Capturing the Soul of #EndSARS Protest

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Chiemelie Ezeobi, who has monitored the ongoing 19-day-long #EndSARS Protest, captures some of the moments that stood out in the nationwide movement, which has also gained global traction, to end police brutality and kickstart reforms in the force

“He gave us his snacks for free. We begged him to collect money but he insisted no. He said ẹ bawa ṣe kín lè lọ ile iwe (loosely translated to mean ‘Do it for us so that I can go to school’). Those were the tear-jerking words of one @Animolenikun, who posted their encounter with Damola, a youngster that sells Cheeseball, a snack, to make a living.

Damola, a child hawker, was hustling to make ends meet for the day when the #EndSARS protesters stumbled on him. They bought some Cheeseballs from him but he refused payment. When they insisted, he succinctly told them to he was contributing his quota so that the society will be better enough for him to go to school.

Moved by those words, they took his picture and shared the experience on Twitter. It soon went viral with several people reaching out to sponsor him to school.

This is just one of the beautiful stories that have emerged from the ongoing #EndSARS Protest.

From offering pro bono legal services to engaging private security for protesters, financial donations, food galore , water, entertainment, sanitation, medical services, logistics and so many others- all carried out by youths, the protest has shown that indeed, a value-bound Nigeria is very much possible.

#EndSARS Movement

The #EndSARS movement started off as a quest to get the presidency and the police hierarchy to dissolve the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) nationwide. The protest, which has been on since October 8, 2020, started off in Lagos in trickles but gained momentum in the next two days with the protesters even camping on the road to show their sheer will in ending the police unit. It soon spread to most parts of the country.

The nationwide protests were a culmination of weeks of anger and unattended complaints by Nigerians over the pernicious actions of SARS operatives, who had either forcefully abducted, harassed, shot and even harassed youths across board.

With placards bearing inscriptions like “Am I the next to die”, “Stop Police Brutality”, “Why shoot bullets at us”, “I am not a criminal #EndSARS”, “Our lives matter”, “Stop criminalising innocent citizens”, “Stop extorting and killing us”, the protesters took to the streets of Lagos.

Demands
Reiterating their demands, the protesters charged the presidency and police hierarchy to not just #EndSARS but to also end police brutality and then institute police reforms from lower cadre policemen to the highest cadre.

They also called for transparent prosecution of all the officers involved in the menace, both past and present, as well as ensure compensation of victims of police brutality.

In their demands as articulated by Citizens Gavel Foundation against Social Justice, they lamented that despite several reforms announced by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, cases of abuse of citizens by SARS have increased without any steps taken by the police hierarchy to address the fundamental problem of impunity of the operatives.

They further stated that SARS operatives promote extortion for self-enrichment and lawlessness, of which their non-adherence to the prescription of the law poses greater consequences for citizens.

In their demands, the protesters first called for the total disbandment of SARS as a unit (which has been granted), just as they called for a list of all officers that have been found culpable in the past and transparent prosecution of such officers.

They also demanded for justice for all victims who have suffered injustice in the past and a public enquiry on the activities of the unit in the past. In the long term, they also suggested the police hierarchy apply digital medium for tracking such cases with the police.

Concessions by Government

Some of the demands made have been fulfilled but some others have not been fully met. These include the prosecution of killer cops, the release of all protesters in detention and the total overhaul of the police. The government has however resolved to set up a judicial panel of inquiry as a follow up to dissolving SARS, just as each state government is to set up a Victims’ Support Fund, which the federal government will support.

Amplified Voices of Influencers, Celebrities, Activists

More than ever, the amplified voices of influencers, celebrities and activists were loud; from the ones that started off the protests, to those that braved the cold elements to camp out, to those who defied threats and veiled messages to stand firm, these crop of influencers, celebrities and activists, too numerous to mention, have written their names in the sands of time.

Global Voices

The protest has also gone global as calls for protests in US, the UK, Canada, Switzerland, Germany have been recorded.

Also, well known global entertainment figures like Diddy, Treyz Song, Chance the Rapper, Lil Baby, Damson Idris, City Girls, Kanye West, and even Nigeria’s own international figure, John Boyega, have also lent their voices to the cause with most of them using the #EndSARS.

Analytics

With the way the protest has been sustained both online and offline, it was bound to make impressions on data analytics. With social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Whatsapp being the spring board of these campaigns, as at last week, the

#EndSARS trended worldwide at number one spot on Twitter. Also, the the #EndSARS hashtag has had over 7 billion impressions with an estimated 28 million tweets from more than 2 million Twitter users.

Twitter Support

Despite the flaks it received for being a gateway that has sustained the protests, Twitter has shown unequivocal support to the cause.

They recently launched an emoji in support of the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria. The emoji is a raised fist designed in the colours of the Nigerian flag; green, white and green.

In a tweet, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Twitter, Jack Dorsey used the #EndSARS hashtag with the new emoji.

Resilience in the Face of Death

The protest has always been streamlined as peaceful but the process hasn’t. When the police and military are not shooting live bullets, tear gas or water at protesters, thugs are allegedly hired to disrupt the peaceful gathering.

While so many have been harassed, injured and brutalised by security operatives, some have also died while some have been arrested and even charged to court for murder.

Despite this, the resilience of the protesters have merely doubled. With each hurdle, they cross it with grace and soldier on.

Empathy

If the protest scene was a river, the empathy of protesters would have over run it. From one corner of the nation to the other, stories of strangers looking out for themselves abound. From making financial contribution to helping the weak and even less privileged persons.

At the Lekki protest ground, an aged groundnut seller went home with over N2,350,000 contributed by Nigerian youths.

According to one @Sama_on-Point, over N500,000 was raised first raised for her with a hefty donation from John Ogu, Nigeria’s midfielder. The money raised was finally pegged at over N2million with a charge to desist from such a trade at her age.

In Abuja, protesters came across some destitutes living under the bridge and showed them love. Without taking any joint agreement, the protesters released different sums of money to the mothers and their children.

Also in Abuja, a traffic warden made to flee when he saw the crowd approaching, but they calmed his nerves and donated money, drinks and snacks to him. He wept as the Nigerian youths commended him for his diligence to duty despite the meager salary.

Another aged woman, who joined up in cleaning the protest grounds as part of her contribution, was also bombarded with money by protesters as she looked in bemusement.

Meanwhile, the viral picture of a young girl, one Jane Obiene, who has her left leg amputated, but still joined the protest with the aid of her crutches, has attracted goodwill to her.

Championed by Dr Chinonso Egemba, popularly known as Aproko Doctor, the fundraiser was to help get her a prosthetic leg since she has not been gainfully employed since 2013 when her leg was amputated.

Although the funding goal was initially N500,000, it was later increased to N1.5million to cover the cost of other expenses.

But barely hours after the portal went open, 961 persons crashed the funding goal and raised about N5million for her.

With the overflow, the doctor also intends to help out another male amputee who was at the National Stadium in Surulere to march despite his disabilities.

Campaign against Sexual Abuse

Unlike what is obtainable in large crowds, the protesters looked out for the female among them to prevent cases of sexual harassment and abuse. In one case when a male protester tried to molest a young girl, the men gathered together and gave him a sound beating.

Continuously on different social media platforms, they kept harping on the need for men to respect the females, with stern warning to tackle the perpetrator. In the long run, it seemed to have worked as no further case of abuse seem to have been recorded.

Safety Tips

To ensure everyone is safe at the protest grounds, different safety tips were circulating, especially on what to do if tear gas is sprayed, gun shot injury is recorded, cases of dehydration and so on.

Unity

A show of unimaginable unity was on display at the protests. The protesters buried their age-long political, social and cultural feud and campaigned with one voice. As shocking as it might seem, members of opposition parties who never saw eye to eye were in this instance in agreement to end police brutality.

Religious Tolerance

Unlike what was obtainable in the past, the two major religions in Nigeria- Christianity and Islam, showed tolerance while protesting. At the protest grounds, it was not out of place for gospel songs to be sang and those of the Islamic faith did not object.

On Friday, during the congregational prayers held by Muslims, the protesters showed solidarity as all protests were put on hold for them to observe their

Jumu’ah prayers. Whilst their Muslim counterparts prayed, the Christian faithfuls formed a human barricade around them to ensure they were not attacked.

No Recognised Leadership

Perhaps one factor that has sustained the protests till date is the fact that there is seemingly no structure, yet it works perfectly. None of those at the forefront of championing the cause are leaders of the protests, which has made it quite difficult for the government to penetrate their flanks.

Funding

In this regard, it seems to have been centralised, albeit, not be design. For the funds raised under the Convener of OperationSanitize, Savvy Rinu, she said they have currently raised N4,046,923, spent N1,919,701 and now have a balance of N2,127,222.

Meanwhile, the Feminist Coalition, a group of young Nigerian feminists formed in July 2020 with a mission to champion equality for women in Nigerian society with a core focus on education, financial freedom and representation in public office, has raised millions in support of the campaign.

To coordinate funds for the logistics of the protests, the Feminist Coalition raised a total of N73,241,384.11 and disbursed N20,188,280.00 nationwide.

Updating Nigerians about their expenses and what has so far been accrued, they added that they have N53,053,104.11, 11,474.34 US dollars,

5,595.89 Canadian dollars, 5,733.49 Great Britain Pounds, 875.42 Euros, 1,256.70 Ghana Shillings, 53,016.60 Kenyan Shillings and 4.55795633 Bitcoins as balance.

Healthcare

Health is wealth and who better to understand this than doctors. Several doctors including Aproko Doctor have sacrificed their time, intellect

and even resources to take care of the wounded.

Nigerians were also quick to donate money for medical supplies, which were quickly sent to all protest grounds. According to Aproko Doctor, someone even sent in money for inhalers and it came in handy as one of the protesters had an asthmatic attack and one was promptly used.

Backing them, health companies like Avon Medical supplied ambulances free of charge to help treat and convey the injured to the hospital.

Some other medical brands that stood in the gap were Medplus and other brands that supplied medical supplies.

Emotional Support

Meanwhile, asides the medical treatments given by doctors across the state, some psychologists have also joined the loop by offering free therapy.

According to Emotions Doctor, the free therapy was for those that have been traumatised in any way during the protest.

Other groups like the Mentally Aware are also on board in assuaging they emotional and psychological needs of protesters.

Free Rides

One thing that stood out during the protest was how Nigerians were so open to giving protesters free ride. Even some cab hailing companies soon joined. In Ibadan, a bike startup company @SafeBoda_NGA provided free rides for all protestors to commute for the #IbadanProtests.

Entertainment

Meanwhile, protesters at Lekki Tollgate have made themselves comfortable with no plans to leave the toll for free flow of traffic. To keep the pulse in the protests, some light entertainment was held at intervals.

From artists singing to talks and presentations, the entertainment can be said to have gingered the protesters to keep going despite the elements and stress.

Food and Drinks

One thing that was in surplus was the food and drinks shared. Most amazing was the quality of dishes as people fell over themselves to contribute to the feeding of protesters. From local dishes to intercontinental and even snacks and confectionaries, the protesters certainly had their fill.

Accommodation, Grants for Journalists

Championed by Gatefield Impact, they provided a six one-bed and three studio apartments in Ikeja, Lagos for journalists covering the protests on the mainland who need a place to spend the night.

Not done yet, they also provided grants for freelance journalists to adequately cover the protests. This they did with the support of Feminist Coalition. As at last weekend, they had disbursed N930,000 from N982,000 to 22 journalists and media organisations to report on #SARSMUSTEND and also contributed towards replacing damaged gear.

In terms of data, they provided data support to 25 more citizen reporters to enable them stream the protests.

Logistics

Although they seem to be in different camps, one thing that stood out was the coordination from each group. From providing free charging points to feeding, releasing arrested protesters, gifting data, transportation and even healthcare, the logistics and organisation were topnotch.

Sanitation

The youths again outdid themselves as they ensured the protest grounds were also cleaned up and the garbage disposed off after each day. Whether in Lagos or Abuja, the story was same. The protesters put aside their class and did the dirty work.

Blood Bank

Giving the numerous times injuries were recorded with some quite severe enough to receive blood transfusion, it became imperative for a drive to donate blood.

Championed by LifeBankCares-led Temie Giwa-Tubosun, the group called for blood donation for injured victims of police brutality during the protests.

According to reports, since launching in 2016, LifeBankCares, has saved almost 7,000 lives, thus living up to the goals Giwa-Tubosun had when she started the company to bring vital medical supplies to people who need them, when they need them.

Prayer Walk

Meanwhile young members of the Christian community have gone spiritual in the fight against #EndSARS. Exercising their spiritual authority, the young Christians led by one @Limboblaze began the movement last Sunday in Lagos with over 600 youths in Alausa.

Already, the movement has doubled in size with caucuses springing up in cities like Ilorin, Abuja, Kaduna, Abeokuta, among others.

According to Heritage Youth, “this is a call to every youth to join in as we take this fight both physically and spiritually. There’s a huge shift emerging and God has placed in the position to fight for it.”

The prayer walks soon went viral and it featured prayers for peace in the country, an end to police brutality and for good governance. In Nigeria, the prayer walks were staged in states like Lagos, Niger, Oyo, Osun, Ogun, Kaduna, Niger, Rivers, Kwara, Delta and has even spread globally.

Legal Representation

At least 600 lawyers have been drafted to provide free legal services to Nigerians under detention for protesting against brutality and extra-judicial killings. Already, they have built an efficient legal aid/support structure operating in 36 states and they have been achieving results in this regard.

Candlelight Service

Another beautiful, yet somber moment was the candle light service held last Friday in honour of all those innocent persons who have been killed by the police.

At the different locations where the candlelight event held, prayers were said after which the demonstrators sang the National Anthem in respect of the country before they began to reel out their names.

One that particularly stood out was the story of Chijioke, who was allegedly killed by SARS in Awkuzu and his body dumped into the Ezzu River alongside over 200 bodies, which forced his father to swim inside to identify the body of his late son.

For those at the candlelight, it has gone beyond ceremony and clamour for disbandment of SARS, but to also bring justice for those who have suffered injustice at the hands of the police.

Fixing Damages

Something beautiful happened in Abuja after some hoodlums set on cars stuck in traffic and destroyed about 10 of them. Viral videos showed the distraught car owners quite perplexed by the situation. In one of the videos, one of the men affected was seen crying bitterly after assessing the extent of the damage.

In an unexpected show of oneness, several pledges began to come in towards fixing the damaged cars. At the end, the organisers of the protest ensured those affected had their cars fixed.

For the damaged phones as a result of the stampede, one of those that pledged to repair them was a mobile phone dealer, Dabz Global Gadgets, at 80 per cent discount, adding that repairs from N5,000 and below will be done free of charge.

Private Security

After some thugs attacked the protesters in Alausa, the coordinators of the protest quickly organised private security to safeguard lives and properties.

In Abuja, some of the protesters saved the day with their pit bulls and bull dogs. When the thugs returned the second day to attack them, the fearsome sight of the dogs made them to retreat.

Returned Properties
At the protest grounds, countless stories abound of people’s lost properties that were returned. According to many, this is the birth of a new Nigeria where everything good is possible.

Online and Offline Campaign

One of the core strengths of the ongoing protests has been the seamless transition between online and offline campaigns. Those who could not protest physically used the social media to pass across the message while those who could, shared content for the online warriors to use.

Helpline

To ensure a coordinated protest nationwide devoid of hitches, the protesters created a helpline on 01 700 1755.

According to FK Abudu, one of the organisers, the call sign one is for medical, two for legal, three for food and supplies, four, five and six for mental health emergencies and seven for security. Credit for this was given to @EbyAkhigbe and @funmioyatogun.

Support Unit

To provide resource and information support for the protesters, the End SARS Response was created. Under this wing is the Protest Mobilisation Support Form where requests for funds to support protest resources (including food, printing placards, transportation and other mobilisation needs) are handled. Although their job is not to raise funds or collect donations, they connect protesters across the nation to the resources available.

They also have the medical wing which connects those in need of the medical supplies to the resource centre. The response team also has the legal aid support wing and even the volunteer response.

They disclosed that with just 90+ hours in service, the unit has served nine states and 39 cities from across three continents and four time zones.

With no end in sight at the moment, the lessons inherent in the protest abound- the youths are not lazy after all as they were once described by the Nigerian president.