Here’s part of a WhatsApp chat, with a friend, on 18/10/2020, in the heat of the #EndSARS movement:
(in parentheses are some additions for emphasis)
“There might be 2 potentials from the trend of things. I hope we can go with the first:
1. We need to attack one thing specifically first, (and stay on it), and measure the government's response to it.
So, publicly and speedily prosecute SARS officials involved in crimes, and serve out sentences accordingly.
I believe if we can make the government take justice seriously enough, and the judicial system is able to demonstrate its functionality effectively enough, then we can look forward to putting the persons of our vote at the next presidential and gubernatorial elections, knowing that the government is now aware that we will not accept anything less than what is just.
If we're successfully accomplishing one specific thing - getting prosecutions - (only then) should we push for another specific thing: definite police reforms, well detailed out e.g. state police rather than federal, improved remuneration schemes, revised entry qualifications, rehabilitation and retraining of current officers, a speedy trial system for defaulting officers, etc.
2. However, if we're asking for everything at once, i.e. for all of Nigeria's problems to be solved by one season of protests, we will EITHER accomplish very little and everyone soon goes home at some point, OR being willing to die, we will continue building momentum over a long, bloody, period of time, until somehow, the protest topples the government.
But afterwards, who would we present to lead us? The chiefs among the protesters?
If we're not thinking in terms of SYSTEMS that will preempt and check corruption, and only hoping that new leaders will simply lead us out of this 60-year-old mess, we would be disappointed to find out that leaders we produce from among us may well lead us down the same paths of frustration again. Our "national" corruption lies inside of us.
We are protesting, not because we aren’t corrupt and our current leaders are; we're protesting because the corruption of our leaders have seriously, negatively affected our own lives. But protesting (against corruption) doesn't somehow rid us of our own personal corruptions. Hence, protesting is necessary, but it is not enough. (Ultimately) the change we seek is us.”
While armchair speculations were still entertaining, 20/10/20 hit. Here’s from a diary note shortly after the appalling incident at Lekki toll gate:
“This alarming event was an ice spear in the chest of Nigerians – the deep, cold, heart-rending, shockingly heinous shooting of unarmed protesters by the military will of the nation. No other agency bears the mandate to defend the citizens against her enemies. Now we must wonder who the defended have always been and who the enemies have now become. Among many things, shame on the military. The only way I could find sleep at the end of such a black day was to remember that God is a Righteous Judge and will judge every evil.”
Manifestly, a number of plot twists have taken place since the earlier discussions on the direction of the protests among us the citizens.
Where are we going from here? Any recalibrations?
We must do at least three things, arranged in descending order of ease, and simultaneously in resulting order of consequence: 1) come to terms with the revelations so far, 2) understand our position, and 3) decide what to do with what has been accomplished to this point. For the second, and especially the third, a rigorous wrestle of minds needs to ensue, if we intend to strive on with unity of thought and purpose. Our pain and struggle may be common, our hopes and end goals may be the same, but we are not exactly a homogenous group with regards to… ideas. So, may the best ideas generated be favoured, and may they unite and steer us forward.
1) One revelation is the insistent negligence of the government on the matter of justice.
2) Our position then is that of the oppressed. This is not our identity as a people – we are Nigerians – this is our current position in relation to our government. (In relation to our employees, we might well be oppressors – to our shame.) So, what can the oppressed ever hope to demand that their oppressor feels any burden to fulfil? Electricity? Minimum salary? Maximum salary? Hmmn..
3) We must demand for justice, ceaselessly. Whether they feel it or not yet, this is the one thing they do have an everlasting burden to fulfill. But we must demand for justice without violating justice ourselves. For some reason, that needs to be said; even emphasized.
Small justice is big justice
Before the turn of events, I hoped, and clamoured in conversations, that the energy that had been wound up would be unleashed insistently on pursuing prosecutions of criminal officials, even if one at a time. Justice is a system, a principle even; it is more than one act. If our efforts successfully produce one such act of justice from the government, I believe it means we have been effecting a repair of the system already, such that it is able to put itself together to produce its function. If we can’t have one act of justice on this matter – one prosecution by law – then we can’t have a second or a third, or the hundredth. Bad justice is no justice. Small justice is big justice. Justice is justice. If there’s no justice, government remains an oppressor. Can we do all it takes, in brains and in legs, within the free bounds of justice, to make justice begin to happen? Can we?
Justice is independent
We cast off the bonds of British rulership and were free from anyone, other than us, telling us what is right and what is wrong. We became our own people. But what people are free among whom justice is not free? What is a justice that serves power? But how can justice be independent of the whims and corruptions of anyone if power itself does not serve justice? For justice to be free and true, it must stand above all. And for any people to truly live freely, justice must be true, independent and served by power.
Let us beware then. I earlier said that we’re protesting not because we aren’t corrupt ourselves, but because the corruptions of those in power have impacted our lives. Hence, we cry for justice against them, and rightly so. But note that this justice we seek must also come against those of us who have likewise transgressed the law, at one point or another. If a people do not change, there’s little hope for a truly different kind of leader. The culture, principles and ethics that govern the hearts and lives of a people is what becomes the system that produces their leaders. Can we hope for the rise of an age of independent justice? Are we there yet?
A hope for hope
For six long decades, hope, if it may still be called hope, has been our palliative in the country, in the face of things getting worse on several fronts and our systems steadily degenerating. But what would the Nigerian do if he does not fill up this empty hope with his imagination? He must fantasize a better day, always ahead, and elusively so; he must load his hope up with dreams in order to get up the next morning. People hold on to this palliative because for some, it’s all they have left; it is not because it has been truly promising by any prognostications from the trends.
However, there’s more to be said for hope at this juncture in Nigeria’s history. What we all witnessed – the collective cry of the people against deplorable leadership – has thus far made a note that will continue to echo through the chambers of government, reminding those holding on to power like Gollum’s precious that the people they lead have only endured bad governance thus far, and not because they do not know what good governance should look like. And, they’ve remembered where government gets its power from. But more importantly, I think Nigeria’s people also demonstrated, by the attitude and execution of the protests, that we know what good citizenship looks like, are willing to play this as our part and we might be fit for a better society.
Our formerly hopeless hope may have just received a real deposit, something that stands a chance of growing, by yielding dividends and by attracting more deposits. But one thing gives more promise than what we may passively hope for; and it is what will give our hope any hope: if we have come to believe that our leadership must submit to justice, we must also and firstly, become the kind of people who cannot have any other kind of leader over them – exemplary citizens, who do and love justice.
To say in other words, where do we go from here? The protest has revealed a lot about us and our government; we’re understanding more about our position; and we’re hopefully realizing that justice is our prime demand from government. But we will never so effectively demand it as when we do so by our daily lives.