Young Nigerians want to see these changes from the #EndSARS movement
Nearly a fortnight on from the Lekki Toll Gate massacre, Nigeria's young generations are still fighting for lasting systemic change. Here's how you can help.
Photography Manny Jefferson
It has been close to a fortnight now since the world watched the Nigerian military shoot live rounds at citizens peacefully partaking in the #EndSARS protests at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. As they opened fire, protesters were waving tiny Nigerian flags and singing the national anthem. Amnesty International reports that at least 12 people lost their lives (with unconfirmed reports on social media providing much higher figures) with many more seriously injured. This was a watershed moment, causing a dramatic shift in tone in what had been a mostly non-violent movement -- where the protesters were concerned, at least -- leaving Nigerians reeling from such brazen, cruel injustice.
The situation was hardly calmed when, on October 22, President Muhammadu Buhari broke a nine-day silence, giving a speech that not only failed to acknowledge the lives lost, but also sternly warned protesters against partaking in further demonstrations. “In the circumstances, I would like to appeal to protesters to note and take advantage of the various well-thought-out initiatives of this administration designed to make their lives better and more meaningful,” he said, calling on Nigerian citizens to “resist the temptation of being used by some subversive elements to cause chaos with the aim of truncating our nascent democracy. For you to do otherwise will amount to undermining national security and the law and order situation. Under no circumstances will this be tolerated.”
In the wake of weeks of impassioned protest, this overt threat against the right to demonstrate has not sat well with young Nigerians who have stood at the forefront of the #EndSARS movement. For Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Kah-lo, the president’s speech served as a reminder to young Nigerians that their only allies are one another at this time. “We, the youths, have to quite literally be the change we want to see,” she says. “There's no alternative.”
“The Nigerian government has an attitude that they are doing us a favour when they implement social policies,” echoes 23-year-old writer Adewojumi Aderemi, “but it is also their job and duty to use the country's money and resources to make the country better.”
Although physical protests in Lagos, where participation was at its highest, have taken a pause for the time being, young Nigerians have remained adamant in their fight for justice for the casualties of the Lekki Toll Gate massacre, standing up and speaking out online. “It's hard to say whether [the protests] have been a victory or a loss,” says 23-year-old writer Innocent Chizaram Ilo. “However, the past few weeks have made me believe more in young Nigerians. Although there is still more to be done to reorientate our perception of freedom; nobody's free until all of us are free.”
“We saw a Nigeria that was united across class, religion, age, occupation and it was proof that if we stand together with one voice and allow no divide, we can truly make Nigeria better,” echoes Ebele Molua, a 25-year-old PR consultant and women’s rights activist and organiser. “We tested our strength and this being the first time we’ve done that, I can say for a fact that we’re stronger than we even recognise.”
For many young Nigerians, support from the international community in helping to achieve the goals of the #EndSARS protests is vital, particularly where holding corrupt Nigerian leaders accountable on a global scale is concerned. 22-year-old content creator Eniafe Momodu, for example, believes that the events and developments tied to the #EndSARS movement should trigger the same global outrage that was seen during the early days of the Black Lives Matter movement back in June. “We saw how vocal people were around the world during the Black Lives Matter protests. Why are people suddenly silent when it's Nigeria?” he asks. “Nigerian lives are Black lives too. Our lives matter and people in the diaspora should be as concerned about police brutality and injustice in Nigeria as they would anywhere else in the world. Like Martin Luther King, Jr. said, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Of course, a question that those not currently on the ground in Nigeria will be asking themselves is: but how exactly can we help — especially since major Bitcoin fundraisers, such as that organised by Feminist Coalition, are no longer accepting donations? For 23-year-old journalist Tami Makinde, constructive support can be as simple as refusing to act in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s statement and continuing to lead protests in their diaspora communities, pressing leaders around the world to call for a formal inquiry into the massacre. Whether on the streets of London, New York or Berlin, “no one is minding their business as he asked; Nigerians and Africans in the diaspora are amplifying the message and staging protests and candlelight services across the world,” she says. “The government can’t get away with tying a nice bow on things again, we wanted to see more radical change and that can only come from continued support from the international community.”
As for what this support should be directed towards, the initial goal of the #EndSARS protests remains top of the agenda. “First of all, I do not want to see SARS officers on the streets,” says Amaka Amaku, a 26-year-old entrepreneur and content creator. “Secondly, the government needs to revisit the weapons they arm our patrol officers with. Then, I need all the policemen who killed innocent citizens locked away in prison for a long long time.”
Looking beyond the immediate future, however, young Nigerians are also hoping to see tangible action regarding “the various ways in which international governments might be contributing to the problem,” says Ani Kayode Somtochukwu, a 21-year-old writer and queer liberation activist. “Whether this is through their debt structures, or through their support for the two major parties that represent the capitalist class of this country.”
“It’s been more than a week since the massacre and yet no one has come forward to claim responsibility. Since then, we’ve asked the important questions but still nothing has been done,” Tami says. “It cannot become the norm that Nigerians can just die at the hands of these armed forces and no one gets punished for it. Nigerian lives need to mean more on our own land. We need to see justice and then we need to tackle problems with electricity, education, healthcare, employment, transportation, tourism and so much more.”
Indeed, for Nigeria’s young generation the fight against police brutality and the systemic inequity it’s a consequence of is far from over. Beyond its initial goal to see SARS disbanded, #EndSARS has grown into a generational movement to dismantle Nigeria’s harmful, corrupt and inhumane structures. Despite the tragic loss of life along the way, #EndSARS has “definitely birthed hope in the hearts of many hopeless Nigerians, young and old,” Amaka says. Hope for a country where the lives of citizens are protected and regarded with respect; for a country where young Nigerians can express themselves and their identities freely; for a country rid of a self-interested administration. #EndSARS has inspired hope that this generation of Nigerians can build a country that works.