Friday, October 30, 2020 11:59 am
By Gerald Eze
“And every people must think anew thoughts that belong universally to all men and particularly to every man in order to uncover and conceptualize elements that stand them out as a people” (Ike Odimegwu). The fundamental human rights of Nigerians, amongst other things, comes to mind. These rights should be really structured in ways that it is not difficult to understand who the Nigerian person is, regardless of tribe or religion, or any other element of division. “One nation bound in freedom, peace and unity” is the ideal spirit that should possess every Nigerian. Do we feel free in Nigeria?
Freedom is one thing Nigerian youths shared while protesting peacefully and this freedom was expressed constructively with immense sense of responsibility and discipline. Christians prayed besides Muslims and vice versa, the protesters were unarmed and peaceful, solidarity chants were echoed in unity, and this is a memory to treasure. Every ideal human society thrives in such freedom. Every working democratic nation allows it, and any attempt to suppress it leads to crisis. Instead of blaming the protest for not having a leader, appreciate that it was so orderly even without a projected leader. Everyone in the crowd was a leader of a sort, leading his or her own life for good. If anyone wants to point out the problems of not having a leader, focus should be on Nigerian Governors who are not able to take critical decisions in a Federation except orders come from the center. Particular focus should be on a state governor who should lead his state but who announced to Nigerians that “powers beyond” his “control” led to the morbid blood bathe in Lekki Toll Gate.
We should really think twice about blaming youths who have endured for long and came out to put things right through peaceful protests. Rather let us blame the government that have failed over and over again to change its ways. Governance in Nigeria has been largely aloof in areas of human and societal development, except for the media publicities they fund to convince themselves that they are working. Now, imagine that the young people know this and have also seen how committees set to solve problems come out to worsen the problems. By refusing to end the peaceful protest, the youths showed that they did not just want a committee to fix the problems especially when we have not recovered from the shock of how the funds given to the Niger Delta Development Commission was (mis)managed. If a Professor could faint during public hearing, use your tongue to count your teeth. Nigerian youths and indeed, all Nigerians wanted accountability and immediate action. Telling them to trust you (those in government) with the same mouth you have used to deceive the public all along is like telling them to go to bed while things go wrong. The current scrambling for Covid’19 palliatives, by hungry Nigerians, which should have been distributed to human beings in a dignifying manner, orderly and timely is enough evidence to show for the lack of empathy by many political leaders in Nigeria. The people therefore in writing the story of freedom as led by the unique spirit of their times, assumed formlessness. No leader or director or chairman, instead the peaceful protesters would always chorus, “speak to us.” Governor: “who is your leader”? Crowd: “Nobody, speak to us”.
The young people particularly waited to hear from President Muhammadu Buhari. It took quite some time to hear from the President of the country and when Nigerians eventually heard from him, not many were satisfied. What followed the speech? Posts of people stating, playfully and/or seriously, how they would like to go to Canada, and indeed anywhere but stay in Nigeria, erupted massively on social media. Lack of trust in the government is part of the reason the protest was unquenchable in the first place. Bad too was the violence that was unleashed on peaceful protesters to suppress their convictions and take them away from the streets. At a point some of the protesters started calling for an end to bad governance. All these not only ushered the young people in the streets, it made many of them come out in more numbers by the day. And they really assumed formlessness, stayed unpredictable and resilient. Be sure they gained massive support largely because people are tired of the old unchanging system and style of governance in Nigeria.
For those still arguing that there should have been a leader directing the protest, I say: “if there was any leader, this protest would have not lasted as long as it did.” On the 24th October in Awka, Anambra State, some friends organized to clean up the state. By the time the job was done, there was bickering already on social media. The issue was that some group of young people who are campaigning for a gubernatorial aspirant in the upcoming election in Anambra state are trying to take the credit for the job. We are talking of just cleaning of the state. Imaging that there was room for structured leadership in the main protest, the protest would have been politicized! The young people do not have trust in the style of leadership the elders have perpetuated in the Nigerian polity. They instead feel more comfortable to assume formlessness.
Assuming formlessness is one of the important laws of power. ‘Finally, learning to adapt to each new circumstance means seeing events through your own eyes, and often ignoring the advice that people constantly peddle your way. It means that ultimately you must throw out the laws that others preach, and the books they write to tell you what to do, and the sage advice of the elder. “The laws that govern circumstances are abolished by new circumstances”, Napoleon wrote, which means that it is up to you to gauge each new situation. Rely too much on other people’s ideas and you end up taking a form not of your own making’. The passage above is curled from the 48 laws of power by Robert Greene. The youths did not want anybody’s advice on how to do this, they just went about it peacefully and without form.
Why did the Lekki toll gate incident happen? Could it not have been avoided? Could the military and police not have focused their energy in protecting the people from any attacks? Many narratives have come up but I like to submit that the violence already in the psyche of many Nigerians which has been suppressed for a long time was triggered by those men of Nigerian security operatives who pulled the trigger (even if on the air) during the period of the peaceful protest. I was in anxiety, just like many Nigerians were, when I saw those videos of the soldiers shooting unarmed protesters at Lekki toll gate (forget about the controversial posts attached to some of them, the videos alone were gruesome). Will it help if we see the young people burning and destroying things now as those traumatized by hunger, bad governance, years of police brutality, and lack of basic necessities needed for basic survival? The beast in them has been trained for a long time by our negligence. The time came upon them to act, and they are now on rampage. This is not to excuse the violence and evil inherent in man, but to explain that when we fuel that violence by our negligence, bad governance or failure to advocate persuasively for a better society, we stand less chance of living in a peaceful society.
Recall that many protests have been staged in Nigeria and led by people who are even worse looters than those they accuse of crime. Nigeria is bad not only because our political leaders are bad but because we have in one way or the other encouraged whatever the leaders do wrong. We have been the ones also using police to brutalize one another. So no one can really come out and claim to be a savior in this case. Each time anyone tried to save us with a protest, it always never happened or it never happened with wide acceptance and participation. This time a spirit has possessed everyone. I chose to metaphorically call this spirit Usukaloyi in my previous article titled “Usukaloyi”. Usukaloyi is a spirit manifest from Amihie village in Umuchu, Aguata Local Government area of Anambra State which appears once in seven years but may be witnessed once in a lifetime. This spirit manifest is huge, scary, dreadful and it carries dead animals on its body. It is followed by the brave men of various classes including the educated. It fears no one, it dares everyone.
This spirit has not been out in Umuchu for about 30 years. But I have longed to experience it albeit symbolically, at least, out once in my lifetime. I never met Usukaloyi but I like the idea of this spirit manifest and composed a music with ideas gotten from the Oja (the Igbo flute) tune played for this spirit manifest. I tagged my concert in 2017 “Usukaloyi, The Revolution” and performed the Usukaloyi music. This tune is one of the compositions I presented in defense of my Thesis in December, 2019. I published the poem that form the lyrics of that song in a recent article entitled: “Usukaloyi: The Spirit of Revolution”. Some people want to claim that these agitations were sponsored. Now who was sponsoring me to see the times ahead and present it in academic research and performance? Nobody needs to sponsor the creative spirit of the youth to understand the times ahead. I am not the only person who believed and pointed that the government should sit up and be empathic in dealing with the people, else such a thing as we see now will come. Some did it much better than myself. I am also not the only one who represented it in the arts, but our politicians were aloof, obviously!
I do not think I predicted this social revolution, I do not need such credit. I think I only felt it and I could draw symbolisms from my indigenous culture to represent what I felt will happen. I have had conversations with people who have had nightmares where there were sporadic shootings. This simply tells that there is fear in the land. I have had my own share of such nightmares too especially early this month. All these tell of the fear we live in. No one needs to be a prophet to know the fears we live in at the unconscious levels. I have always seen the people in fear and I really needed a figure of courage, and Usukaloyi came handy! This social revolution is a courageous one. And now that it appears that frantic efforts are being made to discredit it and halt it, I am only pleased that generations to come will learn of this struggle for justice, and recreate their existence symbolically, just like I did with the Usukaloyi story. Even now that the peaceful protesters have left the streets, the creative artists need to collaborate with each other to build symbolismic representations of this struggle. The #Sorosoke is apt in this direction for me. This struggle remains an idea, to be revisited with new vigor when next there is need to act with the body. Just like I was inspired by the Usukaloyi story and drew out symbolisms from it, generations to come will learn from Sorosoke and speak out boldly, tactfully, creatively, and in good time. That is a good way to say: “we move”!
Moving forward, I like to draw just a few other symbolic experiences of the Endsars protest. I am aware that I will make a poor attempt at drawing out the best out of these massive stories but I will go ahead nonetheless. In Abuja, a protester lost his phone, and someone picked it, charged it, recharged it and made calls to connect to the owner. In Lagos a young boy selling cheese balls gave the protesters his snacks for free. This boy has experienced the kind of freedom he has not experienced in his lifetime. No one will give thugs free items, instead everyone flees from thugs. This boy gave freely to people who were painting Nigeria with the colors of freedom. The people in turn looked out for the boy to reward him massively. Quality food was distributed amongst protesters, making one imagine how much we will be filled if we managed our resources aright. This is a once in a lifetime experience and even though people are desperate to discredit it, they cannot erase the lessons from our hearts. The youths will not forget the lessons of this protest. They have learnt to be their brother’s keep by belonging together and refusing to align with the status quo. A new spirit of creation was in the air and many Nigerians celebrated it and really wished that power returns to the youth, who should rightly wield it.
“The powerful are often people who in their youth have shown immense creativity in expressing something new through a new form. Society grants them power because it hungers for and rewards this sort of newness. The problem comes later, when they often grow conservative and possessive. They no longer dream of creating new forms; their identities are set, their habits congeal, and their rigidity makes them easy targets. Everyone knows their next move. Instead of demanding respect they elicit boredom: Get off the stage! we say, let someone else, someone younger, entertain us. When locked in the past, the powerful look comical – they are overripe fruit, waiting to fall from the tree” (Robert Green). Nigerian youths during the Endsars protest, indeed set things right in new ways and the old men who have held tightly to power (even from their youth) became a laughing stock.
Sadly, this new creative spirit that expressed freedom constructively was shot dead at Lekki toll gate on the 20th of October, 2020 and hence anarchy was set loose. No matter your tribe, we are all wounded and we need to heal and exist as “one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity”, even if some parts of Nigeria may break up later. The voice of hope should not be seen as totally dead, shot out, or shut up. Despite the events of the Black Tuesday, 20th of October, 2020 – when peaceful protesters where shot at Lekki Toll Gate – we can persevere in learning that to be is to be free from oppression, fear, hate and division. To be is no more to just breathe, but to be free. And to be free is not to destroy but to build from the ashes of destructions and rise like the phoenix. Indeed “I estimate the power of a will according to how much resistance, pain, and torture it endures and knows how to transform to its own advantage” (Nietzsche). One thing is true, the oppressors have revealed their plans to concerned and determined youths who sought for Nigeria’s good. There are tears but there are feelings of dignity too. People are at least happy that they did not continue to dine with apathy on the devil’s table, finally they have and will always #Sorosoke.
As we move into the post protest periods, I must add that it is not just a young leader figure that we need, after all most people who are old in power today started out as youths and nonetheless made several mistakes, remained unrepentant, held onto power till old age. We need a change of mindset! Youths who are disciplined, responsible, strategic, well educated, and full of vitality will steer the new Nigerian ship. It may appear too idealistic but anything less is back to square one.
The peaceful Endsars protest is not particularly to oust any sitting government, even if there were hidden agenda by a few persons. No matter how many hashtags came up, its focus was still there as a call for a change of the police system and I understand how painful it will be for those who benefit from the ruins that bedevil Nigeria to lose their job(s). In one of the videos of soldiers shoot at the protesters, they all shouted this: #Endsars! Their voices were not divided. This should significantly handle the argument about the protesters losing focus. The protesters were bold and entertaining, and as such, people with other issues joined and the #endbadgovernance chant got involved. This is not all bad. It is at least an indicator that the people understand their problem to be basically bad governance. The reasonable thing to do is not exactly to blame the protest on lack of focus (or blame them for fighting too many wars), the apt thing to do is to actually contribute in ways we all can to end bad governance. Trust me all these blames and supposed workable strategies coming up now cannot solve the problem of Nigeria still. The enemies of Nigeria are not those who contributed to the funding of the peaceful protest. The real enemies are those who will always wait until there is such gap that can lead to a social revolution to begin to listen to the people; that is, if they even have ears to listen.
My advice to the peaceful protesters: Having acted boldly and spoken loudly, it is time to think deeply and act strategically. The evil oppressors are not there by accident. They planned every step and walked their talk (not there promises to us but their selfish convictions). To engage with too much emotions alone may become counterproductive. Instead, keep the idea of a new tomorrow alive by “knowing” the idea, believing it, breathing it in and out, living, singing and dancing it. Those who oppress the voice of reason can kill and surely will kill. But it is the body that will die and not an idea, especially the one whose time has come. We have to strategize politically and also inspire courage and ingenuity through the creative arts. Ideas will set us free and not sticks and stones. We are all in anxiety moments now but we have to utilize this anxiety constructively. Do not just scroll down reading posts and commenting, that might lead to despair. Stay creative; record music with your phones and share with friends to keep them inspired; sing with any instrument you find, clap, dance, stage theater plays in the streets or even in your homes; reflect on the possibilities of a new life; recreate yourself; recreate Nigeria and leave the enemies of peace and unity confused! This is one good way to keep up with the formlessness of the peaceful protest to end SARs and police brutality.
Advise your neighbors and friends to be peaceful. Advise them if they can listen (knowing it will be difficult for them to listen), not to scramble for the Covid’19 palliatives as it will be a way of living like the monsters the Nigerian government make of its citizens by denying them basic rights. Be the change and begin to assist human development in your immediate environment. If possible, please, stay off the streets for now, it is not cowardice; heal and keep believing.
Can we heal? Yes, we can try to heal and we will heal eventually. Just like stories of police brutality and the shootings of unarmed civilians by unknown soldiers bring gloom, I hope we as a people are uplifted with the videos, pictures and stories of a police DPO, Rabiu Garba, whose integrity saved his station from the same wild mob that have been destroying various buildings. This is what I mean in my poem, Usukaloyi, at the point I noted that “only the upright can stand Usukaloyi”. We need to really do better in this society. I urge fellow youths to understand that our spirit is not an evil and destructive spirit, and so, may we stay positive, care and strategize endlessly for a better police system and a better Nigeria. Do not regret adding your voice to the peaceful protest. May we persevere and find an end to police brutality, impunity, violence, and corrupt governance in Nigeria, Amen.
• Gerald Eze teaches at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.