A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest in Lagos, Nigeria, Oct. 17 over alleged police brutality. Several Nigerian bishops have criticized police attacks that have left at least 12 protesters dead and hundreds injured. Emannuel Adegboyega, left, a Toronto high school student originally from Nigeria, implores Canadians to not take their freedom for granted. CNS photo/Temilade Adelaja, Reuters

Freedom a privilege not to be wasted

By 
  • November 6, 2020

Living in a free country is a privilege some young people take for granted these days, but not Canadian teen Emmanuel Adegboyega.

The 17-year-old honour student at Chaminade College School in Toronto has been troubled by recent reports and video evidence implicating Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in horrifying human rights violations, which sparked protests and an #EndSARS movement on social media. Adegboyega, who emigrated from Lagos, Nigeria, with his family in 2014, says although Canada is not perfect, he has a deep appreciation for the rights and freedoms in ways many of his peers born and raised here may not understand.

“Having lived in Nigeria for almost 12 years, I think it has given me a chance to see the bigger picture,” said Adegboyega, who along with his parents and four siblings became Canadian citizens last year. “I saw a different way of life. I saw hardships and people going through unthinkable things that the western world wouldn’t get to see unless they go to places like that. Coming to Canada I really saw another side of things. Human rights in a place like (Canada) is something that is respected and celebrated. I think it’s been eye-opening and makes me empathize with people on either side because I know where they’re coming from.”

In Nigeria, SARS was formed in 1992 to tackle violent crimes, but the unit developed a reputation for brutality and has been called out by Amnesty International for human rights violations, including harassment, rape and torture killings. The government in Nigeria is under growing international pressure to deliver reforms amid mass civil unrest.

As Canadians prepare to pay homage this Remembrance Day to those who gave their lives to ensure Canada remains a free nation, Adegboyega says democracy and freedom of speech are values we need to continue to uphold.

As student council president at the all-boys’ Catholic school, Adegboyega has used his personal platforms on social media to speak out against injustices, including voicing his support for the #EndSARS movement that has gained traction internationally. Reports that at least 12 young protesters were killed by authorities in Lagos last month has pained the teen who knows the region well.

“Remembrance Day I think is an amazing way that we really honour those that paved the way for us to be in a free country like Canada,” said Adegboyega. “Coming from a place where people might feel like the system isn’t really as democratic as it claims to be, having a sense of freedom is honourable and something we should look forward to for a nation like Nigeria.”

Similar to other youth-led movements, social media has helped bring global attention to what has been happening in the west African country as well as other nations in turmoil across the globe. Tag Elkhazin, professor of African studies and the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Ottawa’s Carleton University, says like in several parts of the world where there is no real effective deep-rooted democracy, young people in Nigeria have reached a breaking point.

“When a force like (SARS) is in existence for a long period of time with impunity, and are not answerable to anyone, at the end of the day, they become totalitarian, and they become rough,” said Elkhazin. “They assume that they can get away with murder. I think the young people in Nigeria have been pushed to the limit now. Social media has played a great role because they see what is happening in other parts of world. The victims feel that they have taken enough.”

Elkhazin says much of the conflict in Nigeria has come from the power struggle between the various ethnic groups. Adegboyega believes as Canadians who celebrate a diverse and multicultural society, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves and take action by speaking out and signing petitions to put pressure on international governing bodies and organizations to hold the Nigerian government to account.

“I’ve seen on social media people are asking the question, ‘Why should I care?’ ” said Adegboyega. “I think at the end of the day, we all have to put ourselves in their shoes. ‘What if this was me?’ At the end of the day we’re all humans and I think it’s important that we put ourselves in other people’s shoes and be willing to take any action that comes our way that would help Nigeria at this time.”

Adegboyega, who plans to study law one day, says the young people crying for justice across the world are very likely the next world leaders. As Canadians, but most importantly as followers of Christ, he believes we have a responsibility to support those fighting for freedom across the globe. 

“There’s a passage in the Bible that tells us the more blessed we are, the more we’re expected to be a blessing,” said Adegboyega. “We’re incredibly blessed especially in this part of the world and I think we should definitely stretch out an open hand (in support) of a country like Nigeria. It is what God would expect us to do.”

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