“What’s the issue?” cries a protester at one of Nigeria’s End SARS demonstrations in October. “Why are they killing us for no reason?!”
Wearing socks emblazoned with the phrase, ‘Art is not a crime’, and t-shirts listing those killed by Nigeria’s (now-disbanded) violent police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), crowds of young people take to the streets in the biggest youth revolution the country has ever seen.
These are the scenes of October 2020, when the movement to disband SARS gained worldwide traction. The SARS unit was created in 1992 to tackle violent crimes, robbery, and kidnapping, but in recent years, it has been accused of carrying out violent acts of police brutality. As harassment, murder, and extortion by officers peaked in autumn last year – and as graphic footage of the violence emerged online – long-demanded calls for reform were reignited and mass protest ensued.
In the wake of the uprising, a new generation of activists and instigators have boldly moved Nigeria to a more optimistic and inclusive future.
In director Dafe Oboro’s new short film accompanying Dazed’s summer 2021 cover story, pivotal voices, including activists Matthew Blaise, Rinu Oduala, and more, offer fresh insight on the autumn’s second wave protests, speak on the Lekki toll gate tragedy, discuss how a revolutionary moment can bring focus to society’s most marginalised voices, and reflect on where the movement will take Nigerian activism next.
“What comes to my mind whenever I think about October 2020 is just what it is: a massacre,” Akwinwunmi Ibrahim Adebanjo (AKA Flag Boi) says in the film. “Bloodshed, families crying just because we don’t want to be killed anymore. I continued with the protest after the massacre because we weren’t done, we’ve not gotten our answers yet. People are still crying out there, people are still suffering.”
22-year-old Rinu Odulala echoes this statement. “The protests have not stopped in any way. The world needs to know why we are fighting, and, more importantly, that (even though) the fight may have gone off our streets, it may have gone off our TV screens, it doesn’t mean that the fight has stopped or lost its importance.”
Matthew Blaise, a non-binary gay activist living in Nigeria, reflects on how queer people are disproportionately targeted by the police, and speaks on the hope they feel thanks to the End SARS movement. “There is a queer future for Nigeria, especially with how unapologetic the Gen Zs are, and how we are taking up space,” they say. “There is a colourful future for us with rainbows and all that around us.”
“If you ask me the legacy that End SARS will leave,” adds Odulala, “I’d say: it’s resilience and unity and a new awakening. Social political consciousness among young people.”
The short is the latest installment of Dazed’s film series Youth in Power, which spotlights radical undiscovered movements from around the world. Watch the film above, and look back at Dazed’s summer 2021 feature about what’s next for Nigerian activism here.