Oct. 20 might be remembered as the day Nigeria’s historic uprising against police brutality died. The government’s use of live ammunition against peaceful demonstrators that day reportedly killed at least 12 people and injured dozens more. As President Muhammadu Buhari implicitly threatened to crack down again, the Feminist Coalition, one of the Nigerian organizations spearheading the protest movement, released a statement refusing further donations and calling for Nigerian youth to observe curfews and stay home.
The streets of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city and the one-time epicenter of the demonstrations, are now clear of the tens of thousands of people who marched peacefully to demand an end to police brutality and more accountability for security forces. While protesters initially focused on a notorious unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, giving the movement its widely shared moniker #EndSARS, they continued to demand far-reaching reforms even after authorities announced on Oct. 11 that SARS would be disbanded and replaced with a new Special Weapons and Tactics team, or SWAT.
Now, Nigeria’s largest popular uprising in a decade is at a standstill. Buhari may believe he’ll face no consequences for not taking the protesters’ demands seriously. After all, in order to achieve its goals, any protest movement must demonstrate to leaders that it’s costlier to ignore or clamp down on it than to negotiate and compromise. Moreover, while building a protest movement is hard, regaining that initial wave of momentum after it’s lost is even harder.