Having tattoos and/or dreadlocks will get you arrested in Nigeria. This is the situation, especially for young men. The arrests are by the Special Anti Cultism Squad (SACS) whose mandate is to arrest and contain suspected members of cult groups. Cult groups have been a common problem in Nigeria, especially in universities where they are involved in illegal and violent activities and the death of students. There are both all-male and all-female cults.
SACS was created due the number high activity of cult groups in Nigeria. However, their tactics have left many Nigerians displeased. The officers, who are usually not in uniform, will often rush into public spaces arbitrarily making arrests over unsubstantiated allegations with innocent students suffering in the process. Furthermore, they have openly targeted people with dreadlocks and/or tattoos.
A case where this went wrong is the case of Kolade Johnson, a 36-year old father of one, who was killed by SACS police in a raid. Johnson was killed by an officer of the Gbagada division of the Lagos State Police Command’s SACS unit while the team was attempting to arrest a second man who they had targeted because he had dreadlocks.
The incident, which took place in the Mangoro area of Lagos State on Sunday, March 31, 2019, sparked wide criticism and protest in Nigeria. When contacted by BBC, Mr Bala Elkana, the Lagos State Police Command spokesperson said, “Tattoo and dreadlocks are strange to our culture,” in defence of SACS.
Despite admitting that it’s not enough for officers to arrest people based simply on tattoos or their hairstyles, Elkana told BBC that they’ll suspect such people more than regular people. “Because when you arrest cultists, most times when you look at their bodies, you’ll see some signs on them,” he explained.