At the candlelight protest held for the fallen at the hands of the members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad [SARS] and other tactical units on October 16, 2020 in front of the Lagos State House of Assembly building, Alausa, a tall, dark-skinned lady walked into the crowded frontiers of the event with her friend, a shorter brown-skinned lady.
The tall lady wore denim jeans, a baseball hat, a pair of Adidas sneakers and a black shirt. On the front of that shirt were the boldly written words, 'Soro Soke Werey.' Beneath those words was a clenched fist, designed with white ink. Minutes after the lady came in, she lit her candle and protected the flames with an improvised half of a plastic bottle.
Behind her was a speaker, authoritatively claiming youthful attention with music from across years and genres. In front of her was a team of people speaking through a microphone. Just as the actual candlelight event was about to start, the first thing the apparent master of the occasion screamed into the microphone was, "Soro Soke!"
Like a horde of stooges controlled by a PS4 console, everybody seemed to abandon whatever they were doing and replied, "Werey!" This happened about five more times between 7:09 pm and 7:45 pm. Whoever had the microphone would say it anytime he or she required the crowd's attention.
See, 'Soro Soke Werey' has become a battle cry, nigh a tone of rebellion and valid belligerency as well as a chant of unification in the Nigerian struggle against police brutality and terrible governance.
It has also become an identity and a multifaceted chant of nonchalant, yet aggressive invitation to the central government to stop pussyfooting and say something meaningful.
More interestingly, it's also become a statement that connotes disrespect at anybody who is saying anything unreasonable at such a sensitive time for Nigerians. Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu felt the brunt of that on Wednesday, October 14, 2020 as he addressed protesters in front of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Alausa, Lagos.
As the confused Governor grappled with the microphone to find words, someone from the crowd screamed back at him, "Soro Soke Werey!" Everyone laughed, but it was the greatest confirmation that those words had become firmly rooted into the sands of pop culture and socio-political times in Nigeria.
What is the origin of this phrase?
'Soro Soke Werey' is Yoruba. In English it literally means, 'Speak up, mad person.' But colloquially, it could mean, 'Speak up, dullard' The statement is usually said in anger or to connote condescension or impatience in the heat of sensitive conversation. However, it could also connote humour and sarcasm.
Across the Nigerian zeitgeist, 'Were' which is Yoruba for mad person has been stylized as 'Werey' on social media. But these days, it is used amongst friends and strangers as a term of endearment, means of lighthearted abuse or form of humour.
While 'Soro Soke Werey' gets steadily and unconsciously used by the average Yoruba-speaking person and it's not exactly special, it became a viral social media sensation via football banter on Twitter Nigeria - between fans of rival clubs.
When a rival club - especially in the English Premier League - loses, fans of other clubs would go on the losing clubs' tweets and write, 'Soro Soke Werey' on any tweet that doesn't carry the celebration of a loss or goal against as it would a goal for or a victory.
A key moment was on July 13, 2020 when a Twitter account, @Sholaaaaaaaaa wrote, "Soro Soke Werey" on tweet from Manchester United's official account.
At the end of the game, it was the Twitter announcement of a draw between Champions League-chasing Manchester United and relegation candidates, Southampton at Old Trafford, United's home ground no less.
Since July 2020, it's become a common feature of banter on 'Football Twitter.' However, some people have since theorized that veteran Yoruba actor, Toyin Afolayan - popularly known as Lola Idije - said it in a movie. While that isn't completely untrue, it's not exactly a compelling argument for the following reasons;
- Yoruba people say 'Soro Soke Werey' all the time, it's not exactly something special.
- Afolayan is known for her dramatic persona and 'razor-lips' in movies. She has said 'Soro Soke Werey' in more than one movie, while addressing sensitive scenarios. Thus, it will be hard to pinpoint the first time she actually said it. That said, one of those scenes might be more popular than others.
- Except some of the earliest users of the 'Soro Soke Werey' admit that they got it from a particular Toyin Afolayan movie scene, then we must all realize that the phrase isn't exactly inspired by her and that it's just a Yoruba colloquialism that happens to resonate with football banter on Twitter Nigeria, thereby gaining credence with people.
- There is an entire Odunlade Adekola titled 'Soro Soke' on YouTube.
How did the phrase become a core part of #EndSARS protests?
Alongside 'Werey dey disguise,' another viral phrase on Twitter NG, 'Soro Soke Werey' had been used severally on EndSARS-related posts in early October 2020. However, one moment that could be credited with really making it a core part of the protests came from the Twitter account, @eniturn on October 10, 2020 - just as the protests gathered pace.
The official Twitter handle of TV station, Channels tweeted, "#EndSars: Young Nigerian Jimoh Isiaq Killed In Ogbomosho, Seven Others Injured." @eniturn quoted the tweet with his now viral reply, "Who killed him? Soro soke wharay."
Since October 10, 2020, it's been no looking back for the phrase which has become a battle cry, a chant, an identity, a collective resolve and a medium of reaffirmation for young Nigerians as they battle police brutality in the most coordinated protest that Nigeria has seen in over 30 years.