It started like a familiar joke to Nigerian leaders, the #EndSARS campaign which has been an occasional trend since 2017, and was considered an online movement which will never get the government to act, broke the shackles confining it to Twitter, to become a global movement powered in an unprecedented manner by Nigeria’s Generation Z.
About two weeks ago, when the #EndSARS hashtag showed up once again on the trends table, following a video of the Police in Delta State, South-south Nigeria, shooting a car owner and driving off with his car, the police authorities did what they had always done: Issued assurances that the erring policemen will be brought to book, and that justice will be served.
It was a ritual of the Police Complaint Response Unit (PCRU), created to handle complaints from the public against the misconduct of Nigerian Police officers, to give assurances of discipline whenever there is a major malpractice by the police. The unit has been inundated with complaints daily that it chooses from among the many, the ones that deserve more attention.
The Nigerian public knows this, especially the youth who have been at the receiving end of the menace which, not only the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), but the entire police institution has become. The Police Complaint Unit wouldn’t solve the problem, the police know it and so does the government. But one thing they didn’t know is that this generation of youths has had enough, and it will be no more business as usual.
Nigerians are generally regarded as docile people, those who lack the temerity to fight for their rights, demand good governance from their elected leaders, or hold people they put in offices accountable. It is a situation believed to have enabled the exploitations by Nigerian political leaders who have devised many tactics to quell any attempt of dissent.
In the last few years, there have been attempts by some Nigerians to change the status quo. Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) led a massive crowd of separatists clamoring for the actualization of the defunct Biafra.
The last time Nigeria had a demonstration of such magnitude was in 2012, when President Goodluck Jonathan attempted to remove fuel subsidy. Though backed by the coalition of opposition political parties, critics believe the demonstrations were more politically motivated than it was a demand for good governance.
But like every other protest attempted by the people for the sake of good governance in Nigeria, the Biafra agitation was met with fierce government’s opposition.
Kanu was arrested and charged with treason and members of the IPOB were killed in scores by Nigerian security forces. Amnesty International reported that over 150 members of the group were killed. And finally, IPOB was proscribed as a terrorist organization, making their activities illegal in Nigeria – and gradually, their protests died down.
In 2019, Omoyele Sowore, a human right activist and presidential candidate under African Action Congress (AAC) in the last presidential election, started a political movement called Revolution Now. He was mobilizing for a nationwide protest when he was arrested by the State Security Service (SSS), and charged with treason for alleged attempt to overthrow the government. So the revolution became a plan waiting to be actualized.
Another group that has attempted to protest against the government in recent time is the Shiites; members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (MIN), whose leader, El Zakzaky and his wife have been incarcerated since 2015, for his attempt to hold peaceful protest. The Shiites’ attempt to defy the norm has only got many of their members killed and earned them a place beside IPOB – the Nigerian government proscribed them too.
In 2017, another movement, Our Mumu Don Do, began. It was led by music artist Charly Boy and rights activist Deji Adeyanju. And like others, it was designed to compel the government to make needed changes. In 2019, the movement was caught up in a major bribery scandal that tore it to shreds. Charly Boy was alleged to have collected N100 million from the government to betray the movement he was leading.
It is from this playbook that the government has been attempting to quell the #EndSARS protests, one page at a time. But each time, the youngsters leading the campaign have resisted.
Police, hired thugs, rain, distress etc. all have tested their resolution and succumbed to their unflinching determination.
About 15 youths have been killed since the beginning of the protests, yet they were not deterred. Governments have placed bans on street protests in attempt to stop them, yet take their mattress to the streets for they have no plan of going back home. They pick up the trash after every protest and clean up their surroundings. They shunned the idea of appointing leaders to close the chances of compromise, depending only on their collective strength.
As the world watches the movement and determination of this young generation, support pour in from the flotsam and jetsam. Twitter created a #EndSARS emoji for the campaign after its CEO Jack Dorsey endorsed the movement and urged the world to donate to support it.
As the donations come and go, they document the movement of every penny being spent to support the campaign; forcing the police to release arrested protesters, providing food, transportation, call and data credit, medical supplies etc. for the members of the movement. It is said that as they ask for transparency and accountability from the police and government, they are showing the example.
It is believed that the resilience of the youngsters does not only defy the oppressive norm that has characterized successive governments in Nigeria, it has also set a precedent for generations to come.
“The young have fully now grown and taken over the fight of The Office of The Citizen and I’m so happy for you all!” said Nigeria’s former Minister of Education Oby Ezekwesili.
To many, the defiance signifies a new dawn in Nigeria, marking the first time the Nigerian government is afraid of the people and is apologizing for its actions and inactions.
“Dear Nigerians, I know that many of you are angry, and understandably so. We could’ve moved faster and for this we are sorry… we understand that you want to see action from us and I’m here to tell you that work is ongoing,” said Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo in response to the protestors demand. “I chaired a meeting of 36 state governors and the Minister of the FCT (NEC), where we resolved to set up judicial panels of inquiry so we can see justice served, and fast.”
As the campaign lingers and garners more momentum, the older generation in high places appears to be wondering about the force behind the push. Their orders are no longer being followed and their respect is waning. To add insult to injury, it is all coming from the generation they have described as “lazy Nigerian youths”, the “phone pressing generation” who have chosen to use Google map instead of asking them for direction.
The culminating inadequacies tolerated by baby boomers, generation X and millennials seem to have spilled over with Generation Z, and they are telling the government, the older generation, ‘it is time to clean it up.’ Nigerian musician Peter Okoye (PSquare) summed it up in seven words: “The government messed with the wrong generation.”