Prior to the beginning of 2020, we had plans, hopes and dreams; plans to right our wrongs, to increase our finances, expand our businesses, try out new things, develop our skills e.t.c.
But, we were welcomed to 2020 with the horrifying news that Covid-19, the Chinese virus had gotten to our shores in Nigeria, and in a short while, we saw with our own eyes how it swept through the nation, halting all forms of outdoor activities.
As a result of the economic hiatus; a lot of businesses suffered, employers could not keep up with paying their staff anymore, employees lost their jobs, people became hungry, helpless and hopeless.
Nevertheless, Nigerians in their striving spirit developed coping mechanisms amidst the troubles of the pandemic and the lockdown that followed suit.
All through the year, many people slowly resumed their different jobs, and while not disputing the fact that even criminal elements resumed their nefarious activities, the Nigerian economy slowly started moving.
However, videos and news of profiling, brutalisation and even extrajudicial killings by policemen came to light. Many kept quiet, and were ready to adopt it as the new norm in Nigeria, although there were several attempts to make the authorities probe into the matter, and bring errant officers to book, but nothing was done.
The year got to its last quarter when we began seeing hashtags and planned demonstrations making rounds via social media. That was when the hashtag #EndSARS was revived and it began trending.
The genesis of the #EndSARS movement
The #EndSARS movement started as far back as 2017 when Nigerian youths used the hashtag to share their experiences on violence and assault perpetrated by the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad and the Nigerian Police.
In spite of a struggling nation filled with hungry, depressed youths and a crumbling economy due to the effects of the lockdown as forced by the pandemic, social media, which was the only source of comic relief for people became flooded with a video of a Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) personnel who allegedly shot an unarmed young man at Wetland hotel, in Ughelli, thereby leading to him sustaining major injuries.
This incident that happened on October 3, 2020, was filmed and went viral.
The virality of the gory clip sparked an outcry on social media against SARS and that was the genesis of the hashtag #EndSARS.
This prompted Nigerian youths to troop to Twitter, calling on the Federal Government for police reform with the hashtag, #EndSARS, #Endpolicebrutality, and many more. The hashtag trended continuously on Twitter as Nigerian youths aired their pain and experiences online.
On October 8, 2020, demonstrations associated with the hashtags had begun in major cities of the country and by October 13, a total of 26 demonstrations calling the end of police brutality was recorded.
On 20 October, the Lagos state announced a curfew that should last for 24 hours. This announcement was made at 11:49 am and the curfew was to take effect from 4 pm the same day.
And, it came due to the ‘hijacked’ #EndSARS protests in the state, where hoodlums (most of which came in government-marked vehicles) attacked innocent citizens while destroying lives and properties of people in the state.
At about 6:45, several social media accounts revealed that peaceful protesters were allegedly shot and killed by the Nigerian Military at the Lekki tollgate. The Nigerian military forces fired live ammunition at #EndSARS demonstrators in Lagos who had sat down in the road to peacefully protest against police brutality.
Young Nigerians are still reeling from the shock and after-effects of the government’s heavy-handed response. Military officials have rejected claims that they shot live ammunition at unarmed protesters, alleging that soldiers had only fired blank bullets (BBC, 15 November 2020). The reaction from the government has facilitated the distrust between young Nigerians and the government.
The #EndSARS demonstration was our hope
For a long time, we have battled the irregularities presented to us by our system of governance. People can no longer walk the streets again for fear of being brutalized, accused or assaulted by the very ones that are supposed to protect them.
A lot of incidents has happened where people literally pleaded for justice to be served. In a country that has the welfare of its citizens at heart, no one is placed above the law, but for ours, the reverse is the case.
Social media, most relevantly Twitter, helped push the trending hashtag that brought our consciousness to the persistent evil being perpetrated by the SARS personnel against innocent people.
At the beginning of October 2020, after the viral video of a man allegedly shot by a SARS officer, outraged Nigerians took to social media to vent and speak against injustices as this while people begin to dig up stories about their experience with police and their level of brutality against the same citizens they swore to protect.
Fearless celebrities and activists also helped in stirring the flames in people – to stand up and speak against injustices- and call for an outright ban of the Special Anti Robbery Squad.
According to the #5for5 demands from the #EndSARS protesters (see here), we had hopes alive that police oppression and brutality will stop and the voices of the youths would actually be heard. We also herald the moment proactive persons will occupy major political seats and steer the wheel of change in Nigeria. But, all those hopes were dashed when the blood of innocent Nigerians was spilled on the grounds of Lekki tollgate, sad!
True that SARS as a unit of the police has been disbanded after the protests gained local and international traction, but, the youths have not been able to take power away from the old, visionless leaders that our system has currently.
It was evident, even to the blind, that the angered youths were ready to take charge of their destinies by voting in young persons whom they feel will right the wrongs of corrupt and selfless politicians who never cared a bit for Nigerians, but, those gunshots heard on October 20, 2020, has left many wondering when the true change will be seen and felt in a nation like ours.
Until justice for those heroes and heroines is served, the ground might just keep bleeding.