Credit: Lewis Shakepere photo

Water cannons, live bullets and tear gas has led to at least 15 dead in Nigeria since protests began in the first week of October according to Amnesty International. 

What began as a hashtag campaign this month with a demand by youth to disband Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) with the now international #EndSARS––the notorious police unit accused of extortion, brutality and killing citizens––has expanded to become a rallying cry against the government, challenging infrastructure, massive unemployment, increasing poverty, and a need to improve the general standard of living.

Fires raged at Lagos’ Lekki Toll Gate after witnesses charged that uniformed men shot live ammunition killing at least 12 unarmed protesters on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. Demonstrators alleged “hired” anti-protestors had torched buildings, and beat peaceful rally-goers across one of Africa’s most targeted nations. After two weeks of protests, President Mohammadu Buhari declared that he would disband the embattled SARS (for the fourth time), only to replace it which the equally berated Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team. Under public pressure and scrutiny Buhari announced last week, “The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms.” He assured, “We will also ensure all those responsible for misconduct or wrongful acts are brought to justice.” 

In full support of the #EndSARS movement, sounding like his revolutionary art-ivist world renown musician Fela Kuti, his youngest son Seun told this reporter on Sunday Oct. 18 that the energy of protest has been unleashed in and by the youth, and there is no going back. “They are coming for the mis-leaders and the down-pressers. The young people have awoken. We do not want equality with our oppressors I call them ‘down-pressers,’ and ‘MIS-leaders.’ We do not want to be dominated.”

They are not looking for politicians or regular leadership, but an organic movement. In the ‘Old men for counsel, young men for war’ vein young people are taking to the streets the world over to have their voices and demands heard. In Nigeria, thousands have taken over city streets to confront the government and the status quo.

Using EndSARS as the hashtag, young Nigerians have got the world’s attention, and that in this time of the globe reacting to the U.S. police killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, teens and young adults are declaring that this is their time for their voices to be listened to.

Seun Kuti predicted that sending in the  military would be the government’s next default position. “That’s what they know to do,” he said. He lauded the action of a seemingly fed-up young population.

“Do what you think is right. It’s not my place to tell oppressed people how best to resist the boots on their neck! Let everyone do what they think is best,” he reiterated on his social media.

“The brutality against us isn’t only by the police! There is domestic brutality of homelessness. Educational brutality of inadequate and underfunded schools, the brutality of road accidents due to bad roads, no? The brutality of darkness and high tariffs… SARS is following orders just the way the people that killed my grandmother (Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti) were following orders…. Our goal is a better Nigeria and overhauling the police isn’t going to create a better Nigeria, it’s the entire relationship between the people the government and our resources that must be at the core of our demands.”

Seun’s older brother Femi Kuti (activist icon Fela’s oldest son), reportedly negotiated the release of protestors taken in to custody at Ajuwon.

“What is happening on the streets of Nigeria right now is unacceptable,” Femi said, “and every police officer …and the government must be held accountable for every life lost. This is a peaceful protest, the police are meant to protect life and property. The police are meant to defend the citizens…not kill the citizens.”

Protestors have been seen aiding the shot and the injured and shown on social and digital media; and locals have put up tents, and popular caterers are turning their skills to providing jollof rice meals to protestors for sustenance.

On Tuesday, Oct. 20, the governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, imposed a 24-hour curfew “on all parts of the state.”  

He said, “Nobody, except essential service providers and first responders must be found on the streets.” To which career Nigerian activist, New York educator and

founder Omoyele Sowore replied, “#EndSARS All Lagos based #EndSARS protesters must note that protest against oppression, tyranny, bad governance is essential service. All men and women of good conscience protesting should resume at their duty posts and continue their services to the nation!#RevolutionNow.”

A 2019 presidential candidate, Sowore has stayed on topic: fighting corruption, for justice, and a uplifted standard of living for the people, especially the young. In that regard, there are those asking him to consider up-and-coming activist Aisha Yesufu for a joint ticket for the 2023 presidential race.

Nigerian activist and commentator Ogugua Iwelu told the Amsterdam News, “Fela Kuti shouted ‘Revolution,’ Sowore warned ‘Revolution Now.’ No one heeded the warning. Now the come has become. I sorry––sorry for Nigeria.

“The military is about to roll out and when they do everyone will disperse,” said Iwelu, hours before the anti-riot forces confronted the assembled masses, allegedly firing into the crowd.

Afrobeat artists like Falz The Bahd Guy, WizKid, Tiwa Savage, Burna Boy and Davido took up the cry; and U.S. and diaspora popular celebrities have also jumped on the viral train.

On Oct. 20, the National Youth Council stormed the National Assembly in Abuja, demanding that President Buhari fire all the service chiefs. The Senate is also calling for the president to immediately address the nation.

“We don tire for them,” Seun said, addressing a surging crowd in Lagos. “The oppression stops today.” He said the authorities should come and face the people, and tell them what they have for them. “We are not afraid, and we are not going anywhere.”

A video did the rounds online on Oct. 20 of soldiers in a truck, not only not challenging protestors, but allowing the singing crowd to surround them and sit on the truck in a show of support.

“Something is happening in Ikeja right now,” said the unidentified host of the video. “Look at the army sent to shoot, now they are in solidarity with the youth.”

This took place before news broke of the deaths at Lekki toll gate. “Soldiers is our friends,” yelled an excited demonstrator as the crowd of mostly young men, streamed into the street after curfew.

“All #EndSARS protests are peaceful, but the government has introduced some unscrupulous elements to try and discredit our cause, but it can never work,” said popular “This is Nigeria” artist Falz The Bahd Guy, slamming the government for being unable to keep violence from entering the demonstrations. He added, “The curfew can never be forever, and once you lift this curfew we are back.”

The deadly violence has stunned, but rallied the peaceful protestors. They declared that it has only strengthened their resolve. 

People have been inspired to “soro soke” meaning “speak up” from Abuja to Benin to Lagos in Nigeria to Cape Town, South Africa, London, England, Berlin, Germany, Rome, Italy, Paris, France, Helsinki, Finland. And the #EndSARS #EndPoliceBrutality and #EndBadGovernance Movement will be hitting New York City on Thursday, Oct. 22 at noon in front of the Nigeria Consulate New York (828 2nd Ave. and heading to CNN Headquarters, 10 Columbus Circle, New York). There will also be a rally in New Jersey at Newark City Hall (Broad Street), noon on Saturday Oct. 24.