friend?’ dramatizes the police’s excessive use of force, with Ruggedman being taken into custody while walking around and checking his mobile phone, Vector is absent from ‘S.I.A’ all together, allowing the viewer to fixate on a pile of dead bodies artistically covered in paint blood — the victims of extrajudicial killings. Both videos contain clips of real life police brutality, but ‘Is Police Your Friend?’ is also sprinkled with excerpts from an interview where the Lagos Police PRO Dolapo Badmus read the riot act to bad cops. Will they listen this time?
Both Ruggedman and Vector had equally fascinating journeys to become advocates of this cause. Never the one to run away from career Goliaths, Ruggedy Baba has led the fight against second-rate rappers being hailed as the greatest of all time, powerful record labels that blacklisted his music, telcos who take the lion’s share of the proceeds of digital sales, a COSON chairman that was reluctant to be audited, and now, the almighty Nigerian Police Force.
Vector, on the other hand, has a more personal but troubling motivation. Late last year, the rapper narrated the story of how, when he was still living in FESTAC, his home was almost invaded by SARS officials. According to Vector, the armed men had come looking for his neighbor but somehow started banging menacingly on his own door with AK-47s. Thankfully, they left after they got tired of trying to enter his house, but the event left Vector in shock. Little wonder that the ‘Lafiaji’ MC was one of the first artists to join the #EndSARS campaign; the likes of Simi and Olamide would join in as well.
#EndSARS is an advocacy specifically against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian Police Force. SARS officials roam the streets of the country, their guns in full display, but without police uniforms or police cars to legitimize their operations, it’s hard to distinguish between SARS and the armed robbers they are supposed to fight. Their tendency to be heavy-handed and to profile the young and flashy doesn’t help; the group has become notorious for the most egregious displays of power.
The campaign to put an end to their activities started in earnest in 2017 as a social media campaign but it’s more than an online movement, a petition signed by over 10,000 people was submitted to the National Assembly calling for the controversial unit to be scrapped. Furthermore, several anti-SARS protests have sprung up nationwide.
Campaigns to put an end to police brutality like #EndSARS are getting massive support from all quarters, but there’s arguably no group of people who need to lend their voice to the cause more than artists. In a career characterized by youth, nocturnality, vices and flamboyance, and supported by non-traditional income streams, artists are always going to be an easy target for a poorly-trained, demotivated Police Force. Frankly though, there’s only so much that a couple of rappers no longer at the peak of their careers can do to affect real change, this chorus of resistance needs a lot more than two features. There’s no doubt that speaking up may come at a high cost but so does silence, and that is police brutality, still.