For Us By Us: How young people in Nigeria are honouring the one-year anniversary of EndSARS
a roundtable discussion with members of our community
a roundtable discussion with members of our community
On the night of October 20, 2020, Nigerians all over the world watched officers of the Nigerian military open fire on unarmed protesters railing against police brutality in Nigeria. In an instant, the biggest protest movement in Nigeria for years was cruelly snuffed out by a government more interested in maintaining the status quo than delivering any form of real justice.
For young Nigerians especially, the ripple effect of that night continues to live long in the memory and it has been a sobering one year since 20/10/20. On the first anniversary of the killing, we invited some members of the wider NATIVE community to reflect on the protests, processing their grief, and what the future looks like for youth-led movements in the country.
Below we spoke to some young members of our community who have been affected by police brutality including UX designer, Esesosa Belo-Osagie, culture writer, Nelson C.J, musician, SGaWD, activist, Omotayo Coker, and music writer, Otolorin Olabode, in conversation.
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Wale: How are we all feeling about the one-year anniversary of 20/10/20?
Eseosa: I’m dangerously close to a place where I genuinely don’t care anymore, but also I’m still angry. So, hopefully, anyone who feels like me in this space can vent and channel that anger so they don’t feel as angry anymore.
Nelson: I’m definitely with Eseosa on this one, I feel really numb. I don’t really give a shit anymore. I also don’t have any fight in me because there doesn’t seem to be any hope that things can change. With everything that has happened, it’s really clear that this is just cruelty. It’s not a mistake, it’s really calculated cruelty and they are ready to kill anybody that opposes them. They are ready to do anything to ensure that they are not held accountable. I think it’s very important to take note of that because maybe we underestimated them and expected at the very least that they’d be humans or at least have some empathy. I’m mostly here so others can feel emboldened by other people being here.
Olabode: It’s a monumental day because we get to think back to the happenings of last year. But what amazes me is that one year after, we are still back to that state, there hasn’t been any effective change that has happened in the system. Most of what we are fighting is still the same. I read in an article that in other countries, these types of revolutions usually lead to some type of change but ours just felt like it was done by kids and it was just cast aside. But I feel like we created history and people can look back at this moment and know we advocated for change even if it was resisted by those in power. Who knows, in 10 years’ time something might happen and we’ll be able to get our change.
Omotayo: I agree with Nelson’s point that the end of the protests was just pure wickedness. Most of us feel defeated but that is what they want and I feel like we shouldn’t give up yet. I know it’s tough and we still need time to process all that happened but we shouldn’t give up. Protesting was about demanding a better future for ourselves and I don’t see how any human should see that as a bad thing. It was peaceful and it’s so painful and unfortunate that they decided to pay us back by shooting at us and killing our brothers and sisters.
For Omotayo, there was a video of you addressing the media that went viral last year, what prompted you to go out to protest?
Omotayo: The protests started on Monday but my first day was a Wednesday. I was actually going through a lot during that time so I had to hold back. I decided to go because I felt like we were all involved at the end of the day. It didn’t matter if I was not the one being directly involved but we I just wanted to go and do something. The day before I went, some people had been making fun of our efforts and I just felt like it wasn’t fair. I don’t like being bullied and I felt like that was what the government was doing to us because they knew they could get away with it and I just couldn’t stand aside.
— The hair plug (@Msmenalicious) October 14, 2020
Wale: Obviously, the way the protests ended was crushing, but were there any positives to take away from it?
Nelson: Before now, I was of the opinion that the protests were completely unsuccessful because we just ended and were reeling from everything. I felt very bad about the entire thing, but what it really provided to us as Nigerians is that it helped us gain perspective and understand how the mind of this administration works and how the mind of the Nigerian government machinery works and I think that’s a huge win because there’s no doubt in my mind that the Nigerian government will do anything to ensure that people are kept in line and that the government is not kept accountable. What this means could be death or blocking people’s accounts, they will do anything to ensure that we don’t even try to hold them accountable. When this all started, there was a lot of “We are taking this back” which was really admirable but really underestimated the extent to which the government will go to muffle people’s voices. Even if we don’t decide to protest because of the collective trauma of watching people die on Instagram, we have an understanding of what can happen and we are much aware of how this machinery has been designed to not accommodate any criticism or accountability. We know that they will do anything to muffle that voice and we are going to be more prepared. The most they can do — and I don’t want to insult the lives that were taken — is kill us and having this understanding in mind, for me, is a huge help. But speaking in terms of our demands and how protesters behaved to other marginalized people, it was really shameful and hurtful and those can obviously not be counted as successes in my opinion but overall the protests were helpful.
Eseosa: I know we talk about how certain things could have been done better and that we could have sustained the protest longer but in retrospect, I think that the protest in itself was some kind of progress. For the first time, regardless of tribe or religion, maybe not sexuality yet, people agreed on something and it became something that went beyond just #EndSARS to talking about bigger issues that need to be addressed and answered. In retrospect, I think of the protest itself and how long it went on for and how determined people were. About having hope that something will happen, it’s a very tiny glimmer and I don’t pay too much attention to it because one year later nothing has changed. Somebody tweets, “Nigeria will not be the end of me,” and the day after, he’s murdered in cold blood. You think about the fact that protest at the Toll Gate and at 12P.M, the governor of the state comes to declare a curfew in a state where realistically speaking, even if you lived on the island you wouldn’t be in your house by 4 PM, you’ll still be on the road having to answer to the police. Everyone sitting at the Toll Gate is probably thinking that the worst thing that can happen is that there’ll be tear gas but the military gets there — and you’re probably still telling yourself that they are there for decorum even if you are asking why they need the military for decorum — and the next thing you’re hearing is people dying. I cannot get the image of those people out of my head.
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I think about the fact that I wouldn’t have known that anything was happening at Lekki Toll Gate if I wasn’t switched on to DJ Switch’s Live. I saw a guy die on her Instagram Live and, the next morning, the government comes on to say nothing happened. The number of us that saw someone die, that saw people try to save others by removing a bullet from their bodies were just taking part in some type of collective hallucination. Sanwo-Olu says there was nothing and comes back to say there was nothing after the army’s official Twitter account tells us to beware of people lying. They also backtrack and say that people actually shot. It’s just a thing where nothing is beyond the Nigerian government now, there’s nothing they won’t do. There are too many people who want the rot to go deeper because of the benefit they get from it. We can’t have that, the horror stories we heard about those Awkuzu SARS guys are too sad and not one person has been brought to book. Absolutely nothing has happened. The protest was a win but what do you do with that. The military has killed people, where do we go from here, that’s what’s always on my mind. Every time I think about change, I remember watching someone die on Live and I ask myself if there’s anywhere to go from there. It’s really bleak.
Wale: SGaWD, I know you don’t have an institutional understanding of the Nigerian police, but in your opinion, do you think that they can be reformed?
SGaWD: I think I have been in Nigeria for a year and I have had enough run-ins with the Nigerian police to understand that they are bullies. The average Nigerian is a bully. All through this conversation we’ve talked about how the protests may not have yielded a lot and the reason why I think it came ro that was because not everyone was standing on a United front in the sense that a very small fraction of Nigeria actually supported the protest. Nigeria is made up of roughly 170/180 million people and on the day protests were happening around the country, very few people came out across the country; maybe because of one inconvenience or the other but we everyone had different agendas and we now had a problem with a Nigerian police force that saw us as disposable. I don’t understand the relationship between the Nigerian Police Force and the citizens but I do know that it is a very bully-like relationship and I don’t know if there can be any change just because the average Nigerian is also a bully that is looking for the opportunity to oppress others that they think they are more fortunate or educated than. I don’t think the Nigerian Police Force can be reformed, the rot is too deep and what you see is what you get. Just try as much as possible to not be in the same place as them or have any run-ins with them but I don’t think there can be any reforms.
Wale: Omotayo, when Governor Sanwo-Olu announced the curfew, did you expect that the military would be brought in?
Omotayo: I knew they would bring the military but I didn’t know it’d get to that extent. I thought they’d bring the military to try and disperse the crowd or arrest a few people. The day it happened, I was so broken. I was wailing. It’s unfortunate that this is happening and it’s almost like we have to ask if there’s a future for us in this country. We’ve normalised things like “Welcome to a new dispensation” and you honestly can’t blame anyone for leaving Nigeria because people have tried and last year was just the breaking point for many people that had hope. Everyone is trying to move to countries that’d appreciate them because the Nigerian government is not doing that at all. We’ve been asking who gave the order for the shooting and no one has said anything. There’s no value for Nigerian lives.
Wale: Music has played a key role in memorializing the protests, what did you make of it and have you enjoyed the music?
Olabode: I think Nigerian artists have long been involved in protest culture. In 2017, when there was a hike in food prices and everything, 2Face wanted to lead a protest and it would probably have sparked some change but that didn’t open and 2Face had to put out an apology for not leading the protest due to pressure from the government and police. This time, there was larger participation. We saw Wizkid tweeting, that’s someone with a huge fanbase that people look up to for different reasons. Even though Burna Boy’s response didn’t come fast, he also came through. We saw full participation from musicians and the music played a part. If you checked WhatsApp and Twitter, you’ll see loads of people sharing Burna Boy’s “20.10.20.” Him putting out that song encapsulated what had happened and when we look back in some years’ time, we’ll want to remember the occasion and all the things that happened in that period and you can do that through the music. I think musicians contributed a lot to Nigerians being vocal this time. People in Surulere would probably have seen his tweets and been encouraged to go out. Also, when he was in London, he came out to support the movement and that made more people involved.
Wale: What do you think is the future of civic engagement with authority in Nigeria?
Nelson: I don’t see the possibility of us reasonably engaging with the government. I don’t see a world where they open the doors for us. People who have a genuine interest in change can’t be figureheads who have played a part in the harm we are experiencing now. For example, when they were having panels, the people they’d allow to be on there with other government officials were people like Segalink, people who have incredibly bad reputations and whose words and actions helped form the idea that the protests were very violent and uncoordinated. So, I don’t really see an opportunity where we can ever really get to speak with the government. What I do think is possible is a coordinated effort on our end to change government however we can, to clog it and start changing it.
Personally, I’m a member of Youth Party, I registered earlier this year, and it would be really interesting to see what it would look like if more Nigerians decided to register and be a part of that kind of formal coalition. I know PVCs are important but who are we going to use them to vote for if they’re still going to rinse out the same old people and bring them back to us then we’ll end up using our PVCs for these horrible people. The first step will have to be regrouping and forming a strong alliance by ourselves because it’s in that alliance that we can really find ways to clog the machinery, move forward, and figure out ways to govern ourselves because I don’t know what we can tell the government that they have not already heard. Going forward, there has to be a coordinated effort on our own end to use our machinery to clog the existing one and infiltrate. It doesn’t matter if we’re starting from the local government, we can move up from there, that’d be really helpful for the entire movement. I don’t see engagement with the government working but joining existing youth parties and working with them is really great.
Omotayo: I agree with Nelson, I think we need to regroup. I don’t know how we can communicate with the government because if we have gone out to protest and their response was not to do better then I’m not sure how to go about the next phase of the engagement.
Wale: Do you think you want to get involved in the electoral process?
Omotayo: If I had the opportunity to, I would definitely. But then again, politics in Nigeria is not for the faint-hearted.
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Wale: do you believe that we can make some change via politics if there was a youth bloc?
Olabode: I feel like in the last elections there was some level of youth involvement. It was, perhaps, not youths per se but there were people on the fringe of being youths. There were people like the Quilox founder, Shina Peller. Akin Alabi as well who has always enjoyed a good rapport with the youths even if his views can be controversial. Then there was Desmond Elliot. In times past, we’ve had these people and not really seen change even if Akin Alabi was part of the contingent that filed the motion to disband SARS in the House of Representatives last year. What I feel like is that we need to question ourselves about the young people who have gotten there and done nothing.
There needs to be some form of accountability from whoever gets into power. In the last elections, Banky W went up against Obanikoro’s son and even though Obanikoro’s son won, I don’t think there’s been any change. The young people we elect next have to be accountable to us because there’ve been people who didn’t contribute to proceedings or sponsor any motions throughout their four years as representatives. People will probably re-elect Desmond Elliot in the next elections but going forward I want more youth participation and we need to evaluate our strategies. We need to support young people when they present themselves during the next elections and we need to be part of everything, from ensuring that our votes count to encouraging people to get their PVCs. With this, we can flood the system and start getting some changes.
Featured image credits/GlobalCitizen