The memories of history shaping event five days after Nigeria celebrated its 60th independence anniversary will definitely remain indelible in the minds of many.
This is an event that has happened to be the biggest since Nigeria returned to democracy: a leaderless protest against police brutality galvanized by mostly gen Z (youth in their 20s) and a feminist coalition.
“This is their protest. I went there as a fellow citizen to give my moral support,” Aisha Yesufu, an activist and one of the allies at the centre of the movement writes in a text message to The Africa Report. She has been vocal in saying that she is only a supporter of the movement that belongs to the youth, who are the major driver of the protest.
The #EndSARS demonstrations against police brutality have largely been organic, with protesters insisting that theirs is a leaderless movement, a seeming indirect rebuke at a coordinated Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) driven largely by an older generation that hasn’t followed through with a single protest it called for since President Muhammadu Buhari began ruling Nigeria.
Analysts say the leaderless campaign was a lesson from the past, specifically from the 2012 #OccupyNigeria protest that was reportedly hijacked by a group of individuals who were said to be leaders of the protest.
It remains cardinal that one of the basic take away from that protest is the fact that there are no clear leaders or organizers of this movement makes it particularly difficult for the government to quell this movement. And this is exactly what the young people want: no leader, that in turn allows for transparency and for the government to accede to their demands without a middleman seen to “stab us in the back,” says Abraham.
For the first time in more than a decade, Nigeria is not only witnessing nationwide protests calling for police reform and end to police brutality, it also saw a reconciliatory stance from the very government that has previously crushed multiple demonstrations.
On 11 October, two days after President Muhammadu Buhari said in a tweet that he had instructed the Inspector General of police, Mohammed Adamu, “to conclusively address the concerns of Nigerians” on police brutality, the Nigeria Police announced that it has disbanded the SARS unit.
But protesters who hit the streets the following day chanting “End SARS” say they’ve heard that particular song before.
Protesters want a “sincerity of purpose”, says AishaYesufu, on why protests continue days after the government disbanded SARS. According to her, the protesters are having a hard time believing the government given its penchant for opacity and untruths.
The police for instance say it created a new unit, SWAT in replacement of SARS but protesters as well as close observers have maintained that the unit had been in existence since 2019, therefore, they find it extremely difficult to believe the government is taking their demands seriously.
Protesters are demanding:
- An immediate release of all protesters.
- Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families.
- Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct.
- Provision for psychological evaluation and retraining of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed.
- Increased salary for police officers.
President Buhari said in a statement that: “The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms in order to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihood of our people.”
However, developments within the past few days have again called to question the sincerity of government towards her supposed commitment to her promises.
Even after empowering state governments to setup Judicial panel of enquiry to investigate complaints from years of injustice and crime against Nigerians by the now disbanded SARS, reports making round is that the Nigerian government in action running contrary to her earlier position is now arresting and harassing some leading individuals in the protest.
Few days ago, the Central Bank of Nigeria obtained a court order to freeze the account of some of the identified promoters of the #EndSARS movement. In many platforms, it was widely reported that some of the activists have either been arrested or harassed by agents of government. And just recently, DJ Switch the bold female Disk Jockey who showed the unfortunate carnage of 20th October that become a significant feature of the protest by the men of the Nigerian Army at Lekki has been reported to have claimed asylum in Canada following many threats to her life by unknown agents of government.
Again, it has become imperative that government will rather deploy all her assets to shut down dissenting voices than do the right thing. However, as this has always been the case, it remains a counterproductive move by successive governments. You cannot shut the mouth of an oppressed people for long, they will someday revolt.
We call on the federal government to at least for once, do the right thing. For once let the course of justice take its rightful place. Nigerians cannot be asking for too much if they demand simple rights of good governance, justice, security, freedom of speech and many others, which is, of course, a fundamental privilege enshrined in the constitution.
Government should understand that no regime that wants to remain legitimate with the people succeeds in fighting the very people it needs her support and backing to survive.
Already the country is passing through many untold hardship and youths have become the worst hit. The least the government can do now is to ensure that they do not incite more social unrest through poorly thought-out decisions to clamp down on harmless and peaceful people asking for action and justice.
It is their fundamental right and if attempts are made to deny them that, the outcome, surly won’t be predicted and might consume the very soul of this country.
Let wisdom guide!