#EndSARS Protests: A Successful Protest or an Unmitigated Disaster
The #EndSARS protests started as peaceful protests demanding the scrapping of the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit of the Nigerian Police Force, renowned for cases of brutality, extrajudicial killings, illegal detentions, extortions, and many other crimes.
At various times in the last five years, SARS, as the unit is commonly called, has been banned, scrapped, re-organized by various heads of the Nigerian government and at least three Inspectors-General of Police. Like a multi-headed hydra, however, the unit has managed to survive all onslaughts.
It seemed they had bitten more than they could chew when a viral video showing a SARS operative shooting at and killing a young man, Daniel Chibuike aka Sleek in Ughelli, a town in Southern Nigeria. The incident brought to the fore the many cases of unwarranted harassment many young Nigerians had gone through in the hand of SARS.
What started as an online movement that trended for various days, soon developed into something more; peaceful protests were organized across various cities in the country with Lagos the commercial capital being the epicenter of the protests.
The protesters demanded among other things; an independent body to investigate and prosecute if found guilty all cases of police misconduct and brutality, the immediate release of all protesters arrested and justice and compensation for all those killed during the protests.
Other demands were psychological evaluation and retraining of all SARS operatives, disbanding of the unit and the final demand was an increase in police salaries and adequate welfare for them.
One of the positives of the protests was the organizational prowess of the Nigerian youths, they used the wide reach of Twitter and Facebook to send messages and organize themselves. Unlike previous protests in Nigeria, these protests didn’t have a leader or leaders. It was just a gathering of people fed up with things happening in the country.
Another positive aspect was the overall peaceful conduct of genuine #EndSARS protesters, despite provocations and attacks by sponsored thugs. There was also the all for one and one for all attitude of the protesters providing food, water, and other things for each other.
There was the story of an amputee protester who got the funds for a prosthetic leg by donations from fellow protesters right there on the protest grounds. The determination of the protesters got the attention of the government at various levels, with various governors setting up judicial panels of inquiry, the presidency promising to attend to protesters’ demand, and the Inspector general of police disbanding SARS and replacing them with the Special Weapons Assault Team (SWAT).
Despite these positives, there were also negative sides to the protest. The major one was the unwarranted attack on peaceful protesters at the Lekki tollgate. There are still disputed accounts on what happened but the widely circulated one was that soldiers were ordered to open fire on peaceful protesters armed with nothing but the Nigerian flag.
This attack led to the loss of lives although death toll figures are still disputed. The attack led to the highjacking of the protests by hoodlums and there were various reports of burning and killing of police stations, burning of various government buildings, and looting of Covid-19 palliatives and private businesses.
In the end, the government blamed the protesters for the violence and looting. They posited since they had acceded to their demands, they were no need for them to protest anymore. They also said their protests contravened a curfew order by the Lagos State government.
The #EndSARS protesters on the other hand pointed out that it was government-sponsored hoodlums that carried out the attacks on police stations and frustrations with bad governance led to the high level of looting witnessed all around the country.
The truth, like in everything in life, is somewhere in the middle. The #EndSARS protest was neither a success nor a failure; it was a precursor for things to come if the government doesn’t take note of the anger and frustration among its young citizens.
It was also an eye-opener that Nigerian youths are no longer the leaders of tomorrow but are ready to take over the reins of leadership of Africa’s most populous nation.