Romanus Okoye

A coalition of civil rights groups known as New Nigeria Network, led by former chairman, Nigeria Bar Association, Ikeja, Adesina Ogunlana has explained that EndSARS is a metaphor about everything wrong in Nigerian and not just a unit of the Nigerian police. They insist that a new Nigeria is possible and the protest as an unfinished business cannot be abandoned untill its purpose is fulfilled.

The groups and their leaders comprise, Adesina Ogunlana, chairman, Radical Agenda Movement in the Nigerian Bar Association (RAMINBA); Gbenga Komolafe, General Secretary, Federation of Informal Workers’ Organisations of Nigeria and chairman, Coalition for Revolution (CORE); Sanyaolu Juwon, Take It Back Movement; Ayo Ademuluyi, Movement for A Socialist Alternative (MSA) and Kunle Wiseman Ajayi Socialist Workers and Youth League (SWL).

While addressing journalists at a conference held in Lagos a few days ago, the group noted that age factor, peculiar leadership, technology, durability, class character were some of the key features of the protest that led to its acclaimed success.

Related: #EndSARS: NUJ calls for compensation for media houses, journalists attacked

The group stated that their seven new demands to include immediate fulfilment of 5-for-5 earlier demands, replacement of Inspector General of Police and all the service chiefs, reversal of power and fuel price hikes, stopping jumbo salaries for political office holders and placing them on minimum wage, the increment of education and health sectors budgets and de-privatisation of power and oil sectors, and nationalisation to be restored.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Adesina said that the aim of the protest was clearly defined and well-focused, even when there appeared to be no visible leadership which was deliberate until the authorities after failing to use state-sponsored thugs to make the protest appear violent, resorted to shooting live bullets at unarmed peaceful protesters, singing the national anthem and waving Nigerian flag.

The group believes that the protest on the surface was simply a complaint against a unit in the Nigerian Police Force called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), ” infamous for its widespread extortion, criminality, brutality and criminal profiling of young Nigerians as internet fraudsters or associates of internet fraudsters by reason of their dressing, hairdo, body markings and possession/ownership of smartphones and automobiles.

“But beyond this, however, the protest is about general police brutality and unprofessionalism, elitist socio-political mismanagement and governance of the country. Hence, the refusal of the protesters to either suspend or stop the protest after the acceptance of the so-called 5-for-5 demands of the protests which focus only on the reformation of the police and restitution to the victims of SARS brutality.”

They lamented that the #EndSARS protest a.k.a ‘Soro Soke’ existed for about 17 days, peacefully, and was brutally, violently and murderously put down by the military forces of the country in the night of Tuesday, October 20, 2020, at the acknowledged headquarters and the most famous point of the #EndSARS protest, Lekki Tollgate, was attacked by the military via gun shooting, witnessed by hundreds of eyewitnesses and recorded.

“The shooting was so intense that it was instantly labelled a massacre by many observers and commentators. This particular incident sparked off nationwide and international outrage. The outrage in Nigeria inspired widespread attack on certain government institutions particularly prisons, police stations and the court with Lagos being the most hard hit.

“The vandalization and attacks also extended to private businesses and concerns of notable and even ordinary Nigerians across the country. Some of the notable people are political figures. Effectively the protest ended on the 20th of October, 2020 and snowballed into the mayhem of riots as from the 21st of October with hoodlums, miscreants having a field day in orgies of vandalization.

“However, a curious dimension became introduced into the huge social disturbances across the country in the nature of mass breaking into storages of COVID-19 palliatives of foods and goods, like rice, garri, sugar, Indomie noodles, salt etc. in diverse places like Lagos, Ekiti, Osun, Edo, Abuja, Yobe, Plateau, Anambra etc.”

The group pointed that in all, what started as a protest eventually graduated into a riot which led on to revelation and indictment of the ruling class as most Nigerians could not phantom the rationale for the nationwide hoarding of humongous amounts of foodstuffs for the very public they were made for.”

Speaking on the way forward, the group noted that in the wake of the severe massive rampage that became the fall out of the #EndSARS protest, opinions had become divided about the protest itself and execution. “There is the school of thought blaming the #EndSARS protesters for the huge social trauma the nation is experiencing now on account of their alleged intransigents of not stopping the protest in due time even when ‘common sense’ dictated that.

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“According to this school of thought, if the #EndSARS protesters had called off the protest in face of government “speedy and positive” acceptance of their “5 for 5” demands there won’t have been an opportunity for any escalation or graduation of the protest to the level of mass riot. Many in this school of thought justified and approved of the military action taken in Lekki, on the ground that no protest involving the barricade of roads and stoppage of free movement of other citizens should be allowed by any reasonable authority to go on indefinitely.

“They, therefore, conclude that it is in the best interest of the nation that the #EndSARS struggle must end with no continuation in any other form or by way of other protests to avoid further breakdown of law and order. They further contend that doing otherwise will open a great opportunity for both internal and external enemies of Nigeria interested in the destabilization of the country for sinister reasons.

“On the other hand, there is the school of thought canvassing for the continuation of the #EndSARS protest on the ground that the protest itself was never violent nor calculated to hurt Nigeria but was meant to achieve a transformed society: a New Nigeria. It is the contention of this school of thought that it is absolutely wrong or misconceived for anyone to blame the graduation of the #EndSARS protest into a riot scale on the protesters. They note that the cause of the graduation rests squarely on the government of Nigeria. They note that the said government, before deploying the army, had engaged its informal sector of force to wit: government-sponsored thugs and hoodlums to effect the forcible stoppage of the protest but without success. The government later invited its official force, the army, to achieve what its sponsored hooligans could not achieve.

“The school specifically points to the trigger of the massive riots and its consequences on the military action taken against the protesters at Lekki toll gate on the 20th of October 2020. It notes that wherein any dispute involving the government and the government is perceived to have perpetrated an outrage especially by the use of inappropriate force, such outrages trigger off huge social disturbances. The more brutal the outrage appears, the more massive the social disturbances, in terms of scale and effect. The group contends that there is no justification at all for the introduction of the military into the conflict and worse the way the military was put to use against a huge mass of defenceless, flag-waving, unarmed young innocent citizens.

“The New Nigeria Network, on our part, considers the position of the second school of thought valid, acceptable and concludes that the #EndSARS protest a.k.a Soro Soke is a work in progress and cannot end until it has fulfilled its mission. This position is reinforced by the revelation consequences of the #EndSARS protest as highlighted before. The protest is evolutionary and revolutionary at the same time. It is evolutionary in the sense that it is not a one-point static protest but a protest against the multi-layer level of challenges in the Nigerian state and it is essentially a demand for the full citizenship status of all Nigerians and the curbing of executive lawlessness, governmental lopsided profligacy and entrenched impunity.

It is all about “misgovernance of system and a system of misgovernance”. Before we round off, it should be noted that it was not only at Lekki that the military operated in Lagos on the night of Tuesday, 20th October 2020, but also at the Alausa frontier or barricade of the Endsars protest. The military on two separate occasions on the same day had made a reconnaissance to the Alausa barricade, first at about 3:00 PM involving about 15 soldiers. Second, at about 7:30 PM involving about 45 soldiers and seven pick up vans. Later at about 9:00 PM, under the cover of darkness, a combination of the police and the military stormed the protesters with teargas and guns, so many escaped with their lives but wounded while the police and military were shooting and chasing them about. Reports of two possible deaths as a result of these two attacks are still under investigation.

Speaking on the peculiarities of the protest, Adesina said it was a generational protest. “It was initiated by the youths, powered by the youths and sustained by the youths – young Nigerians generally in the age bracket of 19 – 35 years, the median age roughly appearing to be 24 – 26 years.

“Even though the protests attracted and involved hundreds of thousands of protesters, there was no visible singular or collegiate leadership structure, to act as the voice or a symbol of the protest.
The protest was communicated and broadcast, half of its life by private means of communication in the principle of “each man a journalist”. Social media and not the traditional press was pressed heavily into service as the traditional media curiously as if acting unconcerned shunned the coverage of the protest in the earliest days.”

He said it was a protest that lasted for about 17 days and could still have been on, until forcibly broken up by the military machinery of the state, via the military shooting of protesters at Lekki Toll Gate on October, 20. According to him, efforts had been made earlier by sponsored thugs to break up the protest in Abuja and Lagos on the October 14, 15 and 16; explaining that normally protests in Nigeria endure for 3 – 4 days in a stretch before ending or suspended; the exception was the nine days protest against fuel price hike in 2012.

“The #EndSARS was an extremely popular protest with the youths, inspired, organised and executed by them. These youths appeared to be educated, westernised and with no known history of political learning either to the left, right or even centre. It was a protest neither called by either established political order whether ruling or oppositional. It was also not called by civil society activists, or by the Labour Unions.”

Adesina explained that in the course of prosecuting the protest a phrase emerged to be commonly embraced by the protesters as a summation of the essence of their protest.

“That phrase is “Soro Soke were ” or in short “ Soro Soke ”. Historically, some other protests in the past had developed names or nomenclature to mark the essence of such protest. For example, “the Ali must go” protest of 1978, “operation wet e” of 1965, June 12 of 1993 etc.

He explained further that “ ‘Soro Soke’ ” is a Yoruba phraseology literally meaning ‘speak out or speak up’ but in deeper semantics, it means to make your voice/impact apparent and obvious. Don’t sit on the fence shilly-shally. Be bold. Be courageous. No masking or disguising of feelings or positions. This terminology came up when the governor of Lagos state came to address the protesters at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, whose voice was not heard, then came the impatient voice of “Soro Soke Were”.

Related: Dismantle Lekki Tollgate, erect monument in memory of protesters –George