Nigerian 60th independence is a prophetic call for the Church in Nigeria not to be on the wrong side of history. The question is, has the church in Nigeria been able to “defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor?”(Psalms 72:4). Has the church in Nigeria been, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound” and “so often the arch-supporter of the status quo?”
Let us remind ourselves of some major global moment and movements like Slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and Apartheid that marked ‘a period of time or a social issue where large portions of “the church” stood on the wrong side of history by actively and passively supporting the suppression of the rights’ of people. In some instances, the Bible was even used to justify and convert slaves to Christianity as God’s seemingly pre-ordained will. In the 21st century, is the church doing better to raise its voice against suffering, poverty, corruption and injustice, still standing on the wrong side of history.
Over the past two weeks the Nigerian Youth has been protesting, demanding and calling on the Nigerian government to out an end to Special Anti-Robbery Squad (#EndSARS) following the senseless killing extortion and unlawful arrest of unarmed young people in Nigeria. #EndSARS protest started in 2017 as a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #EndSARS to demand the government eliminate the unit and reform the Nigerian Police. It was revitalised in October 2020 with mass demonstrations across major cities in Nigeria with over 28 million tweets. Unlike past organised protests by union organisations like the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Academic Staff Union of Nigerian University (ASUU) among other, #EndSARS protest is organic, it arose as the name for a movement with a particular belief system to end every anti-people system of government.
#ENDSARS is a creation of a specific form of liberation theology and movement centred on marginalised, brutalised and excluded Nigerian youth from the national common wealth. The brutality and murderous inclination and extortion of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) a unit within the Nigerian Police was already sending many young people into their early grave. A retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, Femi Caulkrick however described the SARS acronym as a national and societal virus that we need to collectively terminate. He said “It is indeed so heavy that this SARS virus belonging to the nation is being laden on the Police. Happily however, and with the eye of faith, we look forward to a glorious tomorrow, not only for the transformation to a Peoples’ friendly Police, but also of our societal norms and principles of governance that entrench the preservation of fundamental Human Rights, Equity and Justice.” SARS as a national virus also points to bogus salary of the Senators and Representatives Salary (SARS), the highest pay in the world while the Police are under funded coupled with bad working environment, accommodation and housing.
The Nigeria’s colonial history and the formation of the Nigerian Police comes to play here, the SARS virus, with the organisation of Nigeria as a business enterprise and not as a nation. This gives insight to the SARS virus as enumerated by AIG Femi Caulcrik. It is not surprising that the business approach continue to be the basis of all establishment rather than a caring and welfare approach as a nation. Theologically, to respond to the #EndSARS protest, the church must lead by example, the post independence nationalists’ leadership mentality that supervise the transition of a corporate machine set up by the colonial government and missionary must stop. As image of God, it is time to stop treating and leading Nigerians especially the youth as the ‘workforce of the industrial project. Nigerians deserves respect and care as people with ‘legitimate entities with fundamental rights to live and thrive.’ Nigerian Police formed with military and violent mindset can only further yield violent returns.
The church in Nigeria need to speak out against corrupt and lawless politicians who ‘spearhead a structure of police and military brutality, poor healthcare, abuse of power, poverty, and unemployment. The church in Nigeria must see #EndSARS protest as an opportunity and ‘a step in the right direction of social change.’ The church in Nigeria must not fall short of its charge to be a place of radical political protest, standing with the oppressed and the silenced. The church is to stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed, share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law (Gal 6:1-3). #EndSARS summons the church and other religious bodies to offer more than articles on websites or messages, camp meeting and services, ‘nothing short of “the church” actively encouraging, supporting and attending protests is an acceptable form of justice’ and peace. #EndSARS summons the church to step up and be reminded of its call to do “what is good and what is required of us: ‘To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). #EndSARS calls the church in Nigeria to once again prove itself strong and effectual to stand on the right side of history.
#EndSARS calls for an end to Christian media that misses the point by focusing too much on sensational stories and not enough on issues that will be crucial for next-generation Christians. #EndSARS reminds the church in Nigeria about an observation by Dwight Lyman Moody (February 5, 1837 – December 22, 1899), an American evangelist, about Christianity in his days which resonates with the church in Nigeria today. Moody said, “Too frequently when Christians get together they seek for points upon which they differ, and then go at it … The Christian denominations too often present a spectacle of a political party split into factions and unable to make an effective fight.” #EndSARS protest calls the church in Nigeria to bridge the gap between theory (or theology) and practice.
The reasons for #EndSARS protest are very obvious. The Nigerian Youth are asking for ‘immediate release of all arrested during the protests as well as justice and compensation for all who died through police brutality in Nigeria. They also demanded that an independent body be set up within 10 days to investigate and prosecute all reports of police misconduct. The protestors also asked for psychological evaluation and retraining of SARS operatives before they are deployed to any other police unit. Lastly, they asked for adequate remuneration for Nigerian police.
#EndSARS movement calls the church in Nigeria to a commitment to a national holiness project. John Wesley described holiness of life as ‘the aim of his life, the organising centre of his thought, the spring of all action, his one abiding project.’ Just as the Methodist movement was to ‘spread scriptural holiness throughout the land,’ #EndSARS movement is to spread the necessity of community fellowship, a social holiness among Nigerians. Wesley’s counter-privatised notion of Christian faith resonates with the #EndSARS counter-cultural movement against the SARS virus in every facet of Nigeria. We need one another for the common good. As response to #EndSARS, the church in Nigeria is to engage the principalities and powers of greed, corruption, poverty, ethnocentrism and the systemic violence – devastation and destruction of human and environmental community. The church in Nigeria need to know that it is within Christian community that holiness of life is to be realised just as #EndSARS movement emerged among the Nigerian Youth. The church in Nigeria must extend beyond denomination, and ecclesial koinonia. The reflection is that, it is within the ecumenical, socio-economic and political community like #EndSARS that holiness of life is to be realized, a radical solidarity with the poor, the young, the vulnerable, and the lonely.