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#ENDSARS: How persecution is driving vibrant activists into exile –Odion Ighodola

EndSARS: Nigerians react as police, LASTMA officers storm Lekki toll gate

EndSARS, a social movement and mass protests against police brutality in Nigeria started in 2017 as a Twitter Campaign using the hashtag ENDSARS.

This Campaign amongst others demanded the disbanding of the Special Anti-Rubbery Squad (SARS), a notorious unit of the Nigeria Police with a long record of abuses.

The movement experienced a revitalization in October 2020 following more revelation of abuses of the unit culminating to mass demonstrations throughout the major cities of Nigeria, accompanied by vociferous outrage on social media platforms.

Solidarity protests and demonstrations by Nigerians in diaspora and sympathizers occurred in major cities of the world.

The protest is notable for its patronage by a demography that is made of entirely young Nigerians. The movement later expanded to include demands for good and accountable governance.

Youths cutting across gender barricaded The Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos voicing out these demands to government and agencies for days on end.

This peaceful protest on the night of 20 October, 2020 turned bloody. At about 6:50pm members of the Nigerian Army opened fire on peaceful ENDSARS protesters leaving in its wake, death, injuries, destructions and arrests of unarmed youths.

There were conflicting figures about the casualties. Amnesty international stated that at least 12 protesters died during the shooting while other witnesses gave the number as 72 deaths.

A lot of Nigeria youths in the forefront of the protest are facing a lot of persecution from government and agencies.

Rinu Oduola

Notable among them is Rinu Oduola, 22 years old and an outspoken activist who the government felt so threatened by her activities that her bank account got frozen.

She was among tens of thousands of young Nigerians who made history with the protests that swept the country. Miss Oduola was one of the first to take to the street after a video went viral of a man allegedly being killed by the Notorious SARS.

Today she is part of a panel in Lagos sitting at a judicial inquiry into police abuse. But she is concerned about her security and is one of 20 protest oganizers to have their funds frozen by the Central Bank early in November. She is planning to flee.

DJ Switch

Obianuju Cathrine Udeh, better known as DJ Switch is another notable activist on the run for fear of persecution. She live streamed the shooting of peaceful protesters.

She recalls seeing soldiers followed by Policemen arriving and opening fire. As she crouched down to take cover, she felt a bullet shell fall next to her, she instinctively pulled out her phone and started live streaming the unfolding events on Instagram.

READ ALSO: Why we froze accounts of #EndSARS protest promoters — Access Bank

Despite of the international condemnation, the Nigerian government and security agencies dispute DJ Switch position on the Army involvement and casualties claiming that no life was lost.

She also said that an official in the government President Buhari phoned her manager and was ‘spitting fire and brimstone’ after she shared her video. Together with her management, she took the decision to flee the country.

Courage Ororiode Erhuen

Courage Ororiode Erhuen, a Legal Practitioner and Human Right activist and member of the opposition political party (PDP), married with 3 children is another victim. He was mercilessly beaten up with his son as a result of the role he played during the protest, inclusive of the legal advice he gave protesters.

Prior to the protest, he fell victim to SARS high handedness on 30 July 2020 as a result of trespass to his client’s landed property by land grabbers group of the ruling political party (APC) in Ogun State, Nigeria.

His client’s property was forcefully taken away and he was beaten up together with artisans working there which resulted to the death of one of them. When this was reported to the nearest Police Station, nothing came out of it and was told to maintain the status quo.

This incident happened before the protest and according to him the foregoing contributed to the role he played during the protest. He was hounded like a common criminal by security agents, his movement and phone calls monitored, property in Abuja seized.

It became so traumatic the he deserted his apartment and hibernated with friends and acquaintances till he fled Nigeria.

He never expected to be seen in the movement if governance was handled properly by Nigerian leaders, nor to have put his life, family and career at stake. ‘ It is sad for a country to choose to kill its people. This is not democracy we desired for’ he says.

“Leaders are supposed to be the guardians of Nigerians to help us achieve the dreams we have, now my dreams seem to have just blown up in smoke”. Likewise, so many activists out of fear of persecution have fled the country.

It is so bad that the democratic module in Nigeria is quite different from what is obtainable in other spheres. A country where corruption is glorified in high places, rights of citizens debased, brings the country to the edge of precipice.

About the author

Augustine Aminu

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