On Saturday, 17th October, the Nigerian Army announced an Operation named Crocodile Smile VI which is designed to censor online activities in the wake of the #EndSARS protests.
An assistant to the Chief of Army Staff who appeared on a TV programme earlier on Monday went further to give credence to this new censorship operation which the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has tried and failed with.
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That this information resistance courtesy of the government, especially the Army and the NBC were stepped up during the agitation for ending the defunct rogue police SARS unit, police brutality and bad governance in the nation reveals the power which online activism has garnered recently.
The #EndSARS movement outgrew the previous effort of certain individuals who took it upon themselves to rescue Nigerians from the jaws of the SARS menace. And so particular mobilisation for the demands to end police brutality assumed more momentum when a few celebrities started to call out government officials directly on Twitter. Some other celebrities such as the comedian Mr Macaroni then led a group of people to sleepover at the protest grounds in front of the government house, Alausa, Ikeja when the Lagos state government refused to address them.
This was a major turning point which drove attention and online engagement. The #EndSARS hashtag began to trend on Twitter until it became the number 1 topic in the Twitter world. Other major global celebrities ranging from musicians, sportsmen to billionaires have since lent their voice to the struggle by tweeting about it and speaking in support of ending police brutality in Nigeria as a feminist organisation also helped to crowdsourced funding for the protests.
The quick climb of the #EndSARS hashtag to a number 1 trending topic globally coupled with the celebrity voices identifying with the movement surely gave the movement a little more than the organic boost it began with. International media organisations soon began to scramble for reportage of the news of what is going on in the most populous black nation in the world.
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Just like the #BlackLivesMatter protests again got international attention once again in the United States; in 2014, the #BringBackOurGirls which also gained international appeal and sympathy got the Goodluck Jonathan administration to give in to the demands of the people despite being inconvenient for the government of the time.
Two years before the #BringBackOurGirls struggle of the Chibok Girls fame, #OccupyNaija also gained national attention and the whole nation was shut down with a labour strike action and a nationwide protest to demand the return of fuel subsidy.
All of these instances, and the current activism being championed by the youth across the nation, all point to the rise and rise of online activism as a means of putting an end to impunity, corruption, nepotism and okay importantly- violence against the youth by the police.
Suddenly, it now seems like the whole youth population across the nation are awakened to a new awareness which has eluded them for years since the last major struggle in 2012 and 2014.
Online activism may have come to stay in our polity permanently. As the online space has found it’s way to international influence and mobilisation, we can reiterate again that the younger majority population in Nigeria will continue to deploy these modern tools of online/internet technology for their use in mobilising and organising.
And with this novel level of activism and awareness, it will be very difficult for the Federal Government to shut down criticism with the gimmicks from Operation Crocodile Smile VI, NBC regulations and even the proposed Social Media Bill which are all meant to gag the youth population.
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