Young protesters who forced a president to back down

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Young protesters who forced a president to back down

Widespread protests against Nigeria's hated Special Anti-Theft Squad (Sars) are a sign that the country's massive young population is finding its voice and demanding reform in Africa's most populous country, characterized by poor governance since its inception. independence 60 years ago.

Although they forced the president to dissolve the unit, they are not satisfied because they want a total reform of the police and that the agents of the department of thugs be brought to justice.

But it goes beyond that because the wave of protests has given a platform to a part of the young population of the country who is deeply dissatisfied.

In the streets, those parading are mostly young people comfortably installed, some with dyed hair, pierced noses and tattooed bodies.

This is the kind of gathering that security personnel are quick to label as criminals, but in truth, it is largely young workers who have had to fend for themselves without state support.

A protester stands on top of a vehicle and shouts slogans as others carry banners while blocking a road leading to the airport, during a demonstration against alleged police brutality, in Lagos, Nigeria, October 12, 2020.COPYRIGHT OF IMAGEREUTERS
legendProtesters blocked main roads in the largest city of Lagos

The majority of them are between 18 and 24 years old, have never known stable electricity in their life, have not benefited from free education in the country and have seen their university years punctuated and prolonged by teachers on strike.

Frustration with the police is a reflection of the frustration with the state in general.

“What have I benefited from this country since I was born? Asked Victoria Pang, a 22-year-old graduate, who was at one of the protests in the capital, Abuja - and one of the many women who have been at the forefront of the protests.

“Our parents say there was a time when things were good, but we never lived it,” she says.

Why was Sars so hated?

Nigerian police officers generally have a reputation for corruption, brutality and little respect for human rights, but people here have particularly strong feelings against Sars, who has developed notoriety for the improper profiling of young people. .

A report released in June by Amnesty International said it documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and extrajudicial killings by Sars between January 2017 and May 2020.

"The Nigerian authorities have not prosecuted a single officer despite anti-torture legislation passed in 2017 and evidence that its members continue to use torture and other ill-treatment to execute, punish and extract information from suspects," the group said.

Protesters hold banners during protest against alleged police brutality in Lagos, NigeriaCOPYRIGHT OF IMAGEREUTERS
legendYoung people constitute the majority of the Nigerian population

Those considered "flashy" or well-off - be it a nice car to a laptop or those with tattoos or dreadlocks - have caught the attention of Sars officers.

The profiling of young Nigerians is deeply rooted in society.

Young people who are well off and whose lifestyle does not conform to standards from this conservative country are often labeled "Yahoo-Boys" - a slang term for Internet crooks.

This is especially true of those who work with laptops, while some neighbors have called security guards on young people who work from home.

“My domain once called the police to come and get me because I was still home, turning on the generator and living well,” said Bright Echefu, a 22-year-old website developer, who has joined the demonstration in Abuja, on the BBC. .

legendProtesters expressed their frustrations with the police and the state in general

For a long time, tattoos, dreadlocks and body piercings or choosing unconventional career paths have been associated with irresponsibility in some. families, religious organizations, communities and even schools.

"How does having a tattoo on my arm make me a criminal?" Joy Ulo, an undergraduate student, asked at a protest.

And part of it comes from the top.

President Muhammadu Buhari, 77, who in the past referred to young Nigerians as 'lazy' in front of international audiences, recently advised those whose economic livelihoods had been shattered by the coronavirus lockdown to take the plunge in agriculture, because they are valid.

Organic protest

While there is a certain level of organization, the people who seem to coordinate action on social media don't want to be identified as leaders.

They were able to collect everything from water, food and banners to the bail of those arrested.

The money was raised through crowdsourcing - some of the donations come from overseas, mostly from Nigerian IT companies, staffed with target easy profiling by security personnel.

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Unofficial coordinators have refused to select the leaders of the movement, saying they don't want anyone negotiating with the government behind their backs, a not-so-subtle blow to unions across the country, which have a reputation for canceling planned strikes after the meeting. government officials.

But in truth, most of the success of the protests is down to celebrities and social media influencers - the new age stars created by Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.

The protests in the streets gathered momentum last Wednesday and were stepped up Thursday after musicians Runtown and Falz intervened.

But the real energy was injected later that day when a woman named Rinu galvanized other protesters to spend the night outside the government headquarters in Lagos.

With celebrities adding their voices to the #EndSARS hashtag, he jumped to the top of the global Twitter trend and garnered international support from UK-based footballers like Mesut Ozil and Marcus Rashford, musicians and actors.

Nigeria's global superstars Wizkid and Davido, who are also a part of this generation of protesters, were physically present in London and Abuja - where the latter's presence prevented police from shooting at protesters.

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Protesters also chased traditional media journalists from protest venues, accusing them of censoring information on the #EndSARS campaign and giving a different story to those not online.

“It's an anti-establishment struggle,” Echefu said.

“You are for us or against us, no middle ground,” he said.

Many protesters say they ignored warnings from parents and employers not to join the protests.

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No more frivolous youth

Some believe this is the start of something special in Nigeria as the month the country celebrated the 60th anniversary of its independence.

Over 60% of the Nigerian population is under 24 years old, according to UN population figures.

But this group has long been accused of having time for frivolities - reality TV, football and social media - rather than paying attention to governance.

Policeman talking to protestersCOPYRIGHT OF IMAGEREUTERS
legendIn Lagos, protesters explained their grievances to police officers at the protest

It's a line many of them have heard repeatedly from the older generation, but having forced the president to disband Sars and appear on live TV to announce it, young Nigerians are said to have now realized the power they have.

“My people, I want this message to spread to all young Nigerians. Your voice has been heard, ”Wizkid said at Sunday's protest in London.

“Don't let anyone tell you that you have no voice. You all have a voice! And don't be afraid to speak up.

“The next elections [2023] we will show real power,” he said.

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