When Youth Protests Meet Public Health: A Lesson for Change

To say the #ENDSARS protests were limited in their power to change things is an understatement. What was seen by young Nigerians and others during the #ENDSARS protests in October, and those previously, was power in collaboration and remembering that every person has a right to a free and just system. Putting an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) called for courage; it called for perseverance; and it called for action steps towards a more just tomorrow. This is only some of what young people all over the world meant when they chanted #ENDSARS.

Police brutality is a public health problem not only in Nigeria but across the world. Considering this year’s racial inequities and violence by the police, most notably those of George Floyd,  Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, several protesters killed and wounded in the aftermath of the SARS peaceful protests, and a host of others, police brutality has to end. While there have been mandates in holding police accountable and bringing such terror to the forefront, the lack of justice for those wrongfully killed has had increased public health effects. Evidence suggests that individuals recently exposed to violence have psychological distress, suicidal behavior, and psychotic experiences [1]. 

In the charge to create innovative youth-friendly services, enhancing youths’ voice and youth action steps is key. The mission of 4 Youth by Youth stems from the ability to empower young Nigerians to be the change they want to see and remember their voice and their activism. Innovation and increasing youth participation and entrepreneurship, which 4 Youth by Youth leads with, has the power to equip young Nigerians with tools to cultivate positive change, rely on their creativity in their activism, and help to rebuild a healthier and equitable social and political landscape. 

There cannot be a “protect and serve” mantra when those words are not executed. For years, people have looked to their law enforcement as a saving grace in times of trouble. If the narrative shifts, and what was a saving grace becomes a force of wrongdoing, the community is heartbroken, and the world reacts. When thinking about the health and well-being of young people, it is only fitting to remember the environments that negatively impact development. Violence by the police and those in SARS can create detrimental effects in the livelihood of young people as they become more aware of themselves and their surroundings. Documented history of police violence and brutality can contribute to poor health outcomes that negatively affect future development, including, but not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and increases in depression and anxiety [1,3] . Therefore, putting an end to SARS comes with the duty to shape young people’s lives and the lives of those invested in community resilience.

As time goes on, one thing is for sure: young Nigerians’ health cannot be forgotten. With 4 Youth by Youth, young people are able to spark positive changes to address issues pertaining to their health. These issues transcend boundaries, and with steps in the direction to end police brutality, creating more sustainable youth-friendly outlets will allow young Nigerians to live healthier lives, cope with adverse experiences, and lean on each other when producing ideas. Support, however, is needed from all sectors. Local government agencies, healthcare agencies, parents, schools, local religious leaders, artists, and developers can play critical roles in helping young people gain access to resources and in their flourishment. Youth protests are more than just an act, they give voice to the voiceless, and they remind the world that youth are the future-what they do now will be impactful for generations that follow.


  1. DeVylder, J. E., Jun, H. J., Fedina, L., Coleman, D., Anglin, D., Cogburn, C., Link, B., & Barth, R. P. (2018). Association of Exposure to Police Violence With Prevalence of Mental Health Symptoms Among Urban Residents in the United States. JAMA network open, 1(7), e184945. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.4945
  2. Gladstone, R., & Specia, M. (2020). Nigeria’s Police Brutality Crisis: What’s Happening Now. The New York Times, Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/article/sars-nigeria-police.html
  3. Nigeria Health Watch. (2020). The Disease of Violence: Police Brutality as a Public Health Emergency in Nigeria. Retrieved from https://nigeriahealthwatch.com/the-disease-of-violence-police-brutality-as-a-public-health-emergency-in-nigeria/
  4. Ojewale, O. (2020). Africa in Focus: Youth Protests for Police Reform in Nigeria: What Lies Ahead for #EndSARS. Bookings, Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2020/10/29/youth-protests-for-police-reform-in-nigeria-what-lies-ahead-for-endsars/
  5. Shaoul, J. (2020). Nigerian Government Goes on Offensive Against Youth Protesting Police Brutality. International Committee of the Fourth International: World Socialist Website, Retrieved from https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/11/23/nige-n23.html

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