On 20 October, footage was released online of uniformed men opening fire on a crowd of demonstrators in Lekki Suburb. There were also reports that soldiers were witnessed barricading the protest site moments before live rounds were fired. It is still uncertain how many were left dead.
Protests in Nigeria began on 7 October, with young Nigerian’s protesting the disbanding of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a notorious police unit that developed a reputation for engaging in suspected illegal activities including torture and extrajudicial killings. Initially created in 1982, the heavily armed unit was meant to fight car-jackings, armed robbery and corruption. The protests successfully bridged the nations large and often tense ethnic and religious divides. After several days of large-scale peaceful protests in Nigeria, and across the diaspora, and global celebrities such as Kanye West commenting, President Buhari announced on 11 October the dissolution of SARS.
Despite this protests continued, as they had evolved into wider calls from the Nigerian youth for large scale national reform. As protests continued to intensify, spread across the country, and demand large scale reforms in the country, the Nigerian Army stated it was ready to maintain law and order and deal decisively with any situation. Five days after this statement, on October 20, uniformed men fired on demonstrators
After the incident on 20 October dissipated and over the following hours, there were reports of widespread looting and vandalism, targeting police stations, and government properties, and the governor of Lagos put Lagos state under a 24-hour curfew. By the evening of 22 October, ten of the thirty-six Nigerian states were under a 24-hour curfew. Also that evening, the President broadcast a speech where he called for protestors to work with the government but didn’t acknowledge the shootings, leading to further condemnation of the government.
SOLACE GLOBAL COMMENT
Despite the shooting, and the curfews, on the surface, the 5 initial aims of the EndSARS movement have been met. The Feminist Coalition, one of the main drivers of the EndSARS activism, has called for its supporters to abide by all curfews and to stay at home, this call may quell protests and lead to short term calm.
Despite this as the protests have broadened into wider calls for reform, and have politized the nations large youth population, it is likely that further protests will occur. The fact that the EndSARS protests managed to transcend the countries ethnic and religious divides shows the strength of feeling Nigerian’s had against SARS and ultimately, against the inability of the Nigerian state to provide basic services.
The EndSARS movement has become a political awakening in Nigeria, where most people are between 18 and 24, and didn’t vote in the last presidential election. The EndSARS movement is emblematic of the frustration the youth feel towards the wider instability of the Nigerian state.
In the long term, if groups involved in these recent protests can sustain momentum, it could lead to significant political change in the country when it next heads for elections. Nigeria is a bell-weather state for the wider West-Africa region where other counties face similar problems with unstable states and large youthful populations. It is likely that any successful youth-lead protests in Nigeria, such as EndSARS, could be emulated in other West African nations, especially as COVID-19 begins to diminish the ability of African states to provide stable services and opportunities to their youthful populations.
SOLACE GLOBAL ADVICE
▪ Be aware that demonstrations are currently widespread and may lead to a significant deterioration in the security environment.
▪ Large gatherings can escalate into violence with little or no warning. As such, avoid all gatherings or immediately vacate the area if caught in unrest.
▪ It is likely security forces will continue to use aggressive measures against demonstrators, which has an incidental risk to bystanders.
▪ Additionally, ensure contingency measures are in place in case of a sustained period of instability occurs or if violence escalates. This includes evacuation plans.
▪ Allow for additional time when conducting journeys, protest action and the increased police presence may result in closed or blocked roads.
▪ If travelling to or currently in Nigeria, ensure that you monitor for the latest news for the progress of protests as well as monitoring any political developments.
▪ Be aware of the increased security presence, notably in the capital Abuja and throughout Lagos. Adhere to any and all instructions issued by the security forces; opposition may result in a forceful response.
▪ Travellers are also advised to use travel-tracking technology with an intelligence feed. This should enable a traveller to be alerted of any security updates within their vicinity and to update others of their movements in case of an emergency.
▪ Be prepared for periods of limited access to internet and telecommunication services as access has been, and is likely to continue to be, blocked.