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Nigeria: Coding #EndSARS – Techies Fighting Police Brutality With Bytes

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nigeria:-coding-#endsars-–-techies-fighting-police-brutality-with-bytes

Collins Enebeli watched the agitation against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad mounting over weeks.

Names of young people intimidated, harassed, extorted, killed rolled out in the #ENDSARS protest. Enebeli, a student of marine engineering, couldn’t get on the streets. But Enebeli, @kadetXx, could get online.

He had started learning how to code online in January. That would be the start of his contribution. He opened up a repository on GitHub. Other developers joined in, and in October, they delivered the online app EndSars.vercel.app.

“I got inspired by another similar app made during the police bill trend. I decided to make something that will aid in the struggle as my own contribution,” Enebeli tells Daily Trust.

He says he didn’t really have a plan, not even a user interface design when he started.

“I actually didn’t know what features to add to the app when I started but I just opened my code editor and everything was falling in[to] place, I proceeded.”

The project is open source, leaving it open for developers to join up. Eleven contributors are currently behind the development of the app and working to keep it running. They have never met one another. Their community, workshop and firepower is online.

Youths haven’t been lazy; they have been busy

Oluwaseyi Oluwapelumi, @Eniayomi_, studied computer science at Caleb University and now works as a development operations engineer.

He got the domain for the app [from endsars.vercel.app to endsarz.com] and provisioned a server for it, he recalls his contribution.

“We started asking for information on government official contact details, then we created email templates so when you decide on a government official to mail, it copies the email template into your mailing app which makes it easy. We also made provision for sms templates too.”

Black and red

The message on the endsars.vercel.app is simple. “Stop torturing/extorting/murdering/threatening/shooting/fighting/beating/kidnapping/killing/harassing us.” Each word is timed to appear in order.

“Let our voices be heard” sits right on top the signature hashtag #SARSMustEnd. The page is eerily themed in black and red.

But it is the functionality on the page that goes right to the heart of the anger against SARS brutality and the profiling of young people.

Click on a social media icon and a message is automatically generated from a template, tagging a politician and ready to be as customised on Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram or emailed right away.

Click on “Remind Politicians” and you get on a page with the names, phone numbers and email addresses of senators and representatives in the legislature. Click on the email address of choice and an email is automatically composed in your preferred app ready to be fired off to any lawmaker from Senator Abaribe to Hon Kusada.

“Basically, we just needed a way to remind politicians of what we want,” says Oluwapelumi. The message is the most important aspect of the application, and it took an entire community on Twitter to craft it for precision and effect.

The tech community has received the app well.

“If there were no sites about endsars before that day, it pushed others to do more by creating more awareness using web technologies.”

The names and details of the lawmakers already sit on the official site of the National Assembly but Endsars.vercel.app brings them into surefire functionality with a tap of an icon. With a single tap, you can fire off an email to a choice lawmaker that reads like this:

Dear sir/ma, I am a concerned citizen of your constituent, and I’ll like to express my displeasure about SARS. The members of this squad who are supposed to protect us against armed robbery are killing, extorting and harassing us everyday. We are scared to move freely and we need your help. I urge you, distinguished, to use your office to protect the lives of Nigerian youths as we are the future of the Nation. We are counting on you to do the right thing. We are counting on you to help us #ENDSARS. Thanks!

“The app has made it quite easy for the citizen to contact their lawmakers,” says contributor @Niles_jamex. The 300-level student of agricultural economics Obafemi Awolowo University of Science and Technology tells Daily Trust he’s “just a young person trying to use his skills as best as he can to serve a useful cause.”

“Before the app came to life, accessibility of the citizens to their lawmakers, I think, was quite restricted because most people do not know they could get the lawmakers contact info from anywhere. I think they still don’t know at the moment but with the app it’s easy to go on it to get it, because I feel lawmakers should be quite easy to reach by the citizens.”

Sheer concern

Staying online isn’t for comfort or convenience, says @Iampatoo, one of the developers behind the app he says was “borne out of sheer concern” for the populace.

“Besides marching and letting our voices be heard, we needed to get a wider audience so the government takes us more serious. And there’s really no way to get more attention in today’s society than via tech.”

“This website can solve a lot of societal issues,” says @ridwanabiola2 Surajudeen Abiola. He is a land surveyor, geospatial and data analyst bringing his coding skills to turn the squeeze on politicians.

“Let me start from the onset of this #EndSARS issue. Most of these people turn their blind eyes and deaf ears to us, but with the creation of the website, that once you click on tweets or sms, it automatically generates messages and keeps reminding them.”

A sea of change

The reminder has come clean through. In one week, the Inspector-General of Police announced the disbandment of SARS.

Then he announced it was being replaced by a SWAT team, along with recall of former SARS officials to the Force HQ for “debriefing, psychological and medical examination.”

The protesters wanted more than just reform. They wanted a complete end, not renaming or repurposing. The protests continued, despite disruptions in parts of the country.

It split governors into two camps. Some in the south have joined the protest; others in the north have opposed the ban, citing peculiar challenges of insecurity and banditry in which SARS officials could be useful. Borno governor backed the ban and urged the disbanded officials be deployed to the northeast to help combat Boko Haram insurgency.

Days after the app launched on October 9, it has garnered over 50,000 unique visits from users in Nigeria, US, UK, South Africa, Ghana, Canada, Germany, Ireland, UAE and Ukraine.

It is one of the world’s window into what is going on in the country. It has also launched as much as 10,000 emails, tweets and social media posts.

“I’m glad to be part of it. This kind of app is what Nigeria needs, a platform where we can raise our voice,” says Ismail Obadimu, a software developer.

He goes by @IamCradoe in the Twitter community and is not new to app development. He started coding at age 13, is CEO of Flexidink and co-founder of “If I am the President”.

He likes to talk about the web, he embraces the nerd and hopes crossing paths in the real world someday could make it a better place, working together.

He warmed up to the site once he got a click-through link.

“I knew I must make contribution, there must be something I can do,” Obadimu tells Daily Trust.

“We, the contributors, haven’t met before, but we have the same goal, to make impact as a tech group. When I chatted the founder, I told him this could be something huge, for all Nigerians to tell their mind.”

Ashiru Olawale graduated business administration but is a software developer with a knack for implementing smart solution. Ever fascinated by tech and its use in solving problems, he taught himself how to code during his compulsory yearlong national service–and says it was the best decision he’s ever made.

Collaborating on the app might also rank right up there. He worked to give the site context, content and depth.

“The website got traction immediately he launched it and I noticed there wasn’t enough context about the EndSARS movement for people who did not know about the trend then,” Olawale says.

“So, I contributed by adding a Wikipedia link for information about the movement.”

Click on “About this Movement” and it links to a Wikipedia page where ENDSARS protest is listed among over 30 ongoing protests around the world, from the anti-austerity movement in the UK since 2010 to the Kyrgystan protests in the same October 2020 as ENDARS. It lists 119 references to boot.

“Beyond EndSars the web app is a really great information page which list the details of all current senators in Nigeria. This can serve as search engine for people who want to get in touch with their senators about an issue,” says Olawale.

The thing with applications is that they can be repurposed for just about anything.

ENDARS is a spring board for developers and techies–and the vagaries that have followed the movement and government response to it constitute a learning curve for the tech community.

“After the ENDSARS protest, we are not ending it,” says Obadimu. “We are executing another plan. Nigeria must be great.”

Enebeli plans to evolve the app to a social tool that can be tweaked to fit situations like ENDARS. That is, when ENDSARS does end.

“For example, if there was activism against bad governance, the tweets, email addresses and messages can be tweaked to fit the right audience, the colours too and the main message,” he hopes.

“There are more features I planned on adding in the long run and will be needing contributions from other developers. I’m already in contact with a few,” he notes.

“The ones who contributed were so happy doing something to aid the movement no matter how little.”

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