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Like Arab Spring, like #EndSARS

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PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI

The Arab Spring, also called the Arab Awakening, Arab Uprising or Jasmine Revolution was a term used to refer to the wave of peaceful protests, demonstrations, and civil unrest, that swept through the Arab world and North Africa. It started in 2010 when youths demanded an end to authoritarian regimes, poverty, corruption, and marginalization. Though the Middle East and North Africa saw the bulk of the disturbances, the widespread agitation against regimes in those regions gave rise to similar movements or the speculation thereof, in countries without majority Arab populations. The effect of the Arab Spring was felt in places as far away and diverse as the United States, Europe, Russia, Mali, Senegal, and Zimbabwe, to name but a few.

According to Reuters, “the Arab Spring began in Tunisia where anger snowballed into a revolution, sparked by the suicide of a young, unemployed man, Mohamed Bouazizi on the 17th of December, 2010, after officials seeking bribes blocked his attempts to make a living selling vegetables.”Bouazizi who must have been frustrated by the harassment, took the most extreme form of protest -self-immolation, voluntary sacrifice of oneself, by dousing himself with gas to burn in public due to a sense of hopelessness. This singular act sparked mass protests that spread across the country.

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The regime of Ben Ali resorted to repressive tactics such as blocking the internet, cutting off telecommunication, beatings and shooting to quell the mass protests. The governments tactics failed, largely due to the people’s willingness to circumvent conventional media and resort to posting their content online, through social networks like twitter Facebook and YouTube, using their mobile phones to upload pictures and posting messages to mobilize and expose the situation on the ground. This period coincidentally coincided with the unprecedented revelations of corruption within the Presidents inner circle and family.

After initial hesitation by world leaders and weeks of anti-regime pro-democracy protests, the protesters succeeded in eliciting international sympathy and inspired similar, pro-democracy activists and protesters across other Arab countries. President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali (who was also the Prime Minister of Tunisia), quit office on 14 January, 2011, and fled to Saudi Arabia with his family. Along with his wife, he was later charged with corruption, tried, and sentenced in absentia for 35 years. INTERPOL then issued an international arrest warrant for him. Thousands of senior members from Mr. Ben Ali’s party were banned from running for subsequent elections. In the face of overwhelming odds, the courage of Tunisians, added to people-power, culminated in the ousting of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, after more than 23 years in power.” The United Nations (UN) estimated that the crackdown on protesters by the regime in Tunisia cost the lives of more than 200 people.

The Arab Spring was unique from other uprisings that came before it in the region, due to the ability of the youths to work around government censorship of the media by organizing and sharing information via the internet and social media apps. The protesters were able to easily upload pictures and videos of government oppression against protesters by using twitter and Facebook to share information and YouTube to stream videos. The traditional 24-hour satellite news networks, such as Al Jazeera, BBC and CNN, were also at hand to report and share information globally on events as they occurred.

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No country in the Arab World was immune from the effects of the Arab Spring as protesters succeeded in toppling two leaders in Egypt and Yemen, while Muammar Gaddaffi of Libya and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, tragically, lost their lives during this tumultuous period. As a result, the other countries in the region succumbed to pressure, with promises of political and financial concessions to stave off further protests.

Indeed, the Arab Spring can be considered as a harbinger that foreshadowed the October #EndSARS protests. The #EndSARS protests started on the 8th of October, 2020, when youths across Nigeria, triggered by videos widely shared on social media allegedly showing SARS officer killing a man, rapidly organized and sustained massive protest movements across the country. In response to the mass protests, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, disbanded the SARS unit on the 10th of October. However, the youths disillusioned by lack of opportunities and wary of government promises continued the protests for another 12 days culminating in the Lekki Toll Gate shooting on the 20th of October, 2020.

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The Arab spring and the #EndSARS protests have some very fundamental similarities, such as; the protests were youth led and social media was widely used to share content and organize. And so, ten years after the Arab Spring, the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria have shown that the Nigerian government ignored the lessons from the Arab Spring. The Nigerian government must wake up and realize that the #EndSARS protests are a taste of what could come, because the conditions that fueled and sustained the Arab Spring share glaring similarities with the situation that fueled the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria. More so, if the Arab Spring is a harbinger of things to come, the government ought to now act quickly to increase interaction with the youths that will help them change their mind-sets, for just as they can be easily be moulded towards violence, so can they be moulded towards peace.

With this in mind, the government should introduce a National Action Plan (NAP) on Youth, Peace and Security (YPS), in line with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250, (UNSCR 2250), on Youth, Peace and Security. The resolution which was adopted by the UN Security Council in 2015, recognized that youth should actively be engaged in shaping lasting peace and contributing to justice and reconciliation, and that a large youth population presents a unique demographic dividend that can contribute to stability and economic prosperity across nations.

Acholonu is a principal research fellow with the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution.

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