The Power of Protest

The popular saying goes that ‘silence means consent’. No matter how aggrieved you feel about anything, if you don’t speak up the chances are that you will continue to suffer in silence. For many years now, this has been the attitude of the Nigerian citizen. In our nation today, silence is no longer golden. Recent months have seen three major protests: two by the ‘Save Nigeria Group’ in Lagos and Abuja and another tagged ‘Enough Is Enough’ in Abuja. These are signs that things are beginning to change. More and more people realize that waiting on the government to do the right thing or lamenting in private will never get us anywhere. Throughout history, those who have been in constituted authority have only done what is right because they are held accountable by those they govern. Our biggest problem since independence is that we don’t hold our leaders to account. One of the best ways to do this, apart from the ballot box, is through peaceful protest. In between elections, protest is a great way for citizens to show their displeasure with government policies. For at least 15 years, the only people that protest are Labour, usually over increase in petrol or salary increments. It is only now that protests in Nigeria are going beyond Labour to the wider populace.

In any democracy, the right to protest is a key part of civil liberties. It is a right that we haven’t used enough in 10 years of this 4th republic. So many things in this country are going wrong, and need to fixed YESTERDAY. The beginning of every solution (for example #lightupnigeria) is political will that can only come from good leadership. Nigerians have not shown that they are ready for good leadership because of their nonchalant/defeatist attitude to elections. I have a feeling that when we look back in 10-20 years time, the handling of Umaru Yar’Adua’s illness will be seen as the turning point. We were left rudderless as a nation for 90-odd days, and the outrage that has generated has made Nigerians a lot more politically aware, but this awareness needs to be translated into a very high turn-out among young people for the elections in 2011.

On the 13th of this month, there’ll be an ‘Enough Is Enough’ rally in Lagos. With the success of the Abuja version, young people in Lagos have taken it upon themselves to organize one here. A lot of people want change, but until recently it’s been mostly talk without any actions to put things right. Think about it like evangelism, only that the gospel protesters will be preaching is that we are finally tired of being pushed around by the political class. When you march in the sun for what you believe in, some others who feel the way you do will see your example and be convinced to also stick their necks out. It started with the ‘Save Nigeria’ protest, where old men like Kongi who is 70 led the march and as a result, Dora Akunyili found the strength to break ranks with the EXCOF because she had proof that public opinion was shifting. Since then, the protests have spread and people are becoming more emboldened. You do not light a lamp and put it under a bushel. Nigerians are looking around for people to lead, so that they can follow. Every single youth at that rally will be telling those looking on that it IS possible to get our country back from those who have held us hostage for so long. We will be passing the message that there is hope for Nigeria, because we are that hope.

Coming out in protest will also make those change candidates who want to contest for various offices in the next elections come forward to declare their intention to run. They may feel that Nigeria is finally ready to start a new chapter as we begin our next 50 years as a nation. The ultimate aim of these protests, in my opinion, will be to mobilize young people across the country to register to vote, select their candidates, vote for the candidates of their choice and perhaps most importantly, protect their votes. It’s been coined R-S-V-P and I think it’s very catchy and it will be very effective in spreading the word. Everyone and anyone who can possibly be at this rally should do so because if Nigeria goes down, we all go down. It’s as simple as that.

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