“One of the first things this present administration of Muhammadu Buhari did when they got to office was to create a troll farm, a kernel full of attack dogs called the Buhari Media Centre. Their job has been to viciously bark at dissenting voices, to bully them until they are silenced. You are not allowed to protest the condition of your existence without these agents of backwardness rallying themselves against you with cries of “I stand with Buhari!” as if what is at stake in these issues is Buhari’s privileged life”.
In the past two weeks, young Nigerians have taken to the streets to protest their social conditions. Labeled #EndSARS, the protests began with a call for the end of the notorious police unit, the State Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS. However, #EndSARS has metamorphosed into calls for broader reforms in a polity that debilitates over successive generations. When you listen to the outbursts of anger that we have witnessed in the past few days, what you see is scores of people whose Nigerian existence has been an open wound. How does a country survive with so much frustration and angst? The amount of violence that Nigeria has enacted against its seasons, and as revealed in the past two weeks, we will need years of dedicated investigation to unravel its scale fully. For far too long, Nigerians have been cheated, abused, and despoiled by the same set of people entrusted with their lives.
The #EndSARS protesters have been incredible in cracking the wall of silence that politicians set up to repress citizens’ voices. One of the first things this present administration of Muhammadu Buhari did when they got to office was to create a troll farm, a kernel full of attack dogs called the Buhari Media Centre. Their job has been to viciously bark at dissenting voices, to bully them until they are silenced. You are not allowed to protest the condition of your existence without these agents of backwardness rallying themselves against you with cries of “I stand with Buhari!” as if what is at stake in these issues is Buhari’s privileged life. If there is something the #EndSARS achieved with their “soro soke revolution,” it has been to drown the voices of these regressive forces with their vigor. People are not just speaking, they are outspeaking and outraising the voices of anti-progressive forces. The real revolution is how they have cleared a discursive path such that all over Nigeria, even in churches and mosques, people that have been cowered are raising their now emboldened voices and speaking louder than ever. Soro soke! Speak louder! Let them hear you, let them know that you are here, and let them know you are not going anywhere!
Since the protests started, they have displayed a level of organizational capability that has astounded their parents’ generation that typically look down at them. The generation older that people thought was not good for much more than posting on social media, fantasizing about Yahoo Yahoo runs, and analyzing Big Brother Naija, has incontrovertibly demonstrated their capacity for leadership and self-management.
The amount of ingenuity they have put into planning and staging those protests is highly commendable. These protesters made me proud of Nigeria in a way I have not felt in a long time. The scale of abuse in Nigeria is frustrating. I had even concluded that for people to refuse to protest as Nigeria kept spiraling downwards, it must mean they are cynical and no longer invested in salvaging a recalcitrant country. Their seeming passivity was thus understandable. Nigerians have fought many times in the past, but it seems that we merely take down the flag of one dictator only for another to be implanted. Nothing ever really changes.
One of the many good things about #EndSARS protests is that it shows that Nigerians still believe in the future of the country enough to want to fight for it. Protests are critical political actions. When very different human beings spontaneously converge on the streets to protest, they show themselves as real humans with real issues that need to be addressed with real policies.
The spectacle of their physical human bodies—as against their Twitter avatars—occupies public spaces and makes authoritative demands on the powers that be. The convergence of people when they put themselves on the line to make certain political changes possible is a speech, a soro soke action. That is why the Nigerian government has been jumpy about the prospect of a revolution and have been deploying their brute machinery to repress those instincts.
This time, they could not stop people from hitting the streets. The #EndSARS public protests have spoken and reverberated among the political class in a way they could not have predicted a month ago.
The question now is, what will be the afterlife of the protests? People can protest for as long as possible, but it will have to end at some point. Last year, we saw how the people of Hong Kong protested for up to six months. In the USA, the George Floyd protests in Portland, Oregon, went on for 100 days. Right now in Belarus, the protests they started in May are still ongoing.
I do not know whether Nigerians can sustain their demonstrations indefinitely, and that is why it is crucial to start looking at life after the #EndSARS protests. How will we sustain the momentum such that after people leave the streets, they will keep up the energy and hype? We need to maintain the atmosphere of discontent and outrage to commute them into actual transforming political actions.
It is important to keep up with the spirit of soro soke, to keep talking about those very things that imperil our lives but for which the ruling elite would rather drown our voices. Thus, the recently launched radio station, Soro Soke FM, is an invaluable initiative on this score. According to reports, the radio station will air the stories of victims and the views of aggrieved Nigerians as they battle injustice.
Apart from giving people an outlet to voice their dissent, the radio station should invest its contact in civic education and grassroots mobilization towards building a coherent agenda of social transformation. Here we all owe it to ourselves to contribute our time and energy towards fashioning specific agenda of change, breaking those ideals down into units, and collectively investing whatever resources we have at our disposal to see that they are placed at the forefront of national debate. We should neither grow cold nor stop speaking up. We need to keep organizing ourselves at smaller units to push for the change we have always wanted to see in the country. It is possible to change Nigeria; we just have to outspeak the limits that have been placed on our voices.
#EndSARS is unprecedented moment in Nigerian history. What does it mean to you? What do you want it to change? How can we ALL build on it in transforming Nigeria into a country that works for ALL of us and not only for a few of them?
Arbiterz will like to hear from you too. Send your opinion -300/400 words-to firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com. You MAY include a picture of yourself, which may be from the #EndSARS battleline where you are helping to push the old Nigeria into the abyss.