#EndSARS: 14 days of protests

In this report, IMOLEAYO OYEDEYI chronicles the various shades of the #EndSARS protests across the nation and the eventual tragic denouement.

Even though he never envisaged that a part two of his move would spark global outrage and cause the Federal Government frenzy, popular social media activist, Segun Awosanya, in December, 2017, started a campaign on Twitter, hash-tagged #EndSARS, in response to the sizzling frustration of the Nigerian youth over speckled gleams of misconducts raging from kidnapping, murder, theft, rape, torture, unlawful arrests, humiliation, illegal detention, extrajudicial killings, and extortion  by the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian Police Force.

Thousands of young Nigerians besieged Awosanya’s post and re-tweeted massively with video evidence of their ordeals in the hands of the operatives. It culminated in a protest calling for a complete overhauling of the unit. According to Wikipedia, that year, a petition signed by 10,195 people was submitted to Nigeria’s National Assembly demanding for a demobilisation of the defunct group and a few senators backed the call for total disbandment of the unit. The government promised to look into the demands of the Awosanya-led outcry then, but surprisingly, no specific action was carried out.

In a report it published in 2016, Amnesty International accused the anti-robbery squad of alleged human abuse, cruelty, degrading treatment of Nigerians in their custody, and other widespread torture. The human right organisation noted that between January, 2017 and May, 2020, it had documented 82 cases of abuses and extra judicial killings by the disbanded police unit.

But on Saturday, October 3, what could be seen as the part two of Awosanya’s first shot began with a trending video on Twitter. It showed a suspected SARS operative shooting a young Nigerian in front of Wetland Hotel, Ughelli, Delta State. The ensuing reports said that the police officers took away the young man’s vehicle. And for four days, the video raised public eyebrow and uproar on social media. In less than 72 hours, it attracted global traction with tweets nearing ten thousand as at the night of Wednesday, October 7.

But by 10:00am the following day, famed musician and lawyer, Folarin Falana popularly known as Falz, among others, had taken the agitation to the Lekki toll gate in Lagos, displaying placards of various inscription among which were #EndSARS Now, #We Say No To Police Brutality, #Reform Police, Disband SARS, #We Are Bleeding, We Are Weeping, among others. The protesters barricaded the Lekki/Epe expressway and brought traffic to a standstill for hours that Thursday afternoon, but unknown to the many, messier demonstrations lie ahead as the protesters slept at the gate of the Lagos State Government house till the second day.

Joined by top celebrities including Eedris Abdulkareem, Runtown, Don Jazzy, Olu Jacobs among others, the protest started gathering momentum in other cities across the country. The Lagos State Deputy Governor, Femi Hamzat was the first to attend to the protesters. But instead of assuaging the youth, Hamzat’s address inflated their frustration. Despite the state House of Assembly publicising a seven-point resolution proposing strategies for reformation of the anti-robbery squad, the frustrated youth continued their agitation.

On that Friday which was the second day of the protest, no fewer than fifteen of the protesters were arrested in Ogun State according to reports. While others were released, three of the protesters: Adeniji Sodiq, Mutairu Faruq and Olatoye Joseph, who were arrested at the palace of the oba of Owu were charged for murder by the police. But after review of all evidence, the state governor, Dapo Abiodun ordered the release of the protesters, even as the son of late music icon, Fela Kuti joined the protests at Akute/Ajuwon/Agbole axis of the state.

Between that day and Sunday, October 11, the #ENDSARS hashtag had up to 28 million tweets. And their demands were simple: immediate release of all arrested during the protests as well as justice and compensation for all who died through police brutality in Nigeria, setting up of an independent body within 10 days to investigate and prosecute all reports of police misconduct, provision of psychological evaluation and retraining of SARS operatives before they are deployed to any other police unit and adequate remuneration for Nigerian police.

According to reports, on Monday, 12 October 2020, a bystander watching the protest was shot dead while no fewer than four other persons were injured. The police arrested and detained some of the peaceful protesters. But the frantic protests continued at Lekki-Epe Expressway toll gate, Murtala Mohammed International airport toll gate, Alausa, Ikorodu Road and Yaba. That day, the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu had to address the protesters and called for calm but his Rivers State counterpart, Nyesom Wike heightened the agitation of the youths by banning all forms of protests in his state. The statement from the Rivers infuriated thousands of the Nigerian youths as they dragged the governors name on social media on Monday night.

The protesters took the protests to the National Assembly. Moving from Banex junction Abuja, they peacefully marched to the junction leading to the National Assembly around 2 p.m. where they were stopped by soldiers who violently resisted their movement and injured some of them in the process.

According to reports, ARISE TV news crew who were recording the brawl at the National Assembly entrance was attacked. On that same Tuesday, the protest was held strenuously at front gate of the University of Ibadan after the protesters had locked down Iwo Road grounding vehicular movement. On this same day, famous musicians, Chinedu Izuchukwu Okoli known as Flavour, Chibuzor Nelson Azubuike, popularly known as Phyno and Zoro, a rapper led hundreds of protesters from different parts of Enugu State. They moved from Okpara Square in the state to the Criminal Investigation Department office where the Deputy Governor of the State, Lolo Cecilia Ezeilo addressed them.

But in response to the public outcry that was nearing deafening state; the federal government emplaced the disbanded SARS group with a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team. According to the police Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba, the new team was mandated to respond to robbery attacks, scenes of weapon-related crimes, rescue operations and attend to special operation involving high profile criminals. Mba noted that the new outfit, which is expected to take off seven days after, will undergo psychological and medical evaluation to determine their fitness.

Also on that Tuesday, a press release signed by Femi Adesina the Presidential spokesperson, indicated that the Nigerian Government has agreed to the five demands of the End SARS protestors. But the action of police body failed to yield the desired the results as the nationwide unrest continued in most states capitals in the country despite spirited resistance from the force headquarters whose men tear-gased and shot at the protesters especially in Abuja, Lagos, Osun and Benin where the protests have become dirtier so far.

The protest continued on Wednesday, 14 October. At Berger roundabout in Lagos, the protesters were attacked by thugs with cutlasses and cudgels while cars were destroyed with severe injuries inflicted on some of the protesters.

But on Thursday, October 15, the government banned the demonstration in the Federal Capital Territory, on the premise that it has caused discomfort to the people and violated COVID-19 protocols especially since the government had agreed to meet the demands of the protesters. But the directive from the FCT government inflated the intensity of the protest, making the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed to declare that the demonstration is being used by some elements to topple President Muhammadu Buharis government.

By Friday, October 16, the protest had degenerated into spirited night carnivals across key locations in the country. The online agitations culminated in seamless hacking of the websites of top government parastatals and divisions, among which were the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria by an international hacking group with the name Anonymous.

The protesters released timetables of night shows that would be staged in key cities in Nigeria and by that Friday night, the carnivals were held. The one at Alausa in Ikeja featured a candle procession in remembrance of the innocent lives caught short through heartless displays of the disbanded SARS operatives. The carnivals were also held in places like Challenge junction in Ibadan and Lekki among other designated locations featuring musical displays, comedies and feeding.

So far, the protests had been held in thirteen states of the federation among which were Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ogun, Ondo, Delta, Edo, Anambra, Abia, Rivers, Enugu among others; while its pro-SARS and insecurity version had sunk key states in the northern part of the country, including Kano and Plateau states. The jailbreak in Edo further worsened the situation.

At the global level, the protest had so far been held in London, Dublin, New York, Canada and Michigan while international organisations such as the Feminist Coalition among others used crowdsourcing to raise funds for the agitations with over sixty two million naira gathered, some of which was used to foot the medical bills of bruised protesters.

By Saturday, October 17, the protest had entered its tenth day and included prayer walks across the country. But by Monday, October 19, virtually every major public road in Lagos and Ibadan the Oyo state capital were locked down forcing cessation of movements and massive gridlock even as the closure of the Lekki toll gate reportedly caused the government over two hundred million naira.

But what would be remembered as the bloodiest days in Nigeria’s history were Tuesday and Wednesday, October 20, 21, which were the thirteenth and fourteenth days of the protest as violence that had rocked it became worsened with no fewer than 20 protesters and policemen reportedly killed in different locations across the country.

According to reports, protesters and policemen were killed in Lagos alone with places like Mushin, Orile, Ketu, Ikorodu and Lekki toll gate among the hotspots of the carnage. In the aftermath of their bloody clash with some of the thugs that had infiltrated the #EndSARS protesters, no fewer than two policemen and three other persons were killed at Ojoo area of Ibadan, the Oyo State capital as the protests became more violent.

Other states also affected included Ogun, Kano, Edo, Abia, and the FCT even as the state governments declared curfew to forestall continued breakdown of law and order while the Nigerian Bar Association and the Africa Bar Association threatening international criminal proceedings against the Federal Government over the shooting of unarmed protesters by security agencies.

Also on that black Tuesday, Operation burn down Nigeria nearly sank the country as thugs in the disguise of #EndSARS protesters burnt down several police stations including those at Ojo, Amukoko, Orile, Cele outpost, Ajegunle, Ajeromi and Ifelodun area of Lagos while several police vehicles were also set ablaze. Also, private properties were not left out in the destruction as the family home of the Lagos State governor, located in Surulere was set on fire by irate youths while the state BRT terminal was also reportedly burnt. Popular television station, Television Continental (TVC) at Ketu and branches of Polaris Bank, Access Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank including Oriental Hotel were among the properties reportedly burnt.

As the protest entered its fourteenth day yesterday, October 21, the arson and violent confrontations remained unabated. There are calls on various sides of the divide to put an end to the demonstrations and the destruction. When and how this would be achieved remain to be known in the days to come.

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