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‘From the Front Lines,’ Stories of Resistance and a Movement for Black Lives

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The hashtag #EndSARS first surfaced in 2017 as activists in Nigeria sought to abolish a federal police unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad that residents said had misused its power. Known as SARS, demonstrators accused the unit of inflicting violence on residents.

In that year, a movement to end police brutality was born.

Saidu Tejan-Thomas was inspired by the protests in Nigeria, which continue on a regular basis. As the host of the podcast Resistance, Mr. Tejan-Thomas talked to several Nigerian activists for an episode titled, “See You On The Road.”

I caught up with Mr. Tejan-Thomas to talk about his podcast, which describes itself as “stories from the front lines of the movement for Black lives, told by the generation fighting for change,” and about his interviews with the Nigerian activists. Our conversation has been lightly edited.

PL: What’s different about the stories that “Resistance” is telling?

STT: It’s the personal narratives that you get from the activists and everyday people who are becoming activists. It’s the writing on the show. We spend a lot of time trying to make the writing feel intimate, accurate and beautiful to listen to.

We really try to make it feel like it’s Black people talking to Black people. Try to also make it feel like we’re talking about these stories in a way that is outside of the white gaze. This is a show that is aimed predominantly at Black and brown voices and Black and brown people and so we try to make sure that we are speaking in that way. That the show feels like somebody you know or somebody I know is making it.

PL: How did the “See You On The Road” episode come about?

STT: I found out about #EndSARS on Twitter over a month ago. A lot of my Nigerian and West African friends were tweeting about it and so I started looking into it and some of the things that people were saying about SARS and their experiences with it sounded horrific. It’s the kind of violence that you hear about in Africa but nothing ever gets done.

I felt like I recognized that because I’m from Sierra Leone and lived through the Sierra Leone Civil War when I was a kid. I went through the government fighting against rebels, rebels fighting against their own people and beyond that, I have seen cops in Sierra Leone who are very aggressive and unashamed to solicit you for bribes.

So I started calling around and one of my Nigerian friends connected me with his cousin, Joel, who lives in Lagos. I could just hear the anger in his voice, but I could also hear the conviction that he was really dedicated and activated and wanted to do something to end this.

And then another member of our team Wallace Mack Jr., a producer, is connected to a lot of activists around the world and he had a relationship with this woman Fey and he told us about the work that Fey had been doing with Safe House in Nigeria to keep queer Nigerians safe.

All that automatically was very interesting to me because we can talk about what’s going on in Nigeria — the police brutality, the corruption, the gruesome things that the cops have been accused of doing — but the thing I think that’s probably getting drowned out in all that is within the movement, and even within the country. The queer folks are pushed off to the side and are fighting against being marginalized.

So when Mack brought up that queer Nigerians were also fighting this fight and trying to be out there in the front lines, it was really surprising to me because being queer anywhere is like a health risk. You’re risking a lot. But being queer in Nigeria, even more so.

To see that people were putting themselves on the line, and just being outwardly openly queer, I felt like that was a story that we needed to push to the forefront and to highlight.

PL: It was really chilling hearing Kokoma, a queer activist, talk about almost losing her life at a demonstration and how her mother was more concerned about her being queer and telling her that she couldn’t return home. Why was it important for you to highlight these specific experiences?

STT: The show wants to be heavy and dark since the things that people are fighting against are often dark and heavy, but these people’s lives are also filled with color, joy, love, humor and so much more.

With Kokoma, we felt we needed somebody who had actually gone through the violence on both ends. The violence of being pushed away by your mother because you’re queer, but also the violence of the government. The one that everybody, a lot of the people in the country, queer or not, experienced, such as the Lekki toll gate massacre.

PL: How has the Lekki toll gate shooting affected the movement now?

STT: From the few people I’ve talked to on the ground in Nigeria, it feels like it was a major moment in the movement, in that before the Lekki toll gate shooting there were tons of protests in the streets. After the protests, the government clamped down, and to be honest, I think seeing that many people being shot at and people dying is a big deterrent for people to not want to protest anymore.

Thousands of people went through something traumatic together and I think that has really bound them in a way and given them, if not anything else, a grim and stark understanding of the lengths their government is willing to go to stop them from protesting. I think that is something that will stay with them probably for a long time.

PL: What do you hope people take away from the episode?

STT: That the movement for Black lives is a global movement and it’s been happening in one way or another all over the world. Wherever there are Black people, there is a fight. I think in Nigeria what we’re seeing is a really surprising swell of young folks who are trying to determine the future of their country and really take that into their hands.

Of course, there are always going to be people who are fighting and who are organizing in these places, such as Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Haiti, but the numbers in which Nigerians came out I think was really surprising and I hope people take away that the fight around the world for Black Lives is going to continue no matter what.

PL: Will there be other episodes in the future?

STT: We definitely want to continue to branch out. We want to take a global view because ultimately, the resistance movements we’re seeing around the country are all interconnected at a time when things like populism, really conservative presidents and fascism is all the rage around the world. There has to be a push back and a counter movement to that. I think that what we’re seeing right now is exactly that — people standing up and fighting back, people that we necessarily didn’t expect would ever do so.


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