By Abiodun-Oni Taiwo
The anti-police brutality protests in Nigeria created a powerful movement that appeared to shake those in power with a potent mix of street protests and social media gave young Nigerians a voice that has shattered the country’s culture of deference. As the #EndSARS hashtag went viral, so did the defiance of the elite in Nigeria.
The trashing of the palace and carting away with the staff of the office of the highly respected Oba of Lagos is the most vivid example that comes to mind was symbolic of this mood.
The youths dragged his throne around, looted his possessions, and swam in his pool.
What began as a protest against the errant police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) became a conduit for the youths to vent their anger with the people who have been in charge of Nigeria for decades with nothing to show for it.
Quite frankly, I, like 80% of the Nigerian elder believe(d) that the #EndSARS protests were an episodic mischief-making or a new item of amusement or trendy topic for the Nigerian youths that would have inevitably fizzled out just like every other item of amusement that had come before the ENDSARS protest. I could swear that I was going to change my mind on the protests but the moment the protest began to switch from an ideological demand to a social fanfare, I knew I was not wrong. The clueless majority had taken over the protests and hence it became an easy bus to be hijacked by miscreants.
How could the conveners have expected that things would go smoothly? How could the conveners not have anticipated the many things that went wrong? There is only one answer to this. It is that the ENDSARS protest was a rushed rampage induced by social forces through the exploitation of perceived noble grievances.
Was the fair part or any part of the protest a success?
On this, I choose to sit on the fence.
No doubt, the protest forced concessions from the government – such as the permanent disbanding of the SARS Unit and the kicking off a wider police reform.
I was also particularly impressed by the few organizational surprises such as the probono legal services provided to those who found themselves unjustly and justifiably arrested.
On the flip side, the protest was expectably hijacked by unscrupulous persons. It is unclear to me whether those thugs were political tools or not but one thing that is clear to me is that these persons are themselves youths. I then could conclude that the protest was not as popular amongst the youths as we in Lagos and Abuja thought they were. It was no doubt popular on social media but it is hard to say it was popular in the real world not minding the numbers of persons that graced the streets. Most of them, like my friends, dressed to kill to meet their future spouses on the protest ground or see the next celebrity who would perform during the protests.
It was difficult to figure out if the large turnout of the protesters on the streets of Lagos were intentionally boycotting work for the protests or that the most were actually amongst the unflattering unemployed statistics.
This ultimately led to the reported tumultuous night where there was the alleged shooting of protesters in Lagos on the 20th of October; a day Nigerian youths have vowed to remember for a long time.
Now, I know part of the Nigerian hustle is to thrive in mediocrity and thus not many would see the many wrongs that could have been righted in the most minimal form of pre protest planning had been done. Here I give my opinion.
Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela are all unforgettable activists whom posterity will always remember for the roles they played in advancing the course of human freedom. When I juxtapose the level of leadership that these three men brought to their movements, I as well as any objective person agree that their movements would have been branded at best a band of hecklers if not for the individual charisma that these men had. However, when we look at the situation of the ENDSARS protest it is almost impossible to pinpoint a leader amongst the lot. While a non-centralization of power was a good point statement, it however was one of the causal dooms of the movement. Instead of strong leadership, there was a disappointing mixture of many hero complexes who claimed to be leaders and conveners of the movement who mostly operated from their keypads except for maybe one or two of them. As the popular aphorism goes ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’.
Again, a retrospective looks at the most successful protests or affront in Nigeria’ short history as we learned from the life of the likes of Anthony Enahoro, Obafemi Awolowo, Gani Fawehinmi, MKO Abiola, and sometimes Femi Falana to mention a few, one common denominator is the sense of elitism that these men gave. I have always believed that it is the impossible world over to win against the government once force is introduced into a citizen-government struggle. Naturally, State has a monopoly over the use of force in any territory, and to come against that level of force with a few sticks, stones, placards, and ferocious visage and moans will almost certainly yield nothing. It is why I have always believed that the only way to win against any government most especially the Nigerian government is through ideological warfare centered on elitism. The ordinary Nigerian must be harmed with a definitive ideology, the knowledge of laws, and a witty and cunning tongue. Only this way can the ordinary Nigerian like you and I win against the government.
The protest revealed an ugly side that revealed to me that the young men and women of this country do not understand the deep meaning of nationalism. The protesting young ones were quick to sell out the protests to foreign actors whose intentions for Nigeria would have ultimately been to profit from the unrest. The young ones raised billions of Nigeria in untraceable bitcoin and crowdfunding. The fundraising is impressive but that was another big mistake that was foisted on the ENDSARS protest. The fact that any kind of sum of money was being accepted showed a gargantuan amount of greed and was an absolute lack of discernment on whose money to take and whose not to.
An organic protest must run without money, all that is needed is unshakeable determination and the goodwill of a few local people. Also, in the history of the world, the most successful protests are ones that not a single word was uttered. Forming of an unbreakable human chain by the interlocking of arms, a vow of silence, a mutter of funeral songs, and the hoisting or placement of flags and symbols in strategic locations and a hunger strike; these methods have been proven to the much more effective in protests, it exemplifies and physical, spiritual and psychological warfare.
Never owe the success of a nationalistic movement to foreign actors. NEVER!!! There is no way that foreign actors especially corporate actors interfere in the communal affairs of a country except it is to make a profit; go and ask Mali, Libya, and Sierra Leone.
I also personally do not think that the Nigerian youths went the mile with the protests; I know lives were lost; those are although unfortunate but predictable consequences of any protests in which force is introduced. During the Arab uprising that took hold in the Middle East and Northern African regions, citizens went the mile by setting themselves ablaze in protest, many more committed suicides in protest. This was unfortunate but it was going the mile.
It is exactly one year that the unfortunate events at the Lekki Toll Gate took place and many questions bug my mind. Did the ENDSARS protest achieve anything? Has spring truly come? Or are you still in the brute cold of the Nigerian winter?
As far as I know, there haven’t been any protests since then, Twitter remains banned, cryptocurrencies remain unbankable, no true youthful political force has been launched for the election holding in two years’ time.
Do we live to fight another day? do we await the next big provocation ? or have we been cowered for life?