For more than one week, something remarkable happened in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria as it experienced its first taste of a united and resilient protest spearheaded by young people.
“A digitised upset with real world effects” is the best way to describe what the #ENDSARS protest has become.
The voices of Nigeria’s youth were heard all over the world as they protested against police brutality and human rights violations. They are tired of being profiled, hunted down, kidnapped, extorted and killed.
In a unified effort, the protest which continued for close to two weeks, offline and online, stopped Nigeria in its tracks, demanding that the government listen to cries for justice and reform.
After the #ENDSARS protest began, over 10 people were reported killed by the police as protesters faced more brutality from police and hired thugs.
The presidency could not put forth an actionable plan to address protesters’ requests but seemed to be mobilizing the army against them instead. The moment tested the fabric of Nigeria’s democracy.
The middle class, well educated and mostly young Nigerians connected by the internet but disoriented by hardship from military rule that ended more than two decades ago, wanted reforms in the police and change in Nigeria.
A Decentralised Collaborative Effort Spearheaded by Young People
One of the highpoints was the collaborative effort of protesters in coordinating resources and information among protesters nationwide.
Crowdfunding by the Feminist Coalition has raised more than N70 Million used to respond at protest locations with food, private security, medical bills and legal aid, with a helpline for rapid response.
How these funds were spent were open and transparent for everyone to see in detailed spreadsheets on the group’s website.
This initiative has shown an enterprise many Nigerians have yearned to see from their government, begging the question of why Nigeria’s trillion naira budgets do not seem to have tangible effects.
Location updates, information and ideas like the candlelight vigil on October 16 that spurred the protest on were often incubated on social media.
Volunteers cleaned up protest grounds every day, yoga instructors offered free yoga classes and young artists organised live painting sessions for expression of creativity.
The Nigerian Government underestimates its youth, but their actions frequently show that the positive drive within them will benefit Nigeria greatly.
The older generation and the youth do not think alike and the disconnect between the analogue and internet generation is glaring for all to see.
Young Nigerians have seen the power they have when they speak up for a common message. It will be interesting to see how they use this newfound voice to address other inconsistencies in the Nigerian system.
Nigeria needs innovative thinkers in its next generation of policymakers that will help push Africa’s most populous nation into the modern age.
A New Age of Political Engagement Among Nigerian Youths Following the Lekki Massacre
In the days following the 20th of October, the Nigerian Government has denied that the gruesome killing at the Lekki tollgate occurred. This is despite live video footage, forensic analysis and multiple eyewitness accounts.
Dale, a photographer told Vice News, “People were rushing, and DJ Switch, who was making the live video, was trying to control the crowd and get them to lie down, The soldiers still kept shooting.”
Now termed the Lekki Massacre, it was an effort by the government to break the spirit of the youth and silence their voice. Many young people did not expect the government to go that far but on that day it showed its ugly hand.
Amnesty International reported that at least 12 people died at Lekki tollgate that night and about 38 people killed across the country.
According to the New York Times, Mr. Buhari has gone on record to say about 51 civilians have been killed, along with 11 police officers and seven soldiers since the protests began.
DJ Switch who live-streamed the shooting on her Instagram page told CNN, “I’m heartbroken. There was no warning. We just heard gunshots and the soldiers came in guns blazing. It’s the worst thing I have seen in my life. They were just shooting like we were goats and chickens.“
President Muhammadu Buhari’s lacklustre televised address on Thursday night after the Lekki incident left Nigerians at a loss.
In his address, the president mangled up a bunch of points without really talking about them or about the Lekki Massacre. Nigerians used that night for comic relief and by morning they had refreshed the vigour of seeking change, eager to honour the memories of fallen protesters with action.
What next? Journalist Nasir Ahmed believes that there’s still more to fight for ahead
“There is a lesson in every setback if you can focus less on the feeling of dejection. The lesson I see here is that the tactics of the Nigerian Government to weaponise poverty is out in the open now. We should invest time in educating and looking out for the most vulnerable people in our communities so that they can feel a togetherness and see themselves as more than political instruments.” Journalist Nasir Ahmed
The Nigerian government calls for an end to brutality with more brutality, their actions are telling of their unwillingness to listen to their citizens. The talk on the tip of many lips is participation in elections at local levels to get youths into positions of authority where they can effect real change.
Young people are bent on remembering how the government reacted to the EndSARS movement and using that discontent to fuel political and social engagement so they can overhaul the decaying system piece by piece.