I think in images. Sometimes in a spectrum of colours or sometimes in monochromes. This is how I have tutored my brain over the years to respond and react to anything I see whether on the streets or on television. So when I think about certain words, my brain does not just process these words but also does a search like Google, sifting through billion and trillion of uncountable experiences and brings out the best images which captures the meaning of the word best to me. One of such words is “protest”.
Growing up in Nigeria, the word takes different shapes and forms for me. The first is of placards and colorful card boards, green, pink, blue and white sometimes. The second is colorful tee-shirts and people in their tens or hundreds, their faces angry and punctuated with exaggerated movements in their mouths and anguish in their voices.
Another is, the image of a man known as Orubebe, with his eyes wide, teeth open, lips parted in anger, microphone in hand protesting the results of the presidential elections of 2015. Recently though, because television and books seem to be paying more obeisance to the essence of protests and the results which protesting has gotten in the past, the portraits of Malcolm X and Rev. Martin Luther King has joined the automated images which scrolls through my mind at these periods when the word comes up. I am not just thinking about local human rights activists, I am also thinking about men, women, boys and girls from different countries defying odds and braving the circumstances to make demands. I am thinking of the Christians who formed a ring around their Muslim countrymen who were praying during the revolution protests and the Muslims who did the same in Egypt.
In these images, I become aware of newer forms, taking shape. The shapes of oppression in black uniforms, of police dogs, of guns and tear gas canisters. I become aware of defiance even to the point of death. Because these protesters are usually not in the habit of caring much for what happens to them. Instead, their cares is only on the results.
It reminds me of a protest I attended back as a student in the university. A protest turned bloody by an act of carelessness by authorities of the university at the time. I was like most of the protesters, an unwilling participant but since we had been coerced to leave the comfort of our dorms which were off campus to gather at the school gates. I had no other choice.
I was in my final year preparing for my final paper when the door of our hostel started receiving a beat down instead of a knock. The beat down would be accompanied by the sound of voices, gruff and rough, as the door finally gave way. Most of us were already at the long corridors of our hostel awaiting whatever madness was coming through.
It had to be that we were being robbed. Those of us who could grab weapons did and the rest who couldn’t cowered in a corner. I was part of the former. Our heartbeats were performing at the same rhythm and as the first gun toting individual came bursting in, everybody without exceptions threw their hands up in surrender.
We were driven out of the house and made to carry different colors of cardboard and made to sing “Olaitan must go” for what seemed to be like hours. I would never really understand the reasons for that protest or if the reason for the protest was ever accomplished but I would never forget the fact that we had protested on behalf of cult boys who were known terrorists to the school and yet the school authorities treated us all the same when they in response to the menace of the protest ordered the security forces to shoot at us, albeit rubber bullets.
So I know whenever I think about it, I am aware that most protests come at a price to protesters. I am reminded of 2012 during the anti-subsidy protests where some protesters were wasted by police officers and whatnots in Lagos, Kano and Benin respectively. Despite the extent that protesters go to achieve said goals, it is still a wonder that even in recent times protesters are still being threatened with violence and death.
One cannot begin to fathom what goes through the minds of those who render orders to security forces to carry out acts of violence to protesters. In 2014, I remember seeing some students march down to the office of the governor in Ogun state to protest the hike in their tuition fees and how they got their asses handed back to them in beatings from security forces. So what is the purpose of protests and why do people in authority become so irritated by it.
Some days ago, an unprecedented #womenmarch happened all over the world. Women of different colours, religion and backgrounds got their gears together and mobilized to protest against what the inauguration of Donald J Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America meant to them. And the most curious thing happened, Donald Trump responded via twitter with this statement.
“Watched protests but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly.”
By the expression of this opinion by President Trump, he has joined the rank of world leaders with the rhetoric of irritation towards the act of protest – a rhetoric ascribed to African alone. During Barack Obama’s time in the white house, America experienced a plethora of issues. One of which was the incessant protest of killing of black men by the largely white dominated police force. I remember seeing an image of Barack Obama having a sit down with protesters.
I believe what distinguishes great men from normal men is their ability to empathize. Of course Mr Obama isn’t the cleanest American president ever but for him to understand the essence of protests and to in the very least grant an audience to the protesters was for me an act of selflessness because it defies the familiar rhetoric of violence against protesters. A Nigerian governor recently got insults flung at him for attempting to address students who were protesting against the closure of their university.
It took me a few days to get to examine the video which the world was castigating him for, by that time, the sensationalism behind the video had quietened to an extent. This meant that i got to see the Governor, not for the idiot which social media had labeled him but as human. An individual attempting to have a sit down albeit on his feet, having to contend with a number of insults being hurled at him by the people he was addressing.
With each sentence he heard, his face which was initially normal began contorting with different emotions written on it. His planned speech of calm got derailed and he became distracted by a need to respond and hurl back the abuses he had received. Quickly, the narrative of the protest turned on his face and what should have been a laudable resolution became at best an excuse to hurl insults more at him.
In recent days, social media has become colored with images of protest America wide.
And these protests are not just about placard carrying protesters but also social media influencers who are spurred by the consistent use of the medium by the new American leadership. There seem to be a corresponding protest for every executive order that is issued from the American presidency. To borrow the words of my friend, Olaoluwa Oni, America’s future looks like a long long protest.
The images of these protesters defying odds, braving the cold, braving the tyranny of the endless jibes being hurled at them by those who do not believe in the cause they are fighting for, for me has become a thing of inspiration. And insofar inspiration can be provided, the voice of resistance may never be silenced.
Tomorrow, Nigerians, led by famous musician, Tuface Idibia were supposed to begin a nationwide protest against the damning effects of the administration of President Buhari, whose government has not spent up to a year but his policies has had damning consequences on not just the economy but also the lives of Nigerians. I am talking about massive job losses, increased prices in everyday consumables, high cost of petroleum, high cost of everything, dwindled reserves, sorry rates of exchanging the Nigerian naira with other currencies and a bunch of many sad stuffs.
What saddens the heart and plunges it into a well of darkness about this particular protest, is the initial response of the spokespersons for the president, a response calling out the organizers of the protest. Calling them names and labelling them agents of the opposition party. Even going as far as questioning their credentials to organize a protest. I mean, what the fuck?
Even for me as a random twitter user with no political allegiance, I have been on the receiving end of this madness before and it makes one wonder what lessons this self-appointed political class defenders are taking.
What is the moral justification for their line of reasoning? In any democracy, the rights of the people to protest must not just be enforced by government but must also be protected by the same government.
A serious government should use the opportunity of any protest to gauge its popularity vis a vis its policies. If the people are protesting a policy or sets of policies, then the government should go back to the drawing board to find out better ways of executing those decisions instead of playing the “me against the world card” at every instance like the government of President Buhari has been playing. Governance is servitude and if you can’t do the job, quit. It is not a hereditary title.
As of this moment, the planned protest has been botched like a footballer who sees a perfect chance to score a beautiful goal and blasts it over the bar. This behavior, this thing that they think they have done in the interest of peace, will backfire in their faces. I am not one to predict doom, but you can avert a poorly planned protest and make way for a well planned and well executed one. The type that topple regimes, dictatorships and administrations. There is little doubt that Nigeria is a sitting keg of gunpowder waiting for that propellant and poof, it will blow in all our faces. Very late last night, Tuface Idibia announced the cancellation of the protests due to security reasons via his social media accounts.
The news wasn’t well received in so many quarters and again, Tuface Idibia’s integrity has been called to question as if he has any reason to give anybody answers. I mean, the dude is just a damn Musician. You want your country back? Go carry a fucking placard and protest. Stop attacking the person of a man who in the very least, reminded us of our power to demand, to protest as is our rights. Whether or not he was strong armed into withdrawing or not, Mr Idibia would forever have my respects.
What is laughable in all of this, is the fact that over fifteen thousand (15000) jobless youths have been mobilized to welcome President Buhari from his week long vacation in the United Kingdom as if he is some sort of returnee political prisoner. Yet, a protest that may or may not have attracted people of the same number in attendance, the Nigerian Police Force claim that they cannot guarantee security.
The body language of these security agents to the protest is shameful at best and one begins to wonder if truly Nigeria is in a democracy at a time when government institutions cannot protect citizens who want to exercise their constitutional rights. I mean, even Mr Trump is allowing protests in America.
Let us waver for a bit and talk about Donald Trump’s United States, where a judge ruled against a policy to ban people of a certain religion and ethnic background from entering the country. This is how institutions protect citizens from the craziness which comes from the leadership at times. I don’t claim to have the answers, but I believe it is our duties as citizens of this country to demand better from our leaders and to protest if we must.
First image was culled from http://www.washingtonpost.com
Photo credits for second picture : Olaoluwa Oni