INTERVIEWS: One year after, Nigerian youth speak on why they supported ENDSARS movement
Some of those that supported the protest share their experiences with PREMUIM TIMES, one year after..................................
9 min readTired of the extra-judicial killing and other forms of police brutalities perpetrated by the notorious arm of the police; Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (F-SARS), thousands of Nigerian youth, in October last year, trooped out against the body while calling for a reform.
Prior to the movement, many Nigerians had on social media called for the disbandment of the unit over their high-handeness, however, the government turned a deaf ear to their pleas.By October 4, 2020, a video that would spark a massive protest went viral. In the viral video clip, two officers were filmed and they were accused of killing a man and taking his car. The protest kicked off on social media, thereafter, several Nigerian youths took to the streets for weeks to call for the disbandment of the unit.
A five-point demand, popularly called the #5for5 demands were made, which include the immediate release of arrested protesters, compensation for all victims of police abuses, setting up an independent panel to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconducts, psychological evaluation and retraining of all members of the defunct SARS unit before they are redeployed, and increase in police salaries. headtopics.com
Some of those that supported the protest share their experiences with PREMUIM TIMES, one year after.RINU ODUALACall her one of the arrow heads of the #ENDSARS protest and you would be hitting the nail on the head. The outspoken 22-year-old human rights activist was one of the first to take to the streets of Lagos following the viral video. She set up a camp outside the Lagos governor’s office on Ocotober 7 demanding the disbandment of the notorious police unit.
PREMIUM TIMES: You were one of those that promoted/supported the #EndSARS movement, can you share with us how it started and your experience?Rinu Oduala:In sharing my experience, what resonates is the fact that young Nigerians came to protest police brutality. Then the shooting started.
The protests were peaceful in Lagos. I organised the first protest on the 7th of October alongside passionate young Nigerians who were ready to die in the quest for social justice who slept in front of the police headquarters and State house of assembly in Lagos. We were nearly killed by police outside the State House of Assembly in the middle of the night on October 8, sparking widespread protests across the country and beyond. The protests remained largely peaceful until the Nigerian Government decided to hijack the movement through sponsored hoodlums and later ordered military operatives to shoot at protesters.
PT: What motivated you to support the protest?Rinu:Being a Nigerian alone motivates me to participate in protests because this is about my future, my country, my people.It is about survival. It was about advocating against oppression and not becoming a victim tomorrow. I am propelled to go out to protest to increase the public awareness,and put a spotlight on injustice and oppression that is happening in Nigeria. It is crucial for me to get involved because the injustice that is happening in the country finally required more than hashtags. headtopics.com
PT: What’s your opinion about the crop of youth that joined the protest?Rinu:At a young age, we advocate change in a country where people have long lost their voices and where it feels like talking is too much. We are also breaking the norm and doing it together with millions of other young Nigerians like us, young people in the same situation, people who have been mentally oppressed, defeated and complacent for decades. We exuded resilience, unity, empathy, radiated love, transparency and cared for each other in contrast to the labels assigned to us; keypad warriors, lazy, selfish, docile, afraid generation. It’s important to note that we are not afraid; we just do not want to die.
PT: Do you think the movement had any positive impact on our policing system?Rinu:The EndSARS movement has exposed the deep corruption and impunity in the police system in Nigeria and how lax the Nigerian government is on complex policy issues such as criminal justice reform. It brought to the world’s perspective, the climate of authoritarian rule and lack of political accountability in the country that gives the police the right to violate civil rights, injure, maim, torture and kill civilians with impunity.
It revealed more than ever, the ineffectiveness of the Nigerian police system, leading to the recruitment of psychologically and socially unstable individuals who are also understaffed, underfunded and under-equipped in the police force, making them prone to violence in law enforcement
PT: Lessons for future protests?Rinu:Lessons for future protests can be drawn from the ENDSARS movement.Religious and tribal lines should never be allowed to divide us again, as we have seen that they do not really matter in the fight for social justice. headtopics.com
Most importantly, the youth of this nation must be involved in any decision that affects their future, as they have chosen to be leaders today rather than expect to be leaders in an unforeseen future.Demola OlanrewajuPT: You were one of those that supported the #endsars movement, can you share with us how it started and your experience?
Demola:2020 was not the first time that we enacted the #EndSARS protests. We have had it in precious years before 2020. However, 2020 happened to be the biggest and most widespread.It started with multiple reports of police harassment and extrajudicial activities carried out by men of the Nigeria Police Force particularly the Special Anti Robbery Squad popularly known as SARS.
The incident that sparked the 2020 protests was a report on police officers who shot a young man under the guise of fighting cyber fraud, after which they made away with his car.Triggered by that incident and several others in the same period, the #EndSARS spirit was awakened once again, and that was the beginning of what can be described as one of the biggest civil disobedience events in the history of Nigeria.
PT: Why did you support it?Demola:I promoted the protest because I have come to realise that conversations around police brutality were yielding no results. I realised that it was time to take action beyond just complaining on the internet with hopes that the government will eventually embark on the much-needed police reforms.
PT: How would you describe the attitude of Nigerian youths and the Nigerian government to the movement?Demola:I have to be very honest, the attitude of young Nigerians to the protests was inspiring. This would be the first time that I witnessed the ultimate cooperation among young Nigerians. I have never seen anything like it before. Young Nigerians from different walks of life, despite political, ethnic and religious divides came together for the first time in a long time to fight against police brutality.
It can be said that some other young Nigerians took sides with the government during #EndSARS. However, we cannot deny the level of unity among the majority of the youths. It really was a beautiful thing to see young Nigerians come together despite our differences, to stand for a common cause.
The Nigerian government, on the other hand, failed to see the opportunity to sell itself as a listening and responsive government. Instead of listening to the voice of the people and do what is right, the government decided to confront a protest against brutality with more violence and misinterpretation of what the people are really saying. It really was disappointing to see a government that promised to do things differently, do the direct opposite of its promises.
PT: Do you think the movement had any positive impact on our policing system?Demola:Well, the movement for a bit achieved a tiny percentage of its goals which was the disbandment of the Special Anti Robbery Squad of the police force. However, it failed to achieve total police reforms and restructuring of the policing structure in the country. I would not put the blame of that failure on the Nigerian youths. It is the government that has shown a lack of capacity and interest in reforming the
police.The youths have done what is expected of an active citizenry. The responsibility of reforming the police force still lies in the hands of the government. We cannot abdicate that responsibility to anyone else but the government especially the President.
Deji AdeyanjuPT: You were one of those that supported the #endsars movement, can you share with us how it started and your experience?Deji:The notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Nigeria has continued to use torture and other ill-treatment to execute, punish, and extract information from suspects with impunity. In the worst cases, they not only tortured and humiliated the individual but also killed them.
Unfortunately, many of those subjected to such inhuman treatment or even killed were innocent. More and more SARS victims have been reported in the news in recent years, eliciting outrage on social media, particularly Twitter, and sometimes resulting in protests.
In recent years, Nigerian authorities have made promises to address the problem and disband SARS. SARS members, on the other hand, continued to extort, rape, torture, and kill with impunity. I lamented and charged the federal government of Nigeria on several occasions on TV, radio broadcast, at public events, and persistently on social media to rise to the challenge and put an end to the gross human rights violation perpetrated by SARS, but they turned a deaf ear.
Then the last straw that broke the camels back happened, just as I had envisaged because you can’t pin the masses down and tell them not to revolt. So on 4 October 2020, a video went viral showing SARS officers dragging two men from a hotel and shooting one of them outside. A few days later, #EndSARSNow protests erupted across Nigeria with the demand for immediate disbandment of the police unit.
PT: Why did you promote it?Deji:To say I promoted it is an understatement. I participated actively because police brutality and senseless killing have gone on unchallenged in Nigeria. Many families have lost their dear ones who were not guilty of any crimes. Extortion and assault on innocent Nigerians was too much. Wole Soyinka wrote that the man in you dies when you keep quiet in the face of tyranny. So I believe that is the right time for me to join Nigerian youths and activists to end this human rights violation by speaking out. And we didn’t just want to end police brutality, we are demanding justice for victims of police violence and extrajudicial killings.
PT: How would you describe the attitude of Nigerian youths and the Nigerian government to the #EndSARS protest?Deji:Many people mistake #EndSARS to be just a protest. It’s not just a protest, it’s a movement. I’ve never seen the Nigerian youth united in action as during the protest. They came out massively on the streets and on social media channels to send a clear message to the Nigerian government and the world that this country is ours. That’s patriotism at play. The Nigerian government proved once more that they don’t have the interest of the masses at heart. On 20 October, the Nigerian army violently repressed a peaceful protest at the Lekki toll gate, shooting at the protesters and killing at least 12 people. Since that day, the Nigerian authorities have tried to cover up the events of the Lekki Toll Gate Shooting. They froze protests leaders’ bank accounts and fined news agencies who diffused videos of the shooting. But the “Soro Soke” (“Speak up” in Yoruba) generation won’t give up the fight for justice. They demand answers. But the body language of the Nigerian government doesn’t show seriousness and commitment to right the wrongs that triggered the movement.
PT: Do you think the movement had any positive impact on our policing system?Deji:Indeed, it has had many positive impacts, on the masses and the government including mental, political and structural reforms. #EndSARS morphed from a protest against police brutality to a movement for social justice and government reforms.
Indeed, the protests have been described as a “vector” for broader dissatisfaction with Nigeria’s political class. On 11 October, SARS was disbanded, and subsequently, series of reforms were proposed, which have not been effectively implemented. The movement has largely impacted the Nigerian youth and the government.
On the part of the youth, it has brought us together, it has united our voice against injustice, against bad governance and against human rights violation in Nigeria. On the part of the government, it has sent a clear message that we are wiser now and are fully aware of our rights as citizens of Nigerian.
The movement is so far the only action embarked on by the masses that has put shivers down the spine of the Nigerian government to realize that they need to sit up or face revolution. Now they’re aware that they can’t take us for granted or get a way with anything they do.
Let me tell you, the movement is just building, what started in October last year was just to test the waters. The Nigerian army and police killed over 56 innocent Nigerians during the protest and you think it’s over, it’s not over. Many champions are still coming up and by the time they start raising their voice and backing it with action, the Arab Spring and 1914 French revolution would be a child’s play compared to what will happen. No one will escape it even though they’re no longer in power, the long arm of justice will run them through.
It is also important to know that we started the #EndSARS campaign in 2017 withSegun Awosanya better called Segalink and led the first protest the same year. We subsequently held several other protests. I and Omoyele Sowore also started the protest that subsequently led to the bigger movement last year. At the peak of attacks by pro-govt thugs, not only did I do all within my power to stop the attacks on peaceful protesters, but I also got security protection gadgets for the protesters like pepper sprays, etc. most obliged.
ORJI AmaPT: You were one of those that supported the endsars movement, can you share with us how it started and your experience?Orji:I have always been very vocal with issues that have to do with police brutality and harassment, even while I was in university, while I was in law school and when I started practising law. I also had my own share of police brutality, policeharassment, of which I firmly resisted as an undergraduate. What started the #EndSARS movement was a plethora of cases of police brutality and harassment, it became a recurring decimal, on a daily basis we had issues like that, weeks, and months. It got to a point that youths could not take it anymore. The youths came together, although it started piecemeally, it metamorphosed into a big protest. It just started in Lagos, before you know it, it became nationwide.
PT: Why did you promote it?Orji:What motivated me to join the protest was the love for my country. I owe Nigeria that obligation, that duty to see that this country works, and I saw the #EndSARS movement as an opportunity to push for a better Nigeria, as an opportunity to propel for a better Nigeria, end SARS and police brutality. I saw it as an opportunity to propel police reform, because the police are also suffering, the Nigerian Police is just a reflection of the society, a reflection of the system. They are not properly taken care of and we have a lot of injustice going on in the police force and they vend this anger on citizens. That was what motivated me, I saw it as a veritable means to push for a better Nigeria.
READ ALSO:PT: How would you describe the attitude of Nigerian youths and the Nigerian government to the #EndSARS protest?Orji:My experience with the youths during the protest was a great one. The Nigerian youths, for once, came together, spoke with one voice, youths from every angle not caring about religion or tribe. It was an eye opener that our differences are just artificial and they have been magnified by our leaders just to keep us divided perpetually for their own gain.
The #EndSARS protest was peaceful, it was well coordinated very peaceful until the government infiltrated the movement with hoodlums. Of course, the governments were afraid of the movement, they could not stop it. Whenever the youths come together in things like, when we actualise our synergy or unity, they are always afraid. During the protest, nobody was talking about being a Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa or being a Muslim, Christian and others. Everybody was united, we were only talking about one thing, a better Nigeria, a Nigeria that works.
Do you think the movement had any positive impact on our policing system?Orji: Read more: Premium Times »
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