Nigeria Protesters Adopt Bridgefy to Tackle Potential Internet Shutdown

The Bridgefy App in Real Life 05/13/2021

Featured image credit: Kaizenify (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license).

#EndSARS was a movement against police brutality in Nigeria. It called for the disbanding of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). SARS was a unit of the Nigerian Police infamous for a long record of abuses. While the movement started in 2017, it gained renewed traction in October 2020, following more revelations of abuses. Outcry on social media and mass demonstrations all over the country soon followed. Fearing a potential Internet shutdown, Nigerian protesters adopted Bridgefy to tackle it. 

Instead of relying on an online connection, Bridgefy uses a smartphone’s Bluetooth antenna to send messages within 330 feet or 100 meters. However, every phone acts as a link in an ever increasing chain of devices, known as a mesh-network. This allows the Bridgefy App to cover large areas by letting messages “hop” through other users’ phones until they reach the intended destination. This way, Nigerian protesters could continue to organize themselves, at a time when most online communications could not be possible to perform.

SARS was effectively disbanded on October 11. Many viewed the decision by the Nigerian Police as a triumph of the #EndSARS movement, while others noted it was simply being replaced with a new unit called Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT). Demonstrations continued out of fear police reform would not happen.

Word-of-mouth recommendations over social media propelled Bridgefy App downloads by around 9,000% in Nigeria during October 2020. There are two specific dates that stand out: the first is October 14, when the possibility of an Internet shutdown started becoming clearer, seeing how the government had tried to ban social media in the past. And the second is October 21, when, the day before, government action against civilians worsened and a curfew was announced, abruptly ending the protests.

Bridgefy App downloads in Nigeria, from October 12 to 29, 2020. Graphic made with internal records.

By early 2021, months after the manifestations forcefully ended, a whole country was left with many unanswered questions.

African Arguments. #EndSARS: A movement finding healing six months after a massacre.
CNN. More Nigerian protests against police brutality as reforms fail to convince.
Wikipedia. End SARS.
Zikoko. #EndSars: A Guide To Staying Online In case Of An Internet Shutdown.