By Feyisitan Ijimakinwa
Since the turn of the millennium, the year, 2020 had been seen as a special year, especially not with its unique number combinations, amongst others.
True to expectations and projections, 2020 has turned out to be a very remarkable year, and without doubt, it will always hold a remarkable place in the history of the world. 2020 will be recorded as the year that humanity grappled with the biggest singular challenge of the Modern era.
Although the Coronavirus broke out in 2019 hence the name – Covid-19, it clearly became a global pandemic in 2020. The collective and individual scientific efforts and thrusts of nations have, so far, yielded little in overcoming the pandemic.
Across the globe, the infection and death tolls continue to rise, even with fears of a possible second outbreak in many countries. In the face of these, people have been constrained to make changes and adjustments to how they live.
In spite of the common challenge of the Coronavirus pandemic that humanity faces, different countries across the globe are doing everything to manage their affairs within their borders. From Greece to Pakistan, Brazil to Niger, Iran to Myanmar, Taiwan to Bangladesh, Angola to Iceland, Sri Lanka to Austria, countries continue to face and find constructive ways round economic, social, political and other challenges.
In most, if not all cases, the overriding objective of every government is to return to and maintain normalcy within each polity.
In Nigeria, the year, 2020, has come to mean a different thing. It is the year that Nigeria celebrated the sixtieth year of its independence from British colonial rule. When Nigeria marked the fiftieth independence anniversary in 2010, it was anticipated that the sixtieth in 2020 would be bigger and grander.
However, as the saying goes “Man proposes and God disposes”, Covid -19 came unexpectedly and ruined the anticipated 60th independence anniversary celebrations. Like a sunny sky that yields to rain and ruin celebrations under an open sky, the planned party never took off, and Nigeria’s 60th independence anniversary was to be marked on a low key.
Beyond Covid-19, October 2020, the month of Nigeria’s independence has turned out to become like the ‘Ides of March’. Following wide circulation of a video of an alleged brutality of a young man in Ughelli, Delta State by men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police, spontaneously but on a ‘low key’, the social media hashtag, #EndSARS, began to trend on different social media platforms, and was strongest on Twitter.
The hashtag soon galvanized youths to rise in protest and in less than a week, the protests gathered steam, rocked the fragile peace of country, forcing President MuhamamduBuhari to meet with the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, following which he announced the immediate disbandment of SARS, and its replacement with another team called Special Weapons and Tactical Team (SWAT).
Even with these decisions, the youths have not returned home. Instead, the protests are spreading across the country, by the day.
As the #EndSARS protests continue unabated, different things are being thrown up by the day. Beyond the streets, the private sector here in Nigeria seems to have picked a couple of lessons from other climes.
Unlike in previous times when businesses in Nigeria view protests and unrests as avoidable irritants that negatively affect their operations and, by extension, their profits, they now understand that brand engagements can no longer be limited to the marketplace. Brands now feel the pulse of the society, and know when to pitch in and identify with the people.
They must have learned this lesson from brands’ responses to the Black Lives Matter protests that came in the wake of the death of George Floyd after police brutality.
The positions of brands in the Black Lives Matter campaigns have continued to redefine brand acceptance and perceptions, especially in the U.S, North America and Europe.
In spite of initial inexplicable silence from some quarters, the #EndSARS protest continues to spread like fire. Yes, at some point it raged like an inferno, and some people would have said, “that is the best/worst it can be”.
With that, the usual Nigerian refrain sprang up. “They are not focused”, “they will soon lose steam”, “these are jobless and clueless youths”, “the miscreants will take over”, “these are thugs” and more were some of the disparaging remarks from some Nigerians. Shockingly and unexpectedly, like wildfires that burn ceaselessly for days even when it is not raging, the protest is far from over.
Those who proudly predicted that the fire of the protests will soon die a natural death may have another thing coming.
It will be foolhardy for anyone to mistaken a rallying cry for a definite demand. The social media launched hashtag, #EndSARS, is only a rallying cry and, definitely not all the protesters are demanding. So, the disbandment of SARS is not a silver bullet. The protests are fluid and because they were not ‘planned’ as many people think a revolution has to be.
One thing that has become obvious is the fact that it is difficult to hold the spine of these agitations. The social media has become the most veritable and resourceful tool of mobilization, encouragement and support. If the different social media platforms have been well used, and have done well for businesses, then the same platforms have become resourceful and doing more for social causes.
Now back to the private sector. This time brands in Nigeria, especially startups, seem to be fully in on the side of the people. Funds are being raised both from individual and corporate bodies. As the days wear on, more brands are pitching in too, maybe with tactical subtlety and clear corporate expediency.
We have seen table water branded in the name of banks, there are customized tee-shirts worn by protesters that are branded in the names of profit-driven organisations. Multinationals are supporting with their products.
These may not be your normal Corporate Social Initiatives (CSI) but different brands including manufacturers and service providers have continued to give front and back end supports. Foods, drinks, data, legal services, cleaning services and many more are flowing the way of the protesters because no brand wants to be caught on the wrong side of this new reality in Nigeria.
Curiously, the government of the day can, and should take insight from the private sector. There is an air of inevitability that is surrounding the #End SARS protests and processes.
The #EndSARS protests may not have attained the scale of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, US’ Black Lives Matter, Egypt’s Tahir Square, France’s Yellow Movement or the US’ Occupy Wall Street yet, but this fire is nowhere near out.
It appears that no degree of vilification or persecution of the protesters, infiltration of the rank of protesters and sponsorship of pro-SARS marches can kill this. For many who see this as a passing phase. Well, like every event, it will run its course but the more important thing is what it will leave behind in Nigeria.
Eventually, the repressive might of the State ‘may’ be used to silence the protests tomorrow, but it will be wrong for anyone to look at the size of the dog, forgetting that what is more important is the size of the fight inside the dog.
That tomorrow is not even guaranteed. So, that tomorrow that some are very sure will end the protests may, and may not come. That tomorrow may not come after this today. What if that tomorrow never comes?
Let him that has ears hear what the times are saying.
Ijimakinwa writes from the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan.