It was a victory for social media and its users yesterday as the Nigeria Police Force buckled under the pressure of days of sustained #EndSARS trend, campaign and protests. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was a special police unit allegedly infamous for terrorising and extorting money from young Nigerians.
This is the third in the series of a successful social media viral campaign that stayed its course until results were achieved; the first being the January 2012 #OccupyNigeria rally in the wake of the petrol subsidy removal protest and the second, the 2014 #BringBackOurGirls (#BBOG) which went viral across the world to call attention to the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls.
The third edition of this successful social media campaigns was late in coming after several previous efforts to make #EndSARS a reality met stiff resistance on the streets.
Each time there was a new incidence or victim of police brutality, #EndSARS trends, but efforts to galvanise the social media rants and rage into concrete action were always muffled by the announcement of a promised reform in the police unit. A few days afterwards, the old order would continue.
Yesterday, October 11, 2020, was the culmination of a movement that could no longer be resisted; just like the famous Victor Hugo quote: “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come. There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.”
Until last week, the activism of Segun Awosanya, popularly known as Segalink, one of the strong voices in the #EndSARS campaign, had been like a lone voice in the wilderness until the widespread reactions that trailed the shooting of a young man in front of a hotel in Ughelli, Delta State, by Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) operatives on October 3.
This time, the #EndSARS campaign left the streets of Twitter to the streets of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Delta, Abuja and across the country after social media influencers, celebrities, actors, politicians, among other concerned Nigerians, weighed in.
The video, which went viral, showed how there was confusion around Wetland Hotel in Ughelli area of Delta State, where the policemen allegedly killed the victim and escaped with his vehicle – a white Lexus Sport Utility Vehicle.
Though it was swiftly debunked by the Minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo, who stated that the victim was still alive and was not shot at but only jumped down from a moving police van, the video had reignited the #EndSARS campaign, and after months and years of angst and protests on the streets of Twitter against SARS, it finally spilled over into the streets of major cities across the country.
Some of the celebrities and activists who made their voices heard last week included Ayo Balogun (Wizkid), Tiwa Savage, Folarin Falana (Falz), Runtown and Aisha Yesufu, who has been described as the hijab-wearing revolutionary.
A writer, Fredrick Nwabufo, yesterday wrote: “Women, like Aisha Yesufu” are like comets; they come once in a generation bearing the torch of truth, courage and resilience. They are lodestars, shining a light on the path to a new world where humankind can thrive without chains and shackles. They are definers of the age; excellent species of their kind.”
Other social media influencers who rose stoutly and stood tall in this campaign included comedian, Debo Adebayo, popularly known as Mr Macaroni, @SavvyRinu (Convener Operation Santize), @DannyWalta, @UnclePamilerin @TemiOanu, @Dehkunle among others.
They had since Thursday night mobilised other protesters for three straight vigils, carrying placards and sleeping in front of the Lagos State House of Assembly.
And like pouring petrol to the raging fire, on Saturday, a bystander, Jimoh Isiaq, was shot and killed in Ogbomoso, Oyo State, by policemen dispersing #EndSARS protesters. He was rushed to Bowen University Teaching Hospital where he died while receiving treatment. Pictures shared on Twitter showed him standing by the roadside, many metres away from the policemen and unarmed moments before he was shot.
The battle has been won, but the war is not over. This was how Wizkid ended the protest yesterday in front of the Nigerian Embassy in London when he said: “This is just the beginning. We won our fight to #EndSARS. Now reform the Nigeria police. #EndPoliceBrutality. We deserve good governance.”