#ENDSARS Protests in Nigeria: Opportunities and Prospects for the Emergence of a new Order by Stanley I. Uwakwe

#ENDSARS Protests in Nigeria: Opportunities and Prospects for the Emergence of a new Order

by Stanley I. Uwakwe

Nigeria’s #ENDSARS protests began in early October 2020 and were a mass revolt against police brutality towards the general population and young people in particular. SARS – an acronym for Special Anti-Robbery Squad – is a specialized unit in the Nigerian Police Force with a mandate to investigate and tackle armed robbery, kidnapping, and other criminal activity. Over the years, SARS has been accused of gross human rights abuses, extra-judicial killings, extortion, among other violations. In response to these accusations, the Nigerian government has announced the disbandment of SARS on several occasions. However, these pronouncements were never implemented, allowing SARS officers to operate with impunity. The #ENDSARS protests were undoubtedly a direct response to years of suppressed popular agitation for a citizen-friendly police force in Nigeria.

The #ENDSARS protests began with peaceful protests across Nigeria, including at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos state. As the protests continued to gain momentum, thugs and criminal elements infiltrated the protests, looting businesses, killing police officers, and destroying public and private property. In a move to curtail the descent into anarchy, on 20th October 2020 the government deployed soldiers to Lekki Toll Gate (a major #ENDSARS protest location) to disperse the protesters in compliance with a state-imposed curfew. Despite the Nigerian Police Force and other para-military units being trained and mandated to manage civil protests, the government consistently deploys the military to quell citizen protests. Thus, the deployment of the military in the #ENDSARS protest did not come as a surprise.

The #ENDSARS protest is a watershed moment for the discourse on Nigerian youth participation in civil protests. Young people, who hitherto were not particularly active in political and civil matters in the country, largely spearheaded the protests. The protesters showcased the ability of Nigerian youths to positively utilize social media to generate support and solidarity, as well as to mobilize funds for their cause. Nigerian youths also displayed an unprecedented level of unity and diversity. The atmosphere at the various protest locations including Lekki Toll Gate was one of conviviality, until the army’s deployment.

The government’s initial response to the protest was one of genuine sincerity. It accepted the five main demands put forward by the protesters and extended an offer for dialogue. Also, the Inspector-General of the Nigerian Police Force promptly announced the disbandment of SARS as well as the establishment of the Special Weapons and Tactics Squad. However, the subsequent events at Lekki Toll Gate contradicted the government’s pledge for dialogue with the protesters; authorities seized some protest leaders’ travel papers, froze their accounts on allegations of terrorism funding, deregistered organizations, and detained and prosecuted #ENDSARS leaders.

Opportunities and Prospects for The Emergence of a New Order: Since independence from British colonial rule in 1960, Nigeria has continued to grapple with socio-economic, political, and developmental challenges. Although the country is among the largest producers of crude oil, millions of its citizens live below the poverty line. Many of the challenges facing the country are deeply rooted in corruption. This has resulted in massive youth unemployment, inhibiting the realization of the country’s potential to function as a major economic hub in Africa. The #ENDSARS protest was a manifestation of youth disenchantment with the prevailing socio-economic and political situation in the country. Indeed, the protest provided an avenue for Nigerian youths to unanimously raise their voices against unemployment, poverty, bad governance, corruption, and other issues. Therefore, the protest presents opportunities and prospects for the emergence of a new order in Nigeria. For instance, it is clear that the structural paradigm of democratic governance has shifted in Nigeria. Youths have declared and will continue to declare their desire to be incorporated into governance structures. With the level of unity displayed by the protesters, Nigerian youths have shown that they are able to jointly pursue a common cause without recourse to religion and ethnicity – previously a major challenge in the country.

Nigerian youths have realized that protests are becoming a catalyst for substantive change. Furthermore, this protest has showcased the potentials of social media as a veritable platform for mass mobilization. Thus, the government needs to leverage this potential rather than seeking to regulate and control social media. With the #ENDSARS protest, Nigerian youths have shown that they have the capacity to be today’s leaders, promoting a new order and capable of innovative interventions in their own rights. The #ENDSARS protest have come and gone, successes have been achieved, mistakes have been made, and lessons have been learnt. It is time to move forward with the lesson that “it is now a new dawn in Nigeria.”