The sustained #EndSARS protests which entered its 7th day on Wednesday, October 14, have triggered speculations that the Federal Government might shut down the internet.
1st News had reported that the agitations of the #EndSARS protesters led to the eventual dissolution of the feared Special Anti- Robbery Squad(SARS).
The genesis of the #EndSARS protests was due to a video of a fatal police shooting of a Nigerian man; which sparked outrage and reignited a public call; for the total dissolution of the controversial police unit in the country.
The video caused large numbers of Nigerians including celebrities; politicians; and activists calling for justice; using hashtags such as #WarOnSars; #EndSars; and #SarsAlert #SARSMUSTEND.
With celebrities adding their voice to the #EndSARS campaign; it jumped to the top of the global trend on Twitter and drew international support from celebrities and soccer stars like Kanye West; Trey Songs; Mesut Ozil; and Marcus Rashford.
Nigeria’s superstars, Wizkid and Falz who are also part of this generation of protesters; have been physically present in London and Abuja protests.
Social media has played a very crucial role in the protests against the police; fueled by years of repeated experiences of police abuses and videos of brutal incidents; including the beating of civilians and the firing of live ammunition at protesters.
The campaign moved from social media to the streets of Nigeria; with protesters demanding an end to the rogue police unit and wholesome police reform.
However, the protesters are not relenting despite the dissolution of the notorious police squad; but have continued to protest; noting the government’s ineffectual promises of police reforms and investigations in the past.
Furthermore, the unity of the protesters was evidenced in the organisation of funds via digital platforms needed for the welfare of the youths.
However, there are speculations that the FG may shut the protesters up by shutting down the internet; since the surreptitious move to divide the protesters have failed.
Active protesters on and off social media have said unknown numbers have been calling to threaten them to back off.
Moreover, the Feminist Coalition, a pro-#EndSARS women group, said its bank account has been deactivated.
“For demanding an end to police brutality we are now under attack,” the group said on Twitter on Tuesday.
Nigerians are however speculating that the government in order to mute the campaign may clampdown on social media; like its counterparts in other African countries have done in the past.
For instance, Chad shut down the internet in early 2018; despite the international media campaigns against the deliberate clamp down on free speech in the landlocked African country.
“Chad is among the worst states in the world; regarding respect of digital rights,” Internet Without Borders said in December 2018.
But Chad is not the only African country where the government’s censorship of digital rights was used to stifle freedom of speech.
Between 2016 and 2018, the authorities in South Sudan; Cameroon; Ethiopia; and Somalia also shut down the internet in their respective countries.
While Zimbabwe; Sudan; and the Democratic Republic of Congo have forced internet shutdown in 2019, Tanzania; Uganda; and a host of North African countries have stringent subsisting rules for the use of social media and digital publishing.
The FG also proposed a clampdown on social media in 2019 as the law that sought to punish individuals behind certain social media posts which was proposed to the Nigerian Senate in 2017 passed first reading.
Massive media backlash prevented lawmakers from passing the bill into law.
Campaigners also argued that the #EndSARS was missing on the trend table on Twitter; despite thousands of people tweeting the hashtag.
Some of them said the government may have tampered with the hashtag. That belief led to the birth of #SARSMustEnd.
Paradigm Initiatives media and program manager Adegoke Adeboye said it is not “impossible” for the Nigerian Government to shut down the internet; but hoped it will not get to that point.
“The government’s response to the protest has been double-faced,” Adegoke said.
“While saying all the nice things openly; it is secretly attacking private businesses that have lent their platforms to support the protest.”
He said the clampdown on Flutterwave might be the first step to mute the active participation of citizens in the protest.