Young Naija says #EndSARS … and more
For years now, young people in Nigeria have been persecuted by a virtually state-sanctioned mob called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). This organisation, which was formed as a specialised unit to crack down on armed robbery in Nigeria, has evolved into a force with a reputation for extorting money from citizens, especially the youth, as well as the blatant abuse of Nigerians.
Nigerian citizens are stopped, fined and sometimes killed by individuals belonging to this force, purely because they have some of the outward signs and characteristics stereotypical of fraudsters (also known as “Yahoo boys”). That could be having a tattoo, or wearing dreadlocks, or owning an iPhone, and so on. In these encounters, many have lost valuables and some have lost their lives to the security services.
Fed up with how they were being tormented in their own country, Nigerians have hit the streets at home and in the diaspora. The #EndSARS movement, initially taken up in 2017 by Segun Awosanya along with other activists, has been revived and unleashed on the streets with a new energy little seen in Nigeria and other black African countries.
For the first time in a long while, young people, who have been tagged as indifferent to national affairs, have come together to fight for a cause, and it is beautiful to see.
Within days, a movement without any central command has been able, through Twitter, to draw the attention of the international media, win the endorsement of well-known public figures and mobilise resources with surprising efficiency. Many Nigerians who are not even members of any youth movement have contributed their quota towards sustaining the #EndSARS group.
— EMEKA AMAKEZE (@EmekaAmakeze) October 20, 2020
A supportive ecosystem
Local news outlets and journals such as Stears Business, Zikoko, The Republic and Peoples Gazette have pumped out news and essays about the #EndSARS protest in the face of the mainstream media reporting very little.
Lawyers have set up a legal aid team to assist in getting protesters out of jail. Medical professionals have taken up the task of treating injured demonstrators. Start-ups such as Flutterwave have also helped the movement to get access to funds from the diaspora and from inside the country.
Things are so organised that overlooked resources such as charging outlets have been taken care of. With one sweeping gesture, the youth have shed the cloak of being a “pressing phone” generation and have used the tools available to them to become 21st-century Michael Imoudus and Funmilayo Ransome-Kutis.
That a country like Nigeria, consolidated by Lord Lugard for British colonial interests and deeply fractured along ethnic and religious lines, has come together to fight for one cause indicates one thing: Nigerian youth are tired of their condition and want change. Even efforts by the government to get them off the streets have faltered.
The people are determined to have their demands met, and that is admirable. The Nigerian government must take action to disband the SARS unit and meet the other demands of the #EndSARS protesters, not just issue effete statements which have no effect on the streets.
Youthquake via hashtag
These happenings prompt the question: are the Nigerian protests the sign of an “African spring”? After all, the continent is awash with movements, from the #CongoIsBleeding movement in the DRC to the #Shutitalldown movement in Namibia.
These protests are spearheaded by mostly young people, tired of the circumstances they live in. That all of these movements started online points to how a new generation of Africans is utilising the internet to effect change.
The power of a hashtag has been proven. Will they continue to use these tools to call for further change in our systems? Will a new generation of political leaders be birthed out of these movements? There are signs that such an outcome is possible. However, it remains to be seen.
What I am sure of is this: a wave of demand for change is blowing across the continent, and Africans are willing to fight for it.
Barima Peprah-Agyemang is a student by day and writer by night. Follow him on Twitter at @fremebarima.