Friday, October 23, 2020

Nigerians in Toronto worry for safety of relatives as police, protesters clash back home

The Nigerian community in Toronto is watching with growing worry and anger as violent clashes between police and protesters continue to escalate in Africa's most populous nation.

"My family is not safe. My mother, my sister, my father, my brothers ... just because the government failed what it's supposed to do," said Olalekan Taiwo, who moved to Toronto a few years ago from the west African country's largest city, Lagos.

"It's chaos right now. The killing is so massive," Taiwo told CBC Toronto Thursday.

Nigeria came into the global spotlight after two weeks of nationwide protests. A video showing officers from a police unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) killing a man in Delta state sparked outrage. Police denied the incident happened but the violence has led to renewed anger, with thousands of Nigerians taking to streets to call for law enforcement reforms and an end to police brutality.

"It's overwhelming, and I'm a little traumatized," said Chelsea Coker, another Nigerian local in Toronto. "I haven't slept in two days."

The police unit was disbanded on Oct. 11 but protests persist, and so does the violence. On Tuesday, there were reports of police shooting into a crowd of protesters, killing several people. Since then, the country has seen an escalation in demonstrations with looting and fires erupting across the streets.

On Wednesday, President Muhammadu Buhari spoke to protesters directly and put Lagos under a round-the-clock curfew enforced by police roadblocks, as smoke rose from a flashpoint area in Lagos where soldiers shot at protesters the previous evening, witnesses said. The Lagos state governor said 30 people were hurt in the shooting at a toll gate in the Lekki district.
Calls on Ottawa to step in

Protests in Toronto supporting those in Nigeria have also flared up as the local community calls on the Canadian government to take action. Another protest is planned for Saturday at Yonge-Dundas Square beginning at noon.

"No one should ever have to die exercising their human right; no one should ever have to die for peace; no one should ever have to die for prosperity of a nation," said Patience Evabagharu, one of the organizers behind the Toronto demonstrations.

"It is our human right to do peaceful protest."

Evabagharu is with the City Youth Council of Toronto, a non-profit aimed at engaging youth in civic participation in the city.

"We are saying no to SARS, we're saying no to bad governance. We're saying no to corruption. And we stand in solidarity no matter where we are in the world."

CBC Toronto reached out to Global Affairs Canada, who referred us to the Minister of Foreign Affair's tweet from Wednesday.

"I contacted my counterpart from Nigeria to express Canada's deep concerns following reports of excessive use of force, injuries and deaths, during the ongoing protests," Fran├žois-Philippe Champagne tweeted.

"Those responsible for human rights violations and abuse must be held accountable."

Members of the local Nigerian community in Toronto say they're not giving up.

"We in the diaspora, we have the opportunity because we're safe to speak with everyone who cares to listen to help people back home," said Coker.


Related stories: Video - Is SARS gone or has it been rebranded?

Official warns protests in Nigeria could speed up COVID-19 transmission

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Why Nigeria's anti-police brutality protests have gone global

Video - Nigeria protests continue even after gov't disbands police squad

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