For many of us born in the 1990s, yesterday was very clearly one of the most depressing episodes of our lives. Full stop.
We’ve spent the last decade, learning about our history, reading about military rule, reading about the Nigerian Civil War and extending our knowledge even into learning about our similarly-oppressed cousins — in Rwanda, in South Africa and in many other parts of the world. We weren’t taught our history but we’ve worked hard to teach ourselves. Our parents might have cursorily alluded to Ken Saro-Wiwa, Dele Giwa, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and the Ogoni Nine. But for the most part, it’s all been so very abstract, so foreign, so textbook. Some of us even let our naivete fester — we allowed ourselves express bewilderment at the silence of the rest of the world at the pogrom of the Igbos during the civil war.
But something changed yesterday. We lived through trauma in real time. We saw our own democratically-elected government mobilise a trigger-happy army on peaceful protesters in Lagos, Nigeria. To say it became palpable that our lives do not matter is to understate the scale of this predicament. Trying to find words to describe the rawness of these emotions is but a sin; because there are emotions so sacred they cannot be dishonoured and transmuted into compressed sentences. There is a wanton disregard for human life in this nation. And all these violent men are responsible for it. They don’t take a moment’s pause to consider the value of our existence — such is their depravity.
We don’t know who is on our side. But we know the wise words from Surah 42, Ayah 42 in the Quran stand with us:
“Blame is only on those who wrong people and transgress in the land unjustly. It is they who will suffer a painful punishment.”
Those are strong words. Yet, they only soothe a tiny part of our soul. Because we are broken — we are helpless. We are so broken and helpless that most of us have spent the last 12 hours pleading with and seeking the face of our colonisers to scream at our governments (“Na person wey dey alive dey learn the language of decolonisation.”). How even more debased and dehumanised can a people get?
I hope every single Nigerian remembers this. I hope we do not forget. I hope these events are entrenched in the deepest parts of our consciousness. We aren’t fighting for a niche set of citizens. We are fighting for all of us. Because all of us are victims of a nation that has reckless disregard for our rights, for our autonomy and for our existence. We are the subjects of callous and violent men who would rather kill us all than lose a dollar. We are the subjects of cruel souls who do not speak any language that extends its vocabulary into the spirit of compassion. Nay, they seek to exterminate us except we bend our humanity to their broken selfishness. And it doesn’t matter if we’re Christian or Muslim. Igbo or Fulani. Straight or queer. Young or old. They will murder us, oppress us and subjugate us.
This is why more than ever, we have to be united in struggle. We have to be — even if just for a moment — siblings in this subversion. We have to stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us — those who call on us to channel the spirit of Harambee (literally means “all pull together”).
The inspirational figure Nelson Mandela did say: “Real leaders must be willing to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.” We are decentralized: We are all our leaders and we are all our people. And perhaps I dare not say I’m courageous enough to hold fidelity to the words of Madiba, but I do know that I will ask myself every day from this day if I’m working and acting closer to his call of sacrifice. We need to want to die for Nigeria not because Nigeria is worth dying for. But because we — we the citizens — are worth dying for.
I’ve now read thousands of tweets over the last few hours and not a single one of them has even one word that captures the tiniest fraction of the intensity of the emotions and darkness and soullessness of these moments.
I think to the lives that stood charge at the toll gate. We do not deserve the courage, love and souls of these pure compatriots.
I think to the lives we’ve lost — Jimoh Isiaq, Daniel Chibuike, Linda Igwetu and so many more others. We can never honour your sacrifices.
I think to our unborn kids. We will probably not be able to prepare a better nation before your arrival.
But I think to myself. We will keep fighting. We will never stop shouting. We will never allow our voices to be drowned out. Because we don’t have bullets. We don’t have callousness. We don’t have psychopathy. But what we have is our stories and our voices. And they cannot — will not — be silenced. We will scream from the mountain tops and rage from the valley lows. Over and over and over again.
A luta continua! #EndSARS