“This awakening is not because things are hard; Nigerians are used to hardship. It is because of the EndSARS protest”- Princess Kofo
“What Do We Want? #EndSARS”
The tension of October 3, 2020, was in the air and could be felt on the skin of all who walked the streets in the geopolitical zones. Even Aso Rock, whose inhabitants’ realities are sometimes shrouded in their imagined beliefs, was aware. This tension was a direct result of a viral video showing an injured young man left for dead in front of a hotel in Ughelli, Delta state while operatives presumed to be a part of the Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, of the Nigeria Police Force, escaped with his white Lexus jeep.
For the next 24 hours, the hashtag #EndSARS would trend with people narrating their experience in the hands of the notorious body and would go on to shape the activities of the entire month.
As the youth began to organise peaceful protests across the country, their message was clear: the demand for accountability. It was not enough that the government announced the demobilisation of the body on October 11, as it was the fifth time since 2015 that the government was disbanding.
However, it was the first time in the millennium that Nigerian youths were refusing to settle for the “e go better syndrome”- a syndrome they had gotten used to as a coping mechanism to survive in the country.
These youth largely consisted of people whose academic activities had been crippled by the ASUU strike and took over state capitals and central ports with chants of Soro Soke (a Yoruba word meaning Speak Up) emboldening them to place demands on the government, including the actualisation of their demands.
Taking pride in having no leader, and with no sign of backing down in sight, the protests caught the attention of the International community and social media platforms especially Twitter and celebrities across the world including those with cult followings were pushing the message of EndSARS.
Beyond all that the world was seeing, the older generation finally understood the words: “We did not inherit the silence of our fathers/mothers.”
Then 20-10-2020 happened.
Acknowledging the impact of the protesters, President Muhammadu Buhari addressed Nigerians said, “Your voice has been heard loud and clear and we are responding.”
Reiterating this, Davido said during his interview with Trevor Noah, “They listened.They heard us, they might not have changed nothing but they will be shocked.”
According to the World Bank Population data, Nigerians ranging between the ages of 15-64 were 54 percent in 2020. Those between 18 – 35, INEC’s data in 2019 showed, constituted 51.11 percent of voters making it the highest voting population. Furthermore, statistics from INEC’s data revealed that the highest registered voters by groups are students with 22,320,990 (26.57 percent).
In second place are farmer/fisherman with 13,630,216 (16.23 percent).
Interestingly, since then, there has been a gradual but noticeable shift in the call for voter registration from youths.
In this, Soro Soke has taken a comprehensive meaning in their struggle and has largely guided the responses of the youth to the actions of the government.
In a conversation with Guardian Life, Atonye Oreoritse who is one of those who is voting for the first time, said: “I think people have realised that either way, Nigeria is going to kill you so it’s better you come outside and do what you have to do.”
Indeed, previously politically naive and more interested in other distractions, there is a sudden burst of political learning and understanding. Besides the desire to understand the workings of the party and grassroots politics and structures, the youth have been zealous in their vetting and support for interest-aligned aspirants who despite the personal or existing relationship with another aspirant; are learning the nitty-gritty of value creation. The Permanent Voters Card (PVC) itself is fast becoming the new international passport.
Some individuals and groups who were active during the protest are also rising to the occasion. Award-winning artiste, Falz announced that the PVC will serve as the ticket to his music concert which was held yesterday in Lagos. Mr P of Psquare said he was introducing strict measures to his visitors without PVCs. Eromz travelled to Abuja to set up the Gwagwalada PVC registration Centre “to ensure voter turnout increases by at least 20000 in 2023.” Rinu Oduala’s Twitter Spaces have seen aspirants come on to respond to voters’ questions. In Alaba market, store owners shut down for a day to enable people to go for their PVC registration. Celebrities who would endorse political aspirants are now being placed under scrutiny. Conscious of the fact that voting is done offline, there is an increase in the awareness of PVC registration. Business owners have instructed their workers to get their PVCs. Each person believes himself to be a change agent.
Flagboii, a popular self-funded activist whose photo covers the front page of this publication, told Guardian Life: “I have been gifted with a duty to raise the consciousness of my society and her beliefs above the layman’s reasoning. The PVC is our power to make our choice towards better leadership and accountable governance for us and the next generation. More so, voting is a democratic assurance and comes with the right to be heard.
“Now is the time to sow good seeds and sacrifices to attain a more profound and promising future as we pray for Today.”
With announcements, individual donations and a self-imposed duty to encourage more voters at the grassroots, they appear to say that the 2023 general elections is a fight for their lives.
“If you take a close look at the people campaigning for the third force [a term Nigerians use to refer to the wildcard political parties], a lot of them are young people. For the youths, it is anybody but the cabal because at the end of the day, they’ve been saying ‘leaders of tomorrow’, but they are still the ones coming out as the leaders. So if there was another candidate that is as strong as those in the cabal besides the popular choices in the third force, I am sure we would have also leaned towards them,” Kofo said.
Will power return to the people?
The election is eight months away. Although it is too early to predict the outcome, they are saying “yes, we can” with their PVCs. For them, it is not about winning but showing that the voice they found can be used, just as it influenced the government’s decision to disband SARS.
The words of the winner of the 1993 presidential election, MKO Abiola captures their actions succinctly,
“No one can give you power. It is yours. Take it! From this day, show to the world that anyone who takes the people of Nigeria for fools is deceiving himself and will have the people to answer to.”