A Week In The Life Of A Journalist Covering The SARS Protest

October 13, 2020

“A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.


The subject of today is Femi, a writer at Zikoko. He talks about his experience covering the #Endsars protest in Lagos, how the protest is affecting relationships, and why every Nigerian should support the protest.

FRIDAY:

Today is a big day because I’m covering the #EndSARS protests in Lagos. I’m happy because lowkey, I’ve been annoyed about Nigerians not speaking up for their rights. So, seeing young people come together to stage a peaceful protest makes me proud of them. Of us. And that has gingered me to document the protest. As a journalist, it’s my duty to ensure that society works the way it’s supposed to. That’s why I’m up two hours earlier than I’d normally wake up to complete my tasks for the day. 

My tasks include covering how protesters in Lagos have been harassed by the police. I’m also reporting the demands of the protesters in clear terms. By the time I’m done, I have renewed ginger to take to the protest ground.

11 am:

I left my house by 10 am, but I didn’t get to the protest venue [Alausa] until 11 am. There was a bit of traffic caused by the protesters. It’s easy to get carried away by protest frenzy, so I have to remind myself that I’m here in an official capacity. That means before I react to anything, my camera should be rolling. 

12 noon:

A thug tried to snatch my phone while I was recording videos. He was surprised that I didn’t let go of my phone easily. I even got a punch in the mouth for struggling. Thankfully, people surrounded us and pushed him away. It’s funny how he just kept on walking like he didn’t just try to steal from me. I’ve texted my friend safety tips for when he’s coming to join me: “Come along with water, snacks, ID cards, cash, comfortable clothes and no jewellery.”

1 pm:

The protest has been peaceful so far. We have people volunteering to clean up after people littering. I’ve lost count of how many times someone has offered me snacks and water. There are people here distributing facemasks for protesters. Everything is just so orderly. The one time we had an agitated person, we took them aside to ensure that the protest didn’t turn violent. I’m so proud of everyone here who showed up. 

1:30 pm:

I’m a bit worried. There are a lot of policemen stationed outside the house of assembly where we’re protesting. Even though it’s a peaceful protest, there’s that underneath fear that anything can happen. The police say they’re here to observe. I’ll soon go on IG live for work. Let me show the people at home how it’s going and that we’re safe. 

2:00 pm:

At some point, some agbayas with berets attempted to make themselves the centre of the protest. We promptly shouted them down and didn’t allow them to speak because we don’t want political affiliations with our protest. One of the ways we’re keeping the protest anonymous is to have everyone on equal standing. There’s no one person handling the crowd. There’s no one person talking all the time. The megaphone passes to different people so everyone has a chance to say something at any given time. There’s no central figure, and that’s good because the government can’t pick one person to either harass, bribe or use as a stumbling block to the protests. I think that’s one of the reasons why the protest has gathered momentum. 

2:30 pm:

At this protest, there are two types of people. People who urinate in a large drainage near the Lagos state house of assembly, and people who walk the distance to the city mall to use their toilets. Do with this information what you will. 

3:00pm:

Some people suggested that we block the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. Their reasoning is that we’re not making enough impact at the house of assembly as the traditional media is still ignoring us. 

We’ve blocked the traffic lanes on the express, and traffic is stretching as far as the eye can see. There are convoys, bullion vans, army and policemen in the traffic. I’m scared of an altercation, but I also understand the importance of this cause. 

Some people came to negotiate, so we left one lane open for traffic on both sides. Instead of a total shut down, it’s now go-slow. I hope the government is paying attention. 

4 pm – 6 pm:

I was worried that morale would drop in the evening.  Apparently, someone has booked a DJ. Another person rented a generator. Someone else has gotten canopies, so there’s ginger at the protest ground. The first song the DJ plays is Fem by Davido, and the crowd loses it. Why everybody just dey para for us? 

10 pm:

Some people are hell-bent on passing the night at Alausa. However, I’m going home to sleep. Seeing all these people coming out to air their grievances gives me an overwhelming sense of pride. For the first time in this generation’s memory, we’ve decided to let our displeasure be known to the government. 

I’m proud, tired, and I can’t wait to hit my bed. 

SATURDAY:

I’m up early. Again. 

Today’s protest starts by 8:00 am, so I have to get there early. I’m thinking about the fact that Nigeria is notorious for human rights abuse, therefore protests require courage.  Every time you attend a protest, you don’t know if you’re going to be bundled away. Summoning bravery is the first barrier many Nigerians have to overcome before deciding whether they want to make their voices heard or not.

I really don’t blame anyone that doesn’t come out to protest. If you can’t attend physically, you can still help by either donating or aggressively amplifying on social media. 

I think protesters need to know that in addition to wearing correct gear, they shouldn’t incite violence. If any faction is becoming violent and destroying properties, they should immediately leave the area. It’s also crucial to have a protest partner who knows your full name, address and emergency contact. In case anything happens. I recommend as many protest partners as possible because the more the better. The more details people have, the better chance you stand if anything happens. 

I’m running late with all this thinking. I need to get up and get going.

They [government] must not take us for idiot.

SUNDAY:

I woke up tired today. Standing and walking around Lagos takes a toll on your body, but my eye is on the prize — our voices must be heard. I know that effort is not wasted, so that’s encouraging. We must keep gathering. We must keep pushing. If we don’t support the protests by our physical presence, we’ll donate. If we don’t have money, we’ll amplify on social media. 

It’s been tiring, and I’ve had less sleep in the past few days than I should, but it’s for a worthy cause. We’re all fighting for a Nigeria we can be proud of. 

The most surprising thing for me has been seeing the middle class come out to protest. I think that has given a lot of humanity to the protest. You see people who look like you, went to the same school as you. People who talk like you. And they’re putting themselves on the line. I didn’t think I was going to see Nigerians from different backgrounds protest together. At least, not anytime soon.

Another thing from this protest is hearing how it’s affecting relationships. A friend called to tell me that he hasn’t spent as much time with his girlfriend in a while. Another friend had a similar complaint. After reminding ourselves why we’re protesting, we came to a conclusion: na person wey dey alive go fuck. 

MONDAY:

My biggest fears are coming to fruition. Two people in Lagos were shot by the police today. I was afraid of people losing their lives during this protest because people lose hope when the shootings start. However, it seems like the more they kill us, the more young people are ready to push for basic human rights. I’m concerned the protests will become a full-scale riot, and I hope that we don’t get there. 

For me, this is bigger than a SARS Protest. We are at the point where Nigerians are finally fighting for what they believe in. We finally have a voice and can demand better.

We’ve proven to govt and international bodies that Nigerian people will no longer be pushed around. That’s a major win for me even if the protest doesn’t meet its objective of ending Sars. 

I have to work today, so I’ll support the cause on social media. Tomorrow, I go again. I’m pulling up with my guys physically to make sure that our voices are heard. Or I will stay back to document that we spoke, and the government was silent while we died.


Check back every Tuesday by 9 am for more “A Week In The Life ” goodness, and if you would like to be featured or you know anyone who fits the profile, fill this form.

Hassan Yahaya

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