Nigerians in Atlanta saddened, hopeful amid chaos in homeland

Ebianga Ikpeme, better known as DJ ECool, speaks during a Wednesday night protest at Centennial Olympic Park. The Advance Nigeria Organization held the protest a day after the Nigerian military opened fire on peaceful protests in Lagos. SPECIAL PHOTO/ADVANCE NIGERIA
Ebianga Ikpeme, better known as DJ ECool, speaks during a Wednesday night protest at Centennial Olympic Park. The Advance Nigeria Organization held the protest a day after the Nigerian military opened fire on peaceful protests in Lagos. SPECIAL PHOTO/ADVANCE NIGERIA

A few hundred people filled the streets and sidewalks outside Centennial Olympic Park on Wednesday night, in a spot that’s become synonymous with protest in Atlanta. They marched and waved Nigerian flags marred with fake red blood, asking Americans to listen.

“Soro soke,” they chanted — speak louder.

“We have the responsibility here in the diaspora to be the voice of the voiceless,” Victor Bomi, one of the protest’s organizers said later. “Since the government is trying to shut out their voice and not listen to them, we have to make 10 times even more noise here.”

In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, tens of thousands of citizens have flooded the streets of Lagos and other cities for weeks now, protesting decades of government corruption and the brutality of a federal police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. The End SARS movement was already garnering more international attention — then the massacre happened.

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Government officials have denied any involvement. But according to eyewitness accounts and investigations conducted by Amnesty International and other organizations, the Nigerian military opened fire Tuesday night on peaceful protesters gathered in Lagos, the country’s most populous city.

At least 12 people were killed.

Nigeria is the largest source of African immigration to the United States, and while exact figures are hard to pin down, the Atlanta area boasts one of the country’s more sizable Nigerian-American populations. The 2016 American Community Survey estimated that Georgia had more than 19,000 Nigerian-born residents.

Generations worth of corruption and police abuses in their homeland have long weighed on local Nigerians, and the protests that started this month were already front of mind. Violence — whether from Boko Haram terrorists or SARS itself — is nothing new.

But news of Tuesday’s killings, dubbed the Lekki Massacre after the tollgate where protesters had gathered, sent concentrated shockwaves of emotion through Atlanta’s Nigerian community.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden issued a statement calling for the Nigerian military and President Muhammadu Buhari to “cease the violent crackdown on protesters.” U.S. President Donald Trump — who infamously described African nations and others as “sh*thole countries” — has been silent on the matter.

Several local Nigerian-Americans said that, given the history and Trump’s position on similar Black Lives Matter protests in America, the latter is disappointing but unsurprising.

“I want my government to do something about this,” said George Chidi, a local journalist and commentator who has family from Nigeria. “There are sanctions that can be laid on the people that are responsible for this, and they should be.”

In the meantime, locals are doing what they can.

Bomi said his organization was founded to empower Nigerian youth and, like many others, is also helping support groups on the ground in Nigeria. Protests like the one he helped organize this week are also important.

Grabbing — and holding — international attention could play a crucial role in driving change back home.

“One of the biggest things is to continue to raise awareness,” Hope Okotie, a member of the Nigerian Women Association of Georgia. “It’s still ongoing. It didn’t stop [with the massacre]. It’s still happening.”

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