How This Yoruba Phrase Gave The Nigerian Youths A Voice

On October 8, 2020, only seven days after the 60th independence of Nigeria, the youth began a powerful movement. For the first time in a while, they came together as a united front to demand an end to police brutality. 

soro soke

The End SARS movement began as an online agitation against a corrupt arm of the Nigerian Police Force, ‘Special Armed Robbery Squad’. But it soon became a fight against all forms of police brutality and moved from the streets of Twitter to the actual streets of Nigeria. The youths, assisted by forward-thinking Nigerians created a system that worked without any visible leaders or authority figures.

They figured out financing, legal, clean-up, health, security, and even tech-support. Within two weeks, the protest had become a well-oiled machine of young people tired of the nation’s state, coming together to speak in one voice. They needed a way to be heard. They wanted to speak so loudly, that the ruling class, made up of quinquagenarians and older, would have no reason to turn deaf hears to their request.

This need gave birth to what is perhaps the most iconic phrase from the entire movement – ‘Soro soke!’. It’s a phrase in Yoruba that simply means, ‘speak up’, but figuratively means ‘speak without fear or cowardice’. You can also simply say ‘Soro soke werey’, meaning ‘speak up mad person’ in Yoruba.

This phrase is a chant of encouragement for protesters, where whoever is leading the chants would say ‘soro soke!’, and the protesters will reply, ‘end SARS!’. It gave them a way to uniquely encourage each other to continue to fight and hold on to their common goal. It is a battle cry, a tone of rebellion, and a chant of unification against police brutality and terrible governance.

It has also become a word of warning laced with disrespect and contempt at anybody who has insensitive words about the movement. On Wednesday, October 14, 2020, Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwoolu got to feel some of this contempt as he attempted to address protesters. Many of them believe that his decision to stay on the fence about issues affecting the lives of young people in Lagos is disrespectful and insensitive. Hence, he felt the full force of ‘Soro Soke Werey’ as protesters chanted at him while he tried to beg them to retreat.

Yet, the word that is seemingly harsh and condescending can also be a form of endearment among friends. Used sarcastically or humorously, it can unite comrades in arms fighting for the same cause. It has become firmly rooted in the sands of pop culture and socio-political times in Nigeria.

‘Soro soke Werey’ or ‘soro soke’, just like the movement that made it a consequential part of pop culture, is going nowhere anytime soon. The supposed ‘lazy’ Nigerian youths have now found their voices, and nothing is going to take it away from them. As long as they have their voices, they’ll continue to chant, ‘Soro soke Werey!’ And the whole world will just have to stop and listen.

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