The #EndSARS Protests Have Shown That A New Nigeria is on the Horizon

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In the last couple of weeks, the #EndSARS peaceful protests spread globally, transcending the country’s borders and extending to foreign soils. Both home and abroad, Nigerians marched in solidarity with a unified demand: an end to the years of unbridled violence imposed on citizens by the Nigerian Police Force – particularly from members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a now-defunct unit. In a matter of days, we witnessed history unfold.

Uprisings of this sort are not new in Nigeria. Back in 2012, the social media-driven #OccupyNigeria protests erupted across the country as citizens took to the streets, outraged at the president’s announcement of a sudden spike in fuel prices due to the overnight removal of the fuel subsidy.

History will also recall the ‘Enough is Enough’ protests back in 2010, as the then youth gathered en masse in a display of public anger over issues ranging from infrastructure failings, fuel shortages, and power blackouts while clamouring for the resignation of the then-ailing president.

The common denominator between these two timestamps in Nigerian history and the #EndSARS protests is the youth’s undeniable presence at the forefront. In all instances, the youth’s collective antipathy towards the bodies in power enabled them to lead the charge and demand tangible change.

But there was something very different about 2020’s #EndSARS protests.

For one, social media was employed as a fierce tool to fight oppression in a way like never before. Thanks to its ease of access and widespread reach, news of the protests was circulated in a matter of seconds, with updates spreading as quickly as they occured. Social media gave the movement the amplification needed to rally advocates from far and wide.

For Rume, a fervent online protester, this was her first time being actively involved in a revolt of this sort. “A lot of the times when people rise up against the government, a lot of people usually get left out,” she told me. “This time, we’re all in the loop. We’re sending broadcasts on Whatsapp, and people are compelled to listen, and as they do, they realize they have something to share as well. Our goal is to spread, and it’s spreading fast.”

A gaping hole in Nigerian history is the lack of proper documentation of sporadic moments like this. Where traditional media failed to record the uprisings in real-time aptly and chose instead to fuel harmful propaganda and false narratives, this time around, new-age digital media publications like Zikoko, Stears Business, Native Magazine, and More Branches as well as media houses like Arise News, rose to the occasion to document the lived experiences of the youth. In addition, young people built archives like endsars.com, creating outlets for people to share their experiences with police brutality and to ensure such incidents aren’t erased from our history.

The #EndSARS protest was a decentralized one, with no official leaders, figureheads, or representatives in place. Taking a page out of the year-old Hong Kong protesters’ book, it was a moment created for the people, by the people. This new generation of Nigerian youth has demonstrated that they have learned from the mistakes of the generation before them.

History has shown that leaders are easily susceptible to compromise, as integrity and commitment to a cause is often traded for a seat at the table. Hence, the #EndSARS protests took on a faceless form, with pockets of unofficial coordinators being formed all over the nation, bound by the sense of shared responsibility to reform the country.

Thanks to social media, the youth were able to create an organised ecosystem with helplines to respond to the youth’s needs at the frontlines of the #EndSARS protests. Collectives like Feminist Coalition, a two-week-old organisation of feminists, have served as distribution hubs for protests across the country, raising funds and granting access to any and everything from food to medical and legal aid.

Everyone was more focused on playing their part and less interested in being spotlighted, and that’s why the protests were so seamless, as Onyema, an online protester, told me. “The beautiful cooperation amongst the youths and supporters of the protest is what’s so different this time,” he remarked.

The growing momentum of the #EndSARS protests was brought to a screeching halt at noon on Tuesday, October 20th. Following Governor Babajide Sanwo Olu’s orders, a 24-hour curfew beginning at 4 pm was declared in all of Lagos State, setting the entire city into a chaotic flurry as commuters hurried to get home in time. Despite this, a brave multitude of protesters peacefully stood their ground at the Lekki Toll Gate.

What followed when night fell is the single most inhumane act in the country this year. The tollgate lights were covertly switched off, and peaceful protesters waving the Nigerian flag and singing the National Anthem, were shot by Nigerian soldiers. In a matter of seconds, the Lekki toll gate was turned into a memorial ground of the merciless bloodshed that night.

The government and authorities of power, in their callous response, have vehemently denied any participation in the massacre on Tuesday night, frantically pointing the finger of blame at each other while giving no definite answer to the burning question: who ordered the attacks? They have resorted to manipulative tactics in a bid to wipe this inhumane moment from history: gaslighting, accusing local and foreign media of disseminating “fake news” irrespective of the concrete video evidence. But we know what we saw. We saw them shoot. We heard those screams. And no matter how much they try to erase it from existence, no matter how many allegations they deny, no matter how many lies they tell, the fact remains that we know what happened. And we will never forget.

Yesterday evening, after nearly 48 hours of complete silence, President Muhammadu Buhari addressed the nation. During the ‘live’ speech, the president completely failed to acknowledge the Lekki massacre and the lives lost, focusing instead on the police officers killed in the pandemonium that followed after, while subtly threatening protesters and warning foreign media to stay away. Scrolling through my timeline after the 12-minute speech, I could sense the general feeling of despair in the air. How could this be it? All those lives lost? All that time, money and energy spent? Just to give up now? It was a painful moment of realization for all that the victory we so passionately seek, won’t be handed to us on a platter of gold.

For me, last night was an awakening. After spending time laughing at the memes and jokes floating around social media, I realised this was a relief and not the end. It can’t be. It’s up to us to re-strategise and play the long game, and the first item on the agenda is tackling the 2023 elections and ensuring none of these old heads get the chance to hoard the seats of power again. We need to map out plans to educate the masses on the power of their votes to ensure they don’t sell it for a 2kg bag of rice come 2023. Electoral reforms and constitutional amendments should be our next focus.

The fight against police brutality is far from over. The #EndSARS protest instilled a new sense of commitment to our community in many of us, and while going out to physically protest may not be the best option at the moment, it’s up to us to keep the conversation alive. Social media has proven to be a benefitting tool on our side, so we shouldn’t stop using it.

I urge everyone to hold their heads high, because we fought a good fight, we are still fighting a good fight. In what has been prevalently termed as the biggest nationwide protest ever, the #EndSARS movement is nothing short of revolutionary. Religious and ethnic differences were shunned as we all collectively marched towards a new Nigeria. There was a strong unity across the board, with the consensus being “No one is left behind.”

In his essay, The Trouble with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe stated, “The problem with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility.”  Through the #EndSARS protest, we have seen exemplary leadership and we know this was only achievable because we put our differences and came together. We are stronger together than apart. Let us never forget that.

Even with the uncertainty of what the future holds, things still feel more promising than they ever have, this time. And irrespective of the government’s callous attempts to discredit and demoralise us, we the Nigerian youth are determined to ensure our intersectional demands are met, to create a healthy society for the next generation. It would be devastating if they had to fight the same fight.

Makua Adimora

Makua has forgotten more Young Thug lyrics than you'd probably ever know. Tweet your fav horror movies at her @coldasmax_

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