You may remember Olandu John Bright as the asylum-seeker who was assaulted by his boss while working as a severely underpaid garbage collector. But the 23-year old’s journey through hardship roots back to his mother country Nigeria, after his father was shot dead in broad daylight at a peaceful protest.
“My dad was killed by an officer from the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). They opened fire at protestors like us,” he told Lovin Malta.
Olandu’s father Matthew was murdered in cold blood in Anambra, Nigeria in September 2017, for demonstrating against police brutality and the complacency of Nigerian politicians.
Now, young people like Olandu are protesting in the thousands in Nigeria, against years of crimes committed by SARS – a police branch allegedly responsible for unaccountable violence against civilians.
“These killings happen every single day in Nigeria, and the government does nothing about it.”
The issue of SARS has made international headlines after a video circulated showing a man being beaten, apparently by officers from the police squad.
Set up in 1992 in response to the rising wave of armed robberies and kidnappings, SARS was initially not a visible force in Nigerian cities; officers blended in to catch violent suspects by surprise. After an expansion in 2009 to tackle cultism and fraud in universities, the unit has been accused of countless violent crimes targeting young people.
As the #End SARS movement spread across Nigeria over the past two weeks, at least 56 people have been killed.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International warned of at least 82 cases of extrajudicial murders, kidnappings, rapes and torture at the hands of SARS officers in the last three years.
The current upheaval led by young Africans under the name #ENDSARS led state officials to pledge to disband the unit in the beginning of October. But protestors weren’t convinced, with numerous instances of skin-deep reforms over the years to justify their scepticism.
And they were proven right – just two days after its abolition, President Adamu unveiled a new unit – Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) – to replace SARS. Many of the officers accused of violence would just assimilate into the new unit.
Olandu, like many other young people in the African state, supports the revival of the Biafran independence movement, which seeks to form a sovereign state within Nigeria, similar to the failed and bloody attempt in the Nigerian Civil War of 1967.
Just a few days after his father’s death, a military crackdown on young supporters of the independence movement was launched, and Olandu had no choice but to leave.
At 20-years-old, he walked through the wilderness and hitched a ride at the back of a cow-trailer to Niger. He managed to work odd jobs for food and shelter, and met people looking for a better life in Libya.
Olandu joined 33 others to journey to the North African state. He suffered kidnappings, torture, prison and a near-death experience in the desert.
“I was sure I was going to die. For days we had no water, no food and little hope.”
Sixteen of the others didn’t make it to Libya.
He managed to pay a smuggler to board a shady boat from Tunis to find peace in Europe. Now, he’s got asylum in Malta, working in construction while he gets work experience, and is supporting his Nigerian comrades fighting for justice in any way he can.
“I want to do all I can for my people. All I can do from Malta is spread awareness about the issue,” he said.
Just today, at least 12 people were killed and hundreds more were injured after police forces fired upon protesters in anti-police brutality demonstrations in Lagos.
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