#EndSARS protestors gather to mourn and demonstrate against the Nigerian government.
Benson Ibeabuch for VICE World News

Nigeria's #EndSARS Protestors Still Face Frozen Bank Accounts and Jail Time

Protestors against police brutality are still being targeted by the Nigerian government, which is itself avoiding accountability.
February 4, 2021, 3:49pm

Eromosele Adene had been expecting it. Since the shooting of peaceful protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in October during the monumental #EndSARS protests across Nigeria, the 27-year-old musician and philanthropist had been certain that the Nigerian government would continue targeting the young demonstrators. And so on Saturday, November 7, 2020, the day he was arrested, Adene remembers not feeling panic or fear; just a cold, calm acceptance of a possibility he had already predicted.

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The #EndSARS movement first began on October 8, after the shooting of an unidentified young Nigerian man by a police officer in the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad unit known as SARS. The shooting kicked off a series of physical protests across Nigeria and throughout the Nigerian diaspora that called for an end to police brutality, and came to be a bold affront to the Nigerian government. Now, in the weeks and months since the protests have abated, demonstrators are still being abused while the government sidesteps accountability. 

“From the view of the police, I was one of the visible faces of the #EndSARS protests,” Adene, who was arrested after the protests occurred, told VICE World News. “When the protests were still happening, for example, some of the thugs that came to attack and disrupt protests three times would often ask for the tall, light-skinned guy who is always carrying a megaphone, which was me, and because the thugs were sponsored, so it made sense that their sponsors would come after me.” 

In the weeks and months since the protests have abated, demonstrators are still being abused while the government sidesteps accountability.

In an interview with a local TV station while Adene was still in police custody, his sister, Omoneme Adene, explained that the men who carried out the arrest initially told her they were looking for Adene to discuss a business transaction. She said they then pressured her into leading them back to her house where Adene was located before arresting him. At that point, he was being held without any formal charge or arraignment in court, like many other #EndSARS protesters. 

Within a month, Adene was moved from Lagos to Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital, before he was released on bail. “In Lagos, on the following Monday, the police took him to court to ask the court for an order to hold him indefinitely despite no formal charge. Justice made no ruling and asked for the case to be moved to the next day for ruling,” Adetola Onayemi, an international trade, tech, and investment lawyer who has been involved in this case on behalf of the legal unit of the #EndSARS movement, told VICE World News. While Adene is now home, “he still has to appear before the authority per his bail conditions,” said Onayemi as he is being held under a “Holden” charge. This charge gives the Nigerian police the authority to continue investigating and establishing a case against Adene without first letting him off the hook. Adene is still required to appear in court until the police is able to pin a firm case on him and the court can finally decide if he indeed committed a crime during his participation in the #EndSARS protests.

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Adene is not the only demonstrator still bearing the brunt of a harsh government crackdown. Over the last few months, many young Nigerians have experienced and continue to suffer from the harsh retaliation carried out by individuals and institutions associated in one way or another to the Nigerian government.  

On November 6, 2020 the police arrested six Nigerians, including Oluwatosin Adeniji, a citizen journalist who had been covering the protests. All six were accused of criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly, public nuisance, and inciting public disturbance. Although they were eventually released days later, critics say it was only due to the clamor for their release by Nigerians on social media and the efforts of volunteer lawyers who continue to represent arrested protesters. 

Cases like this continue to resurface, with some garnering public support but most flying under the radar. Since the #EndSARS protests started, the legal arm of the movement, known as the EndSARS Legal AID, has recorded 352 reported arrests. With over 800 lawyers volunteering across the country, the unit has been able to secure the release of 337 people. 

“Since the protest ended, a lot of efforts have gone into institutionalizing the system of providing continued legal support for victims of police brutality,” said Onayemi, a founding member of the unit. “We believe that institutions and systems are more important than individual heroes.”  Onayemi noted that there have been other post-protest arrests, like the Adene case. “So efforts continue to help secure releases of people arrested.” 

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Government retaliation against #EndSARS protesters have taken other forms as well. Modupe Odele, a prominent #EndSARS advocate, said her passport was seized by immigration officers who didn’t provide a reason. This happened barely a week after the #EndSARS protests ended, and her passport would remain seized for weeks. Odele also said that she was stopped while trying to leave the country in December, and “had to make a call to be allowed to pass through.” She then said she was told that she would “always” be stopped like that upon entry to or exit from Nigeria.” Another Nigerian took to Twitter to share that the Nigerian Immigration Service had refused to re-issue her passport and told her that she had been blacklisted. 

Young Nigerians have also had their bank accounts, which they used to donate money to the #EndSARS cause, blocked by the Central Bank of Nigeria. Adegoke Pamilerin Emmanuel, a popular Nigerian influencer, says he is one of 20 Nigerians whose accounts have been blocked since mid-October, despite the Central Bank of Nigeria only receiving approval from the Federal High Court of Nigeria to carry out that operation later. “I noticed my account was frozen on the 15th of October. I could not make transactions,” he said. “Both credit and debit. I sent several emails to my bank and even made a tweet about it. We discovered that [the Central Bank of Nigeria] placed a ban on our accounts. CBN got court approval on the 5th of November, 2 weeks after they already placed a ban on the account.” He says that his account is still frozen. 

Young Nigerians have also had their bank accounts, which they used to donate money to the #EndSARS cause, blocked by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Freddie, another young Nigerian with frozen bank accounts, realized one of her accounts was blocked on October 16, 2020. Freddie, who preferred to share only her first name due to concerns for her safety, had imagined it would be a small, solvable issue since it was a student account. “I went to my bank the next day to complain and upgrade it and they told me it was the [the Central Bank of Nigeria] that restricted it and I should mail [the Central Bank of Nigeria]. I sent several emails that received no response. It later got unfrozen,” she told VICE World News. “On November 7 it got frozen again after the court order was released.” During the the protests, Freddie helped organize demonstrations, and she frequently received donations from fellow Nigerians and #EndSARS organizations to support her work.

Louis Mulu, another protest organizer, also said he had his bank account frozen. “I thought it was a network issue,” he told VICE World News. Mulu was raising money for protestors and purchasing supplies, and one bank transfer contained a note that read “for the protestors.” This, Mulu believes, “was how my account was traced and frozen,” he said. Both Mulu and Freddie’s accounts, like Emmanuel’s, are still frozen. 

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On December 15, Chief Judge John Tsoho of the Federal High Court claimed that the accounts that were frozen were done in error. Even so, these bank accounts remain inaccessible. According to Tsoho, the Central Bank of Nigeria had approached the court seeking an order to freeze accounts of certain corporate bodies who were “involved in the activity undercover.” He, however, doesn’t go on to cite examples of what those “activities” were. Regardless, the repercussions are deeply felt on these young Nigerians who are now unable to access their money and provide for themselves. Some have to depend on the kindness of close family members and others remain hopeful that their accounts would be unfrozen soon and their livelihood restored. 

While this has occurred, the Nigerian government has continued to deny accountability for their actions throughout the protests. 

During the October 20 Lekki massacre, as the shooting at the gate is now known, Nigerians watched on Instagram Live as officials of the Nigerian military shot at and killed a number of protesters. Amnesty International reported that about 38 people were killed that night, bringing the estimated number of protesters killed during the #EndSARS movement to 56. Still, the Nigerian government continues to deny there were any protesters killed that night.When President Muhammadu Buhari addressed Nigerians two days after the shooting, the retired military general and 1980s military dictator made no mention of the incident and went on to chastise the international community’s support of the protests. 

Weeks later, Lai Mohammed, the Nigerian minister for information and culture, dismissed a CNN report that confirmed military officers had shot at civilians as fake news. “Like everyone else, I watched the CNN report. I must tell you that it reinforces the disinformation that is going around, and it is blatantly irresponsible and a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organization,” Mohammed said at a press conference, before calling for CNN to be sanctioned. 

Even without justice, Nigerians are trying to keep their momentum going. Although Adene still faces a court case, he is dedicating most of his time now to encouraging more political participation amongst the younger generation of Nigerians. “The goal is to get two million Nigerian youth to register so as to be eligible to vote in 2023,” he told VICE World News. “Two million is actually a small number but we can start from there. My team and I are hoping to sensitize other young people and to make more of us aware of what we need from the government and how to continue to make those demands heard.” 

“We should continue to speak up and to stand by and with each other the way we've been in the last few months.”

“At best, I would say the Nigerian government has not been sincere with what actually happened at Lekki.” Ridwan Oke, one of the six lawyers who worked on Adene’s case, told VICE World News.

As someone who has worked closely with the #EndSARS legal team and has seen how recent government retaliations have affected young Nigerians, Oke believes that the move to freeze protesters' bank accounts is a direct plot to “block avenues where money were being raised for various important services that were rendered to sustain the protests.”  

“There can never be a healing if you do not acknowledge what happened on October 20. People died. They have relatives who care about them. To die, in the hands of those who swore to protect you and from the bullets you paid for with your tax is sad,” said Oke. “We should continue to speak up and to stand by and with each other the way we've been in the last few months. These are issues that affect everyone. We met this country like this, we must not leave it this way for the coming generation.”