The abiding images of #EndSars are for me, threefold – the image of the young (mostly male) people valiantly at the barricades, the bloodstained Nigerian flag, the video of gunshot victims pleading – and the short video by Seun Kuti contextualising the poverty of many of those characterised as Hoodlums – and the powerful image of a muslim woman leading a protest; the protests from the distant vista from which I am currently writing had all of the fervour of the #OccupyNigeria movement – and before that #LightUpNigeria, a social movement I briefly studied; it reminded me also of the destabilising excitement and fear that student protests invoked when I was younger and growing up under the military regimes of the 1980s; in fact it is safe to say that mine and perhaps the image, indeed, internalised image – after the maternal of being Nigerian is for me first and foremost martial. Nigeria is a nation at war, and in occupation and has been so for the past 100 or more years; our state is probably a stranger to itself as much as it is to its citizens. Reuben Abati wrote cryptically of state house being haunted – I can believe it. Nigeria is cursed, in the same way that many other great nations are cursed, England by its class system, the United States by the ethnic war that since its beginnings has been cloaked as Caste Slavery – and the Congo, paradoxically by its wealth. Nigeria has the boon of all these nations challenges, coupled with the most bewildering array of diversity – coupled by a parochialism among the groups that demographically and socially dominate the nation – at least at the surface. All this to say, that I am not different from anyone else by being amazed by the protests and then saddened by the murderous turn that the protest took in the end. Still, it is said that heavy lies the head that wears the crown – and despite what is viewed as the inept response by the executive branch – aside from condemning the loss of life – from this vantage point, I do not share the outrage directed towards it. I think a moment such as #EndSars – should be one of outrage yes – but also of introspection – and then action, of course. I admire the valiant action of the people who have taken it on to end the outrage of an arbitrary arm of law enforcement – and I will declare first that while I have not been a victim of SARs – I have experienced assault at the hands of Nigerian law enforcement severally – and more viscerally, seen directed at the less fortunate. I cannot say that I am hopeful for the #EndSars movement as I am not currently a direct part of it. I am part of a movement to change Nigeria and what it means to be Nigerian in Nigeria and the rest of the world; wherever we are in the world, we suffer the negative consequences of how the country is seen – and more importantly how the country is. My view is that to #EndSars, in concert with similar movements (OccupyNigeria, LightUpNigeria, #BringBackOurGirls) – need to become a broader movement with a transformative vision for the country, and a broader vision for the world. Yes, that involves a transformation of constitutional arrangements most likely – but before that, many, many sacred cows must be slain; in short, Nigeria needs a civil rights movement, and a spiritual. I have no authority upon which to say this except that I am a citizen of Nigeria, and of the United Kingdom – the two places that in many ways made the modern world.
Re-tell our origin story – Nigeria did not begin with the arrival of the Niger River company, Flora Shaw, the declaration of independence, or the reconstitution after Civil War – it is a network of people and states that have interacted for eons.
Translate and broadcast our current governing laws (the 1999 constitution) into the languages the majority speak, and more importantly live in (This is a project I am actively working on)
Tell the truth – Nigeria’s ethnic cleavages are not tribal wars but competing nationalisms that need to be imaginatively tackled
Create a non-negotiable intersectional movement that can mobilise the just beautiful plethora of identities in the country – starting with the movements to establish the civil rights of Female, Queer, Minority and State Migrants
Look at tackling the structural inequality in the country through massive cash transfers directly to the poor
Mobilise around consciousness raising
Love the constitution as it is – flawed as it is – mobilise around it
Hope, Fight and Talk
Look after your self (to paraphrase Audre Lorde said: ‘Caring for your self is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.’.
Our ancestors gave us a saying that if one throws a stone in the market, we are bound to hit a relative – it is perhaps time that we gather around the fact that a house divided against itself will fall, but not one that in wisdom can divide and recreate itself in a creative and reproductive way.
Penned in haste, October 25th 2020 by a skinny A.O.I in transit
Dele Meiji Fatunla