The tech community in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is fighting back against what its leaders say is alleged police harassment and extortion of tech workers.
The campaign, titled #StopRobbingUs, was launched in September after Akinmolayan Oluwatoni, a software developer tweeted about being harassed by officers of the state’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Lagos, the country’s commercial hub.
SARS is a branch of the Nigerian police responsible for tackling violent crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping and murder.
In his tweets, Oluwatoni said SARS officers stopped him while he was on his way home and accused him of being an internet fraudster for carrying a laptop and an iPhone.
He was taken to a police station where the officers demanded 1 million naira ($2,759) but eventually settled for 15,000 naira ($41), he said.
“Next thing was slaps and punch, here and there. All I could hear was ‘confess you’re an internet fraudster or not’ I kept saying I am not a fraudster, I am a developer for a company and all,” he tweeted.
Four police officers involved in the incident have been identified and arrested, Lagos state police spokesman, Bala Elkana told CNN.
“As soon as we received the complaint, we commenced an investigation on the matter. We got four of the officers involved arrested, they are in custody and are now being subjected to internal disciplinary proceedings,” he said.
“We also recovered the 15,000 naira they extorted from him,” he added.
Tech community speaks up
The close-knit tech community, including tech entrepreneur Iyin Aboyeji and Jason Njoku, CEO of Iroko TV, are speaking up against what they call “intimidation of their colleagues.”
Bosun Tijani, the founder of Co-creation Hub, one of Nigeria’s leading technology hubs, says the campaign hopes to make those responsible for extorting and harassing tech employees take responsibility for their actions.
“Your basic work tool is your laptop and most technology people would have a smartphone as well. So if police use that as an excuse to extort and harass, then we have a serious problem in the country,” he told CNN.
“What we are doing is coming out as an industry to shine a light on the fact that our colleagues and staff are being harassed on a daily basis, and that it has to stop. The campaign is about calling on those who are responsible to take action,” he added.
This is not the first time SARS has been the subject of a widespread campaign.
There have been protests under the hashtag #ENDSARS after officers of the police unit were accused of preying on citizens, and in some cases torturing them.
Crowdfunding to support lawsuits
Tech company founders in Nigeria have used crowdfunding to raise up to 13.8 million naira ($38,300) to finance lawsuits as well as support existing initiatives fighting police brutality, according to Tijani, founder of Co-creation Hub.
“The fund will help to support lawsuits. The men involved in harassment should not just be arrested, they have to be prosecuted,” he said.
Reacting to the campaign, Bala Elkana, a spokesman for the Lagos state police, said police are committed to protecting the rights of Nigerian citizens.
“Citizens have the right to move about without being harassed or molested by anybody. If there is any member of the tech association that has suffered any form of harassment they should step forward and we will investigate. We are determined to bring an end to this impunity,” he told CNN.
On social media, Nigerians are using the hashtag #StopRobbingUs to support members of the tech community and highlight harassment by police officers.