On the 8th of October 2020, we moved to the street protesting against the failure of the federal government to reform the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad unit (SARS) as millennials it offered an opportunity to take hold of our future in Nigeria. But, what began as a peaceful protest in Lagos and Abuja has since spread to more than 20 states in Nigeria. We have led a social movement that have united us beyond any divisive line.
Sadly, the violence that has occurred this past few days as tried to dampen the enthusiasm of an awaken generation. Moments like this are not unprecedented in history. The great Nelson Mandela once said talking about social-transformation “ as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others..”
Below are my observations from this past days and why we must not let up now.
We have seen it done before, is it in Egypt, Bahrain, the USA. Regimes have always resorted to violence when confronting peaceful protests and we must not be deterred. This tactics are orchestrated to delegitimize what has otherwise been a peaceful demonstration against police brutality and wanton impunity. Clearly, high risk actions like this –protests) usually have its risks especially if it motivates mass participation like the numbers we have seen across Nigeria and beyond.
Now this brings me to the question, why is this popular protest seen as a threat? and why is there a plot to use unscrupulous elements to cause mayhem and spread insecurity in the country? The only way to answer this question is to understand the power of movements. By its nature movements are powerful because they change the minds of people, including those who may not be participating in them. They have the power to question “legitimacy” which is a powerful instrument of government. John Locke an English philosopher described it as the explicit and implicit “consent of the governed” but famous American political scientist Robert A. Dahl went further to explain that so long as the water is at a given level, political stability is maintained, if it falls below the required level, “political legitimacy” is endangered.
This provokes more question, who tends to benefit from disrupting or discrediting a mass protest that has been claimed severally by multiple sources in the mainstream media and government representatives to be peaceful. The theories are not far-fetched-: state agents or agents of the opposition. I’ll not be labelling claims without evidence. But one must admit that the action of the government especially since this faceless hoodlums disrupted the protests have been questionable.
Theory 1: Thugs break into a federal correctional centre in Edo state without any vivid restraint by armed police or prison guards stationed there. They also torch police stations without any apparent resistance by state security operatives.
Theory 2: Thugs freely attacked protesters in Abuja and Lagos without any resistance by armed police officers in two of the major cities in Nigeria. Come on!
Theory 3: Thugs are seen freighted in tinted government SUVs, and government public buses in broad daylight…
In truth the likelihood that this repressive tactics will put an end to this protest is so infinitesimal, because for one the demands have not been met and secondly the use of brute force may quiet dissent short term but long-term it makes protests more sustainable and it increases active participation. There are replete of instances in Hong Kong, India, even the USA etc.
This bring me back to the term “legitimacy” the government of Muhammadu Buhari is quickly losing it. Clamping down against peaceful protesters like what happened in Lekki toll gate, is an affront on the ideals of a true democracy. People can be coerce to comply but it is harder to coerce enthusiasm, competence or creativity out of a discouraged beaten down people. Losing legitimacy will undermine the president and it will lead to his downfall.
The mainstream media like any other media is a powerful affecter of attitude, mainstream media especially television provides huge amount of information, all of which affect our attitude about the issues they discuss. The mainstream media response to the #ENDSARS protest have at times been bland. Let me explain this, In early 2000 two academicians James Hertog and Douglas Mccleod analysed the way news outlet at the time talked about protests and they discovered that the coverage of protests ”generally disparaged protesters and hinders their role as vital actors on the political stage” They also described how the coverage achieved that moral distancing: The stories, the scholars argument emphasized the dramas and the disruptions of protests rather than the ideas the protesters were fighting for. They played the protests for titillation. Hertog and Mcleod termed this phenomenon the “protest paradigm”.
Fact be told the mainstream media have spent more time covering traffic gridlocks, hoodlums’ disruptions, government spokespersons stance on protests than in protesters stories, or government asymmetrical responses to the demands. Vanguard front page caption on the 20th October, 2020 -(END SARS, PRO-SARS protesters clash in Abuja) we have also seen captions like “ENDSARS PROTEST TURN VIOLENCE” circulated in channels TV, TVC and other local and international media outlets, this creates a paradigm in the stories beamed to the world that downplays the agents of violence — (sponsored hoodlums) — through uses of the passive voice; you can see it in op-eds that profess more concern about the traffic gridlock, economic consequence than the lack of response by the president or loss of lives in the protest grounds.
Because general public opinions about protests and the social movements behind them are formed in large part by what people see or read this makes the media very pivotal. Journalists in the traditional media have a lot of power when it comes to driving the narratives of a demonstration. They can emphasize the disruption protests cause or echo the dog whistles of politicians who claim that the protests have been hijacked by “hoodlums”. But they can also remind the public that at the heart of the protests is the unjust killing of another innocuous youth. This will then take the emphasis away from the destruction of the protests towards the issues of impunity and the effects of police brutality in its many forms. The role journalists play in this protest can be indispensable to increasing the urgency of the movement and putting more pressure on the government to meet this demands. But can we rely on the mainstream media?
RECALIBRATE AND RE-STRATEGIZE
It was Saul D. Alinsky in his book “The Rule of Radicals” that wrote -“action comes from keeping the heat on”. He noted “No politician can sit on a hot issue if you make it hot enough”. This protests have continued to gain local and international momentum even without a so-called traditional leader or organizer. However, there remains a need for important influencers/organisers in this protest to promptly share plan of actions to ensure that the movement remains focused, with a direction.
We must keep on engaging the issues that brought us out in the first place, the highhandedness and wanton abuse of police officers on innocent citizens. We must not let outlandish comments and sensational events distract us from our firm goal for justice. Hence, online promotions with ridiculous hashtags far from the aim of this protest should be collapsed into the shared mission of ending police brutality.
Again, protests are more successful when they prioritize effectiveness over emotions. Let emotion spur us on, but let’s use our heads to remain focused in pushing for the vivid demands presented to the government. According to political scientist Erica Chenoweth who made an analysis of attempts to overthrow governments from 1900 to 2006. she found that “nonviolent campaigns worldwide were twice as likely to succeed outright as violent insurgency” (she explains this in her Ted talk)
The strategy of the protest shouldn’t remain reactive to the attitude of the government but proactive to the ongoing plots to discredit or control the movement. Here we must continue to leverage on the new media and engage mainstream journalists in other to continue to capture both online and offline audiences. Although I stated earlier how conventional media tend to bland the real issues inadvertently or advertently there remains a need to get the message across and question mainstream media and journalist on air when real issues are deflected or sensationally reported.
One way to shift the needle could also be, the use of class action tactics to legally pressure the government on the horror incident that took place at Lekki Toll Gate, Alausa (Lagos) and all other parts in the country the government should be held accountable and sued for damages inflicted on victims of this gruesome tragedy. Also, as suggested by some independent influencers, moving forward all protests, sits in, and demonstrations must be done in designated areas to ensure that they cannot be vulnerable to this abominable miscreants.
THE AUDACITY TO HOPE
It was in President Obama book I first grasped the phrase: “the audacity of hope” he meant the boldness and courage to belief again, he meant the faith to trust our instincts and the urge to envision a new destiny for our nation. Saul Alinsky in his famous book ‘Rules of Radicals’ noted “there can be no darker or more devastating tragedy than the death of man’s faith in himself and in his power to direct his future” as young people we must keep the faith and never forget what happened on the 20th of October 2020, we will outlast this oppositions for a better Nigeria.
For those asking whether protest works? Yes it does, although not usually in the way or timeframe that we think. At times movements like this seem to change nothing or little but indeed protest are pivots for positive long term effects on both the protesters themselves and the rest of the society. It happened with the Civil Right movements in the USA, it happened in apartheid South Africa, and it will happen in Nigeria. “Our mumu don do, we must now soro soke” (to mean — we are no longer passive we will now stand up and speak)