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Could Nigeria’s #EndSARS protests grow into a movement?

15 October 2020

Young Nigerians took to the streets to force the end of a notorious police unit last week. The call to #EndSARS was ultimately met and protesters seem determined to stay on the streets to hold power to account.

Kingsley Amaechi would like to join the protests taking place in Nigeria but he can hardly move. The taxi driver was injured in a violent attack a few weeks ago. Amaechi says he was almost killed when his passengers assaulted him.

His ordeal continued when police transferred his case to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Amaechi is furious that in his case those assigned to thwart crimes committed them.

“They told me I had to pay for the investigation. And I was like: ‘I cannot afford it.’ But he [the SARS operative] insisted that I give him money,” Amaechi told DW.

I told him: “I’m not supposed to give you anything. You asking for money is like killing me more.”

Nigeria’s mass #EndSARS protests, like those seen here in Lagos, attracted international attention on social media sites

Fear of a rebranded SARS

The infamous police unit has left a trail of bodies and broken lives in its wake across Nigeria. Overall, the dissolution of SARS has been broadly welcomed but it has also been criticized, especially in the volatile northeast.  

SARS has been accused of corruption, rape, torture and killing. The country’s youth says cases like Amaechi’s are all too common. They have taken to streaming #EndSARS protests and seem energized by the reaction, showing little desire to stop. 

A new unit has now been created to take SARS’ place: The Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit. Nevertheless, that has not put an end to the protests as it is feared SARS has simply been rebranded. If that is the case, protesters say, it would symbolize a failure to address the systematic problem at its core: abuse of power.

“Protests are not going to stop until we can be assured of real change. When you put a rotten egg in among good ones, all you have to do is wait. The good ones are not going to make the bad one good, but the one will make all the good ones bad,” says Amaechi.

Young Nigerians holding placards at an EndSARS protest in the northwestern city of Kaduna

‘Never about politics’

Amnesty International says at least 10 people have died since the protests began on October 8, and that the government has not been forthcoming in addressing claims that protesters were shot. It is, however, trying to stop the #EndSARS protests. On Thursday, the government said such gatherings in Abuja, the capital, were in “violation of COVID-19 safety protocols.”

Nigeria’s protests began online and unfolded on the streets much like the Arab Spring. Now some protesters are calling for a new “Youth Democratic Party” to their channel demands ahead of elections in 2023. Others are concerned politics could create division among the #EndSARS supporters.

“This protest was never about politics. The Youth Democratic Party is a journey in progress,” says Ada Beke. “There should be a party if we can overcome the hurdles of power tussles among different interest groups and avoid adopting the political cultures of the old guard,” she says.

On Twitter, Beke writes: “I have a MSc in microbiology, I now sell wigs. Why? There’s no job out there … We are out there protesting cause we’re jobless.”

Within hours, her comments were retweeted more than 12,000 times.

Youth frustration 

Youth make up the majority in Africa’s the most populous country and frustration among them runs high.

Yet the large #EndSARS crowds that gathered in recent days showed young Nigerians they had the power to turn things around. Now, a post-protest plan is needed says, Segun Awosanya, who started the first online campaign years ago — and, he says, policies must follow 

Awosanya says back when he started his first campaign, promises made by the government were never kept. 

This report first appeared in DW, the German public service broadcaster.

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