Nigeria: Of Rights, Patriotism and ‘Briefcase’ Activism By Gimba Kakanda
It was a sad day.
I was sad for the innocent kids murdered in Yobe, just a few days after 20 girls were abducted in Borno, by the same bloodthirsty insurgents. I accepted an invitation to hang out with friends, which turned out to be a wrong move. They are from Borno; from the heart of the wrecked towns and villages. I was challenged by their lecture on the genesis and complexity of the radical ideology that has evolved into this irrational insurgency. I was dejected, and emotionally defeated!
Earlier in the day, I listened to the President, and his indirect concession of defeat in another of his promises to “prosecute (the) war against terror.” It dampened my spirit. His ‘threat’ to withdraw soldiers stationed in Borno to prove a point to Shettima was an extraordinarily dumb wisecrack, because I don’t think Shettima was actually being ungrateful; I think he was only crying, that the soldiers are exposed to undermined danger, yet ill-prepared.
Of course, I’d be similarly devastated and even suspicious, aware of how trillions of naira were obviously cornered in Abuja without me. The Borno issues were badly handled in that chat. They gave away Mr President’s wicked sense of humour. For that, he shouldn’t make any more effort to be funny outside his bedroom. There’s no honour in chuckling at a funeral!
Yet Nigerians remain in their bedrooms and offices tweeting at perceived injustice and incompetence, and expecting such cyber-venting to change the system. What I realise about us is, nobody wants to take the first bullet. Everybody just wants to queue behind you. We need to stand together as citizens, with our demands harmonised in the quest to reclaim the country.
My experience in organising #OccupyNigeria in Minna has taught me a lesson – that you need more than private citizens for an orderly demonstration of rage. The politicians, who have successfully scammed us, know this. Which is why they created so many forums and associations to remain powerful – for, divided they fall. Even a politician in his 90s is a member of a relevance-seeking “elders council”. I renounced membership of a writers association, a supposed intellectual powerhouse of the country, when it refused to be a part of OccupyNigeria protests in January, 2012. The absence of unions, which are ever not willing to hurt their financiers, the government, is always a predication that a proposed peaceful protest may be hijacked, and thus the authorities would give us a bad name just to use us for experiments in brutalities. This was why our OccupyNigeria campaign in Minna was the most destructive in Nigeria. It became a riot, checked only when a 24-hour curfew was imposed. At the end, the state government set up 13-man committee to assess the damage, and their reports will shock you. So, to check violence, we need unions, and all those dormant NGOs in Nigeria misleading, and, sorry to say, swindling, the West in the name of human rights advocacy.
This week, out of frustration with the massacres in the north-east, without a convincing assurance of an end soon, I reached out to some people for a possibility of a protest, to occupy, as they say in the streets of dysfunctional countries, this headquarters of political failures; there is no better time to face these remorseless clowns at Three Arms Zone, Abuja.
But the funny thing about these Abuja-based activists on Twitter is, when you call them and inform them that a certain ambassador or politician wants to have a lunch with them, they’ll be available. None will be in a meeting. None will be on the road driving. None will promise to call back when s/he’s done – with ongoing imaginary events. But, tell them of the possibility of a protest, you hear pim, a very loud silence. This is what we call “Briefcase” activism. Yes, the policemen could be on alert, and they will, as usual, announce on NTA that “all forms of protests are banned”; but, listen, we don’t need such censoring if we’re a team, unions, associations, organisations, and forums, not some cowards exhibiting hypocritical patriotism from air-conditioned offices and rooms.
Still I’m more betrayed by NGO owners and members of civil society organisations who, in the name of rights advocacies, receive huge grants to cover the miseries and protect the sanctity of the people they abandon in times of crises. Anytime you attend social events, you hear rich and pot-bellied Nigerians say, “My name is X, our NGO is into peace-building…” In which country?! I think we need a list of all NGOs and civil society organisations in Nigeria with sources of their funding in order to expose their frauds.
What do they do? You can’t be receiving grants from western institutions and governments to promote peace and human dignity, and we don’t hear or see you. That is fraud, uppercase fraud!
We need the unions, NGOs and rights advocacy groups in times like this because it’s very difficult for nonunion citizens to lead a protest, without a few elements losing their minds or having it hijacked by uncontrollably angry people. Nigerians are very angry right now, and if we must take to the street, we need to harmonise our demands – to check possible violence. We’re all stakeholders in the campaigns to understand the complexity of Boko Haram, and this defeat of our troops.
In this dilemma, we saw a public notice calling Abuja residents to converge at Unity Fountain on Thursday (27th February), just beside the city’s biggest hotel. I couldn’t authenticate the source of the unsigned broadcast. But as much as I’m wary of involvement in knee-jerk reactions to unpopular government (in)decisions, I thought it an opportunity to meet and discuss strategies to adopt in getting the government’s attention.
There was fear, the usual, especially when the police announced that “all forms of protests are banned in FCT” on NTA. And for that, they intercepted us, threw a canister of tear-gas at us, but we defied the threat. At the end, they had to arrest us and had us crammed inside their van. This is the beauty of our democracy – government of the powerful. But we were released, for the obvious reason: the fear of technology, the social media sensationalism, which, they have realised, can ruin their reputation and career with a tweet!
Though the protest ended much too soon, with hope of converging again when our strategies are better harmonised, it introduced me to the patriotism of fellow Nigerians in spite of the armchair critics to whom fault-finding is a permanent job. Whomever initiated the Unity Fountain protest is a genius. The intent was clear: to embarrass guests, from different countries, coming to Transcorp Hilton Hotel for the Centenary jamboree.
Still a mystery remains: even at the venue no one claimed authorship of the broadcast that had us converge- which means the initiator didn’t participate. May God save us from us!
By Gimba Kakanda
@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)
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