I am proud that young Nigerians are driving change – we will no longer be ignored

SARS has been disbanded but the protests will continue, as we are tired of the poor educational system, bad roads, and interrupted power supply

Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaar
Tuesday 20 October 2020 17:04 BST
A protester waves the Nigerian national flag during a demonstration in Lagos to campaign for the scrapping of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)
A protester waves the Nigerian national flag during a demonstration in Lagos to campaign for the scrapping of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) (AFP via Getty Images)

Growing up in Nigeria, I heard of great activists, including Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, a Nigerian educator, political campaigner and advocate for women’s rights, and Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian writer, television producer and environmental activist.

I always wondered what it was like to be filled with the necessary hope and passion to drive change. The only major protest in Nigeria I ever heard about happened the year I was born: 1993. The Nigerian presidential election was held on 12 June 1993, the first since the 1983 military coup ended the country’s Second Republic. MKO Abiola won the presidential elections, but the election results were annulled. Nigerians took to the streets to protest in full force.

In 1994, after MKO declared himself the president of Nigeria, he was accused of treason and arrested. He was detained for four years, which garnered global attention. Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and human rights activists from all over the world lobbied for his release.

The first global protest linked to Nigeria that I recall, however, was the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign in 2014, when 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria. For the first time, I was personally witnessing a major protest in Nigeria. This gave me some hope that we could rise to make our voices heard.

Today, however, it seems young Nigerians have realised they do have power and the tools to make their voices heard. The “EndSars” protest is gaining global attention. Prominent figures around the world, such as Viola Davis, Jack Dorsey and Mesut Özil, have shown their support for the protests on social media.

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is a branch of the Nigeria Police Force. It was founded in 1992 under the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID). The Nigerian people have been campaigning for the disbandment of SARS for years. It was set up to deal with armed robbery and other criminal activities, but there are many stories of Nigerian youth being harassed, extorted and killed by SARS.

The first time I heard one of these stories was when one of my childhood friends told me she had to relocate to another country as a result of an ordeal with the police. She was stopped at night, called a beautiful girl and harassed for her phone number by an officer with a gun in his hand. Prior to this, I had heard many stories of young Nigerians being forced to withdraw money from ATMs to give to SARS, as well as being stopped, beaten and threatened for driving nice cars.

SARS was disbanded on 11 October 2020. However, the “EndSars” protesters are now calling for a reformation of the Nigerian police and transformation in various Nigerian sectors. Young people are tired of the poor educational system, bad roads, and interrupted power supply. I am particularly passionate about energy in Africa, which led me to start Ignite Energy Africa, a knowledge and innovation hub to help shape the future of energy in Africa.

What has most struck me in these times is the hope that has sprung from the ashes. Nigerians have taken matters into their own hands and social media has become a powerful tool. A crop of Nigerian activists have risen, demanding change, and creating global buzz. The government announced the creation of the new Special Weapons and Tactics team (SWAT) to fill the gaps left from the dissolution of SARS. However, protesters are saying that they do not want the SWAT team and are not backing down until the five demands of “EndSars” are met. These include justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families, better pay for the police, and retraining of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed.

What is even more fascinating is that these people are not the people that you would expect to bring change. Many of them are under 40; many are women; and some are from underrepresented backgrounds that have had their voices ignored for many years.

One is Aisha Yesufu, a Nigerian socio-political activist who was a co-convener during the “Bring Back Our Girls Movement”. This time, she has taken to the streets again to fight for her people leading to one of the most iconic images of the protest.

Defiance: this portrait of Aisha Yesufu, circulated on social media, has become one of the defining images of the ‘EndSars’ movement
Defiance: this portrait of Aisha Yesufu, circulated on social media, has become one of the defining images of the ‘EndSars’ movement (@akgrafix)

Another is a 27-year-old Nigerian influencer. She has used her social media following, passion and resources to raise funds, and organised the payment of medical bills for protesters that have been wounded and legal fees for protesters that have been wrongfully arrested. There is a viral video of a fierce 21-year-old Nigerian, who insisted that we were just starting. In her own words, “We dey gidigba,” which means we are immovable.

This is something I have never witnessed in my 27 years. Great work has been done – young Nigerians have managed the raising and disbursement of funds and organised excellently executed protests. Various small food business owners have donated food for protesters, young Nigerian lawyers have offered pro-bono services for wrongly arrested protesters and mechanics have offered to fix cars that were damaged during the protests. On 15 October, many feared the protests would slow down due to the heavy rain, but hundreds of raincoats and umbrellas were mobilised for protesters.

As a Nigerian millennial who is passionate about change, I am proud that Nigerians, particularly young ones, have realised that we have the power to drive change, to conduct peaceful protests (emphasis on peaceful) and to demand a better life for ourselves and our children. In this time, we need support and protection for the great work that young Nigerians are doing.

A new Nigeria, built on oneness, integrity and resourcefulness is rising. We will no longer be ignored.

How to support the #EndSARS protests

1. Follow these hashtags on Twitter and Instagram: #EndSARS #EndPoliceBrutalityinNigeria for live updates

2. Follow Twitter accounts trying to give aid to protesters (@EndSarsResponse, @feminist_co)

3. Donate supplies for protesters, such as food, drinks, posters

4. Educate the older generation and non-Nigerians on what is going on and why we are protesting

5. Donate to some of the fundraising campaigns, such as Feminist Coalition

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