Since the #EndSARS protest began, social media pages have been flooded with captivating photos and videos of protesters. Whether they are dancing, chanting or taking selfies to convey their messages, the still and motion portraits depict the activism embedded in their attire and the music they play.
Fashion ordinarily is a medium of expression. It conveys the intents and wishes of the wearer, even if they are narcissistic at times. In protests, however, it convenes a stronger meaning. It shows the uniformity of the protesters irrespective of their diversity. The dress codes act as visual signifiers of their causes.
For instance, at the peak of the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign in 2014, protesters in Abuja donned red polos. The red colour signified the bloodshed that was prevalent in the country at the time. Also, black was the preferred colour for most protesters who campaigned against the spate of rape and sexual violence in the country following the brutal murder and rape of the University of Benin undergraduate, 22-year-old Uwaila Vera Omozuwa in May.
While the #EndSARS demonstration — which started as a campaign against brutality but is gradually metamorphosing into a call for revolution — does not have a unifying colour, the outfits donned by campaigners show solidarity. Polos, t-shirts, shorts, combat trousers, kaftans, durags, backpack, face caps, bandannas, joggings, hijabs; each of these pieces of clothing speak volumes of the rugged determination of the youths.
Famed photographer Kelechi Amadi-Obi captured iconic photographs of celebrities protesting which he shared on his Instagram page. From the stern-looking photo of Nollywood actress Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde donning tight pants and a black t-shirt with a placard that reads “The Police is robbing us. #EndSARS now,” to the tall frame of charismatic TV host IK Osakioduwa who wore sky-blue jeans and a white t-shirt.
Perhaps, one of the iconic photos from the protest that went viral was that of Nigerian socio-political activist, and co-convener of the Bring Back Our Girls Movement, Aisha Yesufu.
The activist dressed in a flowing blue ankle-length hijab over an ankara outfit. She accentuated her look with black boots and a brown sling bag. Her poise is reminiscent of the 2019 viral photo of Sudan’s protest icon Alaa Salah. The young student was captured in Khartoum, dressed in a white thoub and gold disc earrings. Standing on the roof of a car, she struck a pose that has earned her Sudanese Statue of Liberty: one arm raised, finger-pointing upward and the other hand clutching her waist.
In the same vein, Yesufu’s photo fetched her the moniker, Nigerian Statue of Liberty. In the photo, her left arm is raised in a fist to the heavens and her feet wide apart as if she is about to lead a march.
Afro-pop superstar Davido who’s been very vocal chose a black kaftan and a red bandana as his protest attire.
Just like fashion, the music that has inspired the movement has been diverse. They include African China’s popular 2006 hit single ‘Mr President’, Eedris Abdulkareem’s 2004 track ‘Jaga Jaga’, 2Baba’s 2006 collaboration with Soul E ‘E Be Like Say’ among others.
Each of the songs is littered with messages of activism but none embodied the spirit of the protests like the songs of the Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
A revered musician and activist, Fela’s music still resonates today because of his bold criticism of the government such that on his birthday, October 15, his images and songs swamped social media pages in celebration of what would have been his 82nd birthday.
Throughout his lifetime, Fela was very vocal and valiant in criticising the government, speaking against the political problems that have plagued the African people. This explains why many call him the first black president.
Protesters found his songs such as ‘Zombie’, ‘Beasts of No Nation’, and ‘Colonial Mentality’ inspiring and a portrayal of the times they live in.
Coincidentally, the theme of the annual week-long celebration held in his honour, Felabration, ‘Fight to Finish, Fight to Win’ speaks to the resilience of the protesters. Although the organisers clarified that the theme was specifically conceived to address the challenges caused by the capricious coronavirus.
Albeit, the kind of fashion and music the #EndSARS protesters chose in their demonstration, is a bold statement of who they are and what they stand for. They are collective memories that will remain indelible in the history of Nigeria.