#EndSARS PROTEST: How Nonviolent Movement Became Violent

Nonviolent resistance is a powerful tool for ordinary civilians to transform their governments. Individuals and organizations facing restrictive, oppressive or authoritarian forms of governance may be able to employ nonviolent methods to amplify their voices, challenge power dynamics and press for reforms. In their book, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent conflict, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan noted that nonviolent civil resistance is far more successful in creating broad-based change than a violent campaign. However, despite the greater chances of success, it is evident from the work of scholars that not all nonviolent movements succeed, and many ultimately escalate into violent conflicts. As a result, some nonviolent movements fail to achieve progress. More specifically, In Nigeria, what began as a peaceful protest by a motley of interest groups against key issues ranging from the rising unemployment and inflation, inequitable distribution of the palliative, increasing insecurity, and the excesses of officials of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in some part of the country snowballed into violence after the police fired tear gas and live bullets to disperse protesters.

The Nigerian Struggle for Independence

Colonialism as a subject of research has garnered interest on the path of academic scholars over time. In his book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” Walter Rodney noted that colonialism had only one hand and it was a one-armed bandit. It was a system which functioned well in the interests of the metropoles. Even though it brought some material benefits to European-educated intellectuals, colonialism alienated and frustrated most Nigerians who believed that it eroded traditional cultures and institutions. Colonial rule exploited Nigerian labour in a way that profited European firms far more than Nigerians themselves. It also limited Nigerians’ political participation in issues that concerned the governing of the country. These perceived shortcomings of colonial rule gave rise to Nigerian nationalism otherwise known as anti-colonial movements. Nigerians, like other colonized peoples of the world, sought for their independence. However, unlike societies like America in the American War of Independence (1775), Algeria in the Algerian War of Independence (1955), and Haiti in the Haitian Revolution (1791), Nigeria secured her independence through nonviolent movements. In this article, I will examine Nigeria’s anti-colonial movements, highlighting nonviolence as an alternative way to change political regimes.

The EndSARS Protests of 2020

In October 2020, after a summer of massive global protests surrounding the issue of police brutality, Nigeria found itself in the midst of a similar watershed moment. After a video of an extrajudicial killing committed by an officer of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) went viral, young Nigerians joined together in country-wide peaceful protests calling for the disbandment of the unit. The protests were completely decentralized, youth-led, and, utilized the power of social media to create global awareness. After only a week of protests, President Muhammadu Buhari announced the complete dissolution of the SARS unit, effective immediately. To many outsiders, this was a massive victory, but within Nigeria there was hesitancy, this hadn’t been the first time the SARS unit was dissolved and many feared it wasn’t the last. Since 2015, the SARS unit had been disbanded or reformed on four separate occasions and had always come back in one form or another. But why and how? Who was this seemingly immune police unit and did the introduction of their abuses to the international stage create lasting change?