Nigerian protesters retreat, but not give up ~ #REUTERS:
The brutal crackdown on weeks of protests against police violence has not altered the desire for change or the anger of Nigerian youth, although as yet no one knows what to do with the movement.
“Authorities killed peaceful protesters in cold blood, we are still in shock”, says 28-year-old protester Leo DaSilva.
These three weeks of protests against police violence and protests against power have left nearly 60 people dead across the country, including at least 10 at the Lekki toll booth in Lagos, according to Amnesty International, triggering a wave of emotion through the world.
After three days of chaos, calm has returned and for the participants in the movement, it is time to reflect on the means to continue to bring the cause to life despite the restrictions and fear.
Feyikemi Abudu and Jola Ayeye, known as FK and Jollz, founders of the Feminist Coalition, one of the many Nigerian organizations that raised funds and helped organize the movement, are delighted that this movement was able to “open up the field of possibilities on everything that can happen in this country”.
Anita Izato, a 24-year-old lawyer based in Abuja, the federal capital, is particularly proud to have participated in these protests.
“Our greatest victory is unity. And creating unity is no small task here in Nigeria”, she explains to AFP.
In Africa’s most populous country, with more than 250 ethnic groups and 500 different languages, religions and cultures, youth – mostly from the south – have agreed on a common goal.
The protesters organized themselves at lightning speed, thanks to social networks, some offering legal, or psychological assistance, others by paying medical bills, or transport costs.
“Maybe there was no one at the head of this movement, but they showed great leadership.”, notes Aisha Yusuf, 46, and longtime human rights activist.
“They brought in ambulances, cared for the welfare and safety of people, almost like a government would!”, she told AFP.
Nigerians in the diaspora have also taken part in the movement, organizing their own demonstrations in London, New York or Paris, and carrying the message of their fellow citizens to celebrities like Rihanna, Kanye West and Lewis Hamilton.
But on October 20, the police fired on a thousand peaceful demonstrators at the Lekki tollbooth, killing several and injuring many and putting an end to the protest.
“We stopped demonstrating simply because we want to stay alive”, continues Anita. “We do our best to make our voices heard, and Nigeria is our country. But it is not worth dying “.
Now, how to express your voice? One of the challenges of a leaderless movement is that everyone brings their own demands: some want the creation of think tanks, others a political party. Voices are also encouraging young people to focus on the next elections, in 2023.
The Nigeria’s Youth Democratic Party was born out of this movement, and although it is not registered as an official party, it hopes to gain many members within three years.
“This movement was a revelation. The battle has just started. We will make Nigeria great”, promises the new party.
Ideas for the future of the movement are coming together. “My DMs (direct messages on Twitter) are full of messages and suggestions, we even got a three-page article with ideas for a new constitution,” joked FK and Jollz of the Women’s Coalition, in a widely shared podcast on social networks.
For now, the immediate future of the movement will depend above all on how the government responds to demands and the efforts made to reform the security services.
“We are an incredibly smart generation, but let’s not be arrogant”, said FK and Jollz. “We need to engage in dialogue with them.”
The government has promised a series of reforms, but many remain skeptical.
“For now, dialogue and engagement with the government is the way to go”says Dipo Awojide, 35, who helped organize protests in London.
“But if they are not sincere and if they are not willing to implement changes”, added Dipo Awojide, “so I think it is quite normal to consider going back to the streets.”