By Sani Abdulrazak
An event took place a year ago that will be etched in our history forever, with olla podrida of tongues and potpourri of voices debating it and this might go on for years to come. The event was triggered by acts of police brutality against the people they swore an oath to protect. Becoming too much to bear for the people especially of the South West Nigeria, brave men and women took to the streets demanding an end to the brutal Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force, effectively starting the #EndSARS protest.
The message became loud and clear; the SARS unit of the Nigerian Police Force has to go! This time for good. The atmosphere around the country became thick and darkening with tension everywhere. The thoughtful ones became unsettled as they feared the worse for our dear country. Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of the country and centre of excellence became the birthplace and heart of the protest; it continued, climaxed and suddenly reached its peak, paralysing almost all activities in Lagos. Men, Women, children, young and old trooped out day and night with their numbers increasing by every second. Within a blink, it spread to almost all parts of the country with the protesters chanting on top of their voices, and all they wanted was an end to Nigeria’s special anti-robbery squad and police reform.
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Celebrities coloured the protests with their publicity, civil society organisations added glamour with financial backings and even the diaspora threw their weights behind such unprecedented movement and expectedly, the protest drew global attention. ‘EndSARS’ was the slogan. Everywhere you go, you’d hear people say “Soro Soke”. It’s a conundrum, but in the midst of that conundrum, a spark of hope emerged. ‘Unity’. The protests seemingly united Nigerians especially the middle and lower class irrespective of ethnicity or religion like never before.
The protesters boiled in peeve and rage as to why the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces will not meet their demand or at least address them. Everything was placed on his shoulder. Expectedly, the president didn’t bulge at first, but would later do. The protesters later won and the president announced the scrapping of SARS and ordered a reform of the entire Nigeria Police Force. The president’s announcement was greeted by wild celebrations. Hope came back to the people. “We have won,” they chanted against a president they see as very brittle.
The music of the protesters suddenly changed. They wanted much more; they claimed #EndSARS is but an acronym demanding an end to inter alia bad governance. Some, especially the ones up North, said it’s a demand to end insecurities permeating the nooks and crannies of our towns, cities and villages. The list of demands kept increasing and most of which can’t be met with the protesters on the streets.
The federal government acknowledged their demands and urged them to go back home while they dialogue with their representatives. They denied having leaders and so sent representatives to meet with the government.
Soon after, the protesters smelled blood on the part of the government thus changing the music even further. This time the ultimate demand: “You have failed, resign now,” they screamed.
As the protest intensified, the message became louder; “Resign now” and at that point, the government needed to act or at least change approach to the conundrum. Coincidentally, hoodlums began to hijack the protest in some parts of the country; shops being looted, houses burnt and even as far as prison break. Curfew was imposed and even that did very little to stop what was fast becoming a national chaos.
Looting became the order of the day. Government assets burnt at will. Looters became fearless and controlled the streets. In some parts of the country, it metamorphosed into ethnic clashes. There was a near breakdown of law and order. The government warned the people that it would not stand and watch as the country bleeds, but the looters were unrelenting just like the protesters.
Then came the faithful evening of 20/10/20 and the government struck at the heart of the protest: the Lekki tollgate. The government’s approach this time was to cut the head of the snake, and so they did! Were the protests justified? Was the government’s handling of the protest justifiable? Did the military shoot at unarmed protesters? Were about 70 lives lost and hundreds injured at Lekki tollgate that day? These are questions we as a Nation must answer going forward.
Even with the special panel of inquiry set up to look into what happened during the protest, analysts and explainers on every available media space are and will continue debating the #EndSARS protest and especially the incident of 20/10/20 at the Lekki tollgate for years to come. The protests left us with so many lessons among which is the fact that the Nigerian masses, when united, can achieve anything, and we must at all cost get involved in the process of electing our leaders and not rest the responsibility on the shoulders of a few among us. And that we must ensure transparency and fairness in our electoral system so that our votes can count. Also, we must learn from this incident that emotions either sincere or otherwise cannot and should not take the place of truth. Long live Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Sani Abdulrazak, a Senior Technologist at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, can be reached via email at email@example.com