Will the EndSARS protest change anything?

As at the time I was penning this piece, which comes out today, I was in the dark over whether the #EndSARS protests, which kicked off roughly a fortnight ago, will still be in full swing.

But whether the mass movement is still on or the wind has been knocked out of their sails, however, one thing is certain, for once in a very long time, young Nigerians have finally decided to channel their energy in the right direction, in making their grievances known to all and sundry.

The seed for the latest mass protest against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was unwittingly planted two Saturdays ago, when operatives of the police unit allegedly shot a young man in front of Wetland Hotel, in Ughelli, Delta State. Expectedly, in their normal reaction, the police were quick to dismiss the video of the shooting, which went viral, saying “it was the handiwork of mischief makers” The Command’s spokesperson, DSP Onome Onovwakpoyeya, said in a statement in Asaba: “The attention of the Nigeria Police Force, Delta State Command has been drawn to trending online videos and posts alleging SARS Operatives of shooting a young man to death in Ughelli.

“The allegations in the online video about SARS operatives killing a young man in Ughelli is not only false, malicious and erroneous, but also misleading. “The victim was neither shot nor killed by the policemen. The policemen involved are not SARS operatives as earlier reported.

“The allegation is the handiwork of criminally-minded people who do not see anything good in the Police, but want Delta State to be in turmoil.” Unfortunately for Onome, fate conspired to make this one killing that could not be suppressed with another press release, because only a fortnight earlier, this time in Osun State, the same SARS were allegedly involved in the murder of two boys in Osogbo, the state capital, when the car they were driving, crashed while they were being chased by members of the despised police unit. Although this did not trigger any nation-wide agitation against SARS, it had once again put them in the spotlight so that the Ughelli incident was the final straw that broke the camel’s back, prompting long pent up frustration and revulsion in the youngsters spewing out like an exploding volcano. Thus, from Ughelli to Abuja, Lagos to Ilorin and Port Harcourt to (Kano), Nigerian youths hit the streets demanding for “change”.

Many of them considered “flashy” or wellto- do – anything from having a nice car to a laptop or those with tattoos or dreadlocks – attracted the attention of SARS officers. Unlike the previous protest that has often turned violent after being hijacked by hooligans, this one has avoided this and has hit home because it has largely been led by top celebrities and social media influencers – the new-age stars made by Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.

Popular stars like Runtown and Falz have been at the forefront of the protests in Lagos and other major cities. With celebrities adding their voice to the #EndSARS hashtag, it jumped to the top global trend on Twitter and drew international support from UK-based footballers like Mesut Ozil and Marcus Rashford, musicians and actors.

Nigeria’s global superstars, Wizkid and Davido, who are also part of this generation of protesters have been physically present in London and Abuja – where the latter’s presence stopped police officers from shooting at protesters. Many of the protesters say they ignored warnings from their parents and employers not to join in the protests. More than 60% of Nigeria’s population is less than 24 years old, according to UN population figures.

But this group has long been accused of having time for frivolities – reality TV, football and social media – rather than paying attention to governance. It is a line that many of them have heard repeatedly from the older generation but have forced the president to disband SARS and appear on live TV to announce it, young Nigerians would have now realised the power they have.

“My people, I want this message to go out to every Nigerian youth. Your voice has been heard,” said Wizkid at Sunday’s protest in London. “Don’t let anyone tell you you don’t have a voice. You all have a voice! And don’t be scared to speak up.

“Next election [2023] we show real power,” he said. However, despite the fact that the Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu has disbanded the outfit and President Buhari insisting that government was ready to install major reforms in policing in the country, the million naira question is at the end of the day, will major reforms actually take place or be possible? Let’s not forget that those that will make up the new force are Nigerians while those that are saddled with the responsibility have been in the same rotten system for decades and must not forget the well-known saying: “You can’t teach old dog new tricks.” Even if we decide to bring in foreigners to help us build a new police force, what will we get in the end? Our history is replete with efforts being made at reforms only for such to fizzle out.

In September 1979 Nigeria tried it with the now-defunct Nigeria Airways when the government brought in (KLM) to managed and turn things around. As soon as they left at the expiration of their two-year contract, the “Elephant” of the sky returned its wayward ways and ended up finally going extinct in 2003. The same thing was tried with the Nigeria Railways, when experts from India were brought in – and like the Airways venture we all know what happened.

One must point out that the depth of the problem is not just limited to SARS and the Police Force alone. In December 1988, when I was going to Ghana to cover Azumah Nelson’s WBC title fight (against Brazil’s Sidnei Dal Rovere, which he won by a third-round TKO), the vehicle I was in heading towards Seme was repeatedly stopped by Immigration and Customs officials. At one checkpoint, I was forced to challenge them as to why none Nigerians were being asked to “see” their ogas? The reply I got was that they were collecting money from which they will make “returns” to their superiors who put them on the route.

“Oga journalist do you think that they (superiors) don’t know what we are doing? It is they that sent us because they know we will deliver well is why we are here!” Twenty years later when I drove to same Ghana (this time for the Nations Cup) at our border (Seme) it was Customs and Immigration officials who arranged all the documents I would need to get to Accra, without my vehicle being searched! Yet, when I got to Aflao (the border between Ghana and Togo) the Customs official did not ask for one cedi but thoroughly checked not only my papers but also the car.

In fact, that was the first time I would know that from the seat belt one can know when the car was manufactured! I am very certain that not much would have changed which means that unless a miracle happens, I honestly wonder what new police force can rise from the #EndsSARS protest!


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