What began as a hashtag campaign – #EndSARS – with a demand by youth to disband Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a special unit of the Nigerian Police Force, has grown to become a rallying cry demanding good governance, challenging bad infrastructure, massive unemployment, increasing poverty, and a need to improve the general standard of living for Nigerians.
Young Nigerians have used the #EndSARS campaign to grab the attention of the international community to issues affecting them. They have shown how to utilize social media as an ally and a powerful tool for civic engagement and activism. Through social media, they shared updates, alerted each other about local protests, crowdfunded to pay for protesters’ food, water and medical supplies as well as bail and legal fees. The well-organized protests had no clear-cut organisers or leaders other than aggrieved youths bonded by pains inflicted by police brutality and a desire to achieve a better Nigeria. Soro Soke, a Yoruba phrase which translates to “Speak Up”, became the mantra for the movement. This is apt as the youth in Nigeria have found their voice to speak up against social injustice, systemic corruption, and bad governance. With close to 100 million people under 30 years old, the Nigerian government can no longer ignore the voice of its young people; and they demand change! An #EndSARS protester held up a placard that sums up the situation: “The power of the people is stronger than the people in power.”
In response to pressure from protesters, the Nigerian Police Force announced on October 18, 2020 that they will dissolve SARS and reassign its officers. Unfortunately, this same script has been played out several times with no real change. But this time young people in Nigeria have realized they have power! What started as a grass-roots movement with a few tweets to end police brutality grew to become a global phenomenon. This shows the power of an awakened citizenry. Police brutality may have sparked the protest, but bad governance was the fundamental reason.