ENDSARS: Uniting Nigerian youth against corruption and violence

ENDSARS protests against police brutality and government corruption began in 2017. The use of the hashtag resurfaced on Twitter last month as Nigerian youth recounted personal anecdotes of the power abuse of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) officers, which then led to massive protests sweeping across Nigeria’s capital.

On the 11th of October, the Inspector General of Police announced the termination of SARS due to the growing social pressure, but then announced the creation of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT). It came as a slap in the face to protestors, as this would encompass the same state-induced violence, just under a new name. For Yoruba readers: “werey dey disguise.”

On October 20th, the Nigerian military and police officers shot at and murdered peaceful protestors exercising their constitutional right to protest at a sit-in at Lekki Toll Gate. There were reports of the open fire of bullets, the rolling in of army tankers, and the restriction of civilian access to ambulances. Earlier that day, a last-minute curfew was implemented. The area’s electricity, CCTV cameras, and cell phone towers were removed in an attempt to prevent the spread of media awareness or hold any evidence of the senseless murders about to occur. This is clear evidence of the Nigerian government’s strategic planning and the premeditated slaughter of its citizens. We then saw, from ‘bad boy’ President Buhari’s address to the nation, the coverup continue. 

SARS is clearly a symptom of an overarching disease. When recognising Nigeria’s colonial past, we must acknowledge that West Africa was the main hub of the slave trade and, therefore, felt the lasting effects of British colonialism and imperialism even after abolition. A new form of oppression was in place in Africa, serving only European interests. It may be easy to look at developing nations and regard them as underdeveloped, but certain pages were ripped from the history textbook, omitting the role countries such as Britain played in colonialism. It makes sense why even after independence the growth of these countries is stunted since the foundation they are built on itself is rocky. 

I have seen a lot of discourse on how helpful blanket sanctions placed on the Nigerian government could be. These sanctions tend to leave the poorest and most marginalised members of society worse off, as we have seen from oppressive sanctions placed on Zimbabwe. 

Intervention from countries like the UK will always favour the state and never seem to empower the people they are supposed to be liberating. They allow Western countries to assert post-colonial influence, crippling economies, controlling exports, and rarely target the high-ranking individuals pulling the strings. Sanctions have to be accompanied by a clear time frame and outcomes if they are to make sense. Nigerians on the ground also hope government officials will face up to criminal charges for their war crimes and numerous human rights violations.

The past few weeks have been both tragic and inspiring. I want to shout out a local grassroots collective: Feminist Coalition. They were instrumental in fundraising and providing resources such as food and water, ambulances for injured protestors, and bail for the wrongly imprisoned on the ground in Nigeria. It has been inspiring watching young people mobilise in a way that I personally have never seen before. There has been a shift, and I believe that the Nigerian youth are the physical manifestation of Nigeria’s future. I want to praise them personally for their transparency. It was admirable to see accountability and funds used for exactly the purpose intended as opposed to having the money line the pockets of the very people committing these atrocities. Feminist Coalition has since closed its site for donations, urging Nigerians to obey the curfew and stay home, prioritising their safety always.

There are, of course, alternative donation sources and non-monetary ways we can continue to support Nigerians. We must ask ourselves what mechanisms are now at our disposal that weren’t sixty years ago. Global connectivity is the leverage we currently hold as young people, locally and internationally. In nations where the government may try to purposefully stifle the media to convey their narratives, social media has been a great tool to bring such stories to light.

Listening to the Soro sókè (Translation: Speak Up) radio, a station launched by ENDSARS protesters, Nigerians have been clear to state the importance of awareness. When Twitter users point to celebrities with large followings to speak on current issues, this has been linked to the fact that local media can’t always be trusted to spread accurate facts. One protestor in particular remarked that it can be hard to see celebrities benefit from your culture when it’s trendy, but not, in turn, use their platform to amplify voices on the ground. 

It was through social media that I first learned about SARS. It made me aware of the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon; the oil tanker threatening to spill in the Caribbean; the millions killed in the Congo sourcing coltan for our mobile phones; child trafficking in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, and the ongoing gender-based violence in Namibia and South Africa. Increasing awareness and speaking up allows us to apply pressure on governments. I see it as my duty as a member of the diaspora to lend my voice and join in on the concentrated effort battling the lasting effects of colonialism and imperialism.

The level of proximity, however, allowed by social media has meant we have watched the loss of life in real-time on platforms such as Twitter and Instagram Live. One such victim is the late tech designer Oke Obi-Enadhuze. His last tweet, hours before the young creative was prematurely stripped from this world, read: “Nigeria will not end me.” First and foremost, rest in peace to Oke; my prayers go out to his family and loved ones. We owe it to Oke, to every hero who unwillingly gave up their life for a cause. We owe it to them to continue the fight for human rights everywhere. Nothing shall be in vain.

Continue to educate yourself on events on the current political landscape. I believe that you cannot be apathetic about politics when it is inextricably connected to everything we do. We will learn from our history in order to look to the future, and for that, I am hopeful.

Bridget Eke

Image source: Wikimedia Commons