First of all, I would like to state that this is not a political post but a call to our collective humanity. I am stating this as I would not want my message to get lost in the politics of the moment. My condolences go to the families of everyone who lost their lives during and after the protests.
It is often said that a people deserve the kind of leadership that they get. Those who belong to this school of thought say that leaders are a product of the collective, a product of the larger society from whence they are selected. They argue that whatever ills the leaders portray are merely a reflection of what obtains in the larger society.
In the last two to three weeks, I have seen two sides of Nigeria. Two extremes that have left me baffled, at our capacity for good, almost achieving sainthood, and our capacity for evil.
I have seen strangers come together to raise over N4m for an unknown lady that needed a prosthetic leg. I have seen protesters clean up after themselves at the protest grounds. I have seen people come together with a renewed sense of unity, of nationhood, not asking your tribe or religion, or whatever else seems to divide us. I have seen people go to relearn the Nigerian national anthem and pledge so they can sing it with pride, unshaken, without stuttering. I have seen a renewed sense of pride and respect for the colours, green and white. I have also seen what I thought I would never see in Lagos, area boys who blocked a road in Lagos rejecting money offered to them. They rejected the monies offered to them, while allowing motorists to peacefully albeit slowly pass, but with an admonition that we lend our voices to the ongoing protests in any way that we can, to ensure a better nation for everyone.
In this time, I have glimpsed the Nigeria of my childhood which I thought was completely lost. I have seen flashes of the Nigeria of my dreams, a Nigeria where we are not divided by sex, religion, ethnicity, or even pedigree, but simply by the oppressed and the oppressors; right and wrong, and nothing in between.
Within this period, I have also seen the Nigeria of my nightmares. A Nigeria where I take my family out to a restaurant, and when it’s time to pay I find that the waiter has padded my bill with additional items which I didn’t order, this by the way is in addition to the tip he received. In this same period, I overpay a courier, a young man that has delivered stuff to me, and he quickly makes away with the money. I call him later and he shamefacedly confesses that he knew I had overpaid him. This is at a time when other young men like these two are busy protesting on the streets of the world for a better Nigeria.
I have seen people who went to government warehouses take stacks, carloads, wheelbarrow loads, of the allegedly hoarded palliatives. And I wonder, if these palliatives were indeed hoarded as alleged, and as citizens, we take carloads, truckloads for ourselves, how are we better than the people who hoarded these palliatives in the first place. If we have taken truckloads for ourselves, how do we ensure that the palliative gets to everyone who needs it? Does that not suggest that when given the power that these rulers have, that we would be greedier than they have been?
I have seen people loot the warehouses, shops, and houses of fellow citizens; some of which are funded by bank loans or are a result of years of toil. And I begin to wonder, if we are not deserving of a government that loots us as unashamedly, as we have looted our fellow citizens.
When as banks, we configure our ATM machines in such a manner that when people with other bank ATM cards, use them on our machines, the most they can withdraw at a time is N10,000 even though it should be N20,000. As banks we do this so that the customer is charged N65, over and over again, and then we go ahead to publish large profits, while our customers groan under the weight of these looting, sorry bank charges. What does that make us? Do we ever stop to consider the acrimony these practices elicit in the minds of the average customer? Do we ever imagine that a day of reckoning will come?
If as citizens, we loot and even burn down these banks that offer us financial services, that help our business and personal finances, we wrench ATM machines off the wall and break walls, what kind of people does that make us? Looters? Thieves? Greedy? Corrupt? Evil? Can we begin to see the similarities between ourselves and the people we love to criticize?
The #EndSARS protest may have started with agitations against SARS but transcended into ending all forms of police brutality. It went ahead to demand for a reforming of the police in Nigeria, asking for better conditions for the police who have themselves also been dehumanized by their living and employment conditions. Someone asked, how do you expect someone who has been so dehumanized to treat you in a humane manner? In speaking up, we also have to speak for the police, for their rights; for it is in doing so that we would help them find their humanity and ensure that they treat us, the citizens, in a more humane manner.
The narrative we are trying to change is that the authorities see all young men and women as criminals, hoodlums. I want each and every one of us to ponder, how have we contributed to the justification of this narrative in the period that the police have been largely off the streets, in the wake of the protests. How have we shown – albeit unconsciously – by looting, pilfering, raping, robbing, burning, or even by something as ‘harmless’ as driving one way – driving against oncoming traffic just to avoid a little traffic build-up, even though by this action we make the traffic situation worse for other road users – that we are deserving of these names. Let’s think and see if in our own little corner, we have shown that we, as citizens, are all law breakers, all hoodlums, all guilty until proven innocent, as the narrative goes.
It is said that he who comes to equity must do so with clean hands. As we continue to ask for better leaders, as we sometimes wish that the heavens will deal with our corrupt and uncaring leaders in the same manner that they have treated us, we must also ask ourselves how have we, in our own little corner, contributed to the Nigeria that we all agree must change. If our actions, and inactions, were to be magnified and returned to us – pressed down, shaken together and running over – in the form of the country that we deserve, what Nigeria would you and I get? What Nigeria would you and I, deserve? Would it be the Nigeria that dreams are made of, or the Nigeria that stares us in the face? May we not become the very thing that we seek to destroy.
Wishing you all a happy new month of November filled with God’s abundant blessings.
© 2020 Ekeoma Ajah
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