The year 2020 was no doubt a remarkable one with a number of nationwide protests. In this report, Aiyeku Timothy takes an inventory of the #EndSARS protests, from its development to the very end.
2020 is a historic one for the whole world due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the number of lives it claimed but it would be incomplete to tell the Nigerian story without the #EndSARS protests that rocked the country in October.
October 1st is set aside to mark Nigeria’s independence yearly, but took a different turn in 2020 as Nigerian youths demanded freedom from police brutality and intimidation.
Tens of thousands in Nigeria demonstrated for two weeks against the now-disbanded police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that has been accused of extortion, harassment, torture, and murders of innocent Nigerians.
On October 3, protests sparked after a viral video allegedly showing SARS officers killing a young man in the southern Delta state and the story became bigger than it expected with a nationwide protest both online and on the streets in several parts of the country, including the FCT.
The Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, eventually announced the dissolution of SARS on October 11, saying the unit will be abolished “with immediate effect” but announced the formation of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) which was also rejected by the Nigeria youths.
Above all, the good, the bad, and the ugly can be derived from the #EndSARS Protest that rocked the country.
History holds it that the Nigerian Youths, for the first time, mobilized themselves without a leader to demand good governance as the protest was not about Police brutality alone but the result of pent-up anger over the dehumanizing policies of government, mal-administration, injustice, hunger as well as high electricity tariffs and fuel prices.
Surprisingly, good coordination was witnessed amongst the protesters across the country – the provision for food, water, ambulances and security. The youth reinvented governance in Nigeria, which brought about a new culture of asserting rights among the citizenry. This is no doubt a message that has been sent to the leaders.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo warned Africa in 2017 that “we are all sitting on a keg of gunpowder” when it comes to the young. It has started with the biggest black nation.
Apparently, the protest has given Nigerian youths a new belief and confidence that they can make a difference. The crowdfunding is a big example of how Nigeria could be better if it were not for the politicians who often seem more interested in what they can personally gain, rather than how they can improve the country.
The bad side of the story
While efforts were made to have a new and better Nigeria, the allegations that government officials sponsored thugs to disrupt the protest, especially in Lagos and Abuja is something rather disturbing.
Of course, the protest was hijacked by supposed hoodlums who attacked police stations, Nigeria Correctional Service Centers, and other business centers to either steal or destroy.
However, videos had gone viral in Abuja of how government personnel’s in official vehicles coordinated the attack on peaceful protesters and their belongings, including cars.
Hoodlums were seen with knives, axes and other weapons running after protesters, while Police officers stood and watched without interfering.
The reason why this happened is unexplainable, but a political commentator, Onye Nkuzi, wrote on Twitter, “The Nigerian political elite will sacrifice everything, including Nigeria’s long-term growth prospects, to keep Nigeria the way it is. This thing is not about “economics”, it is about “power”. They have little time for “economics”, the language they understand is “power”.”
There was the ugly aspect of it
The shooting of protesters at the Lekki tollgate on October 20 ended up as the highlight of the whole protest with Amnesty International reporting that about 12 persons were killed by men of the Nigerian military.
The death of some Nigerian youths took over the trend and it is an incident that will not be forgotten for a long time.
On the part of the police, the IGP stated that not less than 22 police officers were killed by youth protesting against police brutality, in addition to the hundreds of police stations and formations that were damaged across the country.
Nevertheless, Nigerian politics has changed forever because the youths have realized how powerful they are and this is well known to the ruling class. It is now obvious that a lot can be achieved even in the political space when Nigerian youths unite for a common goal. Apparently, those in power are now worried that the country’s large young population can no longer be ignored, or, failing that, cajoled.