How Bitcoin Helped Further Nigeria's #EndSARS Movement
Despite its reputation in mainstream media, Bitcoin is so much more than a trendy investment. At its core, Bitcoin is a means for total financial freedom. It allows those shut out by traditional banking structures to make important financial transactions.
Bitcoin does not discriminate based on age, race, political affiliation, or any other demographic. It is a financial movement created to empower people away from the purview of governments and central banks. It is entirely decentralized and resistant to censorship and financial repression.
Bitcoin Is More Than a Speculative Asset
In the United States, rather than focusing on Bitcoin's ability to provide freedom, BTC coverage focuses more on its potential gains, price volatility, or worse, illicit activities. We focus on Bitcoin as an investment rather than an agent for change because, for the most part, we are macroeconomically privileged.
Of course, the United States has its fair share of problems, especially in the financial sector. But compared to other more emerging markets, the United States is blessed with one of the most robust and stable currencies in the world. We generally don't have to worry about hyperinflation, extreme financial repression, or severe censorship.
People in other countries, however, are not so fortunate. In some parts of the world, using cryptocurrency is the most advantageous way to conduct certain financial transactions. The story of 2020's #EndSARS movement in Nigeria is a testimony to this.
Bitcoin's Role in the #EndSARS Movement
What is #EndSARS?
In October 2020, a series of protests against police brutality broke out across Nigeria. Specifically, the movement aimed to disband the country's Special Anti-Robbery Squad, known colloquially as SARS. This police unit was notorious for dressing in plain clothes while abusing and harassing citizens, specifically targeting young men. The movement has shifted beyond a call to end police brutality - it acts as a broader call for social justice from Nigerian youths. As the protests gained momentum, the hashtag #EndSARS began trending on Twitter and started to gain global attention and support.
EndSARS protests were led by young Nigerians across different cities with no centralized leadership. The movement was seen mainly as a decentralized, democratic movement financed via crowdfunding. One of the few groups responsible for coordinating the fundraising was the Feminist Coalition.
As protests grew, fundraising avenues attracted the attention of the authorities, and the Central Bank of Nigeria shuttered the accounts of organizers including the Feminist Coalition. They were forced to turn to an alternative, censorship-resistant solution that perfectly encapsulated the decentralized and democratic feel of the movement - Bitcoin. The coalition quickly converted the money they had already collected into bitcoin and began fundraising only in cryptocurrency.
Bitcoin operates separately from any government or traditional banking system, making it entirely censorship-resistant and impossible to shut down by any centralized authority, including the Nigerian government. Bitcoin was also helpful for concealing the identity of donors through its encryptions and protecting them from any corrective action from the Nigerian authorities.
Many celebrities, including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, began to urge followers to donate some bitcoin to the cause.
The Outcome of the Movement
Eventually, the Nigerian government announced it would disband the Special Anti-Robbery Squad; however, many Nigerians did not believe these claims and continued to protest. Sadly, protests were halted on October 20, 2020, when the Nigerian Army opened fire on a group of unarmed peaceful protestors - an event known as the Lekki Massacre.
The outcome of this movement is still ongoing. Nigerian states have begun investigative probes on police brutality in the region, including the state of Lago's #EndSARS panel, which has admitted that 99 people were killed during the protests.
The Aftermath of #EndSARS for Bitcoin
In February 2021, the Central Bank of Nigeria ordered the country's financial institutions to immediately shut down any accounts transacting in or operating on cryptocurrency exchanges. Many believe that these strict measures essentially prohibiting the buying and selling of cryptocurrencies result directly from the #EndSARS protests. However, authorities cite alternative reasoning for the decision.
Despite many attempts to thwart its use, crypto adoption is on the rise in Nigeria. In fact, it is estimated that 32% of Nigerians use crypto, according to a survey conducted by Statista, compared to just 6% in the United States. Many Nigerians were exposed to the utility of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies through the #EndSARS movement. As awareness increases across the country, so does crypto adoption - for reasons beyond decentralization and privacy, as were popular during the protests.
Many Nigerians have turned to crypto to provide financial stability that is not offered to them by the country's government or banks. Nigeria is a country where the vast majority of adults (56%) are unbanked. The country's native currency, the naira, is relatively unstable, prone to extreme inflation and currency devaluation. Many turn to BTC and stablecoins as it is the only way they can access a dollar-denominated exchange or any foreign exchange.
Bitcoin was created as a response to the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 to create a peer-to-peer payment system that did not rely on banks, who were seen as untrustworthy at the time. The idea of protecting citizens from faulty systems and corrupt governments is at the very core of Bitcoin's fundamental tenets.
As we have seen from the ongoing events in Nigeria, Bitcoin is something so much greater than speculative investment. It is a means for protecting human rights. It is a way for people to connect directly with one another to stand up for what they believe in. For many around the world, Bitcoin is a way to escape oppressive governments and tyrannical regimes.
Those who dismiss Bitcoin as nothing more than financial speculation do not truly understand its importance for protecting human rights across the globe.
* Cover image courtesy of Reuters.