BLOG POST: Aborted "End SARS" protests and its anticipated implications on youth out-migration in Nigeria

Nigerian youths took to the streets on a peaceful protest on October 7, 2020. This protest was initially targeted at challenging and opposing all forms of police assault, and brutality that the people have been subjected to by a special arm of the Nigerian Police Force called Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) over the years. I was a victim of their nefarious activities in 2008 when I was almost charged for armed robbery. The populace was expecting an address by the President or the presidency condemning police brutality, disbanding the Unit, and assuring the teeming youths of measures to bring to book officers that have in one way or the other brutalised or extorted the masses. Due to the mishandling of the situation by the government, the protest gained momentum and flared across the country. It extended beyond police brutality to demand good governance, provision of basic amenities such as good roads, water and electricity, reduction in politicians’ salaries, and an end to corruption that has pervaded our system over the years. In the course of the protest, hoodlums alleged to be sponsored by the government tried hijacking the protest by looting and destroying public infrastructure (BBC News Pidgin, 2020). There were attacks against civil protesters in Lagos and Ibadan while police officers stood aloof from afar (Kulkarni, 2020). The Lekki Toll Gate became the major protest point. It attracted a lot of artists, and religious leaders who have showed up in solidarity with the youths (VOA News, 2020a). On the 20th October 2020, the Lagos State Governor declared a 24-hour curfew starting 4:00PM, which was later extended to 9:00PM ordering all protesters to go home. At about 7:00PM, the protest ground was attacked by the Nigerian Army. Shortly after a power cut, live bullets were fired at civilians (AL JAZEERA, 2020a). It was alleged that Army officers went away with dead bodies to cover up their operation (Amnesty International, 2020). The Governor came out the following day to address the people. In his address, he dissociated himself from the attack (VOA News, 2020b). The Nigerian Army similarly denied ordering such an operation. Still, the presidency issued no statement to that effect (AL JAZEERA, 2020b and VAO News, 2020b). On the 22nd of October, it was announced that the president would address the nation. The entire nation was left shocked when the president said nothing about the Lekki shooting, neither did he acknowledge the killings that had been said to occur in Lekki Toll Plaza (U.S.News, 2020).

Before the incident, the nation had been witnessing mass emigration of its youth into neighbouring states, through the Sahara into Libya and through the Mediterranean into Europe (Ikuteyijo, 2020). Though some have been successful in crossing into Europe, many have failed and were held in various detention camps controlled by the militias called Asma Boys in Libya (Okunade, Forthcoming). The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), The European Union and other organisations have joined forces to salvage the situation. Many migrants have been rescued from those camps and returned to their various countries. According to IOM (2019), as of February 2019, over 40,000 Libyan returnees have been repatriated back to Africa. As of February 2020, over 14,000 Nigerian migrant returnees have been repatriated back to Nigeria (Bouillon, 2019). The statistics for those who died in the Sahara/ in detention facilities in Libya/ on the Mediterranean and even in Europe remains unknown. Various Civil Society Organisations (CSO) have tried to weigh in on the situation by assisting with the reorientation and reintegration process of the migrant returnees. One such CSO is Patriotic Citizens Initiative (PCI), which has rehabilitated many migrant returnees and continues to do so. Unfortunately, as migrant returnees are being repatriated more intending migrants and even some returnees are leaving the shores of Nigeria for Europe through the Sahara and the Mediterranean (Okunade, 2021).

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has distorted the activities globally, has reignited the debate on open and closed border systems. Many countries saw this as an avenue to advocate for a closed border system, which encourages the securitisation and militarisation of the borders (Hammond, 2015 and Ikuteyijo, 2020). Several countries have also utilised this period as an opportunity to reinforce their borders. As a result of this, many Nigerians have been denied visas and entry into many countries. In 2018, Schengenvisainfo noted that Nigerians spent 5,315,220 Euro on visa applications to Europe and out of the 88,587 visa applications, 44,076 were rejected (Punch, December, 20, 2019). Early in the year, the European Commission has shown commitment to stiffening the process of visa issuance to Nigerians, given that many have overstayed their visas and refused to return to Nigeria (Schengenvisainfo, 2020). The United States has equally denied many Nigerians visas in recent times for the same reason as Europe and has shown commitment to stiffening the process the more (Sahara Reporters, 2019).  With regards to irregular migration through the Mediterranean, recently, the European Commission through its Interior Ministers and their counterparts in the Maghreb States have signed an agreement to intercept migrants before they are able to cross the Mediterranean (African Courier, 2020).

The preceding indicates that both regular and irregular migration would be difficult for Nigerians henceforth. Howbeit, with the current situation and the attitude of the government to the agitation of the youth, such as displayed by the presidential speech, it is likely many have given up on the country and are, therefore, resolute and desperate to find an “escape route” out of the country. Obviously, this would be a difficult and frustrating time for CSOs in sensitising and educating the teeming youth against irregular migration as they may not be willing to hear such anymore. As such, I foresee a “harvest time” for travelling agents/ migrant smugglers to make a fortune from the already impoverished citizens who are desperate to give up their savings and property to such adventure. Given the points noted earlier, many would fail in this attempt and become more frustrated. For those who follow the path of irregular migration, many lives would still be lost in the Sahara Desert and Libya while a few would be fortunate to be returned to Nigeria. At this point, there would be so much tension and the populace would be left with no other option but to take to the street en-masse. Given this scenario, many would have nothing more to live for and as such would be willing to die, meaning a revolution still looms.

The solution to this is not far-fetched. The government still has the time to right their wrongs and make life worth living for its citizens. Unfortunately, we are still at the level where people demand basic amenities like electricity, potable water, and a good road network. These facilities should be provided across the country. Again, the government should promote good governance and commit to tackling corruption at all levels of government. It must further revise basic salaries and allowances for civil servants and politicians through its Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission. Until the youth see true commitment and meaningful change, a revolution is imminent.


African Courier. North African countries agree to stop migrants from crossing Mediterranean, 2020. (Accessed October 25, 2020).

AL JAZEERA. Nigeria: Protesters ‘shot dead’ by security forces in Lagos, 2020a. (Accessed October 25, 2020).

 AL JAZEERA. Nigerian forces killed 12 peaceful protesters, says Amnesty: Live, 2020b. (Accessed October 25, 2020)

Amnesty International. Nigeria: Killing of #EndSARS protesters by the military must be investigated, 2020. (Accessed October 25, 2020).

BBC News Pidgin. EndSARS protests: Senate ask President Buhari to address Nigerians immediately, 2020. (Accessed October 25, 2020).

Bouillon Sophie. Nigerian migrants struggle to reintegrate after Libya ordeal, 2019. (Accessed October 25, 2020).

Hammond, Timothy G. "The Mediterranean migration crisis." Foreign Policy Journal 19, no. 5 (2015).

Ikuteyijo, Lanre Olusegun. "Irregular Migration as Survival Strategy: Narratives from Youth in Urban Nigeria." In West African Youth Challenges and Opportunity Pathways, pp. 53-77. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2020.

International Organization for Migration. Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration, EUTF, 2019. (Accessed October 25, 2020).

Kulkarni Pavan. Nigerian protesters stay on the streets defying armed thugs as army begins 2-month-long exercise, 2020. (Accessed October 25, 2020).

Okunade, Samuel Kehinde. Irregular Emigration of Nigeria Youths: An Exploration of Core Drivers from the Perspective and Experiences of Returnee Migrants. In: Moyo, J. et al. (eds) Intra-Africa Migrations: Borders as Challenges and Opportunities. London: Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group), 2021.

Punch. Nigerians spent €5.3m on visa applications to Europe in 2018 —Report, 2019. (Accessed October 25, 2020).

Sahara Reporters. US Data Reveal Visa Denials For Nigerians Increased In 2018​, 2019. (Accessed October 25, 2020).

Schengenvisainfo. EU Plans to Impose Visa Restrictions on Nigerians, 2020. (Accessed October 25, 2020).

U.S.News. Nigerian President Leaves Protest Shootings Out of Speech, 2020. (Accessed 25, 2020).

VOA News. Protests Rage On in Lagos Despite All-Day Curfew, 2020a. (Accessed October 25, 2020).

VOA News. Rights Groups Condemn Shooting of 'End SARS' Protesters in Lagos, 2020b. (Accessed October 25, 2020).


Dr. Okunade holds a doctorate degree in Conflict Transformation and Peace Studies from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Specifically, he researches on borders and migration most especially as it concerns human trafficking and migrant smuggling in Africa. He is also interested in thinking through ways in which social and ethnic cleavages in border communities could be used for economic integration and social cohesion in Africa. He equally advances the course of border communities that have an age long history of marginalization and neglect by the government. His fields of interest cut across borderland studies, security studies, peace and conflict studies, development studies, migration, and refugee studies. He has published in high impact factor journals which can be freely accessed online and has more under review.

- Author Dr Samuel Okunade, Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship

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