First of all, I would like to say that may the souls of all our #EndSars soldiers we have lost in this fight rest in peace and may healing come to Nigeria. It is very important for us all to look at the question and ask ourselves “how did we get here?” And I’m going to put six points forward just on the way that we got here.
We got here because of our lack of empathy. We got here because of the lack of understanding of our shared humanity and social contract with the government. We got here because of our refusal to occupy the Office Of The Citizen. We got here because of our misplaced anger. We got here because of our short term memories and we got here
because of our refusal to take part in governance. #EndSARS is a rallying call and I see a lot of people today say to us all, that the fight to #EndSARS is the fight for the soul of Nigeria and it reminded me of all the times that we would say that the fight for Chibok girls is a fight for the soul of Nigeria at the #BringBackOurGirls movement.
Let us look at the issue of lack of empathy, Dr Oby Ezekwesili says that we have been a country that has never cared for one another when anything is happening to any of us and that different regions have had to fight different fights and the other regions looked away and she is right in that assessment. Let’s start with the South East when Biafra happened, the rest of the regions looked away and didn’t do anything and because of that, the stage was set for inhumanity to be perpetrated on the different regions with no outcry and rallying from other regions. When the Niger Delta, South-South, were fighting their own issue, the rest of our nation looked the other way and indeed, nobody bothered. Then it was the turn of the South West. The South-East had done their own, the South-South had done their own, the South West – it was their turn, June 12 happened but what did the rest of the nation do? As usual, Nothing! We didn’t think about empathy and shared humanity. The rest of us looked the other way. South West finished their own then the North Central felt the pangs of the brutality in a more sustained manner than it had ever been. The farmer-herder crisis and all of that happened and has continued to plague that region and the rest of us, as usual, looked away. Then Boko Haram happened in the North East and a lot of people said it was the fringes and we looked the other way.
Today, we have banditry happening in the North West and what do we still do? A lot of us are still saying, “it’s still some people ” because we have gotten to a place where we are a nation where we do not show empathy for one another and we have allowed all of these to continue to happen. What did we do? We rather would ascribe religion and tribe to different places and forget that we indeed have to have empathy and we have a shared humanity and a social contract with our government. It doesn’t matter whether we like someone or not. We have to realise that injustice to one is an injustice to all. Terrorist attack to anyone anywhere is a terrorist attack to everyone everywhere.
Today, a lot of us are aghast at what happened on 20th of October, 2020 that today, the government is trying to deny. Is it the first time that it happened? No, it’s not. In 2014, April 14 to be precise, 276 children were taken away, daughters were taken away from a school in Chibok. What did the rest of us do? Did we all come together to rally and say “No, that must not happen” and go after the perpetrators, and as a nation, stand together? We didn’t. Some of us said that “oh, it didn’t matter” and then the government said it didn’t happen and then a lot of people believed that it didn’t happen.
Today, we have a repetition of the government trying to tell us that what happened at the Lekki toll gate, the massacre that happened there, did not happen. Is it only Bring Back Our Girls? Is it only Chibok girls? No. We watched as Shiites, over the years, have been killed. In December 2015, official record – over 300 were killed; Unofficial record – over 700 were killed, but the rest of us looked the other way because we didn’t understand that we had shared humanity and a social contract with the government and it didn’t matter whether we liked each other or not, what mattered was our shared humanity, and that must be respected. And of course, IPOB. Over the years, IPOB members have repeatedly been killed. They’ve been killed by soldiers, they’ve been killed by police. The rest of us looked away. This is how we got here.
We also got here because of our refusal to occupy our Offices Of The Citizen.
I will again quote Dr Oby Ezekwesili who severally says the highest office in the land is the Office Of The Citizen and the highest political office in the land is the office of the President. Most of us have refused to occupy our Office Of The Citizen and because of that, we have looked the other way when things were happening. We refused to make demands. We’ve never had that critical mass but today, we have #EndSARS and we’re united and people who would always say to us that in Nigeria we cannot come together to fight for a cause…now know better. We did it when we did the Bring Back Our Girls movement. It was all about a singularity of purpose and today again, we have a singularity of purpose and that singularity of purpose is #EndSARS. Nigerians came together, Nigerians rallied together. Just see what happened when we decided that we are going to occupy our Offices Of The Citizen when we decided we would no longer leave only a few people to speak on our behalf when we decided that every one of us is a citizen, every one of us…we have a stake in this country and we came together – what happened? We got our critical mass and of course, they had to listen.
We also got here because of our misplaced anger. We are angry at the people who are our friends and then we love the people who are really our enemies. The people who stand for us against all odds, who against their own personal interests, stand for the people and fight for them, we’re always against them. We’re always looking for those people who never care about us because we feel, as people who are in an abusive relationship, that we have to tow in the lines of those who are abusing us. We forget that indeed, we are citizens in this country and no Nigerian is more Nigerian than any Nigerian. We got to where we are today because the few people who dared to speak for us, we mock them, we abuse them, we insult them, then the people who never speak for us are the people that we are loving, the people we are calling to come and then when they say one thing, we’re jumping all over it. We are not discerning enough to appreciate those who speak for us no matter the personal cost. We jump to hail those who only speak when it is convenient for them to speak. Until we begin to make ourselves matter, I’m sorry, we’ll continue to have a situation where we are taken for granted as citizens and brutality meted out on us with impunity. That has to stop.
We also got to where we are today because of our short term memories. We easily forget the atrocities of yesterday and the perpetrators. We do not remember the people who weren’t there for us. The people who were silent when we were being brutalised. When it is convenient for these people they talk and we jump all over it for the cycle of brutality to be meted out once again. We do not look at the consistency. And also, I will quote Dr Oby Ezekwesili who said that integrity is not complete until it is consistent.
Today, you have somebody who, yesterday, was a sycophant and defended every atrocity in government. When they speak today, we jump on it forgetting the role they played in the brutality we endured. If they ever find themselves in government again they will continue the brutality because their bad behaviour was rewarded. We do not reward good behaviour. We rather punish good behaviour and we reward bad behaviour. We have to be consistent in our values and the values we expect from anybody. We have to be consistent in insisting that Nigeria must be a nation where the child of nobody can become somebody without knowing anybody. We have to be consistent about the people who truly stand for our nation and not just a few who are concerned about themselves, who do not care about the abuses that we go through and are only focused on themselves.
Finally, I would say our refusal to take part in governance is one of the reasons why we got here. I also would go to Dr Oby Ezekwesili. Some of you would say, “oh, why are you always quoting her” because in the last few years I have seen her as someone who has stood for Nigeria. I call her the single parent of Nigeria even against all the abuses that she receives, she stands strong, she marches alone, she pushes us, she pushes Nigerians and she is always there and she said there are two sides of governance: the demand side and the supply side. Sadly for us, most of us are more focused on the supply side and we think we do not take part in the demand side.
The reason why we got here today is because of the fact that we have not understood that we need to be at that place where we are constantly making demands. Where those we put into office will know that they are the public servants, they are there to serve us,
they are there to ensure that Nigeria works. When we sit down and we are more tasking and demanding of individuals who owe us nothing and allow the people who we have voted for, to abdicate their responsibilities, it is the reason why we are here today.
What has happened now, as painful as it is, sadly is not the first time that it is happening. It has happened before, many times over but because we did not care, we did not decide to take our own part of governance – the demand side of governance, we looked the other way. We allowed them to abdicate their responsibilities and sometimes, we even praise them. When Shiites are killed, we say we don’t like them and we support the government. When BBOG members are attacked, we say we don’t like them and we support the government. When IPOB members are killed, we say we don’t like them and we support the government and guess what? This support given to them when they mete out atrocities on fellow citizens is one of the reasons why we are here today, why all of us are crying. If we had said “enough is enough” and that we would not allow this to happen, guess what? Today would not have happened and that’s the reason why I say “yesterday’s victims were once survivors, today’s victims were yesterday’s survivors, and tomorrow’s victims would be today’s survivors.”
The question is, who is next? Many of us think it will never happen to us. Many of us think that we pray. Nigerians think that they have the patent of prayers and they think it would never be their portion. They’re covered in Jesus name, Insha Allah it will not happen to them, but you forgot something, the people that it happened to, they also prayed and it did happen to them. I say something also and I say it with every sense of fear that I can be the next victim and I say, the victim card is going around Nigeria and being a victim in Nigeria today is no longer a matter of “IF”, it is a matter of “WHEN”, and the question I would like you all to ask yourselves is that, who is the next victim? It can be me, it can be you, it can be anyone.
I always say to us that those who have been killed before will not be killed again. The next to be killed are those of us that are alive and we have to do something so that we do not become victims, we have to ensure that we hold our government accountable. We have to start now. There is always time for anything and everything. There’s a saying in Africa that it is when you wake up that is your morning and today, Nigerians have woken up. #EndSARS has given us some voice, it has allowed us to know that indeed, we are citizens in this country, that we’re not slaves.
It has allowed us to know that we matter. It has allowed us to know that with a critical mass, we can bring the changes that we are looking for and we would get it. And I say to every one of us here and the whole of Nigeria that we have gotten our voices back and it will never be shut down. We will keep our voices out there. And you know what makes me so happy is that I see myself in the future sitting down in a park in a beautiful part and I’m sitting with my grandchildren – if God gives me that – and I’m saying to them, you know what? There was once a Nigeria where the child of nobody could not become somebody without knowing anybody. I would tell them about Nigeria where we did not have 24/7 electricity. I would tell them about Nigeria where the president would go abroad for treatment. I would tell them about Nigeria where many people sent their children abroad because there was no quality education in Nigeria. I would tell them about Nigeria where the child of the president and the child of the policeman didn’t have the same access to quality education. I would tell them about Nigeria where getting quality education was dependent on the economic status of one’s family. I would tell them about Nigeria where we didn’t have quality health care, where it was only the rich that had access to good health care abroad then the poor would die and they say that “oh, it is their time”. I would tell them about Nigeria where the place you came from mattered more than the capacity of what you had to give. I would tell them about Nigeria where we put the worst to represent us and good people did not go into politics. And you know what I would expect to hear?
I would hear my grandchildren say, “No grandma, you’re lying” my grandchildren would say “grandma, you’re lying” because the Nigeria that my grandchildren will know about is Nigeria where the child of nobody can become somebody without knowing anybody. The Nigeria that my grandchildren will know about is the Nigeria where it didn’t matter what state you were from, all that mattered was your state of residence and state of origin was something that they didn’t know about. Nigeria where indeed, the child of a woman who sells ugu knows that when she sends her child to school and the child is done, guess what would happen? They would have jobs the way they want to. The Nigeria where youths do not go around looking for pastors and mallam that would bless their certificates so that they would get jobs. Nigeria where miracles were not getting jobs and having a car and having a good life but the miracle was just having a relationship with God and being there. A Nigeria where we would no longer be people who are just merely surviving but indeed people who are living. Our grandchildren would not know that there was once a Nigeria where we didn’t have 24/7 electricity.
They would not know that we once had a Nigeria when you have the green passport, you’d be ashamed to travel across the world. Our grandchildren will not know all of that. Do you know why? It will be because of you. It will be because of you standing right now and saying that indeed, #EndSARS has awakened us. It will be because of you standing and fighting to ensure that the unborn generation in Nigeria will not suffer the way we are suffering today. It will be you saying we will never give up because you’re fighting for the unborn generation the way you wish everyone that was there before you were born had fought for you to get a Nigeria. The reason will be because Nigeria will be among the top countries in the world. The reason will be because we are citizens of Nigeria, they know that we have everything that it takes and we will continue to do that.
The reason will be you, because we have fought for a Nigeria that we want and we will get that Nigeria. For people who say at every time that Nigeria will not work in their lifetime, that is their own business because you and I know that Nigeria will work in our lifetime. Nigeria must work in our lifetime. Nigeria is a country that belongs to all of us and not for a few and every one of us we know that indeed, this country, we stood together, we fought together, we did everything together and that it is a lie when people say to us that we cannot unite based on religion, based on ethnicity, based on gender, based on age…all of that would not matter. And you know what? At the end of the day, we would be able to say something and tell our grandchildren and the ones unborn that we stood for Nigeria when it mattered to us and you and I, all of us together will ensure that we get that country. We move. Thank you.
-Aisha Yesufu is an Entrepreneur and An Active Nigerian Citizen.