• Police Brutality, Afrobeats and The Chosen Generation

Written by: Adeayo, Adebiyi
2021-10-29T10:26:19.6723942

How Afrobeats and its biggest stars played a part in the #EndSARS protests of October 2020

“Thursday is Thursday” was the short, direct, and powered-packed tweet by Runtown that sparked what ended up being Nigeria’s largest civil protest. Police brutality is a subject that has lingered for decades in Nigeria’s public discourse, but October 2020, was when Nigerian Youths decided they have had enough. The #ENDSARS movement was created to convey the crying desperation of Nigeria’s largest demography who were tired and sick of being hunted down and shot for sport by trigger happy, poorly trained, rogues that congregates the Nigerian Police Force.

The hashtag trended worldwide, caught global attention, and left an indelible mark in the history of the country. The role of the Nigerian music industry in fueling the movement cannot be overemphasized, and as we look back a year later to the mass union of vibrant and brave youths that took on the system, we cannot but touch base on the contributions of the music industry to the movement.

The Dawn to the 2020 End SARS events arose in early October where two Incidents involving the deadly Special Anti Robbery Squad shooting down two young men within a week, one of which was a 20-year-old musician known as “Sleek” who they accused of being a thief. The tipping point was the attack on some youths in Ugheli Delta state by SARS officers which resulted in wild spread anger in the area that led some youths to confront the police officers.

While the outcry was building up on the social media platforms, plans of protests were building up by Naira Marley and Runtown. One thing led to another and Naira Marley opted out of the street protest and instead settled for a live Instagram meeting with a high-ranking police spokesman. Naira Marley’s social media meeting/tongue-in-cheek advocacy wasn’t what the majority of Nigeria’s frustrated youth needed and the yearnings of the majority were echoed by Runtown with his famous tweet — “Thursday is Thursday”.

The “Mad Over You” crooner joined forces with sociopolitical commentator and artiste Falz D Bad Guy to lead the first day of the Lagos protest, and from there, there was no looking back. That three-worded tweet ushered in the mass movement of the people against decades of systemic genocide perpetrated through brazen daylight police killings.

It didn’t take long before several high-profile musicians joined the marching protesters in Lagos which was the heart of the protest. Youths in other states joined in the protest and several states was awaken with the cries of Nigerian youths. Members of the Nigerian music community used their fame and platforms to amplify the message of the movement and motivate hundreds of thousands of Nigerian youths who took to the streets in peaceful protest.

Tiwa Savage was tweeting at her International colleagues and getting them to tweet in support of the cause. With dedicated Youths massively trending hashtag ENDSARS, what followed was an unprecedented social medial shutdown with over a million tweets. #Endsars trended at NO.1 in the world and the Nigerian government was in the news yet again for the wrong reasons.

Social Justice has been a subject of Nigerian music and some of the biggest hits in the murky history of this country have been inspired by the injustice that has perpetually pervaded the Nigerian state. Taking a trip down history lane, you can draw a thread of the history of police brutality and how Nigerian musicians have used their talents and platforms to rebuke the high-handedness of the men in uniform who should be protecting them.

Over 40 years ago, one of the greatest Africans to ever live Fela Anikulapo Kuti recorded several music on police brutality and social justice with one of the most celebrated being “Zombie” a record that captures the mindlessness of Nigeria’s security outfits. Years down the lane, several artistes have continued to use their music to call for the introduction of sanity in policing in the Nigerian state.

In the 90s, Ras Kimono recorded “Gimme Likkle Sugar,” Majek Fashek the Rain Maker recorded “Police brutality,” Daddy Showky had his famous single “Mama no dey” all speaking on the police brutality. In the 2000s, the famous duo PSquare recorded “Oga Police,” Sound Sultan recorded “Bush Meat,” D’banj’s made “Mr.Olopa,” MI captured the reality with “My Belle My Head,” amongst many others.

And more recently, Falz’s reminded us of the killer police force with “Johny,” Naira Marley & Zlatan captured his experience with “Am I Yahoo Boy?” Dremo had his say with “Thieves In Uniform,” Ajebo Hustlers narrated live in the jungle with “Barawo,” and Burna Boy captured the systemic failure with “Monsters You Made” to mention but a few.

There is a profusion of police brutality subject in Nigeria music industry which is a reflection of the reality. It was therefore only fitting that the unofficial anthem of the #ENDSARS movement was Davido’s “FEM” which catchy line — “Why you come dey para for me” — a question the Nigerian youths posed to the deadly police unit who stereotype young men and women based on appearance and presumed success and subject them to molestation, extortion, torture, and oftentimes death. “FEM” and many other songs blasted out from speakers in strategic locations in several states and the Federal Capital Territory where the protest was spectacularly heated.

There is a profusion of police brutality subject in Nigeria music industry which is a reflection of the reality. It was therefore only fitting that the unofficial anthem of the #ENDSARS movement was Davido’s “FEM” which catchy line — “Why you come dey para for me” — a question the Nigerian youths posed to the deadly police unit who stereotype young men and women based on appearance and presumed success and subject them to molestation, extortion, torture, and oftentimes death. “FEM” and many other songs blasted out from speakers in strategic locations in several states and the Federal Capital Territory where the protest was spectacularly heated.

In the South East, Flavor, Phyno, KCee, Zoro, amongst other artistes joined protesters to take a long sobering walk to the Notorious Awkuzi SARS Police Station where countless youths have been subjected to inhumane treatment and several others have lost their lives. Their courage and tenacity to walk the distance and confront the gun-wielding notorious police unit is an illustration of the seriousness of the existential threat facing Nigerian Youths.

In the United Kingdom, Wizkid who had to postpone his much anticipated album in support of the movement joined Nigerians in the diaspora who assembled at the Embassy to join forces with their peers all over the world. The images and videos of Nigerians all over the world storming Nigerian embassies with a demand for an end to police brutality and impunity in Nigeria was inspiring and exhilarating. For a moment, it felt like we could make something happen. That as a nation, we can be more than we currently are. That we can create a nation where the Youths can walk freely and not dock out of fear when they see the police.

As Nigerians Youths united in their demands, the Nigerian Police Force united in its murderous ambition. Their reply to the call for an end to police brutality was to shoot down unarmed protesters in cold blood. One of the unforgettable images of the movement is the chilling image of Davido kneeling in the front line of protesters in Abuja, using himself as a human shield.

Seeing Davido with his knees on the ground with his hands in the air in surrender and the fear in his eyes sent chills through the veins of Nigerian youths and inspired them to keep pushing. Even when the police wanted to deploy the divide and rule tactics by getting Davido to act as a mouthpiece for the movement, Davido didn’t betray the cause. He lived streamed the meeting at the police headquarters and maintained the unifying stance that the movement has no leader.

As the protest grew stronger, Nigerian Youths noticed the silence of Grammy winner Burna Boy. More was expected from Burna Boy, whose “Felacentric” rhetoric appeared to be lacking the much-needed action. Nigerians felt he was condescending in his remarks especially about how Nigerians were cowards scared of confronting the system. Hence the self-proclaimed African Giant was expected to walk the talk by being a visible figure of the #ENDSARS movement. The indictments were harsh and thorough. However, Burna Boy had his say. He gradually warmed his way into the movements’ heart and his billboard played a role in amplifying the message — #ENDSARS

When all threats, oppression, and emotional manipulation failed, the government resorted to genocide. In the late hours of 20-10-2020, the Nigerian government ordered the genocide of its own people because they demanded an end to police brutality and impunity. Two weeks after Nigerian youths locked down the country in a protest against police brutality where speakers blasting “FEM”, placards, snacks, and a belief in their generation were the only weapon, the Nigerian government responded with deadly force — the only language of a cold hearted dictator.

Just as Fela Anikulapo Kuti sang in 1977, the Nigerian government responded with a force that left Sorrow, Tears, and Blood. It was yet again a member of the Nigerian music community, DJ Switch who captured the despicable, vile, and heartrending live images of the Lekki massacre on her Instagram live for thousands of Nigerians worldwide. It was DJ Switch’s bravery that put to rest any iota doubt about the genocide that took place in the heart of Lagos commercial district.

A protest that was born out of a desire for positive change and fueled by a moment of priceless patriotism and the music of hope and vibrancy petered out with the blood tainted Nigerian flag of unarmed civilians. And just like his idol Fela Kuti, Burna Boy didn’t waste time to capture the sad tale of the event with a heart piercing single “20-10-20”.

One year later, we are sobered by the events of 20-10-2020. We refuse to entertain the false narratives of revisionists and a denialist government. We hold on to the memories of a time Nigerian youths came together and tried their hardest to steer Nigeria towards sanity. We will forever remember those who paid the ultimate price in an attempt to bring positive change to their fatherland. The music of the time will echo till eternity.

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