3 Reasons why the #EndSARS Peaceful Protests are much needed now
What began as a protest against the extremisms of the Nigerian Police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) has become a conduit for the youth to vent their anger with the people who have been in charge of Nigeria for decades, and demand change. Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960 and since the history of misrule by many of the Nigerian elite ruling class, no time in history has the nation’s people organized themselves into a force to reckon with, not just by the government of the day, but also by the international communities, to demand justice and good governance from those who have long oppressed and suppressed them.
What sets the 2020 #EndSARS movement apart from previous struggles in Nigeria is its inclusive, decentralized leadership and organizing approach. In a broader political system in which women face tremendous barriers to participation, a cadre of young women has taken the helm of mobilizing #EndSARS online and on the front lines, while also coordinating a vast network of mutual aid that has resourced protests across the nation. Since the protests started, the Feminist Coalition, coordinated by 14 women, has crowdfunded more than 147 million Naira (nearly $400,000) that was swiftly redistributed, with unprecedented transparency, to provide protest clusters with food, water, medical care, security, legal aid, and relief for victims of police brutality and their families. Still, #EndSARS protesters insist, “We have no leaders,” rejecting the elevation of any individual or organization as the face of the movement. For now, this ethic has enabled the movement to sidestep co-optation by the establishment and hijacking by opportunists, which are pitfalls that undermined struggles like #OccupyNigeria in 2012.
Looking at the feats that have been achieved by the #EndSARS peaceful protests in Nigeria, many are beginning to think that it was one force that created an unprecedented significant fear of the people in the government and the political class in Nigeria – and this is perceived a major achievement which no other struggle has been able to achieve in the history of the country. Hence, I have considered it a very good venture to discuss here, some reasons why the #EndSARS peaceful protests are much needed in Nigeria, and why it should never be quenched but must be encouraged and revitalized.
- The weakness of the government and our politicians have been exposed
To my mind, this is perhaps a landslide victory for the people: to know that those who have exercised bad leadership over us and have taken pleasure in the impoverishment of the common man can actually be afraid of us, is a great victory. Who would have thought that our politicians can be afraid of us? Merely knowing that our leaders are not superhumans – like they have deceived us to think of them – and that they too can be afraid of the things which we are afraid of is a big exposure of the lies they have ‘told us’ about themselves. It is both instructive, soothing, and relieving to know that we, too, can put pressure on our leaders to make them listen. If there is a way to keep the #EndSARS protests going on the streets, please let us keep it alive – it is a major tool for engaging our leaders’ attention, and that is a major plus for us.
There is some optimism among #EndSARS protesters that the model of struggle and movement they pioneered may translate into a template for future social movements in Nigeria – and this is a major achievement on its own.
- Important, weighty international voices are joining our local, unheard voices
Young Nigerians have been protesting police brutality since early October, before expanding the original #EndSARS protests to include demands for broader institutional reforms in government and accountability. But in the light of the government’s continued refusal to address the issues of police killings, many international voices are now speaking too, joining their voices to that of Nigerian youths which have been ignored for far too long. An example is a team of independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, who are calling on the Nigerian government to establish a credible, independent inquiry into protester killings during the #EndSARS protests.
Street protests against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of Nigeria Police also received a boost from several countries after many celebrities joined the advocacy. The #EndSARS hashtag was trending not only in Nigeria, but in the UK, Canada, and the United States. Interestingly, the hashtag remained on Twitter’s Nigeria top 10 trend table for quite a long time.
British-Nigerian actor John Boyega voiced his support for the campaign, as did popular Nigerian musicians Davido and Wizkid. Anonymous, an international group of anonymous cyber-activists, has also joined in the campaign. Some other Nigerian artistes – Tiwa Savage, Runtown, Falz, Word, and DJ Spinal – were on the streets of Lagos to lead their voices against the alleged legal criminal police unit. Also, a Nigerian professional athlete in the UK, Mike Edwards, has called for a protest in London. Several other protests have been planned in other foreign countries such as Germany, the USA, and Canada, while protests have been taking place in at least six states in Nigeria including the FCT.
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- The youth have reinvented and redefined governance in Nigeria
It was quite instructive for the Nigerian government to know – and they must quite admit this time – that good governance in Nigeria is possible, and it is not difficult (or impossible) like they have made us believe. If the Nigerian government and politicians want to argue this, I think they should be told again of how the youth managed the first two weeks of the protest, before the bad elements were sent out and planted among peaceful protesters, clearly to cause chaos and mislabel well-meaning, peaceful protesters. The youths protested for 12 days without vandalization; 12 days of rejecting bribes; 12 days of caring and looking out for each other; 12 days of giving free medical care and legal services. Brands, both national and international Celebrities, and Churches, all protested, while influential people were lobbied to add their voice.
At the protest grounds, the Christians gave room for the Muslims to have their Jumat prayers, and the Christians had their service on Sunday. There was a candlelight service held all over the nation for fallen heroes. Youths, despite the hard economy, spent their personal money cooking for each other. No one knew who was a Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa, or Edo. We ate together and danced together. For 12 days, the youths were organized without a formal leader, only with social media tweets, retweets, posts, shares with a hashtag. For 12 days we built the Nigeria of our dreams, and we built their nightmare and they got scared! They know if we’re united, we would have one voice, if we have one voice, we have power, and if we have that power, we would demand a better Nigeria.
Another important thing worthy of note about the peaceful protest was that it was devoid of partisan politics. Analysts argued that if the protests were funded by any political party or group of political parties, the agitators would have long lost their strength. It would also have been easy for the government to say the agitations were politically motivated, thereby discredit the movements and their feats. The protesters verbally attacked the opposition and the ruling party while demanding an end to police brutality and were not even impressed when two politicians, Omoyele Sowore and Atiku Abubakar tried to gain ‘political mileage’ by identifying with the agitation.
It is generally believed and I do concur, that apart from the irrational response from the government to repress the protest, which has led to the loss of lives and body parts of many of the protesters, the best thing for Nigeria would be for the youths to keep mounting pressure on the government and the politicians through the element of the protest. However, with the experience at the Lekki Toll Gate which has been popularly braded, “The Black Tuesday”, one would play safe by asking the protesters to stay off the streets in the meantime, and re-strategize. Whichever way, the #EndSARS protest has become a significant part of Nigerian history and would be a template for future social movements in Nigeria.
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