United by anger, Nigerian youth are only asking for one thing | #EndSARS

by Dapo Awobeku

Let’s start by saying unequivocally that this has been one of the largest people power movement we have seen in recent times in Nigeria. And unlike previous planned, structured protests, this has proven to be largely citizen-driven. Surprisingly, it is being driven by the Gen Z, a major power bloc in Nigeria’s political structure who are also known as the Twitter warriors for their renowned ability to rant online and move on so quickly to Big Brother Naija, Instablog gists, Messi vs Ronaldo debate and several issues. Naija Twitter is full of their daily gbas gbos – all talk but no tangible action when it matters most.

So, coming out for more than 7 days to disrupt activities of the government and put states to a standstill is one that wasn’t expected by many. For the first time in a long while, young people have taken their destinies into their hands and are calling the government out!

You must have wondered how this could be possible. How can this seemingly docile Gen Z come out en-masse, regardless of their class, religion, or gender? Look no further – they have all been United by Anger!

Established in late 1992, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit was set up by the police and intended to deal with crimes associated with robbery, motor vehicle theft, kidnapping, cattle rustling, and crimes involving firearms. Rather surprising is the fact that nowhere on this list was it mentioned that their roles involve dealing with cybercrime which has been their major focus lately. SARS are notorious for their stop and search (laptops, phones etc) operations.

According to Amnesty International, at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment, and extra-judicial executions have been linked to this notorious unit between January 2017 and May 2020. Sadly, within 2015 and 2019 alone, there were 5 failed attempts by the government to fix this unit – August 7, 2015, September 22, 2016, December 3, 2017, August 14, 2018, and January 21, 2019 – one press statement after another with no results.

Back to this present “October uprising” – youth, employed and unemployed alike, students and workers, wealthy and poor alike are on the streets simply because this social malady affects us all. All that was required for a mass protest was a uniting problem which could not divide people based on politics! With SARS, no one is left out in the malady caused by these rogues – from the Ooni of Ife’s daughter to the now Deputy state Governor in Lagos, to the techie (who is easily identified with his Mac laptop and Apple phone), everyone is a SARS victim. From musicians with their dreads to classy looking bankers – no one is left out, except, of course, those driven by police escorts. You simply need to look good to be stopped by SARS. And such a time as this was certainly long coming (and yes, this timing met youth at home due to COVID and ASUU).

Like it had previously done, the government has made promises – dissolved the unit, committed to retraining them, among others. But we know this problem with our security outfits in Nigeria is multifaceted. SARS is simply taking the fall which is great to see. But to see very needed reforms across board, this one week or one month (if these protests last that long) will not cut it.

We need very clear demands and metrics to hold them accountable with. We need robust reforms in the police and other security operatives. You cannot arm an angry, untrained, underpaid person with rounds of gun and expect any better. O wrong now!

If only this ‘uprising’ were in 2022!! You would have seen the government (and opposition) in full action racing to be the saviours. Sadly, elections are still far, and they are not so bothered. When it is time, they would throw some naira and divide these youth who accounted for about 52% of the registered voters before the 2019 General elections, albeit with steady low turnouts.

To see a nation that works, we would need to sustain this anger and ultimately, use our votes to scream the kind of change we want. Till then, shout to Gen Z! We are together in this! And to the government, citizens have the right to peaceful protests! Focus on getting to meet the demands and you would have us off the streets!

Dapo can be reached via email – [email protected]

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