#EndSARS: Nigeria’s Mass Movement

The mass protests in Nigeria have brought out tens of thousands of people in several cities across all the geo-political regions of the country, defying the guns, risking their freedom and life, and declaring they are ready to die for freedom. Femi Aborisade and Andy Wynne look at the background to the protests and celebrate a movement that challenges Nigeria’s ruling class.

#EndSARS Protestors in Nigeria Need Our Solidarity

By Andy Wynne

Over the last few weeks a mass movement has broken out in Nigeria against the widespread harassment, violence and intimidation faced by, especially the youth, for years from the security forces, especially the police.  With the background of the successes of the Black Lives Matter movement, predominantly in the US, the youth in Nigeria have organised mass protests in all the major cities across the country.

What started as the demand to #EndSARS, to dismantle the notorious police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), has widened into opposition to all forms of intimidation by the security forces and even calls for President Buhari to resign. These protests have gained global attention with the killing of at least a dozen unarmed protesters in the largest city, Lagos on Tuesday, 20 October, by a joint operation of the police and the army.  Fifty or more protestors have been killed by the security forces and these killings continue.

Despite this massacre, the protests have continued. Similarly, the announcement of the dismantling of SARS on 11October (or its renaming as SWAT) only gave more confidence to the protesters and the demonstrations continued to grow.

Nigeria is an oil rich country, but the majority of the population are extremely poor.  Earlier this year the National Bureau of Statistics published their survey that showed that 40% of households existed on a monthly income of less than £25. The minimum wage was increased last year to £60 a month, but this has yet to be implemented in many states.  Nigeria is one of the most unequal countries in the world with the richest person being richer than anyone else in Africa or Britain.  As a result, corruption is rampant, including regular payment of bribes at police roadblocks.

Earlier this year price increases were announced for fuel and electricity, despite the huge economic impact of lockdowns associated with Covid-19. The main trade union centres, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) announced a general strike from 28 September, but this was called off at the last minute after talks with the government and an agreement with some minor sweeteners for the trade union leaders.  ASUU, the university lecturer’s union, have been on strike for the last six months with all the public universities closed. The health workers organised a two-week national ‘warning’ strike earlier in September with many more local strikes.

In this context, the Alliance on Surviving Covid-19 and Beyond (ASCAB) has launched an appeal for trade union support for the protests.  ASCAB was established in April to argue for the trade unions to pressurise the government of Nigeria to provide support to enable the poor majority to survive Covid-19.  ASCAB would also like international support from organisations who are prepared to endorse this statement:

We the under-listed organisations and representatives of the organised working people give our unequivocal support to the #EndSARS protestors and mass protest movement and call on our members to join the continuing protests. We call for a conscious intervention of the working people and their organisations, and in a manner that can open the way to a structured and robust conversation within the movement and among the oppressed and resisting peoples on the way forward.  We are horrified by the Lekki Toll Gate Massacre and other killings by the security forces, as well as by organised criminal groups taking advantage of the situation, and state sponsored thugs. We call for the popular peaceful protests to continue until the articulated demands of the broad movement have been addressed, state sponsored violence stops, and the government acts against those that are responsible.

The Government and the ruling elite are now very weak and divided. It does not know what to do. So now is the time to push forward our trade union demands.  The health workers need to re-start their strikes. The teachers should organise for action around the promises made to them by Buhari. The NLC and TUC should be planning action over the fuel and electricity price increases and over full implementation of the minimum wage in all states, as well as over the brutal clamp down on the popular protests by government.

Please show your solidarity by sharing the above statement widely. Send your endorsements and solidarity to: ascab2020@gmail.com

Andy Wynne is a Senior Lecturer in Public Financial Management at the University of Leicester and a consultant who works extensively in Nigeria.

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Nigeria’s movement against brutality and poverty

By Femi Aborisade

The #endsars protest represents an unprecedented point in the history of popular struggles in Nigeria. I am happy to be alive to witness this period. I had thought Nigeria was incapable of producing such an inspiring, massive resistance. We have never seen anything like this before in the history of Nigeria. No other struggle had brought out tens of thousands of people in several cities across all the geo-political regions of the country, defying the guns, risking their freedom and life, declaring they are ready to die for freedom and for future generations. Young people had been written off as preoccupied with the primitive accumulation of wealth. Yet with the outbreak of the #endsars movement divisions along ethnicity and religion have largely disappeared. The protests have taken a national character, involving the youths, employed and the large army of the unemployed, in virtually all states of the federation. The movement has fulfilled the long held understanding that the outbreak of social movements and revolts cannot be mathematically calculated. If anyone had predicted that Nigeria would move at such a scale ten years ago, such a person would have been ignored as indulging in illusory thinking.

What started as a protest against police brutality evolved quickly into protests to end all forms of impunity and deprivation. Placards held by the protesters included #end unemployment, #end commercialization of education, #end hunger, #end lack of free medical care, #end bad roads, #end hunger, #end fuel price increase, #end increase in electricity tariff, and so on. Above all, the movement began to acquire a political character as the battle cry of the protesters included #Buhari (the head of the central government) must go!

In the past, anti-military dictatorship struggles had involved mass protests, but in terms of the number of people mobilized on the streets, those struggles now pale into insignificance. The struggles against military dictatorship tested the will and conviction of relatively few protesters. Aided by the influence of social media, the spread and numbers of protesters involved in the #endsars movement have announced a new and glorious phase in mass struggles in Nigeria.

The nature of the struggle is perhaps responsible for the determination of both the federal and state governments to crush the movement. The initial measures employed by the state was to infiltrate the protesters through agent provocateurs who joined the protesters in demonstrations only to attack those on the street with dangerous weapons, burning the vehicles being used for the campaigns and inflicting fatal injuries on protesters. Vehicles belonging to security agencies were sighted in video clips either dropping off heavily armed thugs or picking them up after protesters had been attacked.

The peak of the vicious attacks on the protesters was the Lekki Massacre of 20 October when soldiers, under the cover of darkness, opened fire on the peaceful protesters. Protesters had been gathering at Lekki Toll gate on a daily basis without a break since 8 October 2020. The number of persons killed and injured is still undetermined, but media reports have it that not less than twelve peaceful protesters killed in cold blood.

What has now become known as the ‘Lekki Massacre’ enraged the public. Virtually anything that represents the authority of government has been targeted by angry protesters. Shops, banks, houses and buildings representing the business face of leaders of the ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the head of the Lagos State Government, were equally attacked and set on fire. Prisoners were set free in many prisons across the country. Party headquarters of the ruling party were attacked. Traditional rulers known to be close to the Lagos State Government were not spared by the protesters.

In a palace of a traditional ruler of Lagos, demonstrators raided the palace and left with bags of rice, which were allegedly meant for distribution to ordinary people as part of the Covid-19 palliatives (a term used in Nigeria to describe the ‘relief’ and ‘support’ provided by the state). The poverty across Nigeria also saw soldiers who had been sent to restore order allegedly also helping themselves to bags of rice from the palace of the traditional ruler. Poverty thus united the soldiers and the unemployed and poor. However, prior to the Lekki Massacre, the protestors rejected food and water sent to them by a notorious political figure in Lagos who is perceived to be an agent of the state government.

The rage of the people following the Lekki Massacre was such that the protesters in some states of the federation defied the curfew declared by state governments. The protests continued unabated.

The Lekki Massacre, as well as the killings of protesters in other states, poses the question whether ordinary people who were protesting are slaves without rights or citizens who have the right to protest. The anger of poor people has been fuelled by the refusal of President Mohammadu Buhari to address the nation on the killings. When he made a Presidential Speech on 22 October, he expressed no regret for the Lekki Massacre and the killings in other states. The Presidential Speech is widely perceived as insensitive. It has added to the fury among the masses. Despite social media and video footage on the attack in Lekki, the official position of government is that there were no killings.

The federal government has explanations to make. Under Section 217 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the military has no role to play in the civil disobedience that was being carried out by peaceful protesters. The only role of the military is to defend the territorial integrity of Nigeria against external aggressors. Peaceful protesters are not external aggressors. The sacredness of life guaranteed under section 33 of the constitution has also been violated. Currently, it is estimated that about 60 people were killed during almost three weeks of peaceful protests whilst many more have suffered fatal injuries. In one city alone in Oyo State, in Ogbomoso, South Western Nigeria, four peaceful protesters were killed by security agents on 11 October – it is important to name them, Jimoh Isiaq, 20 years old; Ganiyu Moshood, 22 years old; Taiwo Adeoye, 25 years old and Pelumi Olatunji, 15 years old.

Despite the largescale killings, the #endsars movement has not been defeated. It may have suffered a setback. It may resurrect in the same name or under other names or demands. Poverty is pervasive in the country and the masses will be forced to fight, again and again. The unity of the oppressed, in the North and South of Nigeria, lies in the development of such movements. We know that failure of these movements may herald social conflagration along ethnic and religious lines which would represent untold hardship, bloodshed and ultimately a breakup of the country. The challenge is to prevent such a future by building mass movements to unite the masses in collective struggles from below to change society in their own interest.

Femi Aborisade is a socialist, writer and lawyer based in Lagos. He was interviewed on roape.net and the interview can be accessed here. Femi is an editor of ROAPE.

Featured Photograph: Protesters at the #endSARS protest in Lagos, Nigeria (13 October 2020).

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