Following the government’s suppressive actions, the intense and energetic #EndSARS campaign against police brutality in Nigeria has gradually fizzled out into passive social media complaints lacking any real momentum.
Recall that the #EndSARS protests restarted in early October after certain video clips of violence perpetrated by the now-disbanded rogue police unit circulated across social media. Highly driven by Twitter engagements and custom trends, the campaign garnered much impetus and soon became the most discussed topic worldwide.
For context, the #EndSARS hashtag amassed almost 30 million tweets within two days, surpassing America’s #BlackLivesMatter daily average of 3.7 million. The campaign captured the attention of the international community and was even supported by Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey and global hacker group, Anonymous.
The peaceful protests went beyond social media to the streets where Nigerian youths trooped out in their numbers to voice out against police intimidation and extortion across several states of the country.
However, sponsored thugs hijacked the protests and the government labelled the #EndSARS movement an act of rebellion instigated to promote anarchy. The protests reached a breaking point after the government deployed armed soldiers to Lagos state where the infamous #LekkiMassacre took place.
FG’s #EndSARS Suppression Tactics
In the aftermath of that gloomy incident, the government has tried to prevent the possible resurgence of #EndSARS protests by reportedly creating a “no-fly list”, ordering the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to freeze leading protesters’ bank accounts and seeking to censor social media.
Despite the best efforts of Nigerians to keep up the anti-police brutality protests, authorities have steadily countered every likely avenue for another wave of the #EndSARS movement to get going.
One of the promoters of the campaign who offered free legal aid to unlawfully detained protesters, Tech Attorney Modupe Odele explained how her passport was seized and she was detained by immigration officers at the Murtala Muhammed International airport on her way to Maldives.
About five other #EndSARS supporters were reportedly prevented from travelling. However, the Ministry of Interior came out to deny the existence of a no-fly list and tagged it “fake news”. But the immigration’s actions seem like an attempt to restrict the online influence of #EndSARS promoters by keeping them within the country.
Recently, the CBN obtained a court injunction to freeze the accounts of up to twenty (20) campaigners including Rinu Oduala, who is on a SARS judicial panel in Lagos state. The freeze will reportedly last for 6 months pending the conclusion of an “investigation” by the Central bank.
Also, the government has been pushing the idea of introducing a social media bill, with Information Minister Lai Mohammed suggesting that Nigeria should restrict social media usage in a similar way to China to supposedly stop the spread of fake news.
Expectedly, the clampdown efforts by the government have irked several Nigerians home and abroad. Many have lambasted the government for trying to silence the people in their quest for national reform on the flawed conduct of police officers in the country.
Going forward, the government’s suppression tactics could also have a significant impact on the way protests are organised and implemented in Nigeria.
Anonymous Accounts May Become the Norm
Owing to security issues, many people may resort to running anonymous accounts during protests instead of using their real names on social media platforms where they are vocally critical of the government.
A typical social media account reveals the username of the handler and shows the location on posts. Users’ email and phone numbers are usually linked to their accounts.
During social media protests, there are vociferous government critics online or simply put, purveyors of information deemed propaganda/hate speech by the government.
It becomes really easy for government authorities to trace the location of these people through phone GPS tracking, location on posts or other linked information. Generally, what follows is the unlawful arrest and detention of people or worse still, extrajudicial killings.
A 20-year old journalist intern, Pelumi Onifade was allegedly abducted and murdered after recording a viral video clip which showed a policeman shooting up in the air to disperse #EndSARS protesters.
An anonymous account makes its user largely untraceable. On twitter for instance, users can create an anonymous account and uncheck tweet location as well as links to mobile number and email address.
Twitter can still identify the user’s location by tracking the Internet Protocol (IP) address, but it is difficult for the government to get any useful personal information from the user’s account. The “Anonymous” strategy has worked effectively for international “haktivist” group Anonymous.
VPNs may come in handy for protesters to mask their IP addresses, display entirely different locations as well as circumvent a possible social media or internet ban.
Alternative Crowdfunding through Crypto
Cryptocurrency adoption in Nigeria has continued on an upward trajectory, with Chainalysis’ 2020 Global Crypto Adoption report ranking Nigeria as the 8th country with the highest adoption of cryptocurrency in the world.
Early on during the #EndSARS protests, Flutterwave‘s staff and the feminist coalition set up a fiat currency (Naira) fund linked to a Nigerian bank account to provide for refreshments, settle medical and legal bills during the campaign. After CBN froze the account, the feminist coalition quickly created a crypto fund for people to donate via bitcoin.
Crypto platforms are decentralised and unregulated by any central authority. This means that unlike traditional banks which are governed by a regulator, the government cannot block users’ access to their crypto account.
In fact, the autonomy factor is a big reason many people are embracing crypto use in Nigeria. Therefore, it will not come as a surprise if subsequent protests in the country are crowdfunded through crypto services. Apart from this, the decentralised nature of crypto platforms also make them less susceptible to fraud.
Key Organisers May Move Abroad Before Protests
Going by the government’s move to reportedly prevent a number of #EndSARS promoters from travelling out of the country, many people especially leading protesters may consider moving abroad before joining in protests.
While this will represent a minority of protesters, it would be the logical course of action for them to avoid being put on a “wanted” list.
Protesters with large online following exert a big influence in getting people to join protests and are therefore a prime target of the government when clamping down on such movement. By leaving Nigeria before going gung ho with their protests, they cannot be hounded by government or security officials who would try to silence them or frustrate their efforts.
They would still be able to facilitate protests from outside the country. Many supporters of the #EndSARS protests were not even in Nigeria during the protests but kept it going through financing and social media awareness. The worst the government could do in such a scenario is stop these people from travelling back into the country.
The Federal Government has been very deliberate about putting an end to the entire #EndSARS campaign through its obvious clampdown efforts. The irony of the situation is that Nigerians asked for an end to police brutality but have instead witnessed unchecked army brutality, police violence and impunity even after SARS was disbanded.
Nigerians would have learned a lot from how the #EndSARS protests have played out, and this will alter the way future protests are coordinated in the country.
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