Every now and again I miss those heady days. The raw mix of hope, naivety, time, energy, no-baggage, freshness, ignorance and arrogance that fuels the action that often causes big changes; changes that the wise, who have tried before, tell you won’t’ work out, and the cynical wonder: why bother?
I remember how excited I was when we all agreed that the now-historic “Enough is Enough” Nigeria protests would hold on March 16, 2010—my 25th birthday. We hosted the meetings in our office; lent our company website as the first homepage for the movement; deployed our entire staff (about four at the time) to this cause, and put our still-in-embryo business on the line to get to that point (one of our team members said it would be the death of the company).
Many well-wishers, while passionate about the cause, were afraid of associating their organisations with this movement. We were afraid. But we were also filled with excitement.
It was my first real protest (save for the one at the University of Lagos, where we marched against the unreasonableness of our Vice-Chancellor and were subsequently punished with delayed graduation), and certainly the first that I would ever be part of organising. I had no experience, no track record, no affiliations with those who have protested before, but I also had no hesitation.
We actually had no intentions (after my friends Shade and Adebola had said this must be done) to do this by ourselves. We had walked up to the organisers of a much bigger march to ask for how we could help in a substantive way in ensuring the voices of young people were heard distinctly.
The response was straight out of a parody movie. As young people, our respondents said, we would be most helpful in getting entertainment and entertainers for the day of protest.
The man who gave us this feedback clearly wasn’t taking our anger seriously. This wasn’t the guy to enable our voices. Looking back now actually, it makes absolute sense that he would say no—we had no experience, real networks, funding, national clout, or thousand-strong organisation.
We had nothing that he could hold on to. What he didn’t know, and should have paid attention to, was the fire in our eyes, the fierceness of our resolve, and the certainty in our spirits that we were going to do this, and it was going to matter.
Furthermore, they didn’t notice the megatrends across the global culture that would drive activism, change in governments and a democratic sweep, driven by young people from sub-Saharan Africa (Jammeh to Mugabe) through the Arab Spring, to the boroughs of New York’s inner cities (Hello, AOC!) and symbolised today by the voice, words and spirit of Greta Thunberg.
Young people were no longer going to wait for permission. Indeed, they never had. They had re-discovered that legacy. (Indeed, if 25 was the age of the revolution a decade ago, pay attention to the trends today: 15 is the new 25.)
The #EnoughIsEnoughNigeria protests were without a doubt the cultural touchstone that led to an explosion of youth activism and involvement in politics across the country. It woke a generation up to its potential and responsibility; creating a wave of youth leadership and participation that pulled down one government, established another, and influenced legislation such as the #NotTooYoungToRun law (the writer and activist ChiomaAgwuegbo who was one of the founders of that first movement, is a co-founder of the latter).
We didn’t know it was going to be this way. I certainly did not know that the one email I sent to friends and associates (‘Gbenga Sesan, Amara Nwankpa, AuduMaikori, and others, who stepped up from day one to lead) stating that this protest was going to be significant would also birth the organisation Enough is Enough Nigeria which, under the leadership of ‘Yemi Adamolekun, continues to lead in every significant national activist project in Nigeria today.
All I wanted to do was to find my voice; to speak clearly and loudly against the irresponsibility of the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua government, which sought to foist a government-by-proxy on Nigerians, caring naught about the death and carnage that this power play was leaving in its wake.
Are We the Turning Point Generation? is the book I wrote to chronicle the events that preceded and followed those protests that changed our perspectives and changed my life. It is difficult to tell the story of that movement without making it personal. It was as much my coming of age story as it was for the generation to which I belong.
The question my book asks continues to be asked today by many, including the cynical, who wonder: “Well yes, all of that was impressive and perhaps consequential, but all to what end?” After all, as I write we have come to what seems like a full circle: a gravely ill president who has been largely absent from his duty post, and accusations of a cabal. “Did we really move forward? Have we really turned the point?”
I am sympathetic to the cynicism (even if I have never been a fan of the cynical), but I am as convinced today as I was a decade ago that any short-term answer to this question misses the point of what a generation is capable of doing.
You can trace, for instance, the line to today’s democracy in the journey from June 12, 1993. Or that from Ken Saro-Wiwa’s days protesting the environmental pollution in the Niger Delta to the time that Goodluck Jonathan kicked off the cleanup of the Niger Delta. History doesn’t express itself fully in short bursts.
That is not to say that this generation will be successful in its aspirations to transform Nigeria into a country that works well for everyone (in any case, in an age where generations seem to come earlier, another generation has already come with its own aspirations, and its own disappointments, cynicism, and anger). It is just to say that the story continues to be written.
We are not the young people we were then. I am 35 now. Ten years have passed. The lessons in those ten years have fascinated, enraged, dispirited, energised, but altogether shaped me. They have shaped so many others, too. Some say they have grown.
Some say they can no longer trust those who speak of change. Some say they have changed. Some say they have given up—they are the majority that believe things are doomed to remain the same, that nothing really changes.
I am sympathetic to all these shades of change. They only surprise those who are not familiar with history. The reality, after all, always finds a way of interrupting hope.
But I haven’t ‘grown-up’. I haven’t changed. I haven’t given up. I haven’t lost hope. I haven’t stopped believing that everything is possible. I haven’t stopped believing that there is no force on earth more powerful than inspired, empowered people.
I am less naïve but still hopeful; less arrogant, but still defiant. I am no longer easily moved, but still in love with possibilities. I am still excited by the courage that led us to sit in front of the National Assembly and stare down the security services, and where I mounted a moving truck, right in front of the literal seat of power, armed with a loudspeaker, calling out by name—heedless to the consequence—the people who I believed were holding our nation hostage.
I still believe like I wrote in my book, that we can be the turning point generation.
But we’re still in the middle of a series of turns, and this story has not yet been completely written.
Ten years is only one chapter.
*An excerpt from an upcoming book on EiE – Footprints: Past, Present, Future by Chude Jideonwo