With protests against police brutality ongoing across Nigeria, Afrobeats star Davido has told NME there’s much more at stake in his country than just reforming law enforcement.
With pressure mounting, the likes of Rihanna and Beyoncé are among the artists to have expressed their support for the #EndSARS campaign – after a number of citizens and police officers were killed in the African country’s largest city Lagos with protests against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) intensifying.
“It’s about a lot of things now,” Davido told NME. “The government just has to do better.”
Davido was speaking before the events of October 20, during which Amnesty International confirmed that the Nigerian army and police killed at least 12 peaceful protesters in Lagos. The #ENDSARS protests initially began on October 5, after a young man in Ughelli was shot and killed by officers from Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad, known as SARS. It was not an isolated incident. During the last three years, Amnesty International has recorded 82 cases of torture, abuse, and extrajudicial executions conducted by SARS officers.
“It started because the country was just tired of this division of the police that was really aggressive towards citizens, even to the extent of killing them,” explained Davido. “Now, it’s even past #ENDSARS. The government just has to do better. It’s been hundreds of years of the same thing, and this generation is just tired.”
He added that he believes a popular uprising in Nigeria has been coming for some time, in part because of the country’s changing demographics. “I used to tell people that are working in the government: ‘Yo, this generation is getting younger and you guys are getting older,’” he continued. “People are tired. I always knew a time like this would come.”
One aspect Davido didn’t foresee was the adoption of his recent single ‘FEM’ as a protest anthem. Although the party tune wasn’t written with a political intention in mind, it’s taken on a new meaning in the context of the protests because ‘FEM’ means ‘Shut Up!’ in Yoruba.
In one incident on October 13, reported by Pulse, protestors interrupted a speech by Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu by singing the lines: “O boy you don dey talk too much / Small talk you don dey look who talk / FEM!” At other times, protestors have reworked the original lyrics to reflect their situation: “I dey live my life / SARS dey turn am to shoot on sight”.
“I didn’t plan it!” Davido tells NME about the track’s impact. “I dropped the song a month and-a-bit ago, and it’s been crazy to see how it’s grown to be used as a tool. It’s amazing to see.”
With his song echoing out from protests all over the country, Davido has not shied away from participating himself. On October 12, the day after the Nigerian government formally announced it would dissolve SARS in response to the protests, he arranged a meeting in Abuja with the country’s Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu.
He used the opportunity to call for the immediate release of arrested protestors, justice for all victims of police brutality and for proper reform of the police force – including better pay and proper training for its officers. In clips released from the meeting, as reported by Nigeria’s Premium Times, Davido is heard telling Adamu: “What we are saying is that the ones that commit these offences, charge them and those that did not, still re-train them.”
- READ MORE: These afrobeats stars didn’t appear on the new Afrobeats Chart – but they definitely should have
Davido told NME that he didn’t intend for the meeting to cast him as a leader of the protest movement.
“I don’t see that as my role,” he said. “I just see it like I have the opportunity to be able to get to him. I went there to convey the message of the people. I’m not here to act as a leader, I’m just like everyone else that wants a change. To me, I feel like anybody should be able to walk up to the Inspector General of Police and be able to dialogue with him, not just because I’m a quote-unquote ‘VIP’ or whatever.”
The killing of peaceful protestors on October 20 has only solidified Davido’s opinion that change at the highest levels of government is urgently needed. He has since called on Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari to step down, before also tweeting a petition asking for Buhari to be charged before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
As footage and images from the scene began circulating on social media, various figures from the music world aired their support for #EndSARS via their official channels in a bid to raise awareness.
I can’t bare [sic] to see this torture and brutalisation that is continuing to affect nations across our planet!” Rihanna wrote on Instagram Stories beneath a Nigerian flag emoji.
“It’s such a betrayal to the citizens, the very people put in place to protect are the ones we are most afraid of being murdered by! My heart is broken for Nigeria man!! It is unbearable to watch! I’m so proud of your strength and not letting up on the fight for what’s right! #ENDSARS.”
Beyoncé wrote: “I am heartbroken to see the senseless brutality taking place in Nigeria. There has to be an end to SARS.
“We have been working on partnerships with youth organizations to support those protesting for change. We are collaborating with coalitions to provide emergency healthcare, food, and shelter. To our Nigerian sisters and brothers, we stand with you.”
For more information or to donate to the cause, visit Amnesty International.