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Jack Dorsey Advocates Ending Police Brutality In Nigeria Through Bitcoin
Jack Dorsey, the CEO of social media giant Twitter, has joined the drive directed at dispersing the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and putting an end to Nigerian police brutality. Jack Dorsey Advocates Ending Police Brutality In Nigeria Through Bitcoin
In a tweet on October 14, 2020, Jack requested all concerned Twitter users to make contributions via Bitcoin to help a feminist coalition that aims to end injustices in Nigeria through fundraising, non-violent protests, and social media activism.
Jack Asked People To Donate Bitcoin To Help End SARS
The Twitter CEOs request is one of many made by several international groups, institutions, and personalities from around the world.
The donation website he connected to is managed by a group of Nigerian feminists currently focusing on protests against the police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) through rallies, fundraising, and social media.
Ray Youssef, CEO of popular African Peer-to-peer Bitcoin marketplace Paxful, also supported the #endSARS hashtag. He has condemned the Nigerian police for brutally targeting young people for simply using cryptocurrency. He tweeted:
This is a real crisis of human rights happening now! Police are targeting young entrepreneurs for using crypto currency. Nigerians brilliantly adopted crypto early and used it legitimately to rise out of poverty and restore honor to Nigeria and this is their reward?
— Ray Youssef (@raypaxful) October 11, 2020
Demonstrations Began In Nigeria On October 4
The demonstrations started in Nigeria on October 4 with many young people taking to the streets to oppose police brutality in the country and call for the dismissal of SARS, with the trending #endSARS hashtag.
The protest in Nigerian cities had spread after weeks of online complaints posted by young people in the country over claims of kidnapping, harassment and extortion by police units identified as SARS. Protests recapitulated after the inspector general of police declared on Sunday that the unit was being dismissed and its officers transferred.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has always been a notable supporter of Bitcoin. In fact, his payment company, Square, had recently purchased $50 million worth of BTC, which coincided with a price increase for the digital currency.
In the month of September 2020, Jack had said that the internet is something that is consensus-driven and is developed by everyone and allows anyone to modify its content and direction. Bitcoin has the same patterns as it was developed on the internet and anyone with a brilliant conception can join in its development, Jack told Reuters in an interview. In the past, he has also said that Bitcoin is “probably the best” primary currency of the internet since it also “consensus-driven” and “built by everyone.”
Nigerian Protesters Shut Down Africa’s Largest City, Escalating Standoff With Government
Authorities vow to restore order as demonstrations grow across Nigeria.
Tens of thousands of protesters brought the largest city in Africa to a standstill on Monday, mounting the biggest demonstration in a two-week campaign against police brutality and escalating a standoff with a government that has pledged to restore order.
Groups of placard-waving protesters blocked major roads across Lagos, Nigeria’s sprawling commercial capital and home to an estimated 20 million people. The city’s Ibadan expressway, the country’s busiest road, was blocked by groups chanting: “We want change.” Protesters closed off the city’s airport and stormed the terminal.
In a city infamous for hourslong traffic jams, columns of Lagos residents could be seen walking along emptied streets and causeways.
The Lagos protests were the largest of a series of demonstrations on Monday across the West African nation of 206 million people that appeared to significantly raise the temperature between demonstrators and the government.
Nigeria’s army deployed to several intersections in the capital, Abuja, at sites of a planned protest, while police fired tear gas, days after local authorities issued an executive order banning demonstrations in the city.
Over the weekend, Defense Minister Bashir Magashi warned protesters against breaching national security and the information minister, Lai Mohammed, said the government wouldn’t “fold its arms and allow the country to descend into anarchy.”
Protesters in Lagos accuse the government of deploying agitators to create a pretext for a crackdown, a charge the government denies.
“I know they will try to bring the military to make us scared,” said Gbenga Abioye, a student taking part in a Lagos protest blocking access to Murtala Muhammed airport, where young people sang with raised fists as the national anthem blared through tinny speakers. “We aren’t going to fight. But we will stay on the streets.”
The escalating rhetoric raises the prospect of a showdown between President Muhammadu Buhari and a protest movement that has evolved from a single-issue campaign into a more diffuse protest against alleged government corruption, economic mismanagement and nepotism.
The protests have flared in a context of profound economic malaise, as a an oil-price crash and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic have slammed Nigeria’s economy, which is failing to keep pace with rapid population growth. More than 55% of Nigerians are underemployed or unemployed and youth unemployment is even higher, according to official statistics.
More than 90% of Nigerians work in the informal sector, meaning the government’s lockdown of major cities to slow the spread of the new coronavirus deprived tens of millions of people of the cash they need to survive.
Mr. Buhari, a former general who briefly ruled Nigeria at the head of a military junta in the 1980s before returning as elected civilian president in 2015, has deployed the army against other protests in recent years, including in 2018, where government forces killed 45 Shiite Muslims marching to support a jailed cleric. He has urged the protesters to give the government time to address their concerns.
The current protests began with demands to ban a notorious police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS, which was long accused of extortion, torture and extrajudicial killings.
The largely peaceful protests, organized under the hashtag #EndSARS, won the backing of celebrities and business leaders around the world, including the rapper Kanye West and Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey, who urged people to support protesters by donating bitcoin.
Nigerian diaspora communities in the U.S. and Europe have attended street protests in solidarity with a movement that has sought to bridge the country’s traditional sectarian and economic divides.
“This protest is different because it is the first time Nigerians are speaking with one voice and the government cannot find anything to divide us,” said Chalse Inoji, a popular Nigerian comedy actor, who was marching wrapped in a Nigerian flag. “EndSARS is a rallying point for all of the years of bad governance, maladministration and institutional highhandedness. We are asking for a total reformation of our political system.”
Nigeria’s government agreed to disband the police unit and establish a new elite police force—SWAT—whose officers would be trained by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
But tensions have continued to rise on the streets across the country, as protesters vow not to withdraw until promises are delivered and the government releases those arrested at the recent demonstrations.
In Edo state, authorities imposed a curfew after hundreds of prisoners escaped from a jail in the melee of protests. Elsewhere, groups of men armed with clubs and bats attacked groups of protesters camped at strategic intersections.
The protests are being driven by the youth in Nigeria, a country with an average age of 18 and one of the world’s fastest-growing populations, projected to overtake the U.S. to become the third-largest by 2050. The demonstrations fit into an emerging global pattern of youth-led calls for change from Hong Kong to Sudan and Chile.
Nigeria’s youth-led protests “could start to redraw the political landscape,” said Amaka Anku, an analyst at Eurasia Group, a risk consultancy.
“The current generation of Nigerian youth have paid very little attention to politics to date….That reality is now likely to shift as young protesters grow more conscious of their political power,” she said.
Inside the protest movement, fractures are appearing between those who want to keep the focus on police brutality and those who want more fundamental change.
“The biggest strength of the protests has also become its biggest liability, which is total absence of centralized leadership,” said David Huneydin, a journalist critical of the government who has marched in the protests. “A military intervention is now highly likely.”
The protests were no longer about police brutality and had become political, said a senior Nigerian security official. “This is a platform that is being hijacked by people opposed to the government. It is well funded.”
There were signs that Mr. Buhari’s allies were hardening their position against the protesters. Governors from Nigeria’s majority Muslim north have rejected the total disbandment of SARS, stressing it has been instrumental in fighting the Boko Haram insurgency and should be reformed rather than scrapped.
Nigeria’s army said over the weekend that it would begin a two-month national exercise—Operation Crocodile Smile—the first time the annual exercise, typically concentrated in the oil-producing Delta region, will be nationwide.
As night fell on Monday, thousands of protesters gathered at a bridge toll gate, swaying the lights on their cellphones as musicians sang protest songs through booming speakers. The vast digital advertising banner on the bridge was lit up with the protest slogan “Soro Soke,” or Speak Louder.
Lagos protesters have pledged to continue the citywide shutdown for three days. “These protests are happening in phases and we are not ready to leave the streets anytime soon,” said Uche Nnadi, a 36-year-old Nigerian actor. “We are tired of bad leadership.”
Nigerian Protesters Killed As Soldiers Open Fire In Lagos
Deadly violence comes hours after the announcement of a curfew.
Several people were killed as Nigerian soldiers opened fire at a key protest site in Lagos, witnesses said, as the government sought to end two weeks of marches against police brutality that have mushroomed into broader nationwide demonstrations.
Three witnesses, gathered among hundreds of protesters at Lagos’ Lekki toll gate, said that pickup trucks arrived shortly after nightfall and soldiers began to fire tear gas and then bullets into the crowd. It wasn’t immediately clear how many people had been killed, but each of the witnesses said they saw several bodies on the road. Videos posted on social media showed screaming protesters surrounding bloodied corpses, visible through a haze of yellow tear-gas smoke.
“The Nigerian government sent the army to come and kill us,” said Akinbosola Adeyemi, a talk-show host who ran five-eights of a mile to safety. “A lot of people were hit. You are not meant to shoot live firearms against us.”
Nigeria’s army referred questions about the killings to the civil police, who couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. Nigeria’s national government also couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. The state government said it would open an investigation into the shooting.
The decision to use military force to quell the protests moves politics in West Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer into an uncertain phase. The intervention came just hours after the governor of Lagos declared a curfew across Africa’s most populous city, saying that swelling protests against police brutality had “degenerated into a monster,” setting up a showdown between demonstrators and the government.
Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced on his Twitter feed that a curfew would come into effect at 4 p.m. local time on Tuesday and affect all parts of the state, which is home to more than 20 million people. “Nobody except essential service providers and first responders must be found on the streets” the governor said. “We will not watch and allow anarchy in our dear state.”
Tensions have escalated across the oil-rich West African nation in recent days as violence has flared across several cities across southern and central states. Armed groups—which demonstrators say were government agitators, a charge the government and its allies has denied—have clashed with protesters, property has been vandalized and in the southwestern Edo state, dozens of prisoners were freed in a jail break, prompting the state governor to impose a curfew.
The Lekki toll gate, situated at one of Lagos’ busiest intersections, has become a key rallying point for peaceful demonstrations in recent days, with food stalls, canvas tents and a private security detail patrolling the perimeter. DJs and Afrobeat stars have sung protest songs to young demonstrators waving their cellphones behind a large plasma screen beaming the slogan Soro Soke, or “speak louder.”
The intervention comes after Monday protests where tens of thousands of demonstrators brought swaths of the commercial capital to a standstill, mounting the biggest demonstration in a two-week campaign against police brutality. A city police station was set on fire on Tuesday morning, leading the national police chief to order the deployment of anti-riot police to quell “increasing attacks including acts of arson and malicious damage.”
Lagos has emerged as the epicenter of a protest movement known as #EndSARS—it began with demands to disband a police force called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad that had been accused of extortion, torture and extrajudicial killings—that mushroomed into calls for broader complaints about corruption, poor governance and a weak economy.
Hours before the curfew began, hundreds of protesters remained at the toll gate, pledging not to move.
“This has become about much more than police brutality. It’s about our future,” said Stephen Adedoja, a 35-year old driver. “We have to make a stand before it’s too late.”
President Muhammadu Buhari, a former general, has said little about the protest movement that has evolved from a single-issue campaign into a more diffuse protest against alleged government corruption, economic mismanagement and nepotism. Mr. Buhari agreed in a televised statement last week to disband SARS but has been silent since. Several cabinet ministers and military officials have warned in recent days that the protests had become political and were lurching toward “anarchy.”
A former general who briefly ruled Nigeria at the head of a military junta in the 1980s before returning as elected civilian president in 2015, Mr. Buhari has deployed the army against other protests in recent years, including in 2018, where government forces killed 45 Shiite Muslims marching to support a jailed cleric. He has urged the protesters to give the government time to address their concerns.
Some analysts who have supported the protests said the reports from Lagos were reminiscent of a military dictatorship. “It’s a demonstration of how far the Nigerian government can go to stop Nigerians from exercising their rights. It’s an affront on the constitution and democracy,” said Bulama Bukarti, a human rights lawyer who represented the families of SARS victims.
Inside the protest movement, fractures have appeared between those who want to keep the focus on police brutality and those who want more fundamental change.
In the hours before the incursion, hundreds of #EndSARS supporters on social media urged demonstrators to withdraw from the streets to continue the protest online. “We’ve lost enough people,” one said. Amnesty International said on Monday that at least 15 people have died since the protests began.
Oladotton Collins-Ebiesuwa, 49 years old, was at the toll gate when he heard automatic gunfire begin and began to run amid a crowd of protesters.
“It was chaos. Everybody was running but then some tried to go back,” said the businessman, who has been protesting for days. “But we will continue. These people have been cheating us for so long.”
Nigeria Protests Show Bitcoin Adoption Is Not Coming: It’s Here
As protests sweep across the country, with multiple regions placed under curfew, Nigerians are using social media and bitcoin in their fight against police corruption.
Nigerians called for the disbandment of the special anti-robbery squad (SARS) in 2017, and the government supposedly complied. But after reports of SARS officers allegedly killing a young boy in southern Nigeria surfaced on Oct. 3 of this year, protests erupted again.
The police unit stands accused of illegal killings, extortion and torture of innocent civilians: many of its victims over the years were young men between the ages of 18 and 35.
On Oct. 9, Yele Bademosi, CEO of Binance-backed payments app Bundle, took to Twitter to share his own brutal encounter with SARS. Youths marched through the streets of Lagos while the hashtag #EndSARS went viral on social media, leading to protests in countries with large Nigerian diaspora populations including the U.K., U.S., Canada and Germany.
The next day, Bademosi’s firm set up crypto wallets to help raise funds for the protests, highlighting projects already underway. Local activist groups such as the Feminist Coalition had already started raising funds in multiple fiat currencies to help sustain the protests.
Within days the coalition’s bank accounts were frozen and the coalition asked donors to divert their funds to bitcoin wallets. As of Oct. 18, the group had raised more than 7.2 bitcoin (or $82,000) accounting for 44% of the total funds raised for the movement. The message spread far and wide:
Even Twitter founder Jack Dorsey used his platform to promote bitcoin donations. On Oct. 20, reports surfaced that Nigerian security forces had opened fire on protesters. The coalition announced it was continuing its efforts to support the injured.
“I knew that it was going to kind of snowball into what it has become and it’s kind of crazy that all of this has happened in just, like, six or seven days,” Bademosi told CoinDesk.
This is all part of a larger story. Nigeria’s predominantly young population, its status as a regional tech hub, an inflationary local currency, along with a large diaspora looking to send remittances home have been driving crypto adoption and innovation in Africa’s most populated country. Now, Nigeria’s federal government is making plans to facilitate national blockchain adoption.
A Chainalysis report on the geography of crypto revealed Nigeria ranked eighth (out of 154 countries) in its 2019-2020 global adoption index. The country ranked first among African countries in peer-to-peer (P2P) payments moving $139 million in the past year, the report said.
Scale of Adoption
In late 2018, Ahmed Rasheed, 29, opened a bitcoin wallet for his unborn daughter in Nigeria’s southwestern state of Oyo.
The previous year, after a friend had introduced him to crypto, he quickly amassed $720, the equivalent of his six months of his then-salary as a physics and mathematics teacher. He received the crypto through airdrops, where projects deliver small amounts to wallets for free, usually as a marketing strategy.
With the money, Rasheed bought a laptop, quit his job and immediately opened bitcoin wallets for his wife and elder daughter. He eventually found work in marketing at a blockchain firm and his wife also found work with a blockchain project. Now, when he has to pay his daughter’s school fees, he converts savings from her designated wallet into naira.
“We’re definitely a blockchain family,” Rasheed told CoinDesk.
Rasheed’s enthusiasm for investing in crypto is happening at a national scale. According to Nena Nwachukwu, Nigeria regional manager at peer-to-peer (P2P) bitcoin exchange Paxful, in the period between January and September 2020, new registrations at the exchange rose 137% compared to the same period last year. Now, the exchange has over 600,000 Nigerian users, Nwachukwu told CoinDesk.
“This year cryptocurrency popularity and usage by Nigerians has grown by leaps and bounds,” Nwachukwu said, adding the COVID-19 pandemic and the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) recent devaluation of the naira, are compelling more people to actively search for other means to secure their wealth.
According to Senator Ihenyen, fintech lawyer and general secretary of Nigeria’s blockchain association SiBAN, a self-regulatory body in the industry, adoption trends show that the largest use cases for crypto are in remittances and P2P trading.
Nwachukwu confirmed this, adding that Paxful’s Nigerian customers are very knowledgeable and have evolved from using bitcoin only as a form of speculative investment to making online payments, cross-border remittances, freelancer payments and e-commerce.
According to Ihenyen, there are about 10 international and local exchanges in Nigeria, some of which are currently registered with SiBAN, but he suspects there might be more operating in the country.
Mayowa Tudonu, a software engineer who is building crypto exchange products on the Ethereum blockchain, helped Africa-based digital payments platform InterSwitch to develop a cross-border payments system. Tudonu calls remittances a “core application” of blockchain that can severely disrupt international payments.
“People who have to pay their kids’ school fees, to send money to families, are beginning to adopt bitcoin as a form of remittance. I mean, we are looking at transaction volumes in terms of billions of naira,” Tudonu said.
According to a report from consulting company PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Nigerian migrants sent home a whopping $23.63 billion in remittances in 2018.
Additionally, since bitcoin allows for the quick transfer of large volumes, particularly for international trade deals, intermediaries would facilitate fiat-to-crypto transfers between Nigeria and other countries like China.
Bernard Parah, 28, got started in the crypto space by personally handling large over-the-counter (OTC) transfers on behalf of businessmen.
P2P lending platforms Paxful and LocalBitcoins saw dramatic surges in trading volumes in the first seven months of 2020, which began to decline in the following months. Although Nigerians are looking for a hedge against the continued pressure on the naira, Nwachukwu said the devaluation of the currency meant people had less money to spend.
“We have seen cases of active customers, very much interested in trading but cannot continue due to a lack of sufficient funds or job loss,” Nwachukwu said.
Software developer Tudonu began building Ethereum-based digital payments infrastructure after completing a course on Ethereum development with ConsenSys in 2018. He told CoinDesk he was one of the high scorers, and has since gone on to build a successful career in the industry. Tudonu often mentors Nigerian developers interested in breaking into blockchain.
An underlying reason why blockchain is gaining traction fast in Nigeria is because its young and tech-savvy population is showing an eagerness to learn more about Web3.0, a decentralized internet powered by blockchain technology.
Awosika Israel Ayodeji is a project designer at Web3Bridge, a blockchain education platform created to onboard developers in Africa.
“Blockchain has a lot of potential for us in terms of building system infrastructure, government infrastructure … also, I personally saw how if you are heading into the blockchain space, it’s easier to create a name, brand and niche for yourself,” Ayojedi told CoinDesk.
He acknowledged that airdrops are not necessarily enough. His efforts to teach the “tech behind the airdrops” so far introduced 40 developers to the space in the last year.
SiBAN’s Ihenyen said educators have done great work so far. “Some of them work online. Some of them also go to cities across Nigeria, trying to educate people, especially young people about cryptocurrency and blockchain,” Ihenyen said, adding that some used WhatsApp groups to organize classes and communicate.
In Nigeria’s northwestern state of Kano, 29-year-old Sani Musa Sharu, who is managing his family’s savings in crypto, was excited to find that his government was officially supporting blockchain adoption in the country.
Sharu saw a draft framework that was obtained by a local news outlet last week that revealed key government ministries were involved in developing strategies for nationwide blockchain adoption, which included the creation of comprehensive regulatory oversight.
Before this, the government had left the crypto industry largely alone. Apart from the CBN in 2017 declaring digital currencies are not legal tender in Nigeria, the country’s Securities and Exchange Commission issuing a warning about investing in crypto and later classifying all crypto assets as securities, there had been no major efforts by the government to regulate crypto.
Earlier this year, when Parah decided to launch his crypto payments app Bitnob; he said did not have to obtain a license to launch the app and exchange. He only needed to register his business with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
Earlier this month, while protesting in Lagos, Parah was multitasking by pushing updates for his app, which he says has been gaining traction since May.
“We have to keep things moving as well,” he said.
Nigeria Protests: What’s Happening and Why Are People Demonstrating Against SARS?
Protests against a notorious police unit have mushroomed into a broader movement, posing a challenge to the government of Africa’s most populous nation.
Two weeks of nationwide protests against police brutality in Nigeria turned deadly Tuesday as security forces fired live rounds on demonstrators, killing several people. The decision to use military force to quell the demonstrations shifts politics into an uncertain phase in West Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer.
Why Have Nigerians Taken To The Streets?
Nigerians began demonstrating in early October, calling for the ban of a notorious police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, that has been long accused of violent harassment. The protests erupted after a video showed a SARS officer allegedly shooting a man in Delta state before driving off.
Peaceful protests, organized under the hashtag #EndSARS, spread across the country of 206 million people and to Nigerian diaspora communities in the U.S. and Europe in solidarity with the movement.
Formed in 1992, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad is a heavily armed police unit to fight violent crime including car jackings and armed robbery, and has become synonymous across much of Nigeria with allegations of police brutality and impunity.
Amnesty International and other rights groups have documented the unit’s alleged abuse of civilians including extortion, rape and extrajudicial killings. Many Nigerians complained that SARS frequently extorted young people who appeared to have disposable income. The #EndSARS campaign became a messaging board for harrowing personal tales of violence, theft and intimidation.
The police had repeatedly denied accusations against SARS, but conceded after the protests erupted that there were “unruly and unprofessional” officers and said these people would face disciplinary actions.
Not all Nigerians have the same view of SARS: In the country’s northeast, where the government has been fighting a decadelong insurgency against jihadist group Boko Haram, SARS is seen as an effective fighting force.
Who Is Leading The #EndSARS Protests?
The protests are being driven by the youth in Nigeria, a country with an average age of 18 and one of the world’s fastest-growing populations, projected to overtake the U.S. to become the world’s third-largest by 2050. The wave of protests is the biggest display of people power in years in Nigeria as young people demand more sweeping changes.
The demonstrations fit into an emerging global pattern of youth-led calls for change, from Hong Kong to Sudan and Chile. Protest groups have raised more than $250,000, setting up helplines for protesters in trouble, covering medical aid and providing private security.
How Have Nigerian Authorities Responded To The Protests?
After days of silence, President Muhammadu Buhari, a former general, addressed the nation Thursday evening, calling for protesters to leave the streets but making no mention of Tuesday’s attack.
“This government respects and will continue to respect all the democratic rights and civil liberties of the people,” Mr. Buhari said. “But it will not allow anybody or groups to disrupt the peace of our nation.”
A new unit called SWAT has been formed whose officers will receive training on police conduct and use of force by the international committee of the Red Cross, but protesters fear that SARS officers will simply blend into the new unit without facing accountability.
Several cabinet ministers and military officials have issued hawkish statements in recent days, warning that the protests had become political and were lurching toward “anarchy.”
What Happened At Lekki Toll Gate?
On Tuesday evening, hundreds of Nigerian protesters had gathered for the 13th straight night at Lekki Toll Gate, the intersection in an upscale zone that had become the symbolic home of the protests. Shortly before 7 p.m., the lights went out, plunging the street into darkness, according to the testimony of seven protesters present.
Within 30 minutes, Nigerian soldiers emerged from gun trucks. As demonstrators began to sing Nigeria’s national anthem, “Arise O’ Compatriots,” the army fired live rounds at the unarmed protesters, leaving several people dead, and filling Nigerian social-media feeds with images of bloodstained flags that have prompted international condemnation from around the world.
The number of people killed and wounded in Tuesday’s crackdown remains undetermined. Witnesses have given The Wall Street Journal varying estimates of how many bloodied corpses they saw at the Lekki Toll Gate of between five and 20.
Amnesty International said it had identified at least 10 people who died from their injuries in what it said “clearly amounted to extrajudicial executions.” U.S. officials in Nigeria said they “determined conclusively” that the army was responsible and have called for an immediate investigation.
Several videos that corroborated the witnesses’ testimony were verified by the Journal and Storyful, a social-media verification agency. Storyful is owned by News Corp, which is also the parent of Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Journal.
Nigeria’s federal government has refused to comment on the incursion, pending an investigation. An army spokesman first referred questions about the killings to the police, before denying it was involved.
Where Is The Protest Movement Going?
The military operation at Lekki Toll Gate appears to have deepened the rifts between the government and many of those governed in Africa’s largest oil producer. The series of street protests against police brutality have dissipated and given way to widespread looting and vandalism. Angry mobs have roamed parts of Lagos, torching police stations, killing at least one officer, and attacking the property of government loyalists and looting department stores.
Sporadic gunfire could be heard in the several city districts through Thursday. The Oba of Lagos, the region’s traditional but ceremonial king, was evacuated from his palace by the military. By Thursday evening, 10 states were under 24-hour curfew.
The protests may be fracturing on the streets, but they will have a lasting impact, political and military analysts say, sparking a political awakening of Nigerian youth—a large number of whom didn’t vote in last year’s presidential election.
Could The Protests Spread To Other Countries In The Region?
Nigeria isn’t only Africa’s most populous nation but a cultural and political bellwether for a region where large youthful populations in many countries feel disenfranchised. The economic crunch resulting from the coronavirus is likely to diminish heavily indebted African states’ ability to create jobs—and opportunity—for young people.
Where Does The U.S. Stand?
For the U.S., which considers the country of 206 million its most important military ally in sub-Saharan Africa, the demonstrations and the government’s deadly response have become a policy problem.
In a sign of the complexity of that bilateral relationship, three of the U.S. State Department’s top officials arrived in Abuja in the hours before the Lekki killings on what two U.S. diplomats described as a fact-finding trip to learn more about the drivers of instability in Nigeria.
The U.S. is also hoping to sell Nigeria military attack helicopters, an issue they discussed during the trip. The administration is in the early stages of drafting a plan to help Nigeria confront its security challenges, U.S. officials said.
The U.S. released a statement on Thursday, a day after the U.K., the European Union and other allies did the same.
“The United States strongly condemns incidents of military forces firing on unarmed protesters in Lagos,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Those involved should be held to account under the law.”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Tuesday called on Mr. Buhari to “cease the violent crackdown on protesters in Nigeria, which has already resulted in several deaths.”
What About The Rest Of The International Community?
The African Union denounced the killing of unarmed protesters and the United Nations called for “root and branch” reform of Nigeria’s security services. “There is little doubt that this was a case of excessive use of force, resulting in unlawful killings with live ammunition, by Nigerian armed forces,” said Michelle Bachelet, U.N. High Commissioner for human rights.
Nigerian diaspora groups, meanwhile, have held large protests in a number of African capitals. The #EndSARS protesters have started petitions for international sanctions against Mr. Buhari’s government.
Nigeria Panel Begins Probe of Police Brutality
A Nigerian judicial panel appointed to probe police brutality in Lagos, the country’s commercial capital and biggest city, started sitting with a brief that includes identifying gunmen in military uniforms that fired on demonstrators last week.
Two youth protesters were appointed into the panel to reflect “the commitment of Lagos to justice and compensation for the victims of police brutality,” said state Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
The body will investigate allegations of abuse, torture and extra-judicial killings by the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad, the unit whose excesses sparked the protests that started Oct. 5. Apart from evaluating complaints, the panel also is expected to recommend officers deserving of prosecution for their crimes, according to the governor.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari expressed support for the establishment of the Lagos panel, saying on Twitter that he expected it to “help ensure justice is done on behalf of the peaceful protesters and law enforcement agents who sadly lost their lives.”
At least 51 civilians and 18 members of the security forces died in protest-related violence. Twelve people died after troops opened fire on crowds that gathered at two sites in Lagos on Oct. 20 in defiance of a state curfew, according to Amnesty International.
Decentralized VPN Sees Increased Use In Nigeria Amid #EndSars Protests
* Nigerians are adopting more VPNs, including decentralized VPNs.
* The adoption comes as #EndSARS protestors are concerned the government may limit access to parts of the internet.
* Mysterium, a decentralized VPN, is trying to reach crypto users in parts of the world that grapple with actual and potential internet censorship.
The decentralized virtual private network (VPN) Mysterium is seeing an increase in users in Nigeria over the last few weeks as protests have roiled the African country.
Nigerians are protesting police corruption and specifically calling for the end to the special anti-robbery squad (SARS). In 2017, following protests, the government supposedly disbanded the police unit. But early in October, as reports emerged of SARS allegedly killing a young boy, protesters have again taken to the streets.
As CoinDesk’s Sandali Handagama wrote in October, “the police unit stands accused of illegal killings, extortion and torture of innocent civilians. Many of its victims over the years were young men between the ages of 18 and 35.”
The user increase seen by Mysterium comes at a time when concerns over a partial shutdown of the internet in Nigeria has given rise to more interest in VPNs overall. After government security forces opened fire on unarmed protestors in Lagos on Oct. 20, killing 12, VPN searches in Nigeria went up 239% compared to the previous 30 days, according to digital research firm Top 10 VPN.
What A VPN Offers
A VPN lets its users create a secure connection to another network and is often used to access restricted websites and content, shield their browsing activity from public WiFi and provide a degree of anonymity by hiding their locations.
ISPs (internet service providers) can see all browsing history of its users, according to Mysterium Product Head Jaro Satkevic. This may allow oppressive governments to either censor internet access or punish some citizens for political reasons. VPNs encrypt all the traffic and hide any information from ISPs. They also hide the user’s IP address from websites he or she is browsing.
“I first discovered Mysterium on airdrop.io, was curious and read about the project. Before then I used other conventional VPN,” said Ian, a Nigerian man who has supported the #EndSars protests online and in person. (“Ian” is a pseudonym. He asked to remain anonymous for his safety.)
“I believe VPN use has increased in part due to the #EndSARS protest. Recently, more people saw the need to use VPN in Nigeria for safety on social media, Twitter especially.”
The Benefits Of Decentralization
Mysterium is a decentralized VPN, meaning it’s not controlled by a central company. As Top 10 VPN has regularly reported, nearly three-quarters of free VPNs on the market have some level of vulnerability, share or expose customer data, or even contain malware.
Mysterium’s decentralized architecture means that, by design, it cannot log users’ activity, and is resistant to being shut down. The more nodes that join, the faster, stronger and more censorship-resistant it becomes.
“The biggest issue of centralized VPN companies is that they can also collect logs of their consumer browsing history,” said Satkevic. “Most of them have a ‘no-logs policy’ but it is really hard to recheck, and there are many stories when hackers got access into user browsing logs collected by VPN companies.”
Technically, it is relatively easy to detect that traffic is coming from a VPN server because they’re hosted at a datacenter, according to Satkevic. In the Mysterium network though, most of the exit nodes are residential (hosted by people in their homes), which makes it much harder to detect. This allows users to get access to a bigger array of geoblocked services.
Since the exit nodes are hosted by a decentralized community it’s not possible for one centralized authority to hold users browsing history.
Paying For Mysterium
“On top of that, in Mysterium we’re using P2P [peer-to-peer] crypto payments (using payment channels) which adds an additional privacy layer,” said Satkevic. “The Mysterium team has no information on our consumers (no names, no email, no credit card information).”
Their payment model is pay-as-you-go in crypto VPN, where you essentially rent someone else’s IP address for whatever rate they choose to charge. So, for example, a U.S. resident could rent out their home IP address to someone in Iran. They could even choose to do so for free.
Mysterium emphasizes that due to its pay-as-you-go structure there are no lock-in fees, contracts or subscriptions associated with it.
Mysterium’s native token is MYST. As a dapp, Mysterium needed a token, and while the company originally allowed people to pay in ether, they had to switch plans as ETH’s transaction fees rose. At the time of writing, CoinGecko lists MYST at about $0.11.
From Testnet To Mainnet
Right now, while Mysterium is running on a test net, it’s free. The company is battle testing the code in real-world environments and configurations, giving away MYSTT (testnet tokens) to users, and also paying out bounties to node providers with real MYST.
Savannah Lee, a communications manager at Mysterium, said the main payment mechanism in the core network will be crypto P2P, using a pay-as-you-go model.
“But Mysterium is open source, so anyone is invited to create their own commercial application on top of it,” said Lee. “This was done by Portals Network, who accepts credit card payments and even provides a subscription-based service.”
Lee said Mysterium was ready to deploy its P2P infrastructure on the Ethereum mainnet, but due to the crazy-high transaction fees it needed to move from a L2 to an L3 solution. A solution is in development, according to Lee, with the goal being to have P2P payments live onthe Ethereum mainnet or some of its sidechains by the end of the year.
In the meantime, Mysterium has been working to attract users, targeting groups of people who have limited internet access in their countries.
Before the #EndSARS protests, it had increased user activity in places like Pakistan and India. In recent months, India has banned various apps from the country and placed other restrictive measures on the internet.
Why Nigerians Are Using VPNs
Ian said he uses Mysterium to give himself a degree of anonymity online. As a data analyst, he said he has an idea of how easy it is to get people’s information and personal data on the internet.
He was drawn to Mysterium because he’s enthusiastic about blockchain technology in general.
“I have read about a lot of other projects and adopted some I found valuable,” he said. “Knowing that I can pay for a VPN service using a utility token and stay secure online made me interested in Mysterium, so I decided to give it a try.”
Gabriel Olatunji came to Mysterium in a more streamlined way – to watch one of his favorite shows that was not available in Nigeria, “The Tudors.” He moved over from another VPN after he found it was blocking certain IPs.
“Initially, there were issues with the service, especially random disconnections, but the issues have been resolved with the new updates,” he said. “I found MysteriumVPN because of Netflix, but rising concerns of a possible internet regulation made me use the product more.”
Preserving Social Media For Social Activism
Olatunji sees the increase in VPN use as directly linked to the #EndSARS protests, in part because since the onset of protests there have been concerns the government would “pull the plug” on parts of the internet.
Even prior to the protests there was talk of a bill to regulate social media, which he said was apparently “aimed at suppressing the voice of the masses.” At that time, VPNs were seen as a way to protect against the impact of the prospective bill had it been passed.
“The government in Nigeria sees social media as a threat that challenges their dubious acts,” he said. “The #EndSARS protest started on Twitter, and people were attacked, arrested and had their human rights violated for protesting on Twitter.
The government threatened to shut down social media because obviously they saw it as a threat. The CEO of Twitter was sued for actively supporting the #EndSARS protest. That’s when people saw the need to have VPNs for privacy and security.”
He, too, has taken part in the protests.
“Although I have never been a SARS victim, one of my dad’s friends was framed for an offence he didn’t commit and money was extorted from his family before he was released,” said Olatunji.
This experience, and seeing other experiences shared on social media, encouraged him to get involved.
Considered a tech hub with a young population and a rising aptitude for cryptocurrencies, countries like Nigeria are the kinds of areas Mysterium wants to support, and where it sees itself as a useful tool.
“There are a lot of decentralized VPNs out there, and we’re all trying to work together or work on the same kind of solutions,” said Lee. “But I think the thing about Mysterium is we’re very much research and community driven. So we really do want to reach people in places like Nigeria, where people have cryptocurrency already, because we think that these people are already ahead of the curve when it comes to tech.”
Discovering Bitcoin Through The #EndSARS Movement, Feat. Yele Bademosi & Akin Sawyerr
When the Nigerian government shut down EndSARS protestors’ bank accounts, bitcoin and crypto became a way around.
Yele Bademosi is CEO at Bundle social payments app and the founder of investment firm Microtraction. Akin Sawyerr is involved across the industry and leads operations at BarnBridge.
Over the course of October 2020, the world’s attention became firmly fixed on a growing movement in Nigeria. With the hashtag #EndSARS, the movement was, on the one hand, about addressing police brutality. On the other hand, as our guests discuss, it was a broader awakening and a demand for generational economic opportunity. At one point, even Twitter founder Jack Dorsey called for people to donate bitcoin to help the movement.
In This Conversation, Yele And Akin Discuss:
• The State Of The Economy In Nigeria Leading Into The Protests:
• Generational Differences In Political Action
• Why The #EndSars Protests Exploded Into Action In October
• Why The Movement Turned To Bitcoin To Avoid Bank Confiscation
• How Crypto Can Play A Role In A Brighter Future
Find Our Guests Online:
World’s Outlier On Remittances Has Currency Woes To Blame
Nigerians living abroad could be sending more money home than authorities realize, bypassing official channels so their families can get more naira for their smuggled dollars on the black market.
Remittances to Africa’s biggest oil producer plunged by about 40% in the second quarter to the lowest level in at least a decade. That’s more than a drop of about 20% in Egypt and contrasts with improvements seen in Kenya, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Morocco, according to central bank data compiled by EFG Hermes.
Changing a greenback on Nigeria’s streets puts about a quarter more naira in the pockets of struggling Nigerian households than what they’ll get at the official rate.
The central bank of Africa’s biggest economy uses multiple exchange rates and a raft of regulations to try and protect the local currency from further devaluations amid lower oil prices and a plunge in foreign investment.
“When you have such divergent foreign-exchange rates, many expats will find ways to get money into Nigeria at the best possible rate,” Renaissance Capital’s Chief Global Economist Charlie Robertson said in an email. Currencies in countries including Kenya and Pakistan trade at about the same value in formal and informal markets, “so there is no reason to use backdoor channels.”
The sharp downturn in Nigerian remittances is in contrast with most other frontier and emerging-market countries that look poised to defy World Bank predictions for a 20% decline this year. Remittances may look better than they should because foreign workers are sending money back home as they lose their jobs and leave for good — especially for countries that rely on Gulf Arab states for their income.
While the cost of job losses might start mounting next year, the hit to remittances may be offset by improvements in tourism and export income, Robertson and a team of Renaissance Capital analysts said in a Nov. 17 report.
As the worst of lockdown restrictions that took hold between March and May lifted, more money has been sent home. Kenya reported a 9% improvement for the first 10 months of 2020 compared with a year earlier, while Pakistan has seen a 16% increase, according to the latest data from those central banks.
Nigeria’s massive shadow economy makes tracking inflows difficult, Robertson said.
Another contributing factor is the oil producer’s decision in August last year to shut its land borders to curb smuggling and boost local production, which chopped off a vital source of foreign-exchange supplies, Mohamed Abu Basha, the head of macroeconomic analysis at Cairo-based EFG, said by email. Inflows from the rest of the continent account for 25% of Nigerian remittances.
Nigeria’s economy contracted 3.6% in the third quarter from a year earlier after crude output dropped to the lowest since 2016. Central bank Governor Godwin Emefiele said earlier this week that the naira’s official rate shouldn’t be determined by the parallel market, where the currency has weakened to a three-month low.
The drop in remittances “will further weigh on Nigeria’s already weak growth outlook,” Abu Basha said. It would have “negative connotations for foreign-exchange liquidity and disposable incomes.”
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