The current demonstrations taking place in Nigeria are like nothing we’ve seen before. Yes, we’ve seen protests — often led by various unions — but they [to my knowledge] have never unified so many people with one, unified voice, so fast. A typical protest in Nigeria will have a leader or figurehead of some sort, and maybe some surrounding factions pressing ahead with their individual agendas, and there might be a localised protest for a day or two and perhaps even an open letter printed in the national press.
Targeted at the country’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad [SARS], this movement has no leader, and has garnered thousands of young people with a unified voice, to take to the streets. With a heavy emphasis on peaceful protest, the already week-long protest sees no signs of slowing down.
What we’re seeing right this moment is an atypical protest and it’s quite remarkable. Nigeria’s young have erupted into bold and brazen, yet peaceful protests across the entire country. They are organised around a common goal — an end to a rogue police force that has robbed so many of not only money or their personal items, but their lives.
The peaceful demonstrations have surprised and inspired many — even those who might not usually involve themselves in such things. They have gained the attention and sympathy of both institutions and people who are very rarely unified. Again, to the best of my knowledge, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a movement that has captured business owners’ collective imaginations so much so that they are actually giving their staff the freedom to go and protest. This is unheard of. Freedom to be able to go and fight for freedom is a powerful message. Employers are getting behind Nigerians’ wish for the freedom to express.
What is also unheard of in Nigeria is a protest without a figurehead. But #EndSARS is a collective; one that is highly organised, and that is lead by all — not just those on the streets, but those donating funds, donating and distributing food and drink to protestors, those tidying the streets up after protests, those providing free legal support to spring people out of jail… this is a highly mobilised, decentralised, lightening quick group of protestors. Leadership is the mob; and they are using digital means to mobilise.
The mobile phone has been the movement’s means of mobilisation; and fast. Very fast. Whether or not it has been sharing times and locations of organised protests, to sourcing help for the crowds, warning of potential violence, to moving ambulances or lawyers around cities to help those in need. Nigeria’s youth has been pressing phones with renewed purpose. Furthermore, it was a digital platform who first worked with the various groups to help collect funds. Yesterday, a bitcoin fund was also started to help raise funds, which was subsequently shared by Twitter’s CEO @Jack. All digital.
And what does digital allow for as part of this atypical protest? Transparency. The money raised from around the world has not only been broken down per country and currency and shared on Twitter for all to see, but those disbursing the funds have also been categorising exactly where monies have been spent. This level of accountability for a protest in Nigeria? It is striking.
Digital allows for transparency and trust — which has been communicated authentically, outside of a committee of elders, for all to see. Digital communication, as like the leadership for this protest, has been amorphous — no “one” person pulling the strings. This is the people speaking. And their voices have been heard. And importantly, due to the lack of hierarchy and leadership, there’s no-one to negotiate with. Those who are used to making the decisions, cannot pinpoint one person to bargain with. Or attempt to bribe. Or arrest. There’s logic behind the so-called disorder.
Yes, there have been some behind-the-scenes conversations and side Whatsapp group conversations, as well as one or two overly zealous characters jostling for a “leadership” role; that is just humans being human. Or individuals thinking only about the individual. The power in this #EndSARS movement though is that these lines of action are not dominating the discussions. What’s happening behind-the-scenes cannot compete with what is playing out in the digital realm.
The simplicity of the movement is its lack of structure; it is an Open Source Protest — the Android of protests. A common cause for all to contribute to. Powered by digital, powered by trust, transparency, accountability and a united, hyper-powerful focus on freedom.