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Nigeria: A New Generation Steps Up

AfricaFocus Bulletin
October 23, 2020 (2020-10-23)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

“The protest is for our lives, it’s for our future. We want SARS to end but SARS is just the beginning. They should just wait for us. We’re not quiet anymore.” [This response appears] typical of the critical mass of protesters who are around 18-22 years old, are particularly fearless, and are protesting for the first time. - Ayodeji Rotinwa, Deputy Editor of African Arguments

Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, returning to Nigeria just before the EndSars protests began, wrote this earlier this week:

"I arrived home from external commitments just over a week ago to an extraordinary homecoming gift. It took the form of a movement — sometimes angry, sometimes entrancing, poignant, sometimes strident, certainly robust in expectations but always moving, visionary and organized. That movement demanded an end to brutality from state security agencies, focusing on a notorious unit known as SARS. But, of course, SARS merely stood for the parasitic character of governance itself in all ramifications. ... The movement involved members of the Nigerian Bar Association, Feminist Groups, Professionals, Technocrats, Students, Prelates, Industrial institutions, and Artistes – writers, cineastes, actors, musicians. It was markedly a youthful movement, its energy, creativity and resolve diffused throughout the nation through impressive strategies."

But then, Soyinka added,

¨But – and haven’t we been here before? — suddenly, virtually overnight, it all changed. State security services – which specific branch, we have yet to identify – transported thugs to break up the protests. The videos exist, they have been widely disseminated – sleek motorcades with number plates covered – moved to recruit and disgorge thugs and breeds of hoodlums to break up the peaceful protests. Those mercenaries set fire to the protesters’ vehicles where parked, set upon the gathered youths with cudgels and machetes.¨

The day after that commentary (available at, security forces killed at least 12 in demonstrations in Lagos, and the sense of deja vu evoked by Soyinka became even stronger.

Nigerians have a history of resistance to oppression in recent decades. But the opposition in the 1990s to military dictator Sani Abacha took years of struggle (1993-1999) to achieve his replacement by a civilian government. Now, with a new generation that does not remember military rule, the time may be coming for the corrupt and brutal system now in place. Previous civil society protests and ongoing campaigning have made some gains. But the fundamentals have not yet changed.

The government response gives little hope that change will come quickly or without much suffering. But the combination of internal protest, an engaged Nigerian diaspora, and new strategies provide an indication that a new generation is ready to take the lead.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains three commentaries from Nigerian sources, the first from a series in African Arguments, the second an interview with a sociologist at the University of Ibadan, and the third a statement by 32 Nigerian civil society organizations.

It also includes a selection of other links of particular interest.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Nigeria, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Selected Links to Recent Articles

When preparing an AfricaFocus on something that has hit global news, I can't keep up with the barrage of daily coverage. So I try to seek out particularly useful articles from reliable sources that may be worth sharing with you for relevant background, even if you are keeping up with the news from your usual news sources.

In addition to the three short articles included in this AfricaFocus, the links below are a small selection of the other sources that I have found most useful. I won't summarize them, but simply give enough information for you to decide whether you want to check them out.

Today's update from BBC News

Commentaries in the Washington Post by global opinion editor Karen Attiah, who covers global issues and has family roots in both Nigeria and Ghana.

Short press statement by the Movement for Black Lives in the United States

A short video, plus links to other Nigerian sources and a petition, distributed by Nigerian American diaspora activist Opal Tometi, who was one of the co-founders of #BlackLivesMatter.

Many additional sources recommended by a progressive publication in UK

The key group inside Nigeria providing material support for the protesters. They are raising funds from around the world and have had to move to bitcoin to bypass pressure by Nigerian government on banks in Nigeria

Links to most recent coverage on

An eloquent first-hand report by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka

Democracy Now interviews with Nigerian activists

Useful analytical background from African Arguments (in addition to the backgrounder include in full below)

Latest reports from Amnesty International

Coverage by Al Jazeera

Background article - useful summary by Nigerian scholar at Chatham House


Six things you need to know about the movement to end police brutality in Nigeria.

by Ayodeji Rotinwa

Ayodeji Rotinwa is the Deputy Editor of African Arguments.

African Arguments, October 14, 2020

On 3 October, two days after Nigeria’s Independence Day, a grainy video was posted to Twitter that purportedly showed an attempted murder. A shooting at point blank range. Two unarmed men dragged from a hotel in Delta State by a group of armed men. A gun pointed to the floor. A loud, familiar crack. Smoke.

To any Nigerian watching the video, the armed group was familiar. They were members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). This police unit was initially set up to fight violent crime but is now accused of perpetrating it instead.

SARS is infamous for targeting well-off young people who they allegedly suspect of making money through illegal means. If you are 18-35, have an iPhone, tattoos, drive a nice car or carry a laptop, you could be a target. You could be beaten up, robbed, tortured and extorted. In some cases, such as that of the as-yet-unidentified man in the video, you could be killed. Amnesty International says at least 82 people died at the hands of SARS between January 2017 and May 2020.

No SARS official has been charged for their crimes.

As the video was shared widely across the internet and particularly Twitter, outrage swelled. The outrage wasn’t new either. Nigerians had been calling to #ENDSARS since 2017 with Twitter users sharing their experiences at the hands of the police unit. This time the issue burned quick, garnering over 28 million tweets and trending worldwide by Friday 9 October.

This outrage soon turned to protest. Over the past seven days and in at least 13 Nigerian states, thousands of people – men, women, queer people, the differently-abled, from varying religions, ethnic groups and political affiliations – have spilt onto the streets. Yesterday in Ibadan, even soldiers joined the protesters. They are demanding an end to the rogue police unit, justice for all deceased victims of police brutality, and investigations and prosecutions of police misconduct.

Credit: Eric Atie

On 11 October, the Inspector General of Police announced that SARS has been disbanded. On 13 October, he said a new tactical unit, called the Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT), would replace it. No one is convinced. Between 2017 and now, the police has claimed the unit would be “re-organised”, “overhauled” and “reformed” but with little effect.

Here are six aspects of the movement you should know about:

1) Police brutality at protests against police brutality

The Nigerian police have been enthusiastic in proving why a people’s movement against police brutality is necessary. At protests across the country, they have opened fire on unarmed peaceful protesters, attacked them with wooden clubs, teargassed them, and hit them with water cannons. They have vandalised vehicles, broken windscreens, and slashed tyres. They have left fractures, dislocations, bleeding and death in their wake. According to Amnesty International, ten people have died in the protests so far.

One protester told African Arguments that while she was being beaten up, the policemen asked: “Who paid you?” and “after this, will you come out again?” This highlights two things. The police do not think the protests are genuinely motivated. And they appear to be counting on the show of force to intimidate protesters into staying home. It has not worked thus far.

2) Disinformation and misinformation

If you’ve no access to social media and depend only on traditional print media, like most Nigerians above 40, you may not have a fully accurate picture of the protests. Several media outlets have engaged in an apparent obfuscation of the facts.

Guardian Nigeria, for instance, published a now-deleted post on ethnic rifts amongst protesters. This is a well-known fault line used by politicians to sow divisions and, in this case, is not true. In fact, Nigerians seem to have united across divisions of ethnicity, geography, religion, gender and sexuality.

Many national publications have also parroted the police’s line in reporting on the protests. On Monday 12 October, for example, protests in Surulere, Lagos, turned violent when the police opened fire. Eyewitness statements and videos show the police attacking the demonstrators. A bystander, Ikechukwu Ilohamauzo, was fatally shot.

Several newspapers, however, echoed the police account of events with some, such as Pulse and Vanguard, running near-identical pieces. With little context about the motives of the demonstrations, they suggested the protesters were in fact responsible for the violence and published claims that the demonstrators had laid siege to a police station to free jailed suspects, killing one policeman and injuring two. This incident has not been corroborated beyond the police account and the man charged with the alleged murder was soon released.

3) A new wave of fearless Gen Z protesters

“The protest is for our lives, it’s for our future. We want SARS to end but SARS is just the beginning. They should just wait for us. We’re not quiet anymore.”

“It’s fine to believe we have been lazy. We accept that we have been lazy. But it’s one day a man wakes up, and we have woken up and we are not ending this.”

When two young women were asked what the protest was about, these were their responses. They appear typical of the critical mass of protesters who are around 18-22 years old, are particularly fearless, and are protesting for the first time. Their lack of experience, however, should not be taken as a lack of knowledge. When police have fired teargas, for instance, some protesters have swung into action to defuse the chemical weapon’s effects.

“It struck me that they may have picked up a few lessons from the Hong Kong protests,” Stanley Achonu, a civil society advisor present at the protests, told African Arguments. “There was something surreal about those – I don’t want to call them kids – protesters that was different. I have been to every protest since when Yar’adua was president [2007-2010]. This one is clearly different.”

When the police have used water cannons, live ammunition and tried to disperse protesters, the demonstrators haven’t gone home battered and defeated. Even while some were wounded, they simply regrouped. On Sunday 11 October in Abuja, the protesters were dispersed and attacked at least twice, regathering and regrouping each time.

“They are not following any playbook. They are following theirs. They are not beholden to the generation that came before them. They are just looking forward,” says Olabukunola Williams, Executive Director of Education as a Vaccine, who was also at Sunday’s protests.

“A lot of people driving and leading this protest are not from civil society. They have their own businesses, they work in tech…they’ve become the unofficial leaders of sustaining the movement.”

4) Leaderless, open-source protests

In January 2012, there was a massive wave of protests in Nigeria. The #OccupyNigeria movement spread across the country protesting against an increase in fuel prices. Though the demonstrations started sporadically, trade and labour unions soon assumed leadership and were invited to closed-door meetings with the government. Before long, the unions struck a deal. They called on protesters to go home, while the government deployed tanks onto the streets.

The consensus among many was the unions sold out the #OccupyNigeria movement. Today’s protesters seem determined to learn from this lesson.

The #ENDSARS movement has started organically and sporadically with no clear leaders or organisers. Among other things, this has made it more difficult for the government to quell them. Some high- profile figures – such as musicians Davido, Falz and Small Doctor – have joined the protests. However, while welcoming their support, people have been adamant that they do not represent them.

On 12 October, Davido was invited to a meeting with the Inspector General of Police. He was accompanied by D’banj, a musician alleged to have previously exercised his influence with the police to kidnap and coerce a young woman that had accused him of rape. Davido was set the task of establishing an independent panel to monitor police activities. The protesters were clear, however, that the country’s highest-ranking police officer asking one private citizen to hold the body responsible is no solution.

Some protesters have even resisted attempts by the anti-police brutality campaigner Segun Awosanya, who was also at the meeting, to speak for the movement. Awosanya, who galvanised the #ENDSARS protests in 2017, claimed that the movement is his to lead and accused others of hijacking it in a now-deleted Twitter thread.

5) A feminist coalition

While the movement has no leaders, a feminist coalition has taken it upon itself to fundraise, organise legal support, and provide medical care and food for the protesters. Awosanya called this group a “cult” that wants to hijack the movement in order to “weaponise it against the state”.

There is no evidence of this. Instead, the coalition – along with others – has disbursed money to protesters across the country, organised lawyers for those arrested, provided ambulances and first aid, and insisted that protests be peaceful. For their troubles, the coalition had its donation link deactivated on 14 October. By whom, it is not yet clear. The group said it is “under attack” and that “our members’ lives are also being threatened”.

6) More protests

The movement shows no signs of losing energy or intensity. More protests are scheduled for today [October 14] and will continue until the government is seen taking concrete action and not just making pronouncements with regard to protesters’ demands.


#EndSARS: What it feels like to be in the shoes of a young Nigerian

The Conversation, October 21, 2020

Oludayo Tade

Researcher in criminology, victimology, electronic frauds and cybercrime, University of Ibadan

Partners: University of Ibadan provides support as an endorsing partner of The Conversation AFRICA.

Following weeks of nationwide protests against police brutality, led by young Nigerians who complain of being targeted by the police, Adejuwon Soyinka asked Oludayo Tade, a sociologist, to help us understand what it feels like being a young Nigerian living in the country today.

Q: Why have the protests been driven by young Nigerians?

A: The immediate trigger of the protest has to do with the brutalisation of young Nigerians by the trigger happy and extortionist Special Anti-Robbery Squad, now disbanded. Members of the unit extorted and abused the privacy of the young people through negative profiling. Most of those killed by the police tactical team are young and have not committed any crime.

Efforts by families and friends of these victims to get justice have mostly hit brick walls. While the ‘uniformed offenders’ walk free, the victims are left to mourn their losses.

Young Nigerians have been at the receiving end of bad governance since the return of democracy in 1999. Their education is poorly funded, with poorly equipped laboratories, uninhabitable hostels and unmotivated lecturers. About 14 million young Nigerians are out of school, partly because of insecurity and education affordability. About two million young Nigerians write the university matriculation examination every year. But only about 500,000 get admitted to university. Over 90% apply to public funded institutions, most of which suffer from infrastructural decay.

In addition, young Nigerians are the worst affected by unemployment. There are 21.7 million unemployed Nigerians with the youth accounting for 13.9 million of this number.

There is increasing hopelessness and dashed hopes. Young Nigerians watch a system where the ruling class takes all.

Q: What does it feel like being a young Nigerian living in Nigeria today?

A: Young Nigerians are called the iPhone or Twitter generation. President Muhammadu Buhari has described them as being lazy cohorts who are looking for free things. Apart from this presidential framing, any successful young person is falsely labelled as involved in internet fraud. This is what the disbanded police unit feasted on, pouncing on anyone on the road carrying laptops, having iPhones or driving posh cars. They do this not to prevent crime but to harass and threaten; to frame them with robbery or threaten them with death. Cases abound of such behaviour.

Thus, it seems to be an offence to dress well, look nice and have items such as a laptop.

More broadly, young Nigerians live largely on the margins of the society.

Q: Why is this particular protest different?

A: It coincides with people reaching boiling point on many issues which the Nigerian state has failed to address. The economy has been on lockdown due to COVID-19. But intimidation and killing by the police hasn’t stopped during the pandemic.

This protest is coordinated online combined with people gathering physically. It is superbly organised.

A number of groups have been part of the demonstrations. There are students who have been at home due to a seven month strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities to force government to fund public universities properly. Then there are unemployed youth who have graduated from the universities but either have never had a job or have lost their job during the pandemic. Lastly, there are the victims of police brutality, their families and relations who have also mobilised.

Q: This protest is largely organised by young Nigerians who have never experienced military rule. Is this material?

A: Democracy returned to Nigeria in 1999 – more than 20 years ago – but things have not improved. This generation is the internet generation. They hear of stories of Nigeria’s glorious past from their parents and in literature but are served with a bitter present. They also know what happens and what citizens of other countries enjoy. They do not need to have encountered military experience to speak up against a system that is not working or meeting their needs and aspirations.

Q: What would you consider as important takeaways from this protest?

A: The first is that the way in which the protest was organised suggests there is a future for the country. The protesters showed empathy and created job opportunities. They showed the importance of taking care of people by providing food and drinks for protesters. They treated the injured and provided support for the vulnerable.

They also crowdsourced for funding and they accounted for the money without needing to set up a committee as their government would do.

And they showed that religion, party politics and ethnicity are divisive tools used by the ruling class to keep people divided while they exploit them.

Secondly, they used their protest to show their love for Nigeria. They show why people need to speak up against the tyranny of the ruling class.

Thirdly, the protest has woken up many from their slumber to act on the need to reform the Nigerian police.

Lastly, a new wave of rights-demanding citizenship is rising in Nigeria. If sustained it could reset the country and make the government responsible, responsive and accountable.


Killers of #EndSARS Protesters Must Be Held To Account

October 21, 2020

Press Statement

Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD)

October 21, 2020

#EndSARS Protesters. Photo credit: Al Jazeera

We, the undersigned coalition of civil society organisations, are deeply shocked by the killing of peaceful protesters across Nigeria yesterday. The attempt to fight for justice over police brutality has again revealed the brutal nature of the Nigerian state. At the last count, not less than 40 Nigerians have lost their lives as a result of violent attempts to crack down or disrupt the ongoing protests against police brutality. There is also documentary evidence, which indicts a combined force of sponsored thugs and members of the Nigerian security forces for the deaths of innocent protesters. Particularly disturbing is the massacre of unarmed and very peaceful protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos yesterday. The sight of the Nigerian flag stained with the blood of the nation’s youth, in a month the country celebrated sixty years of independence, is a gory sight to behold. These killings are totally unacceptable, just as they stand condemned.

It is pertinent to recall that this coalition previously warned the Nigerian authorities about the danger of deploying the military to confront unarmed protesters. We therefore strongly condemn the needless loss of the lives of young Nigerians as a result of the blatant refusal to heed warnings that the government should NOT bring in the military to quell a protest by citizens demanding police reforms and good governance. This coalition further condemns the lack of restraint, and the level of impunity displayed by the Army Officers who obeyed this unlawful order to unleash maximum force on protesters.

It is disheartening that members of the armed forces, who are supposed to be servants and protectors of the people are the very elements firing live ammunition on protesters, resulting in the death and injury of scores of citizens. We reiterate our initial point by stating that the grievances driving the protests are legitimate, and also condemn the activities of hoodlums, who have perpetrated acts to cause mayhem and undermine the essence of the peaceful protests. This coalition stands with other Nigerians in affirming our constitutional right to protest.

We call on all friends of Nigeria to sustain pressure on the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to rein in members of the armed forces carrying out these killings of unarmed protesters. We demand the investigation of perpetrators of the ongoing atrocities targeted at unarmed protesters.

We call on the National Assembly to hold an emergency session to address the killing of protesters and hold a national public hearing to investigate the abuse of power and killing of peaceful protesters by security agencies and the failure to arrest thugs and hoodlums who attacked the #EndSARS protesters and innocent citizens across different states.

This coalition calls on the International Criminal Court to open investigation to ongoing crimes against humanity being committed against the peaceful and unarmed #EndSars protesters in Nigeria. We also demand an open trial of all those involved in previous acts of police brutality, human rights abuse and crackdowns, which have led to the needless deaths of defenceless citizens.

Finally, the events of Tuesday October 20, 2020 is a reminder that our democracy is fragile and we the people must defy the odds and fight for a democracy generations to come will be proud of. We stand with Nigerian youths who defied the odds to make their voices heard. We mourn with Nigerians who have lost loved ones since the #EndSARS movement. We urge the youth to remain peaceful. The struggle has just begun, and the people of this country must brace up to take their destinies into their hands.


1. Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD)

2. Enough is Enough (EIE)

3. Partners for Electoral Reform

4. Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)

5. Centre for Information, Technology and Development (CITAD)

6. YIAGA Africa

7. Global Rights

8. Project Alert

9. Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC)

10. Paradigm Initiative (PIN)

11. Rule of Law and Accountability Centre (RULAAC)

12. HEDA Resource Centre

13. African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL)

14. Community Life Project (CLP)

15. Protest to Power

16. Social Action

17. Right to Know

18. Lawyers Alert

19. International Press Centre (IPC)

20. Private and Public Development Centre

21. South Saharan Social Development Organisation

22. Partners West Africa- Nigeria

23. Centre LSD

24. Connected Development (CODE)

25. Stakeholders Development Network (SDN)

26. BudgIT

27. CWCW Africa

28. Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa (PAACA)

29. Invictus Africa

30. Alliance for Credible Election (ACE)

31. Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA)

32. Resource Centre for Human Rights (Chriced)

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter. For an archive of previous Bulletins, see,

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