Written by Anu Olaloku
#ENDSARS, #SARSMUSTEND, #ENDSARSNOW. No matter where you are, as a Nigerian on social media, you’ve seen one of these hashtags trending recently. Sparked by the brutal killing of several people by the notorious SARS unit, Nigerians decided that enough was enough and it was time to take a stand.
It’s interesting that the reignition of this movement comes shortly after Nigeria celebrated her 60th Independence Day. Many Nigerians lamented over how there weren’t many things to celebrate after 60 years, and this makes the movement even more significant as a catalyst for change in our nation.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was formed in 1992 to focus on tackling robberies as the level of crime increased around the country. Soon enough, the SARS officers began to abuse their power and take advantage of the people they were meant to protect. Over the years, multiple cases of murder, kidnapping and bribery perpetrated by SARS officers came to light, and Nigerians grew more and more helpless against their attacks.
Young people became wary of showing off their wealth or expressing themselves. The younger, wealthier or more artistic you looked, the greater at risk you were of getting harassed. Things that we take for granted such as having an iPhone, coloured hair, going out at night – simply just existing and breathing – were enough to become a victim.
In a country where respect, minding your own business, and hoping and praying for the best without necessarily taking action were unspoken law, the youth of Nigeria decided that they were on their own in this fight. There was only one way to combat this menace and it would mean defying everything they were ever taught to believe.
Thursday 8th October 2020, the first peaceful protest was held at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos state. As a Nigerian who grew up there, I had never seen anything like it and for the first time in a long time, I felt immense pride and hope for the future of my country. It was the first time that Nigerians had come together to take a stand against a common enemy, irrespective of religion, gender or class. Peace and unity, the words of the national anthem, finally rang true.
The protests carried on peacefully all over Nigeria for 10 days. During this time, they began to gain traction internationally and Nigerians all over the world began to hold their own protests in solidarity. On the 11th of October 2020, the president of Nigeria and the IGP finally spoke on the matter and resolved that SARS would be disbanded.
On the surface, this sounded like a victory. Unfortunately, it was never that simple—the Nigerian Government had already called to disband or reform SARS in 2017, 2018, 2019, with no result.
This time, they gave us a five-point plan on how they were going to work towards disbanding them, but upon reading it, it became clear that our best interests were not at the forefront.
There were no timelines on when this would be completed, therefore no way of holding them accountable. SARS would be disbanded yes, but a new unit was to replace it made up of ex-SARS officers. The remaining SARS officials would be redeployed to other units, giving them the same opportunities to commit crimes just under different names. Thus, the hashtag #wereydeydisguise was born.
Even after the supposed ‘disbandment of SARS’, people were still killed just for peacefully protesting. This irony only fuelled the passion of the protesters even more, and a candlelight vigil was held for all the victims who were taken too soon. For Tina Ezekwe, for Jimoh Isiaq, for Ifeoma Abugu, for Chijioke Iloanya and many more victims, may their souls rest in perfect peace.
In response, the youth came with their own 5 demands from the government, and #5for5 became popular. The demands included the immediate release of all arrested protesters and justice for the deceased victims, amongst other things. Until these were met, or action was taken to meet them, the protests would continue.
From food, to emergency supplies, to legal aid for arrested protesters and more, it was all handled by volunteers. At this point, the realisation hit: why should we have to handle all these things by ourselves? How have we managed to handle these things by ourselves with a such a small budget, compared to the billions of naira that are meant to be for public use but end up in the pockets of greedy leaders? In response, #endbadgovernanceinnigeria began to trend.
The movement continued to flourish, and in turn the government’s frustration began to grow. In attempts to discourage people from coming out and protesting, they hired thugs to cause unrest and threaten the safety of the country as a whole.
On the 20th of October 2020, at around 12pm, the governor of Lagos State announced that there would be a state-wide 24-hour curfew starting at 4pm that day.
The CCTV cameras at Lekki Toll Gate were taken down, and in the darkness of that evening, the military began to shoot at unarmed protesters who were having a sit in and singing the national anthem The bodies were carried away to hide the evidence.
Not one person in power has taken responsibility for what happened at Lekki that night, but one thing is clear: this was an act of pure cruelty, an attempt to silence people for daring to fight for the right thing.
Nigeria is in a state of unrest, and this is where we as Nigerians in the diaspora come in; it is our duty to continue the fight, online and in person, while our family back home re-energise and re-strategize.
We are a generation of changemakers and rule breakers, and we will always be remembered for taking a stand when our parents chose to stay silent.
We are only getting started. Soro Soke generation, they are not ready for us.
Anu Olaloku is a second year Medical Physiology student who has a passion for encouraging young people – especially women – to consider STEM and see it as more accessible. She is also the current Wellbeing Officer for this year’s UoL Nigerian Society, who can be found on Instagram and Twitter @nsocleicester.