For a week and more, youths in Nigeria made calls against a rogue police unit, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), united by nothing more than the decision to remain alive in their own country. From the first week of October, originally spearheaded by the convener, Segun Awosanya, from as far back as 2017, the move ballooned into a nationwide affair, with protests springing up in Lagos, Abuja, Aba, Umuahia, Kano, Ibadan, and many other places―encompassing at least 21 states across Nigeria.
It’s noteworthy that this is not the first time calls have been made against this particular police unit, with accusations ranging from molesting and assaulting citizens to the forceful seizing of innocent citizens’ properties. There have also been allegations of cold-blooded murders when the civilians being accosted by SARS refuse to cooperate. SARS officers have deviated from their duties specifically stipulated in their name to setting up roadblocks and accosting men between the age brackets of 18 to 35. As this impunity continued unchecked, the men were alleged to even take people at gunpoint to ATMs and force them to make transfers to their bank accounts. The history of this blatant, unchecked impunity has been documented by reputable sources.
In December 2016, after outcries against the brutality of SARS officers, the then Inspector General of the Nigeria Police Force (IGP) assured the public of reforms aimed at correcting the unit’s use of excessive force and glaring failure to follow due process. At the tail end of the following year, the IGP again made promises to reorganise SARS units. In August 2018, Nigeria’s vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, the acting president then, ordered that the unit be overhauled. Finally, on 11th October 2020, SARS was disbanded, but the youths were not taking it due to previous failed promises on the matter. They are still not taking it.
Enough about the history, what is this ludicrous irony of unleashing armed policemen on protesters protesting against police brutality? Not less than 50 casualties have been recorded in the #EndSARS protests, which began after a video of a young man who met his hand at the hands of SARS officers surfaced on the internet. Besides, there are videos of policemen and even officers in the accused unit shooting indiscriminately in an area populated by people.
Also, the irony of the recent Lekki massacre is not lost on us. Of course, the Nigerian Army has denied its involvement even though military men in army camouflage uniforms were captured on the video at the scene pumping live bullets in the direction of protesting citizens. The shooting saga has gone from the Nigerian Army denying that they were ever there, to admitting their presence at the Tollgate while insisting they were invited by the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwoolu. After initially denying any involvement in the incident, the Lagos State governor had originally insisted there were no casualties at the Lekki Toll Gate shooting, but backtracked later on to admit there were indeed casualties. The numbers of casualties he uses in his narrative might keep fluctuating. That brings us to the metaphor in the struggle.
Not a few would tell you that Nigeria’s leadership is the problem with the country―the reason for the West African nation’s rising poverty index. You only have to take a look at the earnings of the country’s top-ranking elected servants, especially the lawmakers, to begin to follow this line of thought as well. In a strange revelation, we discover that a Nigerian lawmaker earns more than the president of the most powerful country in the world. Are the lawmakers even remotely thinking of reducing their earnings? I think not.
It is remarkable, this irony of one of the poorest countries in the world having lawmakers that earn higher than their betters. That is why #EndSARS is not just a hashtag, but a metaphor. It is a metaphor of people who have seen their servants become their masters and their representatives, who should report back to them, turn to their lords. To the average Nigerian, accountability from the government is something he has long given up on. It’s so egregious that some Nigerians dream of getting into power to cut an enormous share of the national cake just like the current crop of Nigerian politicians.
Recent events reveal that some Nigerians, popularly referred to as hoodlums by the government, broke into an Oba’s Palace. Shortly after, videos surfaced of people taking palliatives delivered to the Oba when the lockdown was in place. Following that discovery, videos of warehouses packed full with these palliatives surfaced on the internet. Much has been said about the poor man going after these palliatives by the government, but nothing about the people hoarding it.
A representative was recorded as saying the foodstuff was to be shared during his birthday. Governors said they were waiting for the second wave of COVID-19 to distribute the ones found under their care. The funny thing about this stand is that some of the food was already getting spoiled. Ironically, Governor Ayade of Cross River State was caught crying on camera, calling on God to save his people before hoarded foodstuff was found in the state. It is happenings like this that have continued to propel the #EndSARS movement across the world even after the Nigerian government has seen to the end of the street protests in Nigeria.
Remarkably, the #EndSARS movement cut across different ethnicities, different religions, and different economic strata. No other evidence is needed to stress the Latin saying, Vox Populi, Vox Dei. Indeed, the voice of the people is the voice of God, but the leadership of Nigeria would rather demonize the Nigerian public by kicking against the very mode of expression―the only way they can get the Nigerian government to stop playing deaf and expose the rot in the system.
Ironically, this very government rode on the wings of the same social media, calling the then-president all sorts of choice names before they came to power. Still, in stubborn defiance of the Nigerian government calls on social media clampdown, the hashtag, #EndSARS, birthed other hashtags like #EndBadGovernanceinNIGERIA, #EndSWAT, #NASSPayCutNow, #RECONSTRUCTNIGERIA, among others.
In a continuing series of ironical events, the average Nigerian youth, who has been referred to as lazy and uneducated at one time, organised a protest nationwide. This protest sustained itself for a week and more till videos of thugs being driven in SUVs and directed by government security agents surfaced on the internet. Of course, the government has, as usual, promptly denied sponsoring the thugs who infiltrated these protests and attacked protesters. The irony of a president selling the youths of his own country short is very clear, so also is the irony of a president with doubts hovering over the authenticity of his academic certificate calling the youths of his country uneducated.
That these youths had the organisation to maintain a structure that fed itself, represented its members with a team of lawyers and tended to its wounded―injured by the men of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) and the thugs allegedly sponsored by the government―says something every Nigerian should sit up and pay attention to: the problem is from the top! The organised protests maintained a helpline that worked adequately. Within this little time, these youths opened the eyes of the average Nigerian to a new Nigeria, one that works, and one that did not have leaders vomiting excuses day in, day out, and spreading ridiculous tales about snakes swallowing funds.
What do they want? What do these youths want? These questions have been in the mouth of the elderly Nigerian who has gotten so used to Nigeria that he can be likened to the frog that kept adjusting in a pot of boiling water till it became too weak to leap out of it. Nigerian youths just want to stay alive first. It’s despicable of the government to have its agents shooting at people protesting against police brutality. It is not normal and the average Nigerian youth knows this. He also knows that the country can be better. He knows Nigeria can be the best place on earth—the resources are there to achieve this. The average Nigerian youth knows that even though the problem is not only at the leadership level, it’s the source of the problem.
A river does not get defiled at the tail end, but at the head, and this river called Nigerian is ready to begin the process of washing itself clean. It is our hope and that of the Nigerian youth that after so much water has passed beneath the bridge, we can look back on October 2020, the month Nigerian youths decided to expose the replete ironies in a government under which they have struggled for so long to survive, and be able to point out concrete changes and improvements.
Long live this new Nigeria!