It baffles one to think that the people will find it even comfortable to label those risking everything to fight for the common good. How on earth can someone who fights for the people’s emancipation be regarded by the same people as an enemy?
“At the end of the day, I fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. If that makes me an outlaw, so be it. I’ve been called worse.” ― Angela Parkhurst
It is still widely reported that Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed while fighting for his Ogoni people. I have read many articles from local and international news platforms and journals; nowhere in these has he been accused of selfishness. The question that bothers me most is: Why was it easy for General Sanni Abacha to order the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists in 1995? What roles did Nigerians and the international community play that either or both indirectly enabled this act or that could have prevented it?
This piece is intended to purposefully conscientise those among us who seem to find it amusing to rain insults on activists who often engage government in Nigeria. When people are behind the comfort of their keyboards, there is sometimes no limit to what they can type and send to the public through the Internet, without caring about the implications of such action.
In a research study, the University of Toronto confirmed that people tend to become hostile towards active feminists, environmentalists, and activists in general. According to the Pacific Standard, “By aggressively promoting change and advocating unconventional practices, activists become associated with hostile militancy and unconventionality or eccentricity.”
I have been deliberately paying attention to common words used to describe some of Nigeria’s’ active activists on Twitter and Facebook. Below are some of them:
“Fight the right way and stop getting yourself and other people in trouble always”; “You are unserious and a mere troublemaker”; “Mr Protester”; ” Stop fighting like hoodlums”; “You are seeking cheap popularity,” etcetera.
There is a set of people who seem to believe that it is wrong to criticise those in power. According to them, if you think they are incompetent, you should also contest elections to get into office to do things differently, rather than criticise those in government. The truth that may have eluded many “partisan political actors” in Nigeria is that nearly all political posts and electorates are literally for sale “to the highest bidder.” Plus, the political scene can be said to have been captured by a few elites, thereby making it nearly impossible to win even a local government election unless ‘you belong.’
I firmly believe that there is the need to fight for the liberation of the political system from the claws of the powerful elites and the supervising oligarchs – to give room for fair play, internal democracy and effect the demonetisation of politics in Nigeria. We must bear in mind that “we cannot be okay as a nation” until we are able to elect (in free and fair elections) the best of us without necessarily deploying the bullion van.
Many so-called educated individuals cannot see any good in activism and activists, as they assume them as mere attention seekers, clamouring for selfish gains alone. However, how does it make sense to call activists “attention seekers”…
The approach that activists are known for is termed “social action,” which is also studied in social work at the Bachelor’s and Master’s degree levels. Many Nigerians seem to be unaware of this, even though it has been used and studied since Mahatma Gandhi’s days of taking action against British colonial rule in India.
Social action is a method used in effecting social change and drawing attention to social evils. Many Nigerians seem to have been conditioned or socialised to perceive civil disobedience and related activities as nonsensical. Many so-called educated individuals cannot see any good in activism and activists, as they assume them as mere attention seekers, clamouring for selfish gains alone. However, how does it make sense to call activists “attention seekers”, when calling people’s attention to social evils and starting discussions around them are, in fact, essential to seeking a change from these ills?
Democracy is not just about campaigns and voting during elections; in short, the need to educate ourselves cannot be overemphasised.
It baffles one to think that the people will find it even comfortable to label those risking everything to fight for the common good. How on earth can someone who fights for the people’s emancipation be regarded by the same people as an enemy? Thus, it is saddening that the oppressors will instigate the oppressed against activists fighting for them.
…it is high time for the Nigerian masses to have deep reflections on how they have always perceived and treated the activists in their midst. Rights activists are the nation’s conscience and should not be disparaged by the people they fight for.
No doubt, like any human endeavour, there are rotten eggs amongst activists, especially those that may be called ‘double agents’, who also fraternise with the oppressors behind closed doors. Nevertheless, this should not be sufficient reason to turn blind eyes to those who genuinely fight for the people. Activism is not evil but a conscious wake up call to social action for a better society. If the oppressors hate activists, and rightly so, it behoves on the oppressed to rally around them, for they stand in the gap for them.
Therefore, it is high time for the Nigerian masses to have deep reflections on how they have always perceived and treated the activists in their midst. Rights activists are the nation’s conscience and should not be disparaged by the people they fight for.
Again, why was it easy for General Sanni Abacha to order the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others? Could it have been that autocratic leaders like Abacha are aware of citizens’ erroneous perceptions and, sometimes, hate of activism and activists?
Some of the advantages of activism include the creation of awareness about human rights, improved social security, pressure on politicians, the encouragement of participation, a more gender-equal society, advocacy for inclusion, etc.
Fadumo Abiodun Paul is a social worker, educationist and author.
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