Activists: Nigeria’s Endangered Species.

Democracy was founded upon the tenet that power would not reside with a single individual, dynasty or institution. The purpose of democracy is to distill power across the rungs of society. Political scientists found out that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely and as such there is a need to put in place institutions that would serve as checks to the custodians of power.

However, history has shown that when not properly guarded, the ultimate purpose of democracy (serving the people) can be defeated. The need to prevent this perversion in democracy gave rise to a set of crusaders today known as an Activist. An activist by basic definition is a person who campaigns to bring about political and/or social change.  The ultimate responsibility of the Activist is to ensure the interest of the people is not neglected. They are key members of every free society because they are usually the first to notice cracks in the walls of democracy and like every true watchman seeing adversaries from afar, they will not stop calling the attention of the kings and his cabinet members – the ones with the actual power to do something about what has been seen. 

29th May 1999, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as the democratically elected President of the fourth republic, after so long a time of military occupation of the upper echelons of power. Nigerians were not just happy to see the return of democracy to their land after 16 years of military dictatorship, but  on their lips was the shout of victory and in their heart gladness, knowing that again their voice would be heard and their exiled crusaders (Activists) would return to continue the work they left behind.

Twenty years onward the average Nigerian wonders whether the leaping of joy in her heart and the shout of victory on her lips was not too early. She is asking if her longing to see the return of the Soyinka’s, Agbakobas and Joe Okei-Odumakins was not just the wishful thinking or some child wanting silly things. Before her very eyes, right in her youth, she had seen Fawehinmi, Fela Kuti, Dele Giwa, Ken Saro-wiwa, Beko-Ransome-Kuti all pass on to glory. Her ears were graced with the tales of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, these great crusaders and defenders of the people. 

Today, as she sits reading the newspapers, all she sees as she flips through the pages is the faces of young activists, detained for calling the government’s attention to the cracks in the wall of democracy From Yele Sowore detained since August 3rd for organizing a protest to Agba Jalingo arrested by the Nigerian Police for criticizing Governor Ben Ayade and charged with terrorism. The same goes for Stephen Kefas a critic of Governor Nasir El-Rufai arrested on the 8th of May. The sad reality for her is not the arrest of these activists but the continuous detention and refusal of the Nigerian government to honor the court rulings passed on these cases. 

This act of the Buhari government is not just injurious to democracy but a bad precedent for the coming generation. It is deadlier than the coups and the civil war combined. 

The question she is asking is this: are we seeing the end to activism and activists in Nigeria?

Thank you.

May God bless you and may He continually bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Adewumi Adedeji

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