In Saturday’s Lekki Toll Gate Protest, The #EndSARS Campaign Reveals Its True Nature and Defies All Forecasts
At number 15 Awolowo Road Ikoyi, a cripple strapped to a wheelchair stretched out his hand and offered a man on a dark gray shirt a plastic bottle of Soda. Hopping along, the man bent his frame so he could listen to the cripple being wheeled by another random man on a red hood. The cripple, on green and white Nigerian 2018 World Cup Jersey, buttressed his point. ”I said you should take; drink.”
In a day that started with shallow drizzles of rain, the Saturday Lekki Toll Gate protest had taken an unforeseen dimension, like the day that later abandoned its promises of rain, offering rather, a burst of mild sunshine that gave ability to that afternoon march. But as the day progressed productively, even with no clear routine, it was the triangle and trajectory of that cripple that best captured the spirit and nature of the #EndSARS campaign.
Clearly not an individual sole responsibility—at least judging by the sequence of the day’s events—the #EndSARS campaign, like that cripple, is everyone‘s business. By 1:40 pm, the anchor of the Lekki Toll Gate protest, speaking from the stage, casually announced that “we will be marching to Ikoyi, so if you think you’re fit for it, please come this way.” As if incited by a lord and a master, an overwhelming crowd of people moved in the designated direction, and in a few minutes, hundreds of people were already making their way to Ozumba Mbadiwe.
The first sighting of the cripple was at that bridge, as the protesters flagged motorists to a standstill, paving way for the passage of the movement. Soon arriving the dilapidating police quarters along that way, the man behind the cripple’s wheel was a sweaty, shirtless man animated by the angelic rage of protesters chanting the various anthems of the march. By the time the march paused at the roundabout for a recitation of the national anthem, another person was found behind the cripple, getting him going.
A rail of men had formed by the gate of the police quarters, standing shoulder to shoulder, anchoring their elbows, forming a long chain of human barricade—a ritual that repeated itself whenever the march happened upon a police quarter or unit. Depending on the size of the police post’s entrance, the six to ten protesters barricading the quarters keep flagging the other protesters in the direction of the movement, urging them to move ahead peacefully. The policemen, behind the barricade, became humbled spectators. Soon, thumps up, raised fists, palm wave, began to emerge from the uniformed men.
For every time this barricade reproduced itself, different persons constitute it, an assignment unplanned for but in its spontaneous nature revealed the clean intention of the protesters and the protest. It passed the message clearly, and the policemen got it: it is not a You vs Us agitation, it is rather, one fell swoop at all the evil that blights the nation. At some point, the protesters began, upon sighting any police quarter, chanting “increase police salary.” But these were the fringes and at the center, was a slow-moving blue pick-up van holding aloft, two young women spearheading the march, a seeming string of bodyguards, and a DJ that stirred the spirits of the marchers.
Online, the #EndSARS protest is without leaders. To many, that is the very pride of the movement as, according to popular thinking, it intercepts the chances of ”politicians buying off the leaders and killing the protest.” Offline, however, a team of nameless people guides and direct the protest, reminding attendees of the guidelines, giving directions and directives, like the moment when, after the national anthem, the force held aloft at the center made clear that the march was headed for the High Court, and not Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s house, as some persons have imagined and reasoned aloud.
Yet, the topography of the protest revealed the leaderless nature of the whole campaign. Pockets of units, integrating into a whole, formed the mobile rage. At a point, Akpororo the comedian appeared, and behind him an independent kerfuffle that nonetheless contributed to the larger venom. At 1004, as the noise rose and rose, a badge of multiracial cameras sauntered down from the high-rise edifice, capturing the fine moment of a nation’s youth finally squaring up to their government. Those footages would go global, and a protester promptly reminded the marching young men and women of that truth. “Make una dey video dey send give una people; Nigerian youths are going global, cheee!”
Despite an apparent consonance between the offline and online protesters as the purpose remained steadfast, some bickering, however, reveal emerging disjunction. The dominant fear online, one reproduced by the Toll Gate anchor as he repeatedly announced the do’s and don’ts of the protest, was that of deviation from the original purpose, a loss of focus, a fear cleverly symbolized in the criticism of the free-spirited, fun-loving aspect of the protest. Some fear the protest is turning into a carnival, and some call it a jamboree. There lies the online-offline departure.
On ground, there is no way to sustain momentum and keep spirits high without giving room for fun fillers. Snippets of these moments are captured offline and posted online, but the twitter-facebook community, majorly those who are not following real-time, some who are not on ground, gets the wrong message. Like the march, the stationery Toll Gate protest forms unit by unit, heralding disparate performances, but nevertheless integrates into a whole punctuated by the upstage MC. At some pockets, cultural dancers form, entertaining video-graphing audiences, and at the other, people ride horses for a fee. Others feature paintings, drama, and other miscellaneous artistic performances.
Captured separately, these scenes arrive online and incite or fan existing fears. But what remains unknown to the afraid, is that in the background, at the central stage, a man is with the microphone, narrating to a shocked and shuddering audience, his ordeal with his wife at the hands of some SARS operatives while returning from a cinema. The Lekki Toll Gate protest, reflecting the #EndSARS campaign, is so many things happening at the same time, everything grinding together to give and sustain life to a protest long overdue. For a generation afflicted with a short attention span, these propellers are needed and the flak they are receiving is much like a man who goes to a church’s harvest ceremony and begins to complain that people are doing business transactions instead of worshipping God.
Once at the High Court located at Obalende, the Special Hundred Force (as I would like to refer the gallant marchers) sat down on the bare road, others hanging along rails and stalls as the center, still held aloft, began her speech. Her voice almost lost of all juice, the young woman whom it was hard to obtain her name, led the protesters unto rehearsing the 5/5 demands, and a recitation of the ultimate purpose of the protest—to #EndSARS—despite the movement’s metamorphosis into an agitation against all branches of the Nigerian evil.
Leaving with a promise to be back on Monday, the ebullient marchers took to the road again, marching all the way back to Lekki Toll Gate. On a normal day, 95 percent of people who partook in that exercise will not dare to trek such a distance, not to talk of walking back. But the days are not normal and the engagement must live up to the abnormality. The return was more fun and featured more watershed moments: exchanging pleasantries with policemen in the six quarters encountered while on the go, friendship and trust having ensued, both parties convinced totally of the peaceful and harmless nature of the other.
For an entirely spontaneous march, the outing was both successful and didactic. From the cripple who was wheeled to and fro by strangers, to motorists complying and raising fists in solidarity, and the otherworldly firmness of the marchers who applied their own discipline without a comprehensive central leadership, the movement defies negative forecasts and reemphasized both the determination and nature of the protesters and the protest.