By Hannatu Musawa |
Like a gathering storm, on the 9th of October 2020, the #EndSARS hashtag began trending on Twitter and all social media platforms, calling for the ban of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian Police Force and a notoriously controversial division known for alleged police oppression and brutality. Two days later the #EndSARS hashtag had up to 28 million tweets and engendered protests both within and outside the country.
Across major cities in the country currently, youths carrying placards and signs calling for an end to police brutality have become common sight. The protests have paralyzed activities and disrupted traffic on major roads in many cities. In places where vehicular movements are not disrupted, residents battle with gridlock. Coming equipped to protest venues with all manner of ‘amenities’ such as public phone charging points, and private security, it appears that the protesters are there for the long haul.
Many Nigerian celebrities home and abroad as well as non-Nigerians have also joined or lent their voices to the protest. Recently, the founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey created a special emoji in solidarity with the protesters. No doubt, the protest is fast gaining international traction.
Through the #EndSARS protests on social media, many youths have been able to share stories and videos of SARS operatives allegedly engaging in kidnapping, murder, theft, torture, extortion, unlawful arrest and extra-judicial killings. The protesters mainly youths, allege that SARS operatives frequently profile them indiscriminately, arrest them without warrant and mount illegal stop and search road blocks.
In an unprecedented move bereft of a recognizable central leadership, the protesters listed five demands that include the disbandment of SARS and the holistic reform of the Nigerian Police Force. To be fair to the government, they have met majority of these demands and embarked on more reforms that wasn’t included in the demands. Curiously however, the protests have refused to go away. On the contrary, the quantum appears to be growing.
What began as a single demand to stop police brutality and End Sars, has metamorphosed into several agitations.
This is not however uncommon with social movement. For instance, the recent George Floyd protests in America metamorphosed into the Black Lives Matter movements. The Arab Spring, ignited by a Tunisian man who set hims
elf ablaze in protest, led to the downfall of the regimes of about 3 North African dictators. It transformed into a movement against oppressive regimes and low standard of living in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain.
No doubt the #EndSARS protest have transformed into a movement and from all indications, their demands have gone beyond reforming the Police Force.
Despite concessions and acceding to the demands of the protesters by the Government, such as the immediate disbandment of SARS, protests are still ongoing. While many are blaming the protesters for setting goals and shifting the goalpost in the middle of the game so to speak, the protesters have remained resolute.
The protesters insist that the disbandment of SARS is nothing new. In 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2019, the same proclamations and declarations were made and nothing changed. The fact that the government has given assurances to the young protesters that some of their demands will be met, many of the protesters say they want a sincerity of purpose and are having a hard time believing the government.
Also, the police through its reforms say it has created a new unit, SWAT, in replacement of SARS. However, protesters say the unit had been in existence since 2019, therefore, they find it extremely difficult to believe the government.
By now, it has become quite apparent that the protest, which started with the agitation to end SARS has morphed into a national movement that demanding for change.
Perhaps the protesters resoluteness is not unconnected to underlying issues that revolves around good governance. A keen observer of the protest would know that the #EndSARS is a catalyst that has provoked many other agitations and demands. Transferred aggression by some youths other than police brutality seems to have taken-over the crux of the protest.
Listening to some protesters on the street one can tell that many of them are frustrated with the system that has operated in Nigeria through the span of their lives. Many of the young protesters are complaining about the lack of jobs and lack of funds to start a business. Many are lamenting the infrastructural decay and lack of opportunities to thrive.
The recent increment of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) and electricity tariff (though subsequently reviewed) has been identified as an aspect that has fuelled the widespread hardship, which encouraged the protest.
Along with the ‘official’ #EndSARS protesters demand, other subtle demands that many youths are agitating for includes Reduction of National Assembly members’ salary, removal of the Inspector General of Police and an end to what they perceive as bad governance in Nigeria. They are clamoring for good roads, good jobs, an end to pervasive public sector corruption, infrastructural development and so on. The protests truly has taken another dimension where the demands of the disenfranchised young Nigerian is being tabled out for the world to see.
In essence they are clamoring for a better Nigeria where they can thrive on merit without being related to or knowing someone at the helm of affairs or “an Oga at the top”.
Along with the concessions government have already made to the protesters, there has got to be dialogue in order to make headway for peace. In times of conflict, where there are truths that have to be addressed on each side, the only way to attain any kind of resolution peacefully is through dialogue.
Carrying out dialogue and listening to the cries and agitations of the youths will go a long way in addressing many of their grievances.
Woodrow Wilson, a former president of the United States once said “The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.” This simply translates as good leaders are good listeners. The ability to listen effectively is one of the greatest keys to becoming a person of influence.
This is the first time in recent history that Nigerian youths are coming together regardless of ethno-religious differences, gender or clime, unanimously demanding better living conditions and a better country. To many, this indeed is a time of hope that has sprung from the ashes.
…Apparently, Nigerian youths have taken matters into their own hands and social media has become a powerful tool. Through social media, these youths have formed a community where they are in communication and are in unison.
A fascinating aspect of the protests is that the constitution of the protesters are not made up of a demographic of people that one would expect in a struggle such as this. Many of them are under 40; many are women; and some are from underrepresented backgrounds that have had their voices ignored for many years. These young Nigerians have managed to raise and disburse funds and organized excellently executed protests. Various small food business owners and vendors have donated food for protesters. Young lawyers have offered pro-bono services for wrongly arrested protesters.
If this organized movement is sustained, it may eventually transform into a movement that is destined to replace the “old guards” in the nearest future. It is quite possible that, in time, the effort we are witnessing before our very own eyes births a political movement, initiated by young people, financed by young people with the aim of contesting for political at all levels via the ballot box come 2023.
All over the world recently, young people are fancied more at the helm of affairs. The leaders of France, Canada, Finland, Austria and New Zealand are all young people and doing their country proud.
A new Nigeria beckons, one built on oneness, integrity and resourcefulness. Could what we are presently witnessing in Nigeria with the End SARS protests be the beginning of that New Nigeria? Perhaps it is, because as things continue to unfold, there presently does not seem to be an End to the #EndSars.