For greater than three weeks final October, 1000’s of younger Nigerians gathered in cities throughout the nation to protest a infamous police unit generally known as the Particular Anti-Theft Squad, or SARS. The unit was shaped in 1992 to assist sort out violent crimes on the home entrance, however in recent times studies circulated of SARS officers repeatedly concentrating on harmless younger Nigerians, falsely accusing them of crimes and demanding cash in alternate for launch. Repeated tales of unlawful arrests, kidnappings, assaults, and even homicide ignited furor on social media.
Nevertheless it wasn’t till October 3, when a video surfaced of SARS officers taking pictures a younger man to dying and stealing his automotive, that Nigerians took the web outrage to the streets. The #EndSARS motion — which culminated within the October 20 Lekki bloodbath, throughout which army officers shot at demonstrators close to the Lekki Toll Gate — shook the world’s most populous Black nation to its core, and finally led to the disbanding of SARS (although a brand new unit was shaped shortly after). The protests turned about multiple department of the police, serving as a broad public admonishment of the present administration as a complete, and provoking a complete new wave of Nigerian political activism. Jahmal Usen, and his home-cooked meals of red-tinged jollof rice and comforting spaghetti stir-fry, are an essential a part of it.
Nigerian politics have at all times been wrapped up in meals. Over time, meals right here has been weaponized, withheld, and used as a method of corruption and coercion by these in energy. Through the Nigerian Civil Conflict of the late Nineteen Sixties, the Nigerian authorities famously reduce off meals provides from the residents of Biafra, leaving many Biafrans hungry whereas considerably crippling its army base. Nonetheless at this time, meals stays suspiciously scarce for a lot of Nigerians, regardless of the nation’s bountiful pure assets. In late October, Nigerian residents found warehouses overflowing with meals provides that must have been distributed to low-income Nigerians on the peak of the pandemic.
Meals right here has been weaponized, withheld, and used as a method of corruption and coercion by these in energy.
So when it got here time for Nigerians to take energy into their very own arms throughout #EndSARS, it made sense that meals must be part of the combat. For Usen, that meant waking earlier than daybreak to feed the protesters — lots of whom have been camped out close to metropolis landmarks for days and even weeks — himself. “I knew I needed to contribute in a roundabout way,” he says, “so after my first protest I promised to make between 50 and 100 packs of meals and produce them the subsequent day.” That was the beginning of a number of weeks price of intense cooking for Usen, who ultimately teamed with a supply firm to distribute the a whole lot of plastic containers filled with meals to protest places throughout Lagos. “Folks have been asking if I might include extra,” mentioned Usen, “so I despatched a tweet asking for donations, and other people began serving to out with cash. That’s how I used to be capable of proceed to make meals for protesters for so long as I did.”
Usen was not alone. On the second day of the protests in October, Feyikemi Abudu — an area entrepreneur and a number one voice within the #EndSARS motion — put out a tweet calling for a donation of fifty,000 naira ($130) to fund breakfast for the protesters who had congregated on the governor’s residence in Alausa, Ikeja Lagos. That tweet would go on to lift greater than 1.3 million naira ($3,404.09), and in flip encourage a complete chain of cooks, eating places, bars, bakeries, and even small roadside snack stands to chip in.
“I used to be contributing the little I might to creating a distinction,” says Seyi O. Seyi, who usually spends her days promoting small chops — a Nigerian snack platter made up of samosas, spring rolls, puff-puff (fried dough balls), hen kebabs, fried gizzard and snail, and different small pastries. “I couldn’t hit the streets, however I might not less than feed the folks that have been, and we even despatched small chops to on-line protesters, too.”
Bars got here collectively to donate water, ice, and cellular cooling items to places in want. “We observed the warmth was taking a toll on protesters the primary day we joined,” says Mosunmola Olundegun of the Lagos cocktail bar Quacktails. “The following day, we determined to carry out our massive coolers filled with ice and walked across the grounds providing chilly water to to function a cooling level for protesters with drinks.” Olundegun and her group additionally rented a bus to assist decide up meals from donors round Lagos and ship it to protest websites.
Ultimately, extra formalized help teams started to spring up, teams just like the Meals Coven, which has supplied meals of jollof rice, buttermilk hen sliders, yam porridge, and amala (a standard dish made out of cassava or plantain flour) to greater than 15,000 Nigerians on the entrance strains — a powerful feat for a company run primarily by means of a six-person WhatsApp group chat. “We had a system,” says Meals Coven’s Amara Eche. “We positioned a flag in entrance of all of the places the place meals was wanted. A purple flag meant that there had been no meals on the protest heart. A black flag meant that some meals had been despatched however not sufficient. A white flag meant that sufficient meals had been despatched out and two white flags meant that sufficient meals had been distributed to these places and extra shouldn’t be delivered.”
Meals Coven even managed to drum up donations from Nigerian expat communities all over the world, together with Houston, Texas, the place Tobi Smith — the younger founding father of All I Do Is Cook dinner, which ships Nigerian dishes throughout the U.S. — raised sufficient to feed greater than 200 protestors in Lagos, and handed out his personal jollof and coconut rice to these marching domestically. “It might be any considered one of us,” says Smith, of his fellow Nigerian Texans. “Most of us need to journey again residence to Nigeria, and now we have iPhones, now we have dreads. Any considered one of us might be a sufferer of indiscriminate profiling.”
The renewed spirit of activism has triggered bigger conversations round meals in Nigeria — specifically who has entry to it, and why.
The official #EndSARS protests ended on October 20 on the evening of the Lekki taking pictures, however the renewed spirit of activism has now triggered bigger conversations round meals in Nigeria — specifically who has entry to it, and why. Widespread corruption and mismanagement of funds amongst elected officers is a part of the issue, however there’s additionally the looming presence of the Boko Haram terrorist group in Northern Nigeria, the place most of Nigeria’s meals is grown, in addition to the nation’s ongoing struggles with civil battle, poverty, inhabitants progress, local weather change, and pure useful resource degradation.
Making an attempt to make a dent in all of it is FEED (Feed, Empower, Educate, and Develop) Lagos, a brand new group of decentralized soup kitchens working to sort out the issue of starvation within the nation from all angles. In November, FEED organized a meals drive for the low-income communities within the neighborhood of Itedo Lekki, and there are plans to develop this system to different communities this yr. “FEED was born out of the #EndSARS protests,” says co-founder Tomi Aladekomo. “Through the protests, volunteers and donors have been feeding as much as 3,000 folks every day on the Lekki toll gate alone. However the folks receiving the meals weren’t simply protesters. They have been locals, lower-income folks passing by on their solution to their jobs, bike riders, and other people from the encompassing shanties.”
The attract of free meals may need been a part of what drew many hungry Nigerians to the #EndSARS protests within the first place, however what they left with was much more essential than a full abdomen. In a rustic recognized for its divisions throughout class, faith, and ethnicity, meals has turn into a standard floor inside a standard combat towards systemic abuses. “Previously, Nigerian politicians have been recognized to purchase votes by giving out meals,” says Houston’s Smith. “Now meals is enjoying a extra constructive position. It has at all times been a great way to carry folks collectively, however in these protests, meals inspired folks to come back out to face up for his or her rights.”
Nelson C.J. is a Nigerian tradition journalist with works within the New York Occasions, the Unbiased, I-D, Vice, Teen Vogue, Dazed, Xtra Journal, Digital Spy, OkayAfrica, and extra. Marylu Herrera is a Chicago-based artist with a deal with print media and collage.

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