The most trending issue in Nigeria today is the #ENDSARs protest against police brutality and extra judicial killings. Whether online or offline, the song on the lips of most Nigerian youths today is #ENDSARS now! Protests have erupted in most parts of the country. From Abuja to Lagos, Oyo to Osogbo, the Nigerian youths are calling for an end to the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS). In Lagos, protesters were even reported to have kept a vigil on the entrance of the Lagos State House of Assembly to demand an end to the brutality visited on them by this SARS. Today marked the fourth day of protests across the country. And it is not abating as calls were being made for heavier protests that could shut down the country by Tuesday 13 October, 2020. One major casualty has even been recorded in this civil protest that is turning the violent. The police were alleged to have killed a protester in Ogbomosho. The police had denied the allegations.
It was not only on the streets that strong calls were being made to end SARs. Even on the social media, especially on Twitter, the voices were extremely loud. Analysis indicates that both ordinary Nigerians and youth celebrities as well as influencers have been involved in the fight to kill the monster of the special arm of the police in order to fight the beast of harassment as well as extra judicial killings to a justifiable end.
The list of celebrities and footballers who had added their voices to the campaign to end the reign of terror represented by the FSARS keep rising. The street protests in Lagos was led by popular musicians and social media influencers such as Runtown, Falz, Tiwa Savage, Tacha, Toke Makinwa and others. On the football scene, Nigeria’s captain, Ahmed Musa, John Ogu, Simon Moses, Asisat Oshoala, Leon Balogun top the list of the agitators as alleged videos of police brutality, harassment and killing of innocent Nigerians surfaced again online on Saturday. These sportsmen and women lend their voices to the protest on their twitter handles.
As at 3am local Nigerian time on Sunday 11 October, 2020, the calls were getting louder especially online. Statistics shows that a total of 330 tweets have been retweeted several times, analysis indicates. The major hashtag has continued to revolve around the youth demographics call for an end to the FSARS. For instance, the battle cry has been #EndSARS, #EndSARSnow, #EndSARSimmediately, #Justiceforjimoh and #endpolicebrutality. It has also emerged that major social media influencers such as @OgbeniDipo, @mrmacaroni, @segalink and @savvyrinu have been leaders of the online call out of the federal government and president Muhammadu Buhari in the bid to put an end to police brutality through the total disbandment of the tactical squad (See Exhibit 1).
Exhibit 1: Actors Involved in the #EndSARS Campaign; Source: Twitter 2020, Adebiyi (2020)
In the clusters, Nigerian twitterati are seen gathering to discuss issues around four major topics – the protest not having leadership, unfollowing Buhari, not being tired to retweet and the death of jimoh isiaq who happened to be the first casualty of the physical protest in Ogbomosho (See Exhibit 2). There are implications of each cluster focus as the cluster gathering touches issues as they trend on Twitter.
Exhibit 2: Main Topics of Tweets in the #EndSARS campaign; Source: Tweeter (2020), Adebiyi (2020)
The protests coordinated both online and offline has scaled up to international dimension with the protesters already gaining support from Nigerians and non-Nigerians abroad. Similar protests have been slated to hold on Sunday in the UK, Canada and South Africa. Reports have indicated that the UK government is demanding that the Nigerian government takes a look at the demands of the young protesters. The UK High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing was reported to have tweeted @CatrionaLaing1 saying “Significant protests over #SARS demonstrating Nigerina people’s desire for police reform. Peaceful protests are powerful. Police Act recently passed by @MBuhari provides good foundation to build more accountable community police force.”
Exhibit 3: Search Interest in the #EndSARS Campaign; Source: Goolge Trends (2020), Adebiyi (2020)
Yet, local interest seems to be more about the Nigeria Police Force than the #EndSARS protests (See Exhibit 3). In an analysis of search interest carried out early Sunday morning, the interest in the Nigeria Police was higher across all the states in Nigeria. Five states out of the 36 states of the federation showed a slight interest in the protests. Perhaps, this higher interest in the country’s police force could be adduced to the lack of information about the men and women in blue. Nigerians sought to understand the NPF more within the demands of the protesters that the anti-robbery squad be scrapped and disbanded. The Force Public Relations unit has a lot on its plate as far as managing the reputation of the force and maintaining a cordial relationship with the public it is paid to police is concerned. Ogun, Oyo, Rivers, Lagos states as well as the Federal Capital Territory are the states with search interest in the protest with interest not even up to 20%. Related search terms included SARS Recruitment, XSquad Nigeria Police, SAR2 and SARZ Nigeria Police.
The need to understand the Nigerian Police Force and how it could be reformed to make it more community-focused and citizen-friendly is critical in this period of public hysteria against the tactical unit of the force. In Prof Ndubuisi Ekekwe’s words – How do you end the fighting police in a nation where insecurity is the order of the day?