Nigeria protesters retreat but vow to fight on

NIGERIA/LONDON (AFP) – Young Nigerians who took to the streets to demand better governance are in shock after a brutal crackdown on their movement but say their resolve for change remains undimmed.

Demonstrations began on October 8, targetting a hated police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), that the authorities vowed to disband as pressure mounted.

Anger turned into unrest, climaxing on October 20 when security forces shot at a crowd of a thousand demonstrators defying a curfew in the economic hub Lagos – 12 were killed, according to Amnesty International.

Today, as a judicial panel launched by the authorities probes the bloodshed, the leaderless campaign is struggling to come to terms with events that have been both traumatic and historic.

“The government murdered peaceful protesters in cold blood, people are still rattled,” said demonstrator Leo Dasilva, 28.

People inspect burnt cars and a federal high court building in Lagos, Nigeria. PHOTO: AP

Those who took part in the protests say that a page in history has been turned.

Nigeria – the diverse home of more than 250 ethnic groups and 500 languages, different religions and cultures – will never be the same, they contend.

It has “shifted the realm of possibility of what can happen in this country,” said Feyikemi Abudu – known as FK – in a podcast with fellow activist Jollz, called “I said what I said”.

The two young women are part of the Feminist Coalition, one of the main groups backing the protests.

“What we achieved was unity, and unity is not little, it’s a very big win for Nigeria,” said Anita Izato, a 24-year-old lawyer in the capital Abuja.

The tech-savvy protesters organised themselves at lightning speed with the help of social media, providing legal aid, paying medical bills and offering support with a helpline.

“They’ve shown so much leadership – even though there was no leader. They brought in ambulances, took care of people’s welfare and security – almost like a government!” long-time Nigerian activist Aisha Yesufu, 46, said.