This article also appeared in our Down The Rabbit Hole newsletter. If you want our news and analysis straight to your inbox, make sure you subscribe now!
Since mid-October, protestors across Nigeria have been demonstrating daily to bring attention to claims that a police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is taking part in kidnapping, extortion and other violent and unlawful actions.
Though the country’s inspector general announced that SARS would be disbanded on October 11, protests have continued, with participants calling for additional police oversight. Yesterday, international reports emerged claiming that members of the Nigerian army fired at protestors in Lagos, the country’s largest city.
It’s clear that the Nigerian government and a significant set of its more than 200 million citizens will not resolve their differences anytime soon. And the recent reports of violence echo previous actions taken by Nigerian officials, particularly an oppressive move that has pushed some protestors toward Plan B.
Finding A Lifeline In Bitcoin
The Feminist Coalition is a Nigerian advocacy group formed in July 2020 focused on advancing and protecting the rights of women in the country. When protests emerged calling for the dissolution of SARS, this group decided to help by fundraising to sustain peaceful demonstrations. It wanted to provide basic necessities and other resources for the protestors.
“We are scared young Nigerian women who were never a threat,” explained Dami Odufuwa, a Feminist Coalition organizer, in an email to Bitcoin Magazine. “We just wanted to contribute toward Nigerians exercising their constitutional rights safely by providing food, water, masks (for COVID-19), paying medical bills and supporting legal aid for arrested protestors, etc.”
As of October 13, it had distributed 11,810,500 Nigerian naira (about $31,000) to protest causes around the country. Then, it found that incoming donations were being stopped.
“Over the past two days we have experienced repeated restrictions on all the centralised Nigerian financial channels we have utilised for donations,” the group announced on October 16. “Our payment channels have been taken down multiple times, making it harder for us to receive donations, and forcing us to move to decentralized currencies in order to continue to ensure that Nigerians have access to the funds they need to enable safe and peaceful protests.”
That’s when it began using Sendcash to convert BTC-based donations into naira, which it could pass on to protest causes. But, because this solution still relied on the participation of traditional banks, it soon moved on to BTCPay Server, an open-source bitcoin payment processor.
“Over the course of the past week, we’ve had restrictions placed on our bank accounts and many people who have donated to us or received donations from us have also alleged and complained of restrictions placed on their accounts by certain banks,” Odufuwa said. “This is what forced us to move to decentralized payment platforms and only accept donations in bitcoin using BTCPay.”
The Ongoing Fight
The transition to BTCPay Server should fix the Feminist Coalition’s issues with having donations blocked by central authorities: it’s not possible for a government or any other third party to censure bitcoin transactions between peers. However, that doesn’t mean that the group or any other Nigerian dissident is free from government overreach.
Odufuwa said that some coalition members have received threats to their safety, following the spread of misinformation about their goals.
Still, as a sovereign lifeline that allows donations to keep flowing, Bitcoin should prove to be a powerful tool in the group’s ongoing fight, as well as in similar movements around the world. After all, it is this permissionless transfer of value that reflects the voice of the people, despite the government’s best efforts to silence it.
“We received donations toward the #EndSARS movement from unknown but well-meaning Nigerians and supporters of the movements both here and internationally,” Odufuwa said. “People have donated because they are all passionate about building a better Nigeria. All we asked for was an end to the killing of Nigerians at the hands of the police and that the government take real action and hear our cry as people of Nigeria.”