Nigeria’s tech industry on Monday slammed security agencies for the “illegal arrests” of web developers in the country, where authorities often accuse them of being internet fraudsters.
Outrage erupted from the tech community and on social media in Africa’s most populous country over the weekend after Lagos-based software engineer Toni Astro said he was arrested, beaten and extorted for money by a notorious police unit.
Astro said officers from the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) — a force widely accused of human rights abuses — assaulted him after discovering him with a laptop and made him withdraw money from his accounts to pay them.
“Policemen there said you’re the one spoiling the economy,” Astro wrote on Twitter.
The incident brought together some 30 companies, investors and media outlets in Nigeria’s budding tech industry to threaten a “class action lawsuit” under the banner #StopRobbingUs.
“SARS officers, Nigeria Police and all tactical units, targeting software engineers is a frequent occurrence in Lagos and this is the latest in a string of attacks,” they said in a statement.
“This is an ongoing concern for Nigeria’s tech community. A talent problem already exists in our sector, yet police, particularly SARS’ harassment, accentuates the talent drain in our industry.”
Nigeria’s economic capital Lagos is a key tech hub for African developers.
But the country is also notorious for cybercrime and fraud, perpetrated by organised gangs known locally as “Yahoo Yahoo boys”.
Earlier this month, Nigerian and US authorities said they had arrested nearly 300 people in a months-long crackdown on online scams to hijack wire transfers from companies and individuals.
Industry figures say web developers are regularly harassed and extorted by police authorities, who accuse web developers of being involved in cybercrime.
Bosun Tijani, CEO of Co-Creation Hub, told reporters that tech workers were often detained when found with a laptop.
He said firms were documenting cases of their workers being targeted around the country and called for police “to be trained in this area”.
“It is driving talented young people away from this industry.”
SARS officers have long faced allegations of widespread abuse and a prominent online campaign has called for the unit to be scrapped.
Nigerian police’s complaint response unit said on Twitter that it was investigating the incident involving Astro.