In October 2020, thousands of Nigerians took to the streets to call for an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Huge crowds protested against the police agency with a reputation for, extortion, kidnapping and brutality. The #EndSARS mobilization resulted in the government disbanding the organization and judicial commissions of inquiry have since been hearing complaints and awarding compensation so clearly the demonstrations were able to claim some success. can such spontaneous uprisings bring profound, transformational change?
On the Strength and Solidarity podcast, Samson Itodo, director of Yiaga Africa, tells host Akwe Amosu, about the emergent partnership he witnessed during the protests, between the young protesters, and feminist activists, celebrities from the music and film worlds, and NGOs led by older generations who have been fighting for reform in Nigeria for decades. “They were all part of this allies or coordination team who were discussing the issues and helping the movement take shape,” Samson says. But he notes that the strength of the movement came largely from the protesters on the streets – the young Nigerians who’d had enough: “Young people just realized that they were so powerful that if they build that cohesion amongst themselves, regardless of geographical or religious extraction, they can alter the balance of power in two weeks.”
So, the question is, what comes after the protests? Change isn’t an event, it’s a process, he says. Making progress will require collaboration and solidarity between popular movements and civil society. NGOs with a history of policy advocacy and staying power need to make good use of the opportunity provided by the young activists who took the streets in October 2020. “I think this is their moment,” Samson says.
Above all, Samson believes, lasting change in Nigeria can only be achieved if young people participate in the political process by registering to vote, and even join and form political parties. He believes there’s ground for optimism there, but the work is not done. The process has just begun. “They need our solidarity,” Samson said of the young changemakers. “Maybe our liberation will come through their active engagement in the process.”
Hear the full interview with Samson Itodo’s about the #EndSARS protests and the future of political engagement in Nigeria, tune in to the Strength & Solidarity podcast.