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Clinging to hope: Charlottetown's End SARS vigil remembers victims of Nigeria protests

Arianna Eriavbe-Wolters, 5, was one of about a hundred people who attended an End SARS vigil in Charlottetown on Oct. 23.
Arianna Eriavbe-Wolters, 5, was one about a hundred people who attended an End SARS vigil in Charlottetown on Oct. 23. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

Abie Edegbe felt heartbroken when she recently called her mother back home in Nigeria.
"Mom, I hope you guys are not going anywhere today," she said.
Her mother assured her they were staying in, but for Edegbe the call was intense. How could she possibly rest assured?
She called because of the reports she and P.E.I.'s Nigerian community were seeing on their home country's ongoing protests, which have her unsure whether returning will ever be an option. And home is supposed to be somewhere she can feel safe, she said.
"Well, I just want to make sure because it's really bad out there," she replied to her mother. "They're killing people, they're shooting people, they're robbing people for no reason."

Abie Edegbe was one about a hundred people who attended an End SARS vigil in Charlottetown on Oct. 23. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Abie Edegbe was one about a hundred people who attended an End SARS vigil in Charlottetown on Oct. 23. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Edegbe was one of about a hundred people who gathered Friday at Charlottetown's Rochford Square to remember the victims of the End SARS movement in Nigeria, who died protesting a notoriously violent police unit, she said.
"Who lost their lives fighting for me."


#ENDSARS BACKGROUND:

  • Nigeria's Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is a police unit that was created in the 1990s to deal with crimes such as robbery, vehicle theft, and kidnapping.
  • Members of the covert unit didn't wear uniforms and drove unmarked vehicles. Over the years SARS gained a reputation for violent methods and behavior, especially toward the country's youth.
  • "Basically making life a living hell for young people," vigil attendee David Chukwuka said.
  • In 2017, the End SARS movement began as a social media campaign where people shared evidence of SARS' abuse and called for its end. The Nigerian government disbanded it following a resurgence in protests in Oct. 2020, but protests continue for further reform. 
  • This week, 12 protesters were allegedly killed by Nigerian soldiers in Lagos. In an Oct. 23 BBC report, President Muhammadu Buhari said there have been 69 deaths this month, consisting mostly of civilians but with some being police officers and soldiers.

About a hundred people attended an End SARS vigil in Charlottetown on Oct. 23. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
About a hundred people attended an End SARS vigil in Charlottetown on Oct. 23. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

For David Chukwuka, it's been hard being on P.E.I. because if he was back home, he would be on the movement's front lines. While the unit is largely what sparked the protests, the movement has since transcended to become about reforming the country's repressive government, he said.
"These protests kind of brought back a little hope," he said. "This could be the turning point."
But the point of the Charlottetown vigil was to show solidarity, and especially to mourn the civilians killed when tensions spiked this month, Chukwuka said.
"I can speak for myself, and I can speak for my friends here, that we're all in shock," vigil moderator Daniel Ohaegbu said. "We have a responsibility to bring justice to their names."

Daniel Ohaegbu helped organize an End SARS vigil in Charlottetown on Oct. 23. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Daniel Ohaegbu helped organize an End SARS vigil in Charlottetown on Oct. 23. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

There were several speakers throughout the vigil and some tears shed among the public during the dark, sombre and chilly night – which was warmed by the soft glow of people's candles and the comfort of friends and strangers alike.

Jose Gonzalez, vice-president for student life with UPEI's student union, invited any international students in attendance to reach out to the student union should they find themselves struggling to balance schoolwork during this time.

Edegbe, who currently attends UPEI, said everything that's going on has certainly been a lot to process and deal with. Even though her family is in a separate city from where most of the conflict is, the protests are nationwide and the unit has a history of entering people's homes.

"I'm here because it could have been me. It could have been anyone," she said.

"Once there's hope, there's change."

- Chijioke Amadi

Chijioke Amadi was one about a hundred people who attended an End SARS vigil in Charlottetown on Oct. 23. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Chijioke Amadi was one about a hundred people who attended an End SARS vigil in Charlottetown on Oct. 23. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

In a prayerful reflection, speaker Chijioke Amadi said many of P.E.I.'s Nigerian community had moved to the Island for a better life and education. With the hope that their home will one day be safe to return to gradually diminishing, he called on those affected to maintain a sliver of hope.

"Cling to that hope," he said. "Because once there's hope, there's change."

About a hundred people attended an End SARS vigil in Charlottetown on Oct. 23. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
About a hundred people attended an End SARS vigil in Charlottetown on Oct. 23. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Daniel Brown is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government. Twitter.com/dnlbrown95

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