Nigeria’s tech community has come out in full support of the protests rocking Africa’s most populous country this week, after years of battling the same police unit accused of harassment, beatings and murder.
When Toni Astro, a Lagos-based software engineer, posted on Twitter a harrowing account of his encounter with the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in 2019 – influential tech leaders launched the #StopRobbingUS campaign to denounce police brutality and impunity in Nigeria.
The feared police unit, which has now been disbanded following nationwide protests, had been accused of frequently harassing young techies in Nigeria’s commercial capital of Lagos, accusing young developers of being laptop thieves.
The movement was led by Bosun Tijani of the incubator CcHUB, Jason Njoku of streaming service Iroko, Iyin “E” Aboyeji of tech-collective Future.Africa and Oluyomi Ojo of design-startup Printivo, among others.
One year on, and the tech community is again backing the most recent protests as they spread throughout the world from Canada to the UK.
Paystack, a payment service provider that was recently acquired for over $200m, donated around $2500 to a civil society group called the feminist coalition which has been at the forefront of providing relief and support to the protestors.
Another payments company Flutterwave has raised around $5000 to help get treatment for SARS victims.
“Many of us are affected by this injustice – @theflutterwave staff have also been victims of the brutality of SARS, so we started an internal fund so we can help victims of SARS and support protesters. #EndSARS,” wrote CEO Olubenga Agboola on Twitter.
The recent boon for Nigeria’s tech sector following Paystack’s acquisition may be short lived.
Most businesses have closed shop after the Nigerian army opened fire on peaceful protestors in Lagos witnesses said, sparking further unrest.
The uncertain situation and ongoing violence will also damage investor confidence in Nigeria’s tech scene, says Segun Awosanya, a tech-figure at the forefront of the #StopRobbingUs campaign said.
He said: “Nobody is going to invest in a country where there is no police or law and order. Right now people are hoarding money in their homes. People cannot go to banks because the banks are not open, there is no law and order.
Awosanya predicts the unrest will continue for several weeks and expects a state of emergency to follow the 24-hour curfew imposed on Tuesday.
Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari addressed the nation on Wednesday warning citizens to desist from protests, but critics argue his speech did little to address the rapidly escalating situation.