Reductive generalizations about a class or group of people are incredibly commonplace in Nigeria. A man with dreadlocks must be a criminal. A lady with an anklet must be a prostitute. An Igbo person must be greedy. All these and more are samples of stereotypes that permeate the Nigerian system; posing potent fault lines. Profiling based on stereotypes has also saturated the security sector; with security officers’ catching’ criminals based on nothing but stereotypes.
For many Nigerians who have shared their experience with police brutality, especially at the hands of the now-defunct police unit, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the story is usually the same. Young men and women were suspected to be criminals based on their looks and items they possess.
While Nigerians are fighting against injustices, police brutality and extra-judicial killings with the #EndSARS protest, we must address the root issue of stereotypes that have been entrenched in society, specifically by the older generation.
In a social media post, that got the attention of many Nigerians, Nigerian DJ Kaka, shared his experience with some SARS operatives alongside his brother. In the post, he was alleged to have been profiled a criminal for the tattoos on his skin and the type of hair he wore. The altercation between him and the operatives claimed the life of his brother and landed him for days in their custody.
— Urchie (@EROMENEUC) October 14, 2020
On Twitter, his story opened up the age-long conversation of profiling young people based on their looks and how society has allowed this to persist for so long.
For men, hair is expected to be nicely trimmed, appearing as either black or dark brown, or better still bald. For women, hair should be in muted colours, appearing as either weaved back or in some subtle and subdued style. The labels tied to options outside these criteria are then divided according to gender – coded as ‘femme’ or ‘masculine’ – and occasionally class.
Saw this on Facebook about him too.
The way people jump into conclusions ehn pic.twitter.com/MIZJSEI1yH
— DEBBIEZFABRICSnSTICHES (@Debbiezfabrics) October 13, 2020
For men with active or subtle ‘feminine’ mannerisms, there is an implicit possibility of homophobic violence, while ‘masculine’ men can be profiled as internet fraudsters popularly known as ‘Yahoo-Yahoo’. And when a women’s hair is not what is considered normal – anything from colourful hair to extensions – she’s regarded as a prostitute or ‘ashawo’ – a slur for a sex worker.
It gets worse with class. Rich people can wear whatever style they chose, but it still doesn’t end with just profiling them based on their class. For these ones, they are extorted because they can afford to pay their way out.
Don't judge a book by its cover.
This is DJ Kaka, he resides around rumuola axies of PHC, schooled in Ghana.
SARS killed his twin, made him spend 54months in prison. Took his car, almost killed him too after they killed his twin.
— ™#ENDSARS 💉 🌟 (@mirabelaokoi) October 14, 2020
These stereotypes, however, seems to start and end with Nigerians – and maybe, neighbouring African countries. Some Nigerians celebrate western people who appear in dreads and have tattoos all over their bodies but detest Nigerians with such, and it goes on to show just how hypocritically conservative Nigerians are.
With DJ Kaka, his appearance cost him his brother and days in custody. But we must do well to end this narrative and stop profiling people because of how they appear – this story, like many more that has surfaced with this protest, is a reason why the #EndSARS protest is a necessary movement to drive change.
Michael is a dynamic writer who is still exploring the nuances of life and being human. When I’m not writing, I’m out with friends or spending nice time alone watching movies or TV Shows.
Michael is available on Twitter and Instagram @TheMichaelFaya