#EndSARS & The Creative Works Inspired by the seminal protest

October 20, 2020 continues to inspire the creatives of today and tomorrow.

October 20 will always have a special place in the hearts of young Nigerians and will serve as a reference point for future generations about the indomitable spirit of the Nigerian youth. On this day in 2020, a peaceful protest was held at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos in solidarity with the nationwide #EndSARS movement but that protest was brought to a halt when members of the Nigerian army opened fire (with live bullets) into the air and at the protesters, reportedly killing at least 12 and injuring many. 

The Nigerian government and army, at first, denied any involvement in the deaths and injuries but the evidence was too glaring to ignore. DJ Switch (who is now a fugitive) had livestreamed the shootings on Instagram. In 2021, the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry into Victims of Police Brutality and Other Related Matters confirmed that the army (and the police) indeed caused a massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate. There was also the ripple effect of the news that the Lagos State government had conducted a mass burial of 103 bodies killed during the duration of the  #EndSARS in the state.

The #EndSARS protests resulted in the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a police offshoot that began in Lagos in 1992 and spread to other states in Nigeria in 2002. SARS’ initial mandate was to arrest, investigate and prosecute armed robbers, murderers, kidnappers and other violent criminals but from 2006, reports of unlawful arrests and killings began to brew. From then to now, there are numerous reports of bodies found in rivers and roadsides reportedly arrested and killed by SARS. The previous Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, set up a new police unit in the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team but didn’t allay the fears of Nigerians as police brutality continued and continues. 

In 2022, there was a stark reality about the unwavering spate of killings meted out by the Nigerian police. The victims ranged from a polytechnic student in Imo State to a journalist in Osun State to a youth leader in Calabar State to a university graduate in Taraba State to a man murdered during the burial of his boss’ mother in Edo State to a pregnant lawyer in Lagos State. This year, in a ruling adjudged as the first time a police officer will receive a death sentence, police officer Drambi Vandi was found guilty of one count of murder of Bolanle Raheem, the pregnant lawyer he killed on Christmas Day last year.

The #EndSARS movement birthed a moniker for the Nigerian youths: the Soro-Soke (Yoruba for “Speak up”) Generation. On the streets and across social media, the Nigerian youths ensured that their voices were heard in the country and around the world. Art, in every shape and form, is reflective of the society of its creators. During the period of the #EndSARS movement, musicians rendered their talents to the collective concerns of the Nigerian youths. There was Burna Boy’s “20 10 20,” Chike’s “20.10.20 (Wahala Dey),” Orezi’s “We Don Tire,” Dwin The Stoic’s “This Fight,” Dremo’s “Thieves in Uniform (End SARS)” and “OMG,” and Efe Oraka’s “Live Rounds in the Dark.”

Three years after the unfortunate event of October 20, 2020, at the Lekki Toll Gate, creators are still finding expressions for the emotions and memories of that day. Sọ̀rọ̀sóke: An #Endsars Anthology, edited by Jumoke Verissimo and James Yeku, paid homage to the new generation of Nigerian youths through poems from the likes of Gbenga Adeoba, Biodun Bello, Yejide Kilanko, Tayo Bello, Rasaq Malik, Uchechukwu Umezurike, Soji Cole and Kola Tubosun, among others. Othuke Umukoro, winner of the 2021 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, immortalised “the brothers & sisters we lost in the #EndSARS protestsin his poem “All The Places That Swell With Hurt” in Agbowo Magazine, writing, “Our voices are raised in defiance/against the executioners & pharaohs/that be, our song is lifted over/their bolts of lightning. Call this/whatever you like, our spirit/is not broken, we are doing/what must be done.”

In Wole Soyinkka’s 2021 novel Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth, the #EndSARS movements featured in the book’s world, with Soyinka highlighting the importance of that movement rejigging the political and societal structures of Nigeria. “…there are so many things I could find to do here. But this has been an internal demand for a number of years,” he said in an interview. “The more this society decays, the greater the betrayal encountered. Look at what happened, EndSARS is another manifestation of this novel. You know, it is something coming to the fore and which has to be expunged. So take the novel, yes, just another feature of SARS.”

Last year media personality Chude Jideonwo released his documentary film Awaiting Trial delved into the deferious activities of SARS, most especially in Awkuzu, Anambra State, where  CSP James Nwafor had told a grieving mother, “I killed your son, and there is nothing you can do about it.” Awaiting Trial also featured activists and media personalities (Folarin Falana (a.k.a Falz), actor Adebowale Adedayo (a.k.a Mr Macaroni), activist Rinu Oduala and Nigerian legal practitioner Olumide Akpata) who played important parts on the local and international scene and helped coordinate funds and legal support. 

In Samuel Adeoye’s 2022 short film Adul, Abdul (Abdul Saliou), a 25-year-old Nigerian is desperate to remain in Germany and avoid a return to Nigeria wherein protests have broke out over the #EndSARS movement. “I wanted to detail the harsh realities for Nigerians both home and away, the agony of a single mother, the trials of surviving youth and the bully of a country,” Adeoye said about his film. The 2D animated 2021 short film The Days To Follow, directed by Jamila Dankaro, follows the lives of two sisters upended by an #EndSARS protest. The Sani Adeleke-directed 2021 short film SORO SOKE expressed solidarity with the #EndSARS movement, showing how Nigerian youths are bullied and intimidated by security officials. The 2021 short film Focus, directed by Tolulope Ajayi and helmed by public service organisation Paradigm Initiative (PIN), uses the #EndSARS protests as a backdrop to address issues in digital rights and inclusion ecosystems. 

The #EndSARS movement is bound to ignite the imaginations of more creators as time progresses. No creative artist works in isolation from their environment: its benefits and hardships will always enter their bodies of work. As we celebrate the third anniversary of the #EndSARS movement, we should always remember the sacrifices of the Nigerian youths and those who lost their lives. Such a historic event will never be forgotten and will continue to return to us through the imaginative minds of our creators.

Featured image credits/NATIVE