Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy – Proverbs 31:9.
French general and emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, said of China: There lies a sleeping giant. Let him sleep! For when he wakes, he will shake the world. Napoleon lived until 1821; some 200 years ago. China as at that time was nowhere near a regional power. Indeed, the small island nation of Japan invaded, defeated, and humiliated “giant” China for several decades in the 19th and early 20th centuries in what was known as the “Century of Humiliation”. Today, the “sleeping giant” is awake; not only is it shaking the world, it is dominating it!
Nigeria prides itself as “the giant of Africa” but literally went to sleep after its Independence in 1960. Except for the years of limited self-rule (1954 – 1960 for the Western and Eastern regions and 1957 - 1960 for the Northern region) and the period before the first coup in 1966, Nigeria has been noted solely for its “potentials”; touted always as a “potentially great country” but never ever realising those potentials. Not only has Nigeria failed itself and its people, it has failed Africa, and it has failed the entire Black race.
Nelson Mandela minced no words when he lamented of Nigeria: ...You (have) let yourselves down and Africa and the black race very badly. Your leaders have no respect for their people. They believe that their personal interests are the interests of the people. They take people’s resources and turn it into personal wealth. There is a level of poverty in Nigeria that should be unacceptable. I cannot understand why Nigerians are not more angry than they are!
That was before Nigeria became the poverty capital of the world! In other words, Mandela ain’t seen anything, as they say, when he bemoaned the level of poverty in Nigeria. Corruption running rampant under PDP/Goodluck Jonathan was all Mandela saw; he did not see corruption arrive at its apogee under the corruption-fighting (laughter!) APC/Muhammadu Buhari before he (Mandela) died on December 5, 2013. But were the dead to see happenings in the land of the living, Mandela would raise his clenched fist in “Black Power” salute to our youths and their struggle to end not only police brutality but also bad leadership in all its ramifications.
Had Mandela (lovingly called “Madiba” or “Father”) lived all his life in Nigeria, he probably would not have had a better understanding of the Nigerian situation. Hitting the nail right on the head, he said Nigeria’s leaders have no respect for their people: True or false? True! Nigerian leaders believe their personal interests are the interests of the people: True or false? True! Nigerian leaders take people’s resources and turn it into personal wealth: True or false? True! There is a level of poverty in Nigeria that should be unacceptable: True or false? True!
Mandela then wondered why Nigerians were not “more angry” than they were! Fact is, we demonstrated no iota of anger at all – not that we were not angry enough. Suffering and smiling, like Fela yabbed! That was why our leaders rode roughshod over us! They were sure we would never stir. And they were right for a very long time – until our youths woke them up from their slumber, giving them the rudest shock of their lives!
Mandela also said: The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The Black people of the world need Nigeria to be great as a source of pride and confidence... Therefore, not only Mandela but everyone who had pinned their hopes on Nigeria will leap for joy at the ongoing stirring of our youth. It is certain Nigeria will never remain the same again.
Victor Hugo says there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. With the clamour in the land for reforms, for restructuring, and even for a complete dissolution of Nigeria, the ongoing protests by our youths approximate the mood and demands of the entire citizenry - with the exception of a few renegades and beneficiaries of the decadent but dying system. This stirring, thus, is a right step in the right direction.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778), French philosopher and author of the inimitable statement “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chain” posits thus: As long as a people is compelled to obey and obeys, it does well; as soon as it can shake off the yoke and does, it does still better...For the strongest is never strong enough to be master unless he transforms strength into right and obedience into duty.
Seeing the people’s yoke as given; taking their obedience for granted; believing they will never stir; the ruling class failing to understand that it will not always be strong enough to perpetually hold the people down; and, therefore, neglecting to transform its strength (when it still had it unchallenged) into doing the right things and converting the people’s obedience (when the people still freely and willing gave it) into duty is why the government has found itself in these dire straits.
American slave trade abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, says: The whole history of progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters...Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted.
#EndSARS protests have, again, confirmed Douglass’ statement made as far back as in 1857!
The #EndSARS youths carry a huge responsibility and face a daunting challenge, especially if the APC/Buhari regime gets shameless and decides to break the protests by force. That way, if the government gains any victory at all, it will ultimately be pyrrhic and if the youths suffer any loss or defeat at all, it will be temporary.
Walt Whiteman, in “Poem of the Dead Young Men of Europe'', warned dictators quick to spill the blood of those opposed to their tyrannical rule: Those martyrs that hang from the gibbets, those hearts pierced by the grey lead, cold and motionless as they seem, live elsewhere with unslaughtered vitality. They live in other young men, O kings! They live in brothers, again ready to defy you!
Revolutionary extraordinaire, Che Guevera, agreed no less when he said: Wherever death may surprise us, let it be welcome if our battle cry has reached even one receptive ear and another hand reaches out to take up our arms...”
Continuity and success of the enterprise are more important to revolutionaries and those committed to worthy causes than life itself. Says Dr. Walter Rodney: Few individuals want to willingly invite their death. Yet many will be found who are prepared to fight fearlessly for their rights even if their lives are threatened. The human spirit has a remarkable capacity to rise above oppression...
This must be why Norman Cousins says: Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live; why Prof. Wole Soyinka says: In all those that keep silent in the face of tyranny, the man dies; why the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, quoted Peter, the hero of Huge Walpole’s novel, Fortitude, as saying that: It is not life that matters but the courage you bring into it; and why captured Fidel Castro dared Fulgencio Batista’s judge: Sentence me, it does not matter. History will absolve me!
Each time the issue of life and death is discussed, Caesar’s immortal words ring in my ears: Cowards die many times before their death; the valiant never tastes of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear; seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.
But history outlives each and every one. The one who is unjustly killed dies. The one who kills unjustly also dies - but each stands on different sides of history. We all know what history says of Sani Abacha – and of Ibrahim Babangida. What will it say of Muhammadu Buhari?
We close with the opening scripture: Soro Soke! Make it loud not only in Lagos and Abuja but also all over Nigeria! Fight for the poor! Help the needy! Resist all forms of oppression and repression! Let justice roll down like waters (Amos 5:24)! Hoist aloft the banner of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity!
In this struggle, there is no place for neutrality or sitting on the fence for, as Dante Alighiri posits: The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality!
- Bola Bolawole
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