Perhaps, like no other year in recent times, 2020 came with an unfathomable number of shocking developments within 12 calendar months.
As if with a mission of its own, from January 1st, the sail was set for all the unpredictable events and developments to unfold. All of these producing a roller coaster of emotions.
On the political scene, the revolution won’t be televised had for years; been a song on the lips of many who have for long been fed up with how the country was being run. But it finally found expression in the outgoing year.
Nigeria is widely known as the most populous country in Africa with one of the largest youth population in the world excluded from tables where major decisions are taken for decades, yet with no attendant consequences. Who would have thought however, that the country’s creative population would take to the streets in the manner they did on Wednesday, October 7?
Who would have predicted that the same celebrities across industries who had long been dismissed as having no place in nation building would take the front row in several nationwide marches against the atrocities of the dreadful Special Anti-Robbery Unit (SARS) for nearly three weeks?
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The protests took its name from the slogan, #ENDSARS made popular in 2017 by a group of online promoters as a Twitter campaign using the hashtag to demand the disbanding of the rogue Police unit. This time however, putting everything else aside, we witnessed one of the most foundation-shaking protests across the country. Championed by the very young people who have been tagged as ‘lazy’ – to work or take their own ‘destiny’ into their hands.
Many often claimed that the years of military intervention in politics had affected the psyche of its civil population (even years after) to the point that taking to the streets in protests without the fear of the gun was a mirage. Some had in various analyses sworn that this generation of Nigerians lacked the same courage with which the June 12 1993, campaigners and several pro-democracy groups during the military interregnum in politics took to the streets. For a good number of the older population, the low turnout at each election was the huge indicator that this ‘phone pressing generation’ was nowhere interested in seeing the country change.
The Enough is Enough and Occupy Nigeria Protests were reference points of large marches this generation of Nigerians had pulled up in time past, but it was safe to still say that almost no one saw the #EndSARS protests coming. Beyond all predictions and projections, this generation of young Nigerians took to the streets in spontaneous protests against a malady in the policing system of the country. It was time up for brutality in the country; perpetuated for years by the same organisation on the payroll of tax paying Nigerians for the protection of their lives and properties.
The Soro S’oke generation became fed up with what was becoming an ‘annual ban festival.’ Young people were being profiled for their looks and dress sense. Enough is Enough they said to extra-judicial killings of their peers for daring to own smartphones, gadgets and flashy automobiles. In the world of these gun-wielding security agents, they were ‘too young to prosper’ in a country where policemen were not sure of the next meal if they didn’t resort to roadblocks and ‘roger.’
They were considered too ‘small’ to use ‘big things’ in a country where a police officer’s daily prayer was to be on the convoy of a politician or be appointed an aide-de-camp to one of the elected governors or presiding officers of the National Assembly.
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Rather than take up arms against the state, they took up placards online and offline demanding the recognition of their right to life above anything else. They were threatened, opposed but did not give up the cause. Like the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests ignited in June, by the killing of George Floyd by the Police in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of Minneapolis, U.S.A; it soon became internationalised.
From occupying the top spots of trend tables across social media worldwide, foreign celebrities and their fans across the world identified with the protesters and drew the attention of everyone in the world to what was going in Nigeria.
On the zenith of mountains, in the innermost parts of the caves, the voices of Nigeria’s young population crying for an end to police brutality and bad governance was heard.
Division arose within their ranks. The bystanders saw everything wrong with blocking major roads to press home their demands. To the undiscerning minds; “the President himself had already disbanded SARS, why still go ahead with the protests?” Some wanted leaders to negotiate, others didn’t, but in a short while, they reunited for the cause to succeed.
The leaderless protests were seen by many as the strength of the movement and for others; its albatross. Regardless of what anyone thought however, it was clear that the #EndSARS movement showed us the new Nigeria was nowhere near a mirage as had always been painted. The same young population who were ready to hop on the next flight to Canada became hasty to rally everything and everyone to make the country work. Talks of a party run and funded for young people to take up the reins of government by the next election even got into the conversations!
No one was interested in taking what belonged to another; if you left your laptop in your car with the windows open while protesting, someone assumed automatic responsibility for its security; until they found you to do the needful.
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Donations rolled in from within and outside the country for logistic arrangements for one protest with an unprecedented huge demonstration of accountability and transparency. From Lekki Toll Plaza; the seat of the protesters, marches were sponsored in different states nationwide. Food, medicare, electricity and even private security was made available for protesters. A new Nigeria was finally being birthed.
Nigerians around the world drew up their own time tables and our High Commissions and Embassies soon became protest centres. The spirit of camaraderie had been irrevocably poured upon men. What a year of solidarity!
Music, comedy, everything was put into the battle to make the bold statement that it was no longer business as usual. In many ways also, it seemed as though the Hong Kong Protests were playing out in Nigeria. Notably, at the height of the Protest in the Asian territory; some protesters adopted the motto: “Five demands, not one less!”
- For the protests not to be characterised as a “riot”
- Amnesty for arrested protesters
- An independent inquiry into alleged police brutality
- Implementation of complete universal suffrage as well as
- A withdrawal of the bill, which had already been met.
The Nigerian protesters equally turned the Police 5-point promise of reforms into a five-point demand now popular as the #5For5.
As with the case in Nigeria’s political and commercial capitals, those supporting the demonstrators were confronted by pro-Beijing rallies. This did not deter the protesters as they probably drew inspiration from the Hong Kong protests, as well as the challenges they were going back to should they not succeed with the cause.
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With the gruesome incidence of 20th October – The Lekki Shootings which officials in government have tried to make look like never happened; this rekindled spirit of emerging giants were almost dampened but we predict that this generation would rise up to the task again. Until then, history is already kind to all of the campaigners, promoters, online as well as offline protesters who rose up for this cause.
And so, following in the tradition since 2011; a consensus of YNaija editors, honours individuals of Nigerian origin as a way of recognising their most visible influence and achievements through acts of social good, personal achievement or innovation with the most outsized impact on the Nigerian society in the year under review; breaking new boundaries or consolidating on gains – and driving the advancement of the public, especially young people. Who else would be more deserving of YNaija Person of the Year in a time as this?
The #EndSARS Protesters – Voice of a Generation.
Temidayo Taiwo-Sidiq is a Political Journalist, Analyst and Social Change Advocate with major interest in Nigerian Politics, Governance and Sports.