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Nigerians had to use Bitcoin to fund #EndSARS Protests, now there’re threats of Social Media Shutdown

by Felix Omondi

They say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. That old adage perfectly describes how the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria have had to adapt as the government puts new roadblocks and bottlenecks along its path.  

#EndSARS began online on social media as a way of bringing to the attention of the masses the atrocities being committed by a special wing of the Nigerian police. Within no time, the #EndSARS campaign gained a life of its own and quickly began trending within Nigeria while grabbing attention around the world. 

People then moved from protesting on their keyboards, took up placards, and went to the streets. As more and more people took to the streets to protest the increasing impunity and breaking of the law by the police, the more embolden the remaining people became, and joined in on the protest. The protest grew organically across the country; in much the same way fire spreads in dry grass during the dry seasons. Even Nigerians living abroad started staging their own protests in the streets of whichever countries they were in.IMG CREDIT: BBC

The situation was seemingly blowing over for the Nigerian authorities. The #EndSARS protests were quickly becoming an international movement shading light on the rot in its police force. That was without a doubt bad publicity for the Mohammed Buhari-led administration, which doesn’t exactly have a good track record.

Funds to keep the Protests going 

As the protesters kept growing in numbers and frequencies across Nigeria. There was a need for logistics to keep the protests as effective as possible and a means to sustain it. It became apparent to the organizers that funds were needed to coordinate affairs and supply food and water to the protesters. There were also times when hospital bills and medicine costs had to be met. As you can imagine the Nigerian anti-riot police, didn’t meet the protesters in the streets with gloves in their hands while massaging them to go back home. 

To meet these costs, the key organizers of these protests started putting out calls for funding in the form of donations. These calls were answered by both Nigerians in the country and those living in foreign nations. Little by little, funds to support the #EndSARS campaigns started coming in through local banks and online payment options available in Nigeria. 

Unseen hands started messing with Bank Accounts and Online Payments 

The calls for funding were made public, and anything that is made public lands in the ears and eyes of those intended and those not intended to get the message. Obviously, the Nigerian administration heard about these calls for donating towards the protests.

Though the Nigerian government maintains it has never meddled with bank accounts and online payments for any person or organization in the country. One group behind the protest – Feminist Coalition – put out a statement saying they noticed transactions in their bank accounts being significantly slowed down. Also, the links for the online payment options that they had put up on their website stopped working. Basically, there was an unseen hand that was meddling with the channels that they could receive donations.

Bitcoin came to the rescue

In the old days, this meddling by the unseen hands in the flow of cash could have spelled the death of the #EndSARS protests. That cannot be the case in this age and era of cryptocurrency. The protesters upon realizing the unnatural bottle-necks in the flow of funds to support their campaign took to cutting-edge digital tools. 

The organizers of the protests changed their channel for receiving donations to cryptocurrencies. They were now receiving donations in the form of bitcoins. Thus effectively, kicking out the Nigerian government from monitoring or controlling the flow of funds, given the anonymous nature of the cryptocurrencies.

IMG CREDIT: TheAfricaReport

The government, having noticed that funds were no longer flowing to the protests organizers’ bank accounts and other online payments, yet the protests were still alive and kicking in the streets. They realized the protest organizers could be receiving funds via cryptocurrency options, and that was something they cannot control. So, they made their next move, which was to put in place a nationwide curfew. A move that effectively made it illegal for anyone to physically assemble or protests.

The Protests went back Online 

With the curfew in place, and government authorities making good of their threats of arresting people. The #EndSARS protests became impossible in the streets. The protests had no option but to reverted back to the online streets. 

Social Media shutdown or regulation  

Over the past few weeks, some public officials including state governors are now calling on some form of regulations on social media. The streets might be quiet for now, but social media is abuzz with #EndSARS activities. 

The Nigeria Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, has been quoted saying: “Social media has come to stay and it will be an antithesis to democracy to shut it down because it is the fastest way of disseminating information. However, we must regulate social media in a manner that it does not become a purveyor of fake news and hate speech.” 

There is already a bill seeking to control how Nigerians use social media. Some of the proposals in the bill include a number of offenses like a fine of $785 for transmitting false information online and a three-year prison term. 

Many Nigerians see this bill as a first step towards losing their freedom on social media. They don’t see it as the government trying to clamp down on fake news, but as a way to get its hands on social media and muffle dissent. Shutting down social media all together whenever it suits the government is not a far-fetched thing to say at this point. 

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