On Saturday, September 28, a Lagos based software Engineer, Toni Astor, narrated on Twitter, a bitter ordeal he had with men of the Nigerian Police in Ogudu area of Lagos State. His story reels on intimidation, brutality and extortion – a familiar trend that many tech guys in Nigeria can relate with.
So yeah ?, SARZ messed up my Saturday and I get to be locked up because I’m a software developer.
— Toni Astro (@toniastro_) September 28, 2019
The story went viral, attracting the interest of Police Crime Response Unit (PCRU), a body designated to handle cases of police extortion, brutality and other excesses. But it attracted the interest of the Nigerian tech community.
So came the birth of the hashtag, #StopRobbingUs, and pathetic stories that trended along with it. Nigerian tech leaders threw their weight behind the movement, the goal was to find a permanent solution to the impunity that has enabled the extortions. Enough is Enough (EiE), a social accountability group has stood up in support of the initiative to commence a Class Action Lawsuit against the police.
And other tech moguls are standing by the #StopRobbingUs movement. Led by Bosun Tijani of CcHUB, Jason Njoku of Iroko, Iyin Aboyeji of Future Africa, and Oluyomi Ojo of Printivo, among others, there’s unwavering determination to get to the root of the matter. Flutterwave has launched a fundraiser for the campaign, and according to reports, the response has been impressive as money is said to be coming from all angles. Over $30, 000 has been raised in just 24 hours after the launch. Flutterwave CEO, Olugbenga Agboola, promised that the company will waive all charges on the payment link.
Human Rights lawyer and the convener of #EndSars campaign, Segun Awosanya, has also joined the campaign. Since 2017, he has been at the forefront of the struggle to tame rogue police officers who prey on innocent citizens to enrich themselves. The pattern has not changed: iphone, laptop or any other gadgets is an evidence of being a cyber-fraudster (Yahoo Yahoo). You only have to negotiate your way out of their hold by paying a sum. If you don’t have cash on you, you use the ATM.
The tech community has been at the receiving end of the system because they use gadgets more than any other people. And that’s why they are rising to the challenge of protecting their own. The CEO of CcHUB, Bosun Tijani, said:
“Our ask is simple. Stop arresting our colleagues. This is an ongoing concern for Nigeria’s tech community. A talent problem already exists in our sector, yet police, particularly SARS’ harassment, accentuates the talent drain in our industry.
“This is central issue for jobs and youth empowerment in Nigeria and the continued, illegal attacks on our country’s young people should be treated as a national emergency.
“Beyond its pro-innovation rhetoric, the Nigerian government continues to turn a blind eye to the robbery and psychological intimidation of young tech talent.”
According to startup Genome, the Nigerian tech industry is the most valuable in Africa with about 700 startups commanding $2 billion. Partech reported that in 2018, Nigeria attracted $306 million tech investments.
In the face of dwindling oil revenue and wobbling economy, technology is seen as an alternative to economic growth. The US tech-based economy is an ample example of what tech can mean to the economy when the government provides the environments it will thrive on.
With over $1.6 trillion market value in 2019, and about $326 billion in export, the US economy doesn’t care about the downturn in the oil sector, even though it has more oil reserves than Nigeria. The quest for cleaner energy is also a threat that its inevitability cannot be ignored. These instances are expected to instigate the Nigerian Government to facilitate tech-enabling environment, where the police will not be a threat to tech innovators.
However, the wake-up call has been heard, and the tech community is no longer leaving matters into government’s hands to handle. Beside the initiative to sue the police, there is also plan to develop apps that will track police activities and record events as their unfold so as to hold them accountable.
The Press Release
Nigerian Tech Community Fights Back Against SARS
Tech Leaders Consider Legal Action Against Illegal Arrests of Software Engineers
Monday 30 September 2019. Lagos, Nigeria. Nigeria’s technology leaders have launched #StopRobbingUs, a campaign to put an end to the common practice where Nigerian police stop young people with laptops and unlawfully arrest, attack or, in extreme circumstances, kidnap them, forcing them to withdraw funds from their bank accounts in order to regain their freedom. Working alongside Enough is Enough Nigeria [EiE], a network of individuals and organisations that promote good governance and public accountability in Nigeria, the #StopRobbingUs movement is now considering a Class Action Lawsuit on police brutality.
Led by ‘Bosun Tijani of CcHUB, Jason Njoku of IROKO, Iyin “E” Aboyeji of Future.Africa and Oluyomi Ojo of Printivo, amongst others, the campaign is calling for the Federal Government of Nigeria to intervene in the continued practice of illegally arresting and extorting young people in Nigeria who work in the technology sector. A fundraiser has been launched by Flutterwave to raise money for a legal intervention and public awareness programme, which has already seen donations flooding in from across the globe.
The #StopRobbingUs campaign comes after Toni Astro, a Lagos-based software engineer, posted on Twitter a harrowing account of his encounter with Special Anti-Robbery Squad [SARS] officers in Ketu, Lagos. During his ordeal on Saturday 28th September, Astro was allegedly publicly intimidated, arrested, beaten and extorted, in order to secure his freedom. News of SARS officers (Nigeria Police and all tactical units) targeting software engineers is a frequent occurrence in Lagos and this is the latest in a string of attacks. Today’s news builds on the larger #EndSARS movement that has rocked Nigeria over the last year, which has used social media to appeal for an end to the frequent robberies of Nigerians, by security operatives who are supposed to protect them.
‘Bosun Tijani, CEO CcHUB says, “Our ask is simple. Stop arresting our colleagues. This is an ongoing concern for Nigeria’s tech community. A talent problem already exists in our sector, yet police, particularly SARS’ harassment, accentuates the talent drain in our industry. This is the central issue for jobs and youth empowerment in Nigeria and the continued, illegal attacks on our country’s young people should be treated as a national emergency. Beyond its pro-innovation rhetoric, the Nigerian government continues to turn a blind eye to the robbery and psychological intimidation of young tech talent.
“We are social innovators, entrepreneurs, engineers and business leaders who work in Nigeria’s technology and innovation sector. Over the last few decades, we have collectively helped to build an innovative, highly respected tech industry that has elevated Nigeria on the global stage and demonstrated that young Nigerians can do great things. The bedrock of our industry is Nigeria’s young and ambitious technology talent. They drive our operations, build our products, serve our customers and solve difficult problems for society everyday. Without this talent our industry would not exist. Nigeria’s tech community is mobilizing, and fast. Collectively, we have remained silent for too long. As of now, our voice will be deafening, and we plan to see the #StopRobbingUs campaign through to the very end.”
In an online statement, Jason Njoku, CEO IROKO called for “a robust and concerted legal effort” to combat SARS’ indiscriminate attacks on Nigeria’s young technology workers. The tech community is now mobilizing to deliver this, working alongside key partners including EiE, Segun Awosanya (@Segalink), government bodies and the police. The fundraising effort backed by Flutterwave has already seen donations in excess of N11,000,000 million (~$30,000) in less than 24hours, with funds still flooding in.The company’s CEO, Olugbenga Agboola, has stated that the payments platform will “waive all charges on the payment link.”
Nigeria is Africa’s most valuable tech ecosystem, with 400-700 startups worth $2billion according to startup genome report and last year alone, the country attracted $306m in tech investment, according to a report by Partech.
Named tech leaders of the campaign include: Bosun Tijani, Jason Njoku Oluyomi Ojo, Olumide “D.O” Olusanya, Adetunji Eleso, Odunayo Eweniyi, Adewale Yusuf, Tayo Oviosu, Jessica Hope, Chinedu Azodoh, Editi Effiong, Damilola Teidi-Ayoola, Femi Longe, Idris Ayodeji Bello, Jay Alabraba, Kola Aina, Shola Akinlade, Gbenga Agboola, Mark Essien, Sim Shagaya, Aanu Adeoye, Tomiwa Aladekomo, Benjamin Dada, Shola Adekoya, Oo Nwoye, Prosper Otemuyiwa, Nelson Olaonipekun, Dele Bakare, Ngozi Dozie, Chijioke Dozie.