On October 7, protesters began demanding that a notorious police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), be shut down. The Nigerian Police Force on October 11 announced that SARS had been dissolved in response to the protests, the Washington Post reported.
The Feminist Coalition was also founded in July in Nigeria to “champion equality for women in Nigerian society with core focuses of education, financial freedom, and representation in public office.” In the last month, the group has focused on providing funds to those participating in the demonstrations against police brutality.
Nigerian authorities caught wind of the fundraisers and shut down the payment platforms used to process donations, prompting the group to use bitcoins as an alternative payment option, Tauheed, president of the National Economic Association, explained to hosts Michelle Witte and Bob Schlehuber.
“The attempt to stifle political opposition by shutting down their finances, in this case when it’s held in [a] bank account – it’s easy to do, because banks are better regulated by government. That’s not limited to Nigeria. We’ve seen organizations that have been engaged in protest in the US having their PayPal accounts shut down and having other types of accounts that would be used to raise funds for those who are protesting closed,”
“With cryptocurrency, it’s not foolproof. The government will not be able to interact with or shut down a cryptocurrency account. It’s much more difficult for the government to do that than it is for the government to shut down a bank, and therefore there is less risk in holding a cryptocurrency account if you are involved in activities that the government doesn’t like,”
According to a report by CoinDesk, the Feminist Coalition has used the Sendcash platform to convert bitcoin payments into naira, the Nigerian currency, before depositing that money into demonstrators’ bank accounts.
“There’s also the situation in which a cryptocurrency is used to act as a less risky way of raising money or crowdfunding … [and can be] used to help protesters to pay for funerals for those who have been killed and other kinds of things … But there’s also another aspect of cryptocurrency in Nigeria – that persons who are being targeted by SARS, the Special Anti-Robbery Unit, were having their bank accounts confiscated. The police would pick them up thinking they had money in their bank accounts,”
“When that money is in bitcoin or some other kind of cryptocurrency, it’s not impossible, but it’s more difficult for the government to confiscate those funds, so we see that individuals, not just organizations, are using cryptocurrency to avoid the confiscation of their funds by the government. So cryptocurrency is playing a role of being a place where people can put their money that is out of government reach,” Tauheed concluded.
SARS was set up in Nigeria decades ago in response to increased levels of crime and kidnappings. In June, Amnesty International revealed that there were at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extrajudicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020 alone.
“The complete failure of Nigerian authorities to bring an end to the gross human rights violations perpetuated by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad or to bring any SARS officer to justice is shocking and unacceptable. Nigerians are outraged by the systemic human rights violations perpetrated by the SARS with impunity,” Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said in a statement accompanying the report.