This week, for the second in our two-part series focusing on the #EndSARS Movement, we are joined by three powerful activists working to end police brutality and abuse of power in Nigeria: Aisha Yesufu, Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaar, and Lola Omolola. Our guests share stories about living under SARS control, insights about the power of the #EndSARS protests, and their visions for Nigeria’s future. To listen to Part 1 of this series, click here.
Aisha Yesufu is an activist, community leader, and financial literacy educator who demands good governance. She is unapologetic about her stance in fighting for justice and equity. Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaaris an award-winning chemical engineer and energy consultant. She is the founder of Ignite Energy Africa, an online community and resource hub which provides data and promotes innovation in the energy sector. She is also the author of Everyone Deserves to Sparkle and the founder of the Sparkle Initiative,which supports STEM education and encourages young people everywhere to pursue their passions. Lola Omolola builds communities that change people’s lives. She has more than twenty years of experience in journalism, spanning radio, television, and digital project management. She is also the founder of the Female IN Facebook group, which has brought together more than 1.7 million members across 100 countries to share experiences and forge a meaningful community.
Building upon our conversation in Understanding the #EndSARS Protests Part 1, our guests this week provide on-the-ground insights into life in Nigeria under the corrupt reign of SARS. Although SARS (the Special Anti-Robbery Squad) was established as a sub-unit of the police force to curtail armed robbery and kidnapping, as our guests explain, SARS was soon corrupted by the power they wielded. Before long, SARS became the perpetrators of the very corruption, violence, and terror which they had been tasked with policing. Young men were profiled and targeted by the police for things as simple as owning an iPhone or driving an expensive car. Police officers also routinely harassed, threatened, stalked, and violated young women.
“This is not acceptable. Citizens have a right to protest in Nigeria and nobody can stop that.”Aisha Yesufu
In October 2020, protests erupted across the country. Aisha Yesufu emphasizes the fundamental importance of social media to the surge and coordination of public outcry and protests. Social media helped disperse information – not only about the murders and violence being perpetrated by the police, but also key details about protests. This enabled larger groups of people to join in the movement. Social media also provided an invaluable record of the offenses committed by the police during the protests. When protestors were attacked and teargassed by the police, videos and photos that were posted to social media became key evidence against the attempts of the government to gaslight the public and deny the attacks. The rise of social media has also democratized the exchange of information in Nigeria. Unlike the days of Yesufu’s childhood, when news broadcasts were controlled by the government and dispatched only twice a day, social media has all but destroyed the barriers to both sharing and receiving information.
“Every time women are coming together, it scares the structures, the traditional structures…”Lola Omolola
Social media has also created space for Nigerian women, in particular, to share their experiences and find community. As our guests share, women have long stood at the forefront of the movements to advance change while also bearing the brunt of the pain inflicted by injustice. Lola Omolola notes the power that can be ignited by finding community and recognition through social media and through pages such as FIN, which empowers women to organize and mobilize to rectify unjust power structures.
We also discuss the collaborative, community-focused nature of the #EndSARS protests, a key pillar of the movement’s effectiveness. Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaar shares that a strong commitment to the movement inspired not just activists, but others such as lawyers and doctors to contribute their skills and resources to supporting the cause. Our guests also stress that a successful movement is made up of whole communities contributing their different skill sets – from marching, to writing, to policy-building, to political organizing – to a shared vision of a more just future.
“Young people want to also be engaged, have a say in the future of our nation. We want to know that we are being listened to… The country belongs to us and our children and our generations to come.”Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaar
When looking ahead to Nigeria’s future, Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaar envisions a country which works for and listens to its younger generations, tapping into the nation’s vast potential. Omolola is working to build a community in which every woman truly knows the power and importance of her own voice. In Yesufu’s view, cycles of corruption will not be broken until the people become invested and involved in politics. When people reclaim the power of their voice and vote through government, there will be meaningful and lasting change. Our guests encourage all listeners to first, educate themselves, and then get involved as best suits their skills, their abilities, and their passions.
“I am proud that young Nigerians are driving change – we will no longer be ignored.” Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaar, The Independent
Female IN (FIN) Facebook Group