..thoughts on my learnings from the #endSARS protests
I remember the first time I participated in a student protest: alutas’ we called them.
It was my first semester at the University of Ibadan, and those days, alutas’ seemed to be a compulsory rite of passage for Nigerian students. I had heard a lot about student protests from family and friends who had gone before me. I had also seen tons of media reportage on the news, and I was quite curious.
Back in those days, there was always something to protest about, whether genuine or contrived, urgent or not. One day could be about water shortage, and the next could be about getting exams postponed because there had been power outages. The following week could be about something the military government had done or failed to do, whether it directly impacted student life or not.
I cannot remember what my first aluta was about, but I remember joining the march with glee: I could finally tick that box! I felt like a freedom fighter, out to ensure the preservation of whatever students’ rights we were protesting for.
Fighting against institutionalised highhandedness, we chanted the aluta anthem, “Solidarity forever, we shall always fight for our rights”. This attracted a lot of other students like me, and I am sure most of us didn’t even know what it was about.
We marched to Trenchard Hall where the Vice Chancellor’s office was, and demanded to meet with him. Of course, that didn’t happen, and the crowd eventually dispersed after an administrative staff addressed us. I don’t remember actively participating in many other protests after this.
Thousands of young people had their first aluta moment during the #endSARS protests. The focus was on the need to address police brutality and call for the proscription of the Special Anti- Robbery Squad (SARS).
Eventually, the hashtag became a rallying cry for a better Nigeria. Starting from 8th October 2020, the protests quickly grew stronger, spreading across many parts of the country, and lasting for almost two weeks. Many of the young people who participated in the protests did so out of a sense of duty and dedication: they had either experienced police brutality, knew people who had, or were sympathetic to the cause having heard tales from victims.
I would have loved to share my thoughts about the night of 20th October 2020, especially as there are some unanswered questions. However, a panel of inquiry has been addressing the issue, and it is wise to wait out the outcome. Instead, I take a look at the protests and the lessons we all can learn from them.
One thing that everyone marvelled about the #endSARS protests was the large turnout by young people across many of the protest locations. Day in, day out, people kept on trooping to the protest sites for whatever reason. Curious or not, incentivised or not, like a moth to flame, many were drawn to see first-hand, what it was all about.
I wonder about the most basic level of participation in the political process, coming out to vote on Election Day. I see that people who can vote but do not do so, really have no excuses for not voting. If we look back at our voter turnout figures over the years, the results are woeful. The youth have an opportunity to lend a voice to our political landscape, but commitment and organisation are required.
This brings me to the next thing I observed, the very high level of organisation during the protests. While many of the assumed arrowheads were quick to insist that there was no leader, it was obvious that people were calling the shots in some form. The protests were well-coordinated: from determining what happened on each day to receiving and dispensing funds mobilised for feeding, healthcare, security, etc.
If young people can organise with such dedication around our political process, they would have a greater voice. And this level of influence can gradually be translated into influencing the choice of political candidates if young people choose to associate with the existing political parties or launch their platforms.
Mobilising support was a key success factor in the protests as many people contributed, not just in cash but also in kind. People gave their time and resources to ensure that the protests went on every day. If people are sufficiently motivated to support a cause, they will strive to contribute whatever they can and even encourage others to do so.
We complain about how godfathers have hijacked the political careers of their beneficiaries (and also the concerned constituencies), but if more people also supported candidates they believed in with their resources, we could reduce the effect of godfatherism.
The power of association and unity was also on display throughout the protests. Barely anyone cared about tribe, religion, educational status, or any other discriminating factor. There was room for everyone to lend their support in some way.
There is a need to inspire a vision that draws people into a cause that is greater than they are. When this happens, all else becomes secondary. We do not need to sectionalise political positions, we just need to find the best people for the job. If we concentrated our efforts on merit, we could progress a lot better.
And finally, one thing that some people had predicted and eventually happened? In the end, the house always wins. Discernment and an understanding of the times, the people who exert greater influence over the times, and consideration for historic action in similar situations, are very important learning points.
One cannot move forward without first learning from the past. A vision without proper planning will not be properly achieved. Looking back, this was one key factor that did not appear to have been properly considered.
While it is great to speak up and fight for your rights, it is also important to make informed decisions and actions, and reach out for counsel when required. I remember the outcomes of many of the protests that took place when I was in university, not just in my school but around the nation. Many of those protests achieved their objectives, many others did not, and many participants paid the ultimate price for their convictions.
While it seems the times may have changed, in reality, however, it is the seasons that come and go. The #endSARS protests have proven that young people can organise and bring about the positive change they desire, but that will not happen overnight. We all must not sit back and complain; we must put in the work, and as we do, we will gradually build the tomorrow we desire. I do not know about you, but this is the way I see things today.