The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is struggling to contain the protests of the EndSARS movement that has gripped the country like a wildfire, in a similar way that the previous administration of President Goodluck faced the challenge of tackling the Occupy Nigeria campaign in 2012.
Most campaigns through protest movements in Nigeria have been geared towards entrenching the rule of law, good governance, transparency and accountability, equity and justice. They have generally been mobilisations towards a freer and more livable society.
While in the past more than one week, the #EndSARS protests have been calling for an end to police brutality and oppression through the banning of the Federal-Special Anti-Robbery Squad (F-SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force, the Occupy Nigeria socio-political protest movement of 2012, was in response to fuel subsidy removal, alongside all the corruption endemic to the country’s petroleum industry, by the Federal Government of the day.
Similarly, in 2014, #BringBackOurGirls movement was launched as a pressure group for the release of the kidnapped Chibok School Girls, which subsequently drew a massive global attention. Some of the recognised and respected faces of those earlier movements, who have remained consistent in their advocacies for social causes are Aisha Yesufu, a human rights activist and Omoyele Sowore, a citizen journalist among others.
In other climes, mass protests are characterised by civil disobedience, social resistance, strike actions, demonstrations, and more recently online activism, especially in this age of the social media. For instance, the Arab Spring movement in 2010 was triggered by a Tunisian street vendor who set himself ablaze in protest against the confiscation of his wares, and the harassment and humiliation inflicted on him by government officials.
That act of the self-immolation of the street vendor, known as Mohammed Bouazizi, ignited the series of protests that became catalyst for the widespread revolution that swept across the Arab world. Through a succession of anti-government protests, uprisings, and in some extreme cases, armed rebellion, yet driven by different force fields, the Arab Spring movement consumed the regimes of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, while other regimes, such as that in Syria, were shaken to their foundation.
Just lately, the African continent witnessed the removal from office of President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali after global outrage prompted by protest movements.
The funding of most protest movements is always shrouded in secrecy, just as the logistics arrangements for coup-de tats were in the past. In any case, intelligence services manage to detect, to some extent, where some of the funding for these movements are coming from, if these are channeled through the financial system.
The widespread use of social media platforms, with their relative anonymity, facilitates the effective coordination of large-scale and well-organised fund-raising schemes from multiple online donors, which are raising huge amounts of cash for logistics.
Crowdfunding is the practice of raising money for a project or venture from a large number of people via the Internet. Online fundraising, which has become part of the digital culture, is a form of alternative financing, driven through crowdsourcing, these days. It could be easier to identify the faces of campaigns, such as lawyers, journalists, social media influencers and human rights activists, however it is extremely difficult to identify the major financiers and donors who want to remain anonymous.
While crowdfunding accounts are legitimate and channelled for good causes, some of these are either created for other less than desirable purposes, which could be hijacked for political interests. Meanwhile, the EndSARS protest movement has raised over N37 million through crowdfunding, according to one of the leading groups in the protest, the Feminist Coalition. The figure shows an addition of N31 million in just four days, indicating a leap of about 487.8 per cent from the previous figure on October 10, which stood at N6,354,561.27.
While Flutterwave is one of the major crowdfunding platforms deployed in mobilising financial resources for the campaign, its Chairman and former Deputy Governor of CBN, Mr. Tunde Lemo is reported to have raised an alarm that “bad guys were moving money through them.” Hence, he said that he had directed the suspension of the fintech firm’s payment platform to prevent the illicit flow of funds through their channel to questionable causes.
So far, the Federal Government, and by implication the Nigeria Police, has given in to the demand of the protesters by disbanding the Federal-SARS or F-SARS and ordered all operatives of the now defunct unit to undergo psychological and medical examinations.
The police spokesperson, DCP Frank Mba, who has consistently engaged social media influencers and critical stakeholders on the development, announced the setting up of the Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT), which will replace the disbanded F-SARS.
Frank added that former operatives of the defunct F-SARS would not be recruited into SWAT, as the new outfit will strictly be intelligence-driven and not embark on routine patrols.
Even with this development, many protesters have expressed skepticism at what they consider as the duplicity of the government in seeking to quell their campaign, which they have continued in a way now targeted at the newer hashtag, #EndSWAT and #EndInsecurityNow, in replacement of the earlier #EndSARS.
One of the founders of EndSARS agitation, Segun Awosanya, popularly known as Segalink, has distanced himself from any further protest with regard to ending F-SARS, after alleging that politicians and commercial criminals have hijacked the protest for their selfish ends.
In a series of recent tweets, Segalink has warned that the youths of the country would be endangering their lives if they insist on continuing with the protests after the government has agreed to all their demands.
It may therefore not be a coincidence that the strongly-worded but short statement by the Nigerian Military, warning to deal decisively with subversive elements and troublemakers, has also been issued. The Army spokesperson, Colonel Sagir Musa, who issued the statement, added that the Nigerian Army “remains highly committed to defend(ing) the country and her democracy at all cost.”
Similarly, Major General John Enenche, the Coordinator Defence Media Operations also issued another strong warning on behalf all the security services. He said: “The Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies have observed with dismay some violence-related protests across the country; particularly the increasing number of attacks on peaceful protesters by thugs and miscreants. This unfolding event against peace-loving Nigerians will not be condoned. Hence, thugs and miscreants are hereby warned to desist from engaging in violent activities against peaceful Nigerians henceforth, or face appropriate measures.”
Whatever may be the case, it is appropriate to reiterate here and now that citizens have the legitimate right to express their political, social and economic concerns in their country through demonstrations or protests. To this extent, the security agencies should know that violent crackdowns against protesters would always lead to untoward consequences, which would not augur well for the image of the federal government.
In crisis management, dialogue, constructive engagements, negotiations, and compromises are acceptable and sustainable approaches to peacebuilding. Let’s stay on this lane, please.
Yushau A. Shuaib is the author of ‘An Encounter with the Spymaster” and “Crisis Communication Strategies’.