ENDSARS: Police, Social media Influencers and lessons from NairaMarley
By Isah Ismaila Gagarawa

The general notion of a social media influencer is a typical individual who has huge followers on social media platforms. Unknowingly, the power and importance of a social media influencer can be overwhelming and impactful.

Most importantly, social media influencers have the power to motivate almost all their followers to take an action on a cause. This could translate to societal and government-related issues or any cause of action.

Lately, there have been widespread reactions, over a viral video of young man who was shot in front of a hotel in Ughelli, Delta State, by Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) operatives. The gruesome act reignited the already existing #ENDSARS campaign, which has been on for a while.

Citizens and Non-governmental Organizations, particularly Amnesty International, had accused officers of the department for orchestrating illegal and wanton arrests, which has led to the detainment, torture and extortion of citizens and their relatives.

Legally, SARS is a branch of the Nigerian Police Force, which deals with crimes associated with firearms, armed robbery, car snatching, kidnappings and cattle rustling. However, they have been accused of harassing youths for their modes of dressing, types of phones they use and even contacts they have.

These accusations brought about the #ENDSARS social media campaign. Over Ten thousand people had recently signed a petition, demanding the immediate scrapping of the squad.

The power of influencers to draw the attention of government, as well as security agencies on issues of significant concerns can be seen from the action of a popular Nigerian musician, NairaMarley. The musician had recently called on the youths to embark on a peaceful protest with regards to the #ENDSARS campaign.

The protest, which was expected to hold on Tuesday, 6th of October, was later suspended after the Police Force responded to NairaMarley’s tweet.

The musician said, “we need to stop protesting on twitter because that’s all we’ve been doing. We need to protest in real life. Just say you are scared and you will rather tweet from home.

“The protest is a cry for change. Nigerian youths and citizens should feel safe. The government has promised to make changes. Whilst we anticipate their actions it is important we stick together to sort the issues on ground.

“Protesting is never a disturbance of the peace. Corruption, injustice, war and intimidation are disturbances of the peace.”

Reacting to his tweets, Alex Ozomoya also said, “I stand with you Naira. In as much as we all want a peaceful protest, but if this so called monsters in uniform dare to take a life in the course of the protest, it is going to result to war. I think someone that is influential need to pass this message to their superiors.”

Also Chibuike Nkalu, added that every citizen possess the right to life, liberty and happiness. But in Nigeria, the very body tasked with ensuring the protection of life and property is the body denying these rights to our citizens.

“Enough is Enough. The time to end SARS brutality is now,” Nkalu noted assertively.

Minister of Youths Development and Sports, Mr. Sunday Dare, while responding to NairaMarley’s tweet, urged him and other youths not to embark upon any protest.

He said, “your grievances are being addressed at the highest level of government. As the Minister in charge of youths, I know this is an issue that must be tackled. Government is doing just that.”

There was a swift and tactical response from the Police Force, who assured the youths that their voices and complaints on the issue are heard and would be addressed.

The Police maintained that the orders and restrictions on the operations of SARS and others, already issued by the IGP are just the initial steps out of the many reforms planned for the Tactical Squads.

They assured that the leadership of the NPF will work with the Ministry of Youths and other stakeholders, including youth leaders, youth entrepreneurs, CSOs and others, in formulating and implementing consensual reforms.

The Force PPRO, DCP Frank Mba, had a live Instagram chat with NairaMarley to discuss the concerns of young Nigerians on the issues of SARS operations and other burning issues. After the live chat, the NPF assured that Police would get SARS off the roads, as they are ready to recruit 10,000 youths in the country.

Also, they assured that citizens are however allowed to record the Police, excluding security conscious zones. And that all Police officers, must henceforth wear their uniforms and are only authorized to move in licensed vehicles.

The Marlian president commended the NPF for their response and zeal towards maintaining peace and order as he urged them to ensure proper reform in the department.

At this juncture, let it be restated once again that social media influencers have the power to bring about positive changes in citizens and authorities’ mental attitude, while not forgeting the overall societal change. Many have commended the efforts of NairaMarley, and also urging that SARS cells across Nigeria should be opened for independent investigators to look into cases of detainees in those cells.

Several innocent Nigerians have been languishing in SARS cells over petty offenses for years. Moving forward, the Police High Command should ensure that this time, it makes good its promise to reform SARS, so as to curb this wanton shenanigans perpetrated by its officers and men.

They should totally overhaul the squad and bring new policies that would help curb crime, social vices and protect citizens, instead of intimidating, harassing or killing harmless Nigerian youths extra-judicially.

Meanwhile, the Force PRO, Frank Mba and his team successfully managed the social media campaign by directly engaged the influencers with boost the reputation of the police.

Gagarawa, is a journalist with PRNigeria