How the End Sars protests have changed Nigeria forever.

A potent mix of street protests and social media has given young Nigerians a voice that has shattered the country’s culture of deference.

As the #EndSARS hashtag went viral, so did a defiance of the elite in Nigeria.

The trashing of the palace of the highly respected oba, or traditional ruler, of Lagos was symbolic of this mood.

The youths dragged his throne around, looted his possessions and swam in his pool.

What began as a protest against the hated police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars) has become a conduit for the youth to vent their anger with the people who have been in charge of Nigeria for decades, and demand change.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo warned in 2017 that “we are all sitting on a keg of gunpowder” when it comes to the young.

His comments were about the continent in general but they apply to Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with 200 million people, more than 60% of whom are under the age of 24.

The majority of those of working age do not have formal employment and there are few opportunities to get a good education. Earlier this year, government statistics showed that 40% of Nigerians lived in poverty.

But those currently in power at first misunderstood what was going on this time,

activist and writer Gimba Kakanda told the BBC.

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“The #EndSARS protests were initially perceived as another of the youth’s

episodic mischief-making that would fizzle out if left unaddressed,” he said.

“This mind-set of the political class, almost overly condescending,

was the reason for its slow response to this unprecedented movement and left them all on the edge.”

Success Of The protest.

The success of the protest in forcing concessions from the government

– such as a promise to disband Sars, and wider police reform –

has given Nigerian youths confidence and they believe that they can make a difference.

A few days into the protests, activists were able to establish a helpline that could respond to emergencies.

They also provided legal services to those in need and even set up a radio station.

These were financed through crowdfunding and were cited as examples of how Nigeria could be better if it were not for the politicians

who often seem more interested in what they can personally gain,

rather than how they can improve the country.

The Ugly Side of the Protest

But there has also been an ugly side.

While those who backed and came out in support of the #EndSARS movement were peaceful, another segment of the youth saw the protests as an opportunity.

They vandalised shops,

raided warehouses and targeted the businesses of prominent politicians.

vandalised shop

Although the approach of these two groups is different, they do share one thing in common: a disdain for those in charge.

It is unlikely though that they can find a common cause.

Any move in that direction may affect the spread of the movement across the country because some will find it hard to sit at the same table as people with “questionable character”.

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