#EndSARS Anniversary: Two years later, Young Nigerians are moving forward without forgetting

We will continue to speak and demand better because we know that is our right

After the events of October 2020, that month now carries, for many Nigerians—especially the youth—a reverence in line with other globally celebrated touchpoints such as Black History Month and Pride Month. That month, Nigerian youth, fed up with the decades-old mistreatments from law enforcement officials, spoke to power with a resounding voice. They shunned the structure of silence that pervades every aspect of the country’s fabric. Their voices echoed beyond the shores of Nigeria and into the global space, demanding and gaining the world’s ears and heart. In the end, many of those voices lost their lives. Yet, their voices remain loud.

The tragedy at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos left the entire nation in a sober mood. For young Nigerians, who were the main players in the #EndSARS protests, it was a callous reminder that the government, made up of men and women elected into office by their votes, did not care about their lives, their pains and their future. That DJ Switch, who was one of those that live-streamed the unfortunate shooting, is now a fugitive for recording the truth remains deeply worrying. That message was further driven home by the propaganda of the army and the government—both refusing to acknowledge their involvement in the killing of peaceful protesters.

From Chijioke Iloanya to Pelumi Onifade, many families who lost loved ones to the police and its offshoot the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) are yet to get justice. Some youths arrested during the protests are still in detention and others are either in or out of hospitals while battling the aftermath of the protests. Some people have their livelihoods stagnated as their bank accounts remain frozen. Still, the country is unsafe for the youths, as extortion, torture and extrajudicial killings by the police persist.

There is some positivity, though. The #EndSARS protests brought to the limelight people, most especially Nigerian women who, for years, have battled a patriarchal system that demands they swallow their voices. From members of the Feminist Coalition to Rinu Oduala to Aisha Yesufu, these women took to the forefront, leading crowds on the streets and employing social media in the mobilization and dissemination of information. On the other hand, LGBTQ+ rights activists such as Matthew Blaise refused to let hate hinder them from adding their voice to the protests, birthing the hashtag #QueerLivesMatter, an important reminder that the responsibility to redeem the country lies at the feet of everyone, whether queer or straight. Nigerian celebrities weren’t left out, too; they lent their support on the streets and in the music studio.

In June 2021, eight months after the #EndSARS protests, the Nigerian government banned Twitter. The ban on the social media platform was centred on the belief that it gave the Nigerian people a too-loud boldness. Social media, in these times, has proved an efficient tool to checkmate the government’s excesses. Even after the ban, many Nigerian youths stuck to Twitter, ignoring both the government’s alternative of the India-owned Koo and the threats of arrest to anyone with the platform active on their phone. The ban was lifted seven months later in January 2022 but again, the government had passed a message that Nigerians understood: they care more about silencing the people than addressing important issues.

In May, members of the LGBTQ+ community marched into the streets of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, to peacefully protest a bill by lawmakers in Nigeria’s lower house of parliament, which sought to criminalize cross-dressing. Although it was a low-key affair, it demonstrated a boldness that young Nigerians have come to embrace. “Nigeria never listens to its citizens but I am hopeful that this protest is seen by many and motivates them to join this fight,” one of the protesters told The Rustin Times. “The bill affects us all whether you are queer or not. If you let the government take away our rights today, tomorrow they will come for yours.”

This month, Nigeria celebrated its 62nd Independence anniversary. But there wasn’t much of a celebration happening. Most Nigerians are knee-deep in the campaign craze for next year’s general elections. As the candidates prepare their manifestos, Nigerians are at the point where their demand for the best leadership is at an all-time high. Many Nigerians have taken to social media to urge people to vote while also drumming up support for their preferred candidates.

At the moment, the Nigerian government gives the citizens few joys, if any; insecurity is on the rise across the country and most recently, many Nigerians have lost lives and properties in the floods. On social media, “Japa” is the ever-ringing buzzword for the dream of relocating out of Nigeria permanently. While leaving the country for another where one’s dreams can be easily actualized is a good thing, the long-term implications on the country are not great: aside from the obvious brain drain, it raises the question: What kind of future lies in wait for the Nigerian who can’t afford to leave?

The areas where Nigerians earn a sense of pride are mostly in music, arts and sports. Stars like Tems, Asake, Oxlade and Pheelz are making Nigerian pop—aka Afrobeats—the go-to sound around the world. Digital and visual artists like Osinachi and Anthony Azekwoh are creating beautiful collages of colours and history while sportswomen like Tobi Amusan are laying remarkable foundations for the future. These individuals, despite the glaring lack in the country, are taking up the responsibility to create paths for themselves and their careers. It is a strength we know too well because we have been forced to not expect even the most basic support from our government.

Since October 2020, one thing is clear: Nigerians will no longer just do what they are told. Dubbed the Soro Soke Generation, young Nigerians are choosing the path less travelled because the ones we have used have yielded no good results. We will continue to speak and demand better because we know that is our right. Whether the Nigerian government understands this or chooses to ignore it, Nigerian youths are no more pushovers and our voice and exploits will respond for generations to come.