Injustice is a familiar, recurring feature of the Nigerian experience.
The fractured nature of our republic means that to survive, many Nigerians must exist while straddling multiple identities. Because of this, most Nigerians never truly experience the liberty of self-actualization and full self-expression. We are constantly performing for society because our survival depends on it. The ability to fully be ourselves, our true selves: our quirks, our loves and dislikes, is not something many Nigerians never really experience. It is either Nigerians are performing with wealth, religion, ethnicity or a plethora of other dominant identities. Ethnicity and religion are the two major identities that Nigerians generally hold most dear but multiple levels are evident as well. Society owes each of us a debt in that it is obligated to provide for us: an enabling environment for the members of that society to thrive. This is a debt that Nigerian society has not paid for decades and as a result, we [Nigerians] are relegated to an existence that is subhuman and we lash out to ourselves because, subconsciously, we know we deserve better than this and we know that our social contract is not being upheld.
This broken social contract of our Nigerian republic is tied directly to our expressions of nationhood, republicanism and democratic norms and it would be impossible to tackle issues of insecurity, education and many other issues plaguing Nigeria without tackling these fundamental areas first. These problems begin because we do not really, either informally or formally, have a concept of Nigerian republicanism and an understanding of our own history. When our Prime Minister, a supposed founding father, refers to amalgamation as the “mistake of 1914”, you know you’re off to the wrong start.
This sentiment is glaringly obvious to any observer of the Nigerian republic because it is immediately obvious that we have no founding principles. There is nothing that our union stands on, nothing that unifies all our different identities and the consistent interruption of our democratic process by the military has not given us the chance to correct that most grievous error.
A nation’s first principles are important because it is from those first principles that we derive all other things and our institutions and laws are measured against them. Some of the most important first principles are those of liberty, equality and justice. Through these principles we [attempt to] ensure that all laws are tasked with the protection, dignity and prosperity of every citizen. Our Republic exists to ensure that all citizens are free to pursue happiness.
When guided by the founding principles of liberty, equality and justice, society, and the wellbeing of every member of that society, then becomes the interest of the republic. We will no longer have laws that give the government the power to take land that belongs to the citizens. We will strike down laws that make it acceptable for older men to rape young girls and call it marriage or laws that make it legal for a man to beat his wife without repercussions. We will understand that it is unacceptable for us to have Nigerians (or anyone) in prison for years without having their day in court. Our legal system is littered with unjust laws and while it is unlikely that ALL laws will be just, the vast majority must try to be.
Examine the recesses of the Nigerian experience and you will find stories of impudence. Whether it is the extortion and/or ill-treatment of citizens by the police officers/SARS or the university lecturer that insists that top marks (an A) in his/her class are impossible, the infamous “A is for God” rings in the ears of the students. We read the newspapers and hear stories of how Nigerian secret police raided the homes of judges without warrants. A few years ago, there was an attempt to forcefully prevent the members of the opposition party to enter the Senate chambers, again by this Secret police. We contrast the strongman treatment of the largely non-violent IPOB group of the South and the mild treatment of the largely violent armed herdsmen of the North and Middle Belt. Yes, we are well acquainted with injustice.
In spite of this acquaintance with injustice, in the waning days of President Goodluck’s administration, January 13th 2014 to be precise, he signed a law that had broad bi-partisan support: Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2013. Knowing our history of injustice against virtually every group in Nigeria, Nigerians still wholeheartedly embraced this law with the mentality of a group suffering from Stockholm’s Syndrome. We claim to hate injustice and oppression and we cry out when we are oppressed but many of us proudly supported (and still support) this vicious law whose ENTIRE purpose is injustice. That we do not recognize the danger of this is not surprising, humans tends to be blind to injustice when neither they nor their group are the target.
Homosexuality is same sex attraction and this law effectively criminalizes same sex attraction and it’s clear that many of us do not understand that being homosexual (either male or female) is even more immutable than being Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa or Fulani. In other words, it is essentially part of who they are. And yet many of us support this law under the guise of “legality”. “Who are we”, we ask, “to judge if the law is just or not”. This sentiment, I feel, is largely a result, not only of the oppressive systems that permeate our reality but also because the idea of justice is not established in the minds of Nigerians. Legality is not a barometer of morality, rather it attempts to enshrine justice as best it can and those whom the law purports to judge must constantly be vigilant to ensure that the law is not unjust.
And as I have mentioned, this injustice is not unique to homosexuality. In the entirety of Nigerian legal history, there have only been 18 rape convictions. Rape is a particularly devious crime. The victim is the biggest piece of evidence in the crime and is thus a big influence in solving said crime. In addition to that, like all crimes, the evidence disappears after a while which makes solving the crime of rape absolutely dependent on reporting the crime as soon as is possible but our society has created an environment where not only are rape victims blamed for being victims of their own crime, in addition to that, the people charged with pursuing rapists in developing countries, like Nigeria, tend to be useless, incompetent and misogynistic.
What this means is that, as a victim of sexual crime in Nigeria, you are immediately on the back foot. Both the legal system and society are against you: the victim. The chances of getting justice are little and most victims really just want to try and get on with their lives, wary of the chaos that accusations of rape bring to their own lives. These variables: the legal system and its history, the environment, society and the members of that society are immediately present in the mind of any victim, and this is besides factoring in the personality of the rapist , where 90% of those who have been raped know the rapist and when rapists are this close and convictions are so low, there is usually something amiss.
Nigeria is unjust. We have violated the existence of many Nigerians and effectively relegated them to a section of existence that is subhuman. In signing these many laws, Nigerian lawmakers have failed in the adjudication of justice and in supporting these laws, Nigerians have shown that we still have a long way to go in perfecting our union and the rights of the citizen.
The national consensus towards concepts like the “Rights of the citizen” is one of apathy. This faulty foundation on which we attempt to build this heterogenous Democratic experiment. The principles of protection, dignity and prosperity should apply to all Nigerian citizens: gay, straight, Muslim, Christian, traditional worshiper, man, woman, child, rich, middle class, poor. The Republic should work for ALL.
When we protect the rights of those that are homosexual, we protect our own rights. We affirm that all people within the Republic are worthy of protection. When we cry out against the injustice of raiding the homes of judges at night, we affirm that all people are worthy of protection. When we admonish those that seek to rape 12/13 year old girls in the name of marriage, we affirm these truths. When we erupt in rage because police officers are harassing Dino Melaye, it is not because we like Monsieur Dino or we think he is the embodiment of perfection, it is because we are aware of the dangers of the violations of the principles and we cannot be partial in our application of Republican principles.
That law is draconian but far more than that, it is a violation of the rights of some citizens and by extension a violation of the rights of all and in our Republic, rights should not be negotiable.
Nigeria is not unique here. Throughout history, states and people of the elite (or majority) class have constantly and consistently oppressed many others and, throughout history, there have been repeated efforts to destroy these established periods in history. Countless efforts have failed, forgotten in the annals of history. Others have succeeded, albeit softly, and have defined humanity since the point of success.
Some of us are opportuned to simply exist in these defining periods of humanity’s history, oblivious to the importance of the moment in which we reside. Think of the average man that lived when Socrates did and existed in the same period as one of the greatest of all philosophers. Scan the crowd at the trial of Jesus and you will see a young woman in the crowd, “Crucify him!”, she screams at the top of her lungs, thinking that he was just another of these false prophets. These nameless faces have nothing in common except the exceptionality of that moment. Living in 2019, I feel like one of these ancient people.
My father loves to talk about a kairos moment. Kairos is a Greek word and it means “opportune” or “right”. When a kairos moment appears, my father loves to say, you must not only be able to recognize that it is there, you must also grasp it firmly.
When you live in the present, it can be difficult to do this. History defining moments rarely feel like history. “History will remember this moment” we say in arrogance, attempting to dictate the future but, the truth is that it is the future that often determines the relevance of the past and the importance of the present causes can only be seen in future effects.
The oppressive systems that permeate large swathes of human society are an example of past mundane causes determining future events. Oppression is such an interesting beast because many times, it can be impossible to pinpoint exactly when each oppressive system begins, instead, oppression is solidified through the daily actions of its participants. My personal favorite, and probably the oldest oppressive system, is classism. Classism, to the uninitiated, is not just the idea that humans can be grouped into classes but also that there is a hierarchical structure to these classes i.e. one class ( at the top) is worth more than others. The largest and most pervasive form of classism are the wealth classes, with rich people at the top and poor people at the bottom and materialism the journey from one to another.
In a wealth class system, which is a current global oppressive system, currency is the measure of dignity.and as social beings, there are few things we will not do for dignity. In our pursuit of material things and private property, we have erected massive systems of oppression: patriarchy, racism to name a few and have subjugated large swathes of people for the benefit of others. Slavery is a direct result of the pursuit of things. There is fundamentally no real underlying inferiority or superiority complex in slavery, you were just a slave if you happened to be caught, the evolution of this has been well recorded. The question that bothers me though is: at what point did humans go from not having slaves to having slaves? What was the trigger for that history defining institution? Likewise, poverty constantly stares me in the face. As a Nigerian, the range of poverty is stunning. We are the poverty capital of the world and I think about this and things like this because, like most people, I am worried about the state of our humanity.
My generation, the millennial generation, is faced with the same particular conundrum that has faced every young generation for centuries, the problem of solving evil. Most generations attempt to tackle this most difficult question especially since the dawn of the enlightenment but this attempt to redefine their world very often fails not because of a lack of trying but because of the general state of their society. Nigeria is no different. Many of us think that the generation of our parents failed this republic but don’t forget that student activism was full frontal in that generation. Many of them also believed in a better Nigeria. It is this same fire that burns through every millennial. But every time revolution threatens, the elite class is quick to always clamp down with a ferocity that was intended to be terrifying. If in doubt, check Tiananmen square. Why? Because the threat of change of so disruptive to the ruling class that there was a general feeling that tolerating any kind of change is a recipe for disaster [for them].
However, for the first time in human history, power is actually in the hands of the people. For a very long time, the millennial generation remained dormant in the eyes of society. We were content to pursue the mundane machinery of established human life: employment, love and family: the holy trinity. Then the revolution struck and life as we knew it ceased to exist.
The day is 17th of December, 2010. In Sidi Bouzid, a rural town in the Northern African Tunisia, a young man, who goes by the name of Mohamed Bouazizi, will be on the precipice of immortality. On that auspicious day, Mohamed prepared to sell fruits. Like many young people in post-colonial Africa, he was the breadwinner for his family and, like many in the informal market, he did not have a permit to sell his fruits in his wooden cart (of course he didn’t). So the police did what they do best — a trait that is not unfamiliar to millions of Africans. They asked him to hand over his wooden cart and with an entire family dependent on his labor he could not bring himself to do so. He refused to do this and the police officers seized his cart and a policewoman allegedly slapped him. On this day, this young man, whose name will never be forgotten, marched in front of a government building and set himself on fire; a final, defiant act of protest. With this fire and one sacrifice, he ended his own life and breathed life into a new movement that today we call the Arab Spring. Lasting change may have been a while away but democracy was slowly arriving in the Arab world.
In 2011, following the global economic crisis and the lack of accountability of the bankers that caused this crisis, the Occupy Wall Street movement exploded and hundreds of thousands of Americans were furious at the economic system of their republic and what they felt were injustices of income inequality. Some protesters camped for days, others entered politics and the emergence of figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and others, can partly be directly traced to economic woes. While there are, of course, many issues that led to the emergence of these men and women, economics is rarely ever in the background and 8 years down the line, Americans are still trying to find ways to rectify years of economic injustice.
In a way, the Arab Spring served as the awakening that this young, materialistic generation needed as we became aware of the nature of our existence and the world we lived in. And this burning desire to be at the forefront of change, reform and revolution was finally given fuel. The feverish winds had taken over many of the young generation sweeping downwards into sub-Saharan Africa and almost exactly a year after, the millennial generation struck again. Armed by the new found power of social media and the internet, massive wave of protests swept across the nation of Nigeria between 2nd January and 14 January 2012. Young Nigerians trooped out in droves to decry the removal of the fuel subsidy by President Goodluck Jonathan. For almost two weeks, Nigerians protested around the world: London, Brussels, South Africa, against a perceived injustice.
For the first time since the beginning of the fourth Republic, the Nigerian youth had announced themselves to the political elite. “We have arrived”, was the subliminal message and for better or worse, these young men and women had come to stay. The sheltered youth of the middle class joined the youth of the poor in some kind of solidarity for a common goal.
This power was again exercised in 2015 and just as President Goodluck Jonathan somehow swept into power in 2011, disregarding a decade long zoning agreement no less; the same youth whose backs he rode on, turned against him, considering him a failure. He was swept out of power and the current President Muhammadu Buhari was elected.
On Thursday, 5th of November 2017, the world woke up to one of the most significant moments in the modern era, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey wrote a devastating article on one of the most powerful men in the entertainment industry: Harvey Weinstein. In it, they detail decades of sexual harassment and assault, and even had faces to put to the allegations. Actresses Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd came forward in the article and this sparked waves of outrage against a patriarchal system that has relegated and subjugated women to the backbench for almost the entirety of recorded human history. More women (famous, non-famous and infamous) give harrowing accounts of their treatment at the hands of predator Weinstein and as more women come out, on November 15th 2017, actress Alyssa Milano tweets this:
“If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
With one tweet, millions of women (and even some men) came together under a single hashtag, unified in centuries of pain and oppression under the hashtag #MeToo. It caught on like wildfire. Using the name of an activist group founded by the impressive Tarana Burke, the MeToo hashtag was used more than 500 thousand times in less than 24 hours on Twitter and on Facebook? More than 12million interactions in and around the #MeToo conversation. By December 20, 2017, a host of names had been swept up in the movement: Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Al Franken, Louis C.K. and George Takei have all had allegations of misconduct and have either lost a job or have resigned. The force of the movement put the power quite squarely in the hands of oppressed and the results have been impressive (criticisms aside, for now). The French women rallied around #balancetonporc, the Spanish around #YoTambien, and in Arab countries, وأنا_كمان# and وانا_ايضا# were the dominant hashtags used. What is most evident by these hashtags is that there has been pain lying beneath the faces of millions of women and on the 15th of November, 2017 (almost exactly 7 years after Mohamed Bouazizi set himself ablaze on the steps of the government house in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, on this day, there was another revolution of sorts.
To the observers of history, these revolutions for systemic change are familiar. In 1848, there was another Spring cleaning event. This time, it was in Europe. Then, that generation grasped the full responsibility of sovereignty and transformed previously monarchical governments into democratic nations. According to Evans and von Strandmann (2000), some of the major contributing factors were widespread dissatisfaction with political leadership, demands for more participation in government and democracy, demands for freedom of the press, other demands made by the working class, the upsurge of nationalism, and the regrouping of established government forces.
Is this familiar? Of course it is. Many (if not all) of these issues are evident in Nigeria today. And these radical changes are not any different from the radical changes that previous generations have demanded. The only difference is that now, we can actually effect change on a scale that would’ve been considered virtually impossible.
In ONE generation, we are fighting misogyny, racism, classism, religious intolerance, homophobia, transphobia, bad government and breaches of social contracts simultaneously. We are unlearning hatred and bigotry and learning to live in this new, heterogenous world. And this isn’t happening in one country. It’s in America but also in Hong Kong. It’s in Nigeria and Tunisia; Russia, Sudan, South Korea and Brazil. All over the world, this generation is genuinely embracing social justice and we want to break the wheel that has crushed billions of people all over the world.
The millennial generation has grown up in a world that previous generations would have never thought possible. The internet, social media have radically transformed our world and connected billions of people around the world.
But, technology has also given us access to information on a scale that we have never seen before. We are in the age of the democratization of knowledge and that, more than anything, has kicked started the millennial enlightenment. Many of us have had to unlearn what we have learned and re-learn the truth. We have faced a deadly and toxic history of gender relations, we have seen the pervasive dangers of the trans-atlantic slave trade and colonization, the ripples of which can still be felt today. The history of marginalization of black people, the pains of slavery and the treatment of black people during and after Jim Crow shows that there is a hidden truth beneath the glitz and glamour of America and they have to deal with that truth.
Furthermore, the #MeToo movement brought to the fore, a new wave of gender equality enthusiasts, the irrepressible feminists of this generation who are buoyed by the power that the internet has given us and everyday on the internet, you are greeted by wave after wave of intellectual thought, allowing these brilliant women to change minds on a scale their predecessors could only dream of. They are the ode to their brilliance. Witness and rejoice at the ultimate result of the power of the internet in the Arab Spring, moving at breakneck speeds, the internet and social media fueled the most dramatic change in regional dynamics in decades. Planning and connectivity were executed online and people could share information in mere seconds. Oh what Paul Reveres’s horse would have given for Twitter.
In addition to the ability to learn and grow, the internet has made civil organization possible at breathtaking speeds. In an instant, you can organize and execute a million man march. We can connect with oppressed people across the country and the #ENDSARS movement is evidence of the power that the internet has given us.
Hope is a dangerous thing and we must court it carefully because hope destroyed easily turns into despair. But this hope and desire to change lives has led many young people to begin to dismantle these systems. Malala and her advocacy for the rights of education of every child, Tamar and the MeToo movement, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and the Black Lives Matter movement, Uche and the Consent Workshop, the Stand to End Rape Initiative. Not only are we beginning to fundamentally change our society, we are also radically changing ourselves. Forcing ourselves to repeatedly have the same conversations over and over again.
There are criticisms of the new movements of civil rights, gender equality and even national movements (see the surge of young votes in the 2017 British General election and the 2015 election of Muhammadu Buhari as President of the Nigerian Republic) are somewhat valid. My generation is raw, brutal, vulnerable to herd mentality and manipulation but while these are valid, they are also results of the failure of the generations that came before them. That this generation still has to deal with eminently solvable issues (like pervasive sexism, violent and subliminal racism, incompetent, myopic and corrupt government) is perhaps the main source of the fury of this herd and that fury is absolutely well placed.
This young generation has realized that there is a problem and many of us believe that we are fully capable of fixing these problems. Perhaps the most stinging criticism is that our youthful exuberance is misplaced/misdirected, we are so keen to see the world become a better place that we are indiscriminate in our approach at lasting social change. And it is true, we are bull-headed and we seem to think that our mere fury will be sufficient to change the world. It is an admirable naivete and one that needs to change but that rage that seems so appalling to the older generation? That’s not going anywhere anytime soon (nor should it).
And yet, there are many members of this young generation that are not yet convinced that this world can ever change. We like to think that our voice is merely a whisper but it only takes one voice to make an echo. We want to run and escape the pain because we fear it. We fear the retribution of women and the potential result of a social change, we fear the political and economic uncertainty that comes with the revolution of ideas that comes with the democratization of knowledge. We fear to lose our privilege in a world where privilege means being treated with pride and dignity not realizing that by merely exercising our privilege, by simply staying silent when the fight against injustice beckons, we deny those who do not have said privilege access to that same dignity.
And, fundamentally, that is what this whole fight, this whole struggle, is about. The right to be treated with dignity on a planet that belongs to us all. To not be thought of or treated as less than because of the color of your skin, the nature of your gender, your sexuality, your religion or the amount of money in your bank account. To have a government that sees its essence not as a beanstalk, subject to the winds and whims of the rich and powerful, but as the upholder of truth and justice and the provider of equal opportunity for all men and women in our pursuit of happiness.
For the first time in recorded human history, we have the power to truly establish liberty, equality and justice as the foundations of our world. It will not be easy but nothing worth doing rarely ever is.
Early in my life, I wanted to adopt 40 children. I know, that is an insane number of children but I was driven to do that because I believed (and still do) that I had an obligation to show love to as many children as possible. Children are suffering and living painful lives and knowing this I could not bring myself to decide to have biological children. But I soon realized my folly, 40 children was but a drop in the ocean and so I moved from wanting to build orphanages in addition to adopting 40 children. But still, that was not enough. Then I stumbled on a quote that I still remember till this day, “The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”
This quote might sound harsh but it spoke to me directly, not because I was a political illiterate but rather because it became clear to me that my wanting to open orphanages was child’s play. Politics is the way our world is governed. If we want to make a better world, we must create it and it is through politics that we do that. My generation is loathe to vote, especially when we have two uninspiring options like we did in the 2019 elections. But that imprints upon us an even greater charge to be involved. We must be more critical, relentless in the pursuit of liberty. Our society owes us a debt but we also owe a debt to society. Rousseau tells us that we participate in a social contract and we can reset the terms of that agreement to ourselves. I want children to grow up in a society that not only protects them but guides them and allows them to thrive. And as great as NGOs are, they can never replace the government. We must enter politics. We must begin to plan, not just for 2023, but for 2027, 2031, 2035. We must do this because political leaders are doing the same thing. If I want children to live a better life, I must make sure to find people that are interested in politics and either volunteer to help with their campaigns or run for office myself because I believe in the inherent worth of every human being.
We cannot make the same mistakes our parents made, where we became content to chase the bag and secure the lives of our families. There is nothing wrong with that, and I cannot ask you to abandon the fire of love and tranquility of routine but we must remember that there are those who do not want us to unify, those that benefit from the chaos who will read this article and hope that we will remain docile and toss these ideas away. And these men might even dare to face all 200 million of us with guns, as they dared to do in Sudan, an attempt to temper change. Because. as V says, “Though the gun may be used instead of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.”.
We can win but we must overcome our fears because our victory lies in our numbers. I know you see what I see and I know that I am not alone in feeling that this pain, this constant, relentless pain, is too much for us to bear. The nature of this fight means that this fight will be made even more difficult if only a few of us believe in and are willing to participate in the fight and this means that these few will bear the entire brunt of the fight but while the few are undoubtedly fully prepared to die in pursuit of these ideals, I do not believe that they have to. And the truth is that I cannot offer you peace, I cannot offer you respite or safety from the impending violence if you decide to take me up on this offer to change our world. Instead, I can do only what writers can and show you that optimistic idea we hold at the back of our mind is possible.
“What I’m asking for is hard. It’s easier to be cynical; to accept that change isn’t possible, and politics is hopeless, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter. But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.” — Barack Obama
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