At its core, a social movement is often coordinated in sustained opposition and conversation sequences, conceived to change existing dynamics and power structures. A social movement is undoubtedly one of the few peaceful options citizens with little or no access to government institutions employ to challenge government decisions or show dissatisfaction with a particular condition.
A social movement is not a new trend; history has shown that people have always come together to challenge the elite class’s dominance peacefully. Some of which includes the demonstration against the transatlantic slave trade in the 16th century, the LBGT rights movement in the 20th century etc.
In Nigeria, social movements are rooted in the nationalist struggle for independence during the colonial era.
These movements later transformed into the early political parties, and the movement leaders became political elites in the post-independence period.
At this point, It is significant to note that not all perceived injustice or dissatisfaction metamorphosed into social movements, and not all social movements succeed. Social movements usually have a considerable effect and trigger some forms of social, political or economic change, even when not successful.
Organised Labour in Nigeria has always been at the forefront of social movements against unfavourable government actions. However, these movements were characterised by violent repression and police brutality, especially during the military regimes. Such repression often led to the imprisonment of protesters (particularly the conveners), proscription of movement groups, and in worst cases, death.
Twitter has grown into a famous platform for information dissemination, promotion, and social movements in recent time. The microblogging site has been at the centre of major political events, humanitarian and social activities, which later metamorphosed beyond mere social media narratives into Nigeria’s physical actions.
Some of the social movements which started on Twitter include:
#OccupyNigeria: Occupy Nigeria was a socio-political movement that started in response to fuel subsidy removal, increasing fuel price by 120% during President Goodluck Jonathan administration in January 2012. The campaign, which began with mere tweets and hashtags to show grievances, transformed into a local and international movement within a short period. With the overwhelming spread of the campaign, the federal government responded with a 30% reduction in petrol pump price, bringing it to N97 from N141.
#BringBackOurGirls: Bring Back Our Girls is one of the most popular movements that started on Twitter. It is an advocacy for the immediate rescue of all our abducted girls by Boko Haran and rapid containment and quelling of insurgency in Nigeria. The hashtags tweeted in about six different languages, including Spanish. The former Minister of Education, Dr. (Mrs) Obiageli Ezekwesili, launched a global movement for #BringBackOurGirls.
#SayNoToRape & #ArewaMeToo: The #ArewaMeToo hashtag was a movement aimed at breaking the culture of silence that notoriously surrounds cases of sexual and gender-based violence among females in the north. The online movement later transformed into a physical one in about five northern states and gained government attention.
#ENDSARS: In October 2020, nationwide demonstrations were staged to protest against the Special Anti Robbery Squad’s brutality – a tactical unit of the Nigerian Police Force. The protest, which became a nationwide movement and gained the attention of international and foreign nations, also started on Twitter. During the demonstration, five demands, including disbanding the SARS unit and increasing police officers’ remuneration, were made, which the federal government promised to meet.
These movements met with varying degrees of success and repression and overall project a capricious outlook for social movements in Nigeria. Given that a democratic system is supposedly tied with the freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly, the use of social media, in this epoch, will continue to foster citizen collaboration for social movements by netizens and as well serve as a mediated public sphere for discussion.