The young, Nigerian consumer did not witness the totalitarianism of military rule, so they are less timid and more demanding of human rights. They engage in public discourse to call out injustices around the world and use technology to amplify their voice. We told you all about this in 7 surefire ways to sell to Gen Zs. Gen Zs expect brands to lend their voices to causes that matter. Brands must be clear about what they stand for to not be perceived as uninvolved in or opposed to social causes important to Gen Zs. However, taking a stand is never as easy as it seems.
The question this article seeks to answer is consequential. What happens to Nigerian brands when they take this treasured stand? What happens to businesses after they do so?
In Who is Afraid of Arise News?, we told you all about Arise News and its outstanding efforts during the #EndSARS protests. In October 2020, Arise TV was one of the few news media companies that brought factual coverage of the events to the majority of Nigerians. On 21st October, a day after the alleged shootings, the outlet was at Lekki tollgate to do a live broadcast. But we also explained how in Nigeria, no good deed goes unpunished. Once, a cameraman was brutalized by the police. Once, cameras and microphones were seized by soldiers. Later, the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) fined Arise TV N3 million.
A lot will be said about the 2020s #EndSARS protests because it incomparably exemplifies the unified participation of Nigerian stakeholders in a socio-political cause. In October, many Nigerian brands took a stand. The #EndSARS protest was a stand against police brutality. Specifically, it called for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a rogue arm of the Nigerian Police Force, over allegations of harassment, abduction, extortion, and murder. While most of the protests were driven by young individuals, brands showed their full support in different ways.
During the nationwide protests, Nigerian brands volunteered their time and services. This included emergency help from medics, pro bono services from lawyers, and mental health support from mental health organizations.
Emergency ambulances, physiotherapists and mental therapy were made available by hospitals. Stand to End Rape (STER) Initiative provided psychological and counseling resources to protesters. MentallyAware created panic cards to help protesters deal with panic attacks. Aelex law firm provided pro-bono lawyers to bail arrested protesters. Businesses in the catering sector came through. Chicken Republic shared free meals, Bigi donated free packs of bottled water.
E-hailing platform, Bolt gave a 50% discount when riders used “SOROSOKE”, a rallying phrase for the protests.
Quickly, several brands adopted the #EndSARS hashtag (and other variations like #EndPoliceBrutality) to call the attention of the world. They also sponsored explainer videos, broadcast templates, and flyers (in several local languages), in a bid to shed more light on the plight of young Nigerians and the direction of protests. Sterling Bank was continuously vocal on police brutality, through town hall meetings and social videos. Bamboo, a digital investment platform, pinned a tweet where it declared its opposition to all forms of police brutality in Nigeria.
In October, crowdfunding options were set up to provide food, security, legal aid, and health services to protesters. At the peak of protests, a civil society organization called the Feminist Coalition had raised nearly 70 million in naira. Lawyers were dispatched to release protesters detained by police, medical bills of injured protesters were covered, food was provided. Even private security was arranged.
A rave of donations began with Flutterwave Inc., a fintech startup whose staff contributed N2 million to settle medical bills for injured protesters. Subsequently, Paystack donated N1 million to Flutterwave Women’s Coalition and so did Softcom.
After making its own N1 million contribution, Bundle Africa set up three cryptocurrency wallets for fundraising. Another cryptocurrency firm, Quidax, donated N500,000. BudgIT Nigeria, a civic tech organization donated N500,000. The e-learning platform called Scale My Hustle donated N1 million. EmPawa Africa donated N1 million, and so on.
Throughout #EndSARS however, some brands were curiously quiet. And as heartbreaking as the perceived complacence was to brand loyalists, it was understandable. This is still Nigeria. In the final quarter of last year, the backlash for some brands taking a stand did not only come from the aggrieved pro-SARS section of the populace, but also the government who intervened to chastise businesses. Many brands could not risk compromising their standing with the Nigerian government and industry regulators. Many individuals and organizations would subsequently learn why.
Here is what happens when Nigerian brands take a stand:
During the #EndSARS protests, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was severally accused of instructing private banks to freeze the accounts of organizations and individuals in order to stop the flow of funds supporting the protests. Flutterwave, alongside a coalition of other tech companies, created a fund for the protest and a donation link for the public. Soon, the donation link was blocked and associated accounts were allegedly frozen by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
On 20th October, the CBN sought permission from the Federal High Court to freeze the accounts of 19 persons and one media rights organization linked to the #EndSARS protests until January. This organization was Gatefield Limited who had raised funds to support journalists reporting on protests. While this freezing order was granted by the court on November 4 and meant to span 90 days, it remained in force even after its deadline. Affected parties had to institute another action in court to unfreeze their accounts.
In October, the National Broadcasting Station (NBC) sanctioned Arise TV, Channels, and AIT N3 million each for allegedly playing roles in the escalation of violence across the nation. Apparently, these broadcast stations had aired unverified images of the alleged shooting of protesters at the Lekki Tollgate.
In October, the not-for-profit organization called the Feminist Coalition decided that its very first project would be to support #EndSARS protests. It achieved this by providing food, water, first aid kits, masks, medical aid, and legal aid for peaceful protesters. On many days, nationwide protests relied on ten women for support and coordination. Since October however, the efforts of the group have been continuously derided by some Nigerians. Despite detailed financial reports, members of FemCo have been accused of fraud. On May 8, the Feminist Coalition announced that the donors to the October 2020 peaceful #EndSARS protests had been emailed a copy of a completed audit. It added that it would now focus on women-focused projects.
Na brand wey support
Yet, there are important lessons to learn from the #EndSARS protests. Notably, young Nigerians declared loyalty to people and brands who supported their cause. And they have tried to stay true to their vows.
Undoubtedly, brand responses on social issues can have both positive and negative effects on sales. Should you take a stand? You would have to choose carefully. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You would need to pick a struggle – the wrath of Nigeria’s young people or that of its government. Regardless, millennials and Gen Z will continue to demand meaning from the brands they patronize.
And last last, na brand wey support us we go support.