If you’re going to the #EndSARS protest, it could happen.
We already experienced trigger happy Nigeria Police officers using guns to disperse peaceful protesters and killing innocent Nigerians – the same reason the movement began in the same place. But, tomorrow may mark a bigger #EndSARS protest and a dictatorial government will surely want to prevent a consequent revolution.
Thousands of Nigerian youth are surely going to attend the #EndSARS protests across the country (and around the world) to stand against police brutality. The potential for escalation, like the use of tear gas, is a very real possibility that is out of your control, no matter how careful you are or how peaceful the crowd is—something that’s become very clear from recent news reports about police instigating violence.
Although tear gas is banned in international warfare, as SELF previously reported (per the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention), security agents in Nigeria use it like perfume to control and disperse crowds, including protesters like they did in Abuja and other states in Nigeria where the #EndSARS protests have held.
To prepare for that possibility, here’s what you can do before, during, and after being exposed to tear gas:
Tear gas is a generic term referring to Riot Control Agents (RCAs), chemical compounds that temporarily paralyse people exposed to them by causing severe irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin.
RCAs are actually liquids or solids (powders) that are released as fine droplets or particles (via aerosol canisters, for example). The two most commonly used RCAs are compounds called chloroacetophenone (CN) and chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile (CS).
Tear gas becomes effective after it finds moisture or fluid as you have in your eyes, skin, mouth, and nose. Once it hits these areas there’s a component in the gas that tends to target a receptor in our bodies that sends pain signals to our nervous system causing pain, irritation, inflammation in affected areas.
Symptoms of tear gas exposure can include the following:
- Eyes: Excessive tearing, redness, burning, blurred vision
- Skin: Burns and rash
- Mouth: Burning, irritation, drooling, trouble swallowing
- Nose: Running, burning, and swelling
- Lungs: Chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, choking sensation
- Stomach: Nausea and vomiting
What to do before you go out there:
Wear a mask. Covering your mouth and nose can go a long way. The same types of masks we’re being encouraged to wear in public to protect ourselves from COVID-19 are also good to help protect your nose and mouth from tear gas; including plastic face shields.
Wear eye protection. If you’re not wearing a face shield, you need a way to keep particles out of your eyes. Sunglasses and eyeglasses won’t seal out contaminants, but they can at least help protect you if you’re directly sprayed.
Wear long sleeves, trousers and socks. The more of your body you cover, the less of your skin gets exposed.
Don’t use makeup. Makeup is often oily or watery, and so it can create a surface that makes the tear gas stick to your lips and eyes and face.
Bring lots of water. What doesn’t water do?
In case you tear gas gets to you:
Run from it. Leave that space (the cloud of tear gas) immediately. Get to fresh air as soon as you can. You can as well seek high ground because RCAs tend to form dense clouds closer to the ground.
If your eyes are impacted, flush them out. If your eyes have been exposed and are burning, treat them first if you’re able. They’re often the most painful area, and having trouble seeing can be traumatic. On natural grounds, you are instinctively going to want to rub your eyes, but doing that (including touching your mouth or nose) can make it worse. Since we all agreed you go with lots of water, use that as preliminary rinse until you get to a larger source of water where you will rinse the affected area thoroughly.
See a doctor if there’s any where you are protesting. If by chance, the irritation persists, you should seek medical advice. Depending on your symptoms, treatment might include medicated bandages for burns or asthma medications (like bronchodilators and steroids) for breathing issues.
This time, we will win this battle and the Nigeria of our dreams will be realised.
Omoleye Omoruyi… an apprentice web/game developer, novelist, sensitive to happenings in the world. Meet him @Lord_rickie on Twitter/Instagram