By Bayo Akomolafe, re-posted from social media (October 10, 2020)
I come from the largest black nation on earth, Nigeria. You would suppose that having almost uniformly black skins means we live in a de-racialized territory of mutual wellbeing and abundance – like the fantastical world of Wakanda. You might think that such a country wouldn’t have problems with their police force, for instance. But racialization transcends our phenotypic fixations with, say, skin colour. Even within our corporeal homogeneity lies troubling cuts, lingering imperial legacies, haunted bodies, toxic institutions, and incarcerated imaginations. We are frozen in a colonial moment. We are not free.
Our police force was inherited from the British in the latter part of the 19th century; they set up the force to protect their extractionist interests. This was the politics that hid behind the supposedly neutral notion of “law and order”. Sixty years later, we gained independence from the British and lowered the Union Jack. We made merry and drank to the future – to a bright new future free from overlords and whiplash. But, you see, even though we had lowered the Union Jack, we did not take down the flag pole: we hoisted our own green-white-green in place of Her Majesty’s Jack, and we continued within the same white ontology of flags, central banks, fiat currencies, highways, factory schooling, and clock time. We cut our streams open with concrete knives and built cities to mimic the civilization of our former owners. We cancelled our gift cultures and attached value to a meritocracy that presumed grandmothers to be discardable pieces of a new economic order. And an ancient way of being supported, of being held in communal tapestries of belonging, was given a new name: corruption.
The new movement to #EndSARS is on the one hand a call by Nigerians for their government to end police brutality, to stop killing people, to stop policemen snatching away watches and phones from drivers, to stop the force’s ever-creative excuses for extorting money wherever wallets and handbags sail by. On the other hand, it is an invitation to investigate the categories by which we think and are thought out by the world we have helped reinforced. I do not subscribe to revisionist histories of holy times gone by, a reconstructionist move that casts the past in glorious light and adjudicates a return to originary pre-colonial purity. Instead, this is a call to think – to investigate the new, to lose our way, to stray freely from the computational pathways of haunting pasts, to seed fugitive openings that allow even a messianic burst of the otherwise to gain root. #EndSARS may lead to the banishment of SARS, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad that is at the heart of the ongoing protests in Nigeria – but much like its epidemiological cousin, the SARS-CoV-2 phenomenon, getting rid of it – like getting rid of a virus – does little to address the conditions that gave birth to the crisis.
Protest? Yes. For the lives of those killed by security. But then, as we have learned many times before, achieving victory within the epistemology of our captors reinforces our incarceration: there are other places to go, other questions to ask, other fields to open up, many other postactivisms to wield. We cannot risk only victory another time.