Behind the Mask
2020 — Nigeria
Nigeria’s response to COVID-19 was very confusing: schools were shut down, large gatherings were banned and everyone was told to stay indoors, but no one felt like anything was really being done. Aside from the fact that many people who were placed in government quarantine centers were complaining of being neglected and just ‘kept’ there without treatment or in some cases food, people were also reporting that they were receiving fake positive results from public testing centers. Why? Well, no one actually knows the reason, but a lot of people believe that the number of COVID-19 cases in a state translates to the amount of money the state gets to care for those patients, and since Nigeria is the home of embezzlement, many people believe COVID treatment money is being pocketed by those in power.
For a public university student like myself, COVID-19 was only the second-worst thing
to happen this year. In March, a week before schools were closed because of the pandemic, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) went on another one of their infamous strikes triggered by the government’s refusal to pay salaries that were due. We were told it was a warning strike and probably wouldn’t last long, so I for one still had hope that we would be back in two weeks or less. During the government-imposed lockdown, most private university students were having online classes and making up for lost time. Unfortunately for myself and many other students who attend public universities, the strike was still ongoing and even if our schools could switch to remote learning, no lecturer was going to consider doing that during the strike. It has been over seven months now and there is no end in sight to this strike.
COVID-19 did a lot in terms of stopping people from going to work and doing what they would normally do, but apparently it wasn’t enough to deter the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, known as F-SARS, from their usual work of harassing and abusing innocent citizens. The notorious F-SARS, a branch of the Nigerian police formed to combat robberies and kidnappings, were still abusing, torturing, and killing Nigerians even in the midst of a pandemic, based on the fact that they didn’t like how that person dressed, the kind of hairstyle they had, the phone they used, the tattoos or piercing on the person's body and even the car the person drove. This issue didn’t just start in 2020; since its inception in the 90s, F-SARS has been accused of multiple murders, robberies, kidnappings and physically abusing people for no justifiable reason. The government has disbanded them many times in the past but they just keep on coming back. This year young people took to the streets to peacefully protest. F-SARS officers love to prey on young people and it hit home for a lot of the young men and women that they could be the next victim if SARS wasn’t put to an end once and for all. And how did the Nigerian government respond to these peaceful protests? They used water cannons and teargas to try and disperse the crowds; when that didn’t work, they paid thugs to infiltrate the protests and stir up trouble; when that didn’t work, they shot live ammunition at the young people who were peacefully protesting. A day that will forever be remembered (I hope) by Nigerians is the 20th of October 2020. That night the Nigerian government sent military personnel to shoot at peaceful protesters at the Lekki toll gate and block ambulances from passing through to attend to the wounded. It was a carefully planned massacre that the military and the government have denied.
Still outraged by the horrific incident that occurred on the 20th , people in Lagos discovered a warehouse filled with COVID-19 relief items (mainly food) that should have been distributed by the government during the lockdown period when many people didn’t have work or a way to feed their families. People cleared out the warehouse almost as soon as they found it. Sure enough, people began to find similar warehouses with hidden palliatives in states all across the country. Governors tried to fabricate stories of how the goods had just been put in the warehouses and could
not be distributed due to the protests. Thankfully, no one was buying their horribly written lies.
Since then, the government has frozen the accounts of people who supported the protests, seized passports of well-known protesters, and eye-witnesses of the massacre have been threatened for speaking out about what they saw and experienced. Lawmakers are trying to pass a bill that states that anyone who spreads ‘false information’ about the government will be criminally charged and sentenced to some time in jail. In the midst of all that’s happened in Nigeria this year, I am a bit optimistic about the future of this country seeing as many people are fed up with the nonsense and ready to do something to help bring about the better change that we have been wanting for so long.
— Katrina Dawap, 18