On Friday 9th of October, #EndSARS was trending worldwide on Twitter with millions of impressions, and across other social media platforms. Deciding today’s topic was easy.
Nigerian youths have gone from the timelines of Twitter into the streets of cities and towns across the country, in the multitude of their thousands, and themessage is clear and somewhat uncompromising; “No reforms, just end SARS!”
The menace disproportionately affecting Nigeria’s growing tech industry.
While taking a stroll one night on the Lekki-Ikoyi bridge in Lagos, West Africa’s largest city, Adegoke Olubusi was shot at by two SARS officers.
Olubusi is the co-founder of Helium Health; one of Nigeria’s innovative healthcare companies. Helium Health provides a suite of technologies to
healthcare organizations in Nigeria and other emerging markets to help them deliver services more efficiently.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is notorious for harassing its young people. It is a Nigerian Police Force unit under the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, originally tasked with fighting crime.
Police officers profile young people, including those in the country’s burgeoning tech industry. Laptops, dreadlocks, premium smartphones and or tattoos are a major bait for this group that originally was intended to protect the youths but has fully morphed into what some foreign observers have described as a “terrorist organisation”, and rightfully so.
In Olubusi’s case, the officers tried to get him into an unmarked van, as is their modus operandi.
“I was petrified, even confused by how intoxicated they were,” he narrated in his account. “I remember thinking about my mother’s reaction to finding my body lifeless on the streets of Lagos,” he added.
Olubisi’s story is similar to Yele Bademosi, another influential member of the tech industry who is a VC and CEO at fintech startup, Bundle. Bademosi was kidnapped and extorted by SARS officers while heading home in October 2019.
Across Nigeria on the 9th of October, 2020, young people took to the streets from Lagos to Delta in the country’s oil-rich region to protest police brutality, demanding that the government scrap the notorious group. The #EndSARS hashtag was trending on Twitter as young people online including members of the tech community supported those on the streets.
Apart from almost a decade of kidnap, robbery, and torture, their anger is understandable and also justified by data* gathered by TC Insights, TechCabal’s data and research unit.
Our dataset showed four major categories of SARS harassment including arrest/kidnapping, extortion, shooting and beating. While extortion is the most popular type of harassment, beating and arrest/kidnapping are also relatively common. Like in Olubisi’s case, the harassment could increase the desire of tech talent to leave the country.
Lagos is the startup capital of the country but that could change soon owing to unfriendly policies. Our dataset revealed that it had the most SARS incidents. Startups are increasingly avoiding the city and launching in quieter and more policy-friendly ones and a sustained threat to the lives of employees could cause startups to consider shutting down or seek safer states.
SARS harassment in the tech industry affects workers in several sub-sectors. Digital Media showed up the most in our dataset. Fintech was also relatively common. The fintech industry is Nigeria’s best-funded tech sub-sector. Police brutality threatens the investment in that sector.
Whether the government should #EndSARS is no longer the question. It’s now an indictment of its commitment to see its tech industry and its young population flourish. It has become an economic decision, and until their conditions are met, these protesters are not leaving the streets of Nigeria.
This data story was written with support from TC Insights’ interns Boluwatife Sanwo and Abdul-Quadri Odeshina.
Editor’s note: *Our dataset currently has far less than 50 SARS incidents, please help us enrich our dataset by sharing this form everywhere you can so we can provide a data-backed perspective of the menace. This will show further evidence that SARS needs to be banned.
Also, please fill in the form if you or anyone you know that works in Nigeria’s tech industry has been harassed by SARS. We will update this data story as we enrich our dataset.
THE CRYSTAL BALL
“Technology is playing a crucial role in improving inefficiencies in supply chains across Africa and will be vital to the continent’s development and growth post-pandemic.
The ongoing pandemic has highlighted more than ever that businesses need to build resilience into their supply chain, as well as the key role informal retailers play in the African economy. While more shoppers are going online, informal retailers continue to play a vital role in supplying essential household goods to neighbourhoods and they must not be forgotten in the innovation conversation. Leveraging technology to connect them directly to leading manufacturers is essential. The sector also needs innovative access to credit.
With most informal retailers lacking the collateral that banks demand, many are often unable to access the funds they need to scale their business and generate more revenue. With more small retailers using technology to access the funds they need to grow their business, they will be better equipped to take advantage of the opportunities that will become available in the new normal.“
– Karen Adie, Director of Merchant Services, TradeDepot