The events of last week leading up to the cancellation of the nationwide protests called for by TuFace (2Baba as he is fondly called) brought some jarring memories for some and touched a chord in our online national psyche.
What really happened? Was TuFace threatened? Was his family put at risk? These questions were all answered with varying levels of certainty on social media, with some people decrying the cowardice of the talented musician, and others raising red flags about suppression of dissent.
The emotions and outcry on social media were so discordant that even I couldn’t find a unifying identity in the confusion. Some people wanted to protest and were upset that they would no longer protest since the ringleader had pulled out. Others were upset but resolved to go on to protest. Some people were secretly happy the protest was cancelled but came out in fake outrage about how democracy was being threatened. And still some others came out in support of the government, renewing their vows of allegiance to the ruling party and its flag bearer in spite of whatever “temporary sacrifices” we would need to endure to be great again. It felt like we were a rambling lot of kids in the playground with no clear agenda of play for the day.
By far the saddest reaction I saw was a question by people asking what a protest would have changed, and if any human life was worth risking for a populist movement that had been proven time and time again to change nothing in the national scheme of things. In other words, we the people, have never been listened to, and why would that change now?
There are 3 generally accepted ways to effect change: running for office, voting at the ballot box, and social activism. Having been effectively ruled out of the scheme of things as regards political office, Nigerian youths have the other two options to throw their influence around. The next opportunity to show force at the ballot is not until another 2 years. So what is left? Advocacy. Why give up the only power you have simply because you have been made to believe it is of no consequence?
If really your dissent was of no consequence, we would not have had the populist movement that swept the current ruling party into power. Boko Haram had been on the rampage, killing thousands and kidnapping others, recruiting child soldiers and carrying on unreported save for their broadcast propaganda messages from time to time. When the Bring Back Our Girls protest began and got widespread international support (Michelle Obama even, remember?) and features in foreign TV series episodes, it was not difficult to see that the perceived ineptitude of the previous administration was brought to a frustrated head in that sore point of contention. The chips that fell into place, leading to a rejection of perceived ineptitude at the ballot box can be directly traced to the #BBOG campaign.
Advocacy is a skill that is terribly lacking in Nigeria. Until now we have depended on the Labour unions to “fight for us” when matters of national minimum wage and fuel price hikes came to the fore. Now, they have been absorbed into the “come chop” movement with it being clear to everyone that the labour leaders care nothing for national progress but only for their pockets. Even ASUU and medical doctors strikes have been moved to the same section of the library as the kidnap for ransom operatives: they just want more money for themselves. It feels like we Nigerians make noise when our pockets are touched or the holes in them get bigger and then we move on to the next notch of belt adjustment. Nobody talks about enacting laws and building institutions and checks that ensure the future of our children is collectively protected and secured.
Someone said Nigerians are being pushed to the wall and will soon react. When we react, what will it be about? Will it be for rice and beans cost in the market? For fuel price increase? For the central banks directive that all dom accounts be converted to naira at a predetermined exchange rate? For the increase in VAT from 5 to 10%? Yes, most likely. We will be pushed enough to react. These are the main reasons why people take to the streets, when their direct self-interest is threatened. But beyond that, are we really thinking?
Do we have a voice? Do we have a collective brain to formulate a voice? What are the voices available in the Nigerian studio? Who are the brains behind these voices? What do we really want? Is it not to be rich enough to spray money at our relatives weddings? Or to drive the latest cars and have vacation pictures to make our friends jealous? What else? Who are our political leaders of thought? What are the things we want? What do we need? What are our conditions for remaining in a national union? What plans for our unborn generations have to be safeguarded at all costs?
We rue the failure of the generation before ours to use the resources and education and global opportunities at their disposal to ensure a better future for us. We blame them for chasing their children’s school fees and ignoring the bigger picture. Now when we are extra searched at the airport or denied global opportunities because we are Nigerian we get upset that the labour of our heroes past has gone in vain. But where are the heroes of today?
Where is our voice and who is thinking for us? As a matter of urgency, we need the voice of advocacy to shape national thought/policy.