Like many people in Nigeria, Samson Oluwaseyi Farayola left his country in search of a job.
That’s how he found himself cooking popular Nigerian dishes at Le Palanka, a restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya, that specializes in West African cuisine.
He is now among the members of the digitally connected Nigerian diaspora who can’t tear their eyes from the photos and videos showing Nigeria’s largest protests in decades. For them, the images are at once inspiring and frightening — and they’re trying to support their fellow citizens from afar.
People took to the streets in Lagos and other cities two weeks ago, demanding the disbanding of the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a police unit that for years has been accused of massive human rights violations, including torture. They’re using the hashtag #EndSARS.
Even after the Nigerian government agreed to disband the unit, protests continued to grow across the country. They became a larger rallying cry against police brutality in Nigeria, as well as a demand for the government to address other issues, such as high unemployment and corruption.
“I wish we had done this a long, long time ago. I’m sure if this happened a long time ago, I would have never left Nigeria in the first place.”
“I wish we had done this a long, long time ago. I’m sure if this happened a long time ago, I would have never left Nigeria in the first place,” said Farayola, who left to seek work in Qatar last year and got stuck in Kenya during the coronavirus lockdown this spring.
But on Tuesday evening, the nationwide demonstrations became deadly when Nigerian police and military open fired on peaceful protesters who continued to assemble after a city-wide curfew in Lagos, killing at least 12, according to Amnesty International.
“At first when I watched the news like two nights ago, I couldn’t sleep,” said Farayola, shaking his head.
The governor of Lagos state has called for an investigation into the shootings. The Nigerian army has denied it's behind them.
But for Nigerians like Farayola, the gruesome videos of the events that have circulated on social media have been impossible to shake.
“Seeing them shooting our youth just because they demanded for a kind of transformation in the Nigerian system, and the next action we got was to start shooting us — ugh, I felt so bad,” said Farayola, shaking his head.
“I’ve got a lot of friends and family members in Lagos. I had to check on them,” he continued, noting that he knows many people who have been targeted by SARS.
“I hate them. With the stories I’ve heard about SARS. Even police officers in Nigeria I hate them with a passion because they extort you, you have to bribe your way out,” even when driving with the appropriate paperwork, Farayola said.
These are the kinds of stories that have circulated among Nigeria’s large diaspora for years. Like Farayola, many have left their home country in search of greener pastures.
In the US, Nigerians have become one of the most educated immigrant groups in the country. They’ve also made a name for themselves as prolific musicians and artists across the world.
The vocal response to the violent crackdown on #EndSars protesters from Nigerians in the diaspora, including celebrities like Burna Boy, have demonstrated how no matter how far they go, Nigerians’ roots remain as strong as ever.
"This is the most important moment in Nigeria's history."@burnaboy says the "youth have come together" and decided "enough is enough" to protest against police brutality in Nigeria.— SkyNews (@SkyNews) October 23, 2020
Full exclusive interview here on the #EndSARS protests: https://t.co/N0p4EEAuDv pic.twitter.com/AvrSoLi3hb
The activism of the Nigerian diaspora also became evident this week, when US presidential candidate Joe Biden joined the chorus of other leaders condemning the crackdown on #EndSARS protesters in a statement.
Behind the scenes of the campaign, African Diaspora for Biden, a group that has been mobilizing African immigrant communities across the country to vote for Biden, has been pushing the candidate to be vocal on issues that matter to them.
“We’re calling our embassies. We’re calling our senators,” said Nkolika Onye, a high school principal in Rhode Island. Onye was born in the US to Nigerian immigrant parents, and she often travels back and forth to Nigeria.
Last weekend, she joined other Nigerians to demonstrate in front of the Rhode Island statehouse in Providence. It’s one of several demonstrations that have happened across the world, including in London and Accra.
She estimates about 100 people showed up, holding signs that read #EndSARS. While it’s far less than the estimated tens of thousands of people demonstrating in cities like Lagos, for Onye it’s the message they are sending that counts.
“We want people in Nigeria to know that just because we are not there. Doesn’t mean that we don’t care, and that’s an important message to send,” Onye said. They will hold another protest on Sunday.
From her vantage point as a Nigerian American, Onye draws a direct line between the summer of #BlackLivesMatter protests in the US and the #EndSARS protests happening now in Nigeria.
“What happened to George Floyd happened in the US, but then affected people all over the world. That video footage was devastating for people,” Onye says, including in Nigeria, where there were demonstrations following Floyd's killing.
“When we talk about Black lives matter, they don’t just matter in the US. They matter all over the world.”
“I think the same thing is happening now with what’s happening in Nigeria,” Onye said. “When we talk about Black lives matter, they don’t just matter in the US, they matter all over the world.”
Despite being thousands of miles away, Onye remains connected with her family and friends in Nigeria over Whatsapp, social media, and other platforms. Recently, they were sharing United Nations numbers to call in order to increase pressure on the Nigerian government
“I’m really proud of them. I’m proud of the fact that they’re coming together,” she said. “Regardless of what tribe they come from, what state they live in. People are fed up, and they’re realizing the power of their voice.”
Now, Onye says, Nigeria’s government needs to listen.