In the last one week or so of the rise of the #EndSARS protest across the country, a damp gleam of hope for Nigeria lit me up. I dare say same for many of our compatriots. It is just like the gleaming multicolor of an emerging rainbow. All our previous forecasts of hopelessness for the land started to collapse gradually. Picture of a Nigeria bereft of heroes or heroic deeds started to give way.
As the crowd in Abuja, Lagos, Ibadan, Port-Harcourt and other cities multiplied, with unimaginable resilience of trudging Nigerian youths putting their lives on the line in the face of merciless repressive machineries of the Nigerian state, in a moment, I was in Kenya. You would think reincarnation had flung the revolutionary leader and guerilla hero, Dedan Kimathi, who led the armed military struggle against British colonial regime in Kenya, called the Mau Mau war, back to Nigeria.
Or that his revolutionary collaborators – Musa Mwariama, Waruhiu Itote and Muthoni Kirima – had similarly reincarnated on the streets of Nigeria. Like these Nigerian youths, Kimathi was reputed for his dexterous, enormous organizing capacity and unimaginable skills at manufacturing guns. They constituted the vortex of Kenya’s struggle against British colonial injustice.
Like many of the #EndSARS advocates, Kimathi was a youth. Unlike Kimathi’s Mau Mau, however, the Nigerian protest has no identifiable leaders but is united by a common grief, grouse and scalding hopelessness. More importantly, the Nigerian struggle is devoid of the maniacs associated with the Mau Mau uprising of Kimathi. These are young men and women who have demonstrated to the rest of the world that you could be civil, humane and methodical in dissent.
Born in October 1920, Kimathi began the struggle at age 33 in 1953. In the Kenya of his time, the most resonating angst was the people’s beef with British settlers’ forceful stripping of Kikuyu lands from them. Gradually, they formed themselves into the Land and Freedom Army (KLFA), which then morphed into the Mau Mau group, a militant Kikuyu, Embu and Meru liberation struggle which became a major threat to British colonial government. They compelled fellow Kikuyu to swear to oath of solidarity, in horrific initiation ceremonies of drinking blood of fellow human beings, eating their brains, semen and flesh of exhumed babies.
Kimathi was accused of horrendous methodology of fighting the struggle. Aside ordering the hacking to death of hundreds who defied the struggle, Kimathi carried a double-barrelled shotgun and inflicted the most brutal attacks on members of the Kikuyu tribe, largest ethnic group in Kenya perceived to be loyal to the oppressing colonial government. Within the time of the struggle, Kimathi was reputed to have killed thirty-two settlers and around 100 British soldiers. He was eventually shot in the leg and captured by Ndirangu Mau, an askari soldier on October 21, 1956, sentenced to death by a British-assembled court of an all-black jury of Kenyans and presided over by Chief Justice O’Connor. He was executed by hanging in the early morning of February 18, 1957 at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison.
Organizers of this #EndSARS struggle are far different from Kimathi’s crude struggle prototype. Kimathi received epithets like “terrorist, brute and crude,” even posthumously from successive governments of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arap Moi, but a reconstruction of his place in Kenyan history was subsequently done, both in literature of the struggle and by remembrancers. Ngugi wa Thiongo and Micere Githae Mugo, for instance, memorialized him with the play, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi and his 2.1 metre bronze statue labeled Freedom Fighter Dedan Kimathi, sitting on a graphite plinth statue, adorns Central Nairobi today. Kimathi was also recognized by the duo of Nelson Mandela and the government of Mwai Kibaki, about 50 years after his execution. Mandela flew into Kenya to pay visit to his unmarked grave, barely five months after Madiba left his 27 year- incarceration.
Though Kimathi’s Mau Mau and #EndSARS struggles differ in thematic occupations and modus operandi – one was brutal and the other humane – their ultimate goals were targeted at rescuing their peoples. Replace the brutal British colonial policies of forceful acquisition of Kenyan Kikuyu lands with the duo of SARS police brutality and the hopelessness unleashed on the future of Nigeria by successive governments and you will rationalize the need for an uprising against the systems. For Kimathi’s unorthodox method of instilling fear by allegedly ordering the cutting into two of the young son of a Kikuyu chief, drinking his blood and throwing the two halves of his body at his mother who was eventually killed too, you have the allegation of wild consumption of marijuana by some of the activists. In the latter however, a 21st century approach of resilience and mass organization through the social media to stamp their insoluble resolve was employed.
Like Kimathi’s colonial Kenya, there is hopelessness for the youth of Nigeria today. Biblical Queen Esther’s crossroads statement – if I perish, I perish – as she made to enter the presence of King Ahasuerus, the all-powerful King of Persia, who ruled from India to Ethiopia, seems to be #EndSARS’ abiding pathway. Spilling their blood as martyrdom doesn’t seem to matter to these youths who gather on Nigerian streets in the last one and half weeks or so. Their typically unNigerian resolve can be likened to the seeming nihilistic words from those biblical starving lepers at the entrance of the City Gate during the famine of Samaria. The lepers, listening to the approach of the Syrian army, had said to themselves, “If we say, we will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there: and if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall unto the host of the Syrians: if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die.”
The disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) had made life miserable for Nigerian youths. The most dreaded prototype seems to be the Awkuzu, Awka, Anambra State dungeon said to be Nigeria’s own Auschwitz concentration camp. Auschwitz comprised a complex of over 40 concentration and extermination camps which were operated during World War 11 and Holocaust by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland. In Awkuzu, SARS allegedly indiscriminately exterminated and buried suspects. The first step to show government’s sincerity is to open Awkuzu up for confirmation or disproof of claim that it is a killing and burial field.
To SARS, it didn’t matter whether you had no link with scam and advance fee fraud, all you had to don was bushy, dreadlocked hair heaps like that of Bob Marley and be unlucky enough to afford an I-Phone. Many have been killed without any redemption and many more stood the chance of being killed. #EndSARS’ belief is that it would only take SARS and the Nigerian state to kill a few others during the protests, for normalcy and humanity to sprout in the genes of the Nigeria Police force. For this, the protesting youths’ resolve ranks side by side Esther and Samarian lepers’ suicidal plunges.
The next level of protest, I think, should be #EndHopelessness, in which case #EndSARS should morph into seeking total redemption for the land, just like the Arab Spring uprising. As I wrote in Why the Colour of #RevolutionNow Was Not Arab Spring-red, this protest has the imprimatur of the huge gathering of Egyptian protesters on February 9, 2011 at the Tahir Square in Cairo. Unruly as they looked, like the #EndSARS, it was obvious that this was a crowd determined to change the status quo. They sought end to oppression, economic adversities and collapse of the Arabian spirit in the Arab world. It spread to the Habib Bourguiba Boulevard in Tunis, Tunisia, a mammoth crowd at the Sana’a in Yemen, calling for the resignation of President Ali Abdullahi Saleh and the hundreds of thousands of people at Baniyas.
It will be calamitous if government, by whatever subterfuge, succeeds in abridging this protest. Though apprehensive, this government does not seem to have learnt any lessons from this peaceful revolt. Already, a redundant, pliant and insouciant government which slept while students pined away at home for seven months now, suddenly became hyper-active in seeking an end to the ASUU strike action. The need for a total stand-up to the runners of the Nigerian government is necessary.
An urgent rescue of Nigeria is today placed by providence in the hands of the youth. The fact that there is no sign of hope in every department of the Nigerian life underscores this urgency. After spending aimless years in school, the youth are flung into a Nigeria that is youth-hostile and holds no hope for their future. There are no jobs anywhere and many of their ilk wander through and get drowned in the Mediterranean in search of hope. Why then would they shy away from confronting this hopelessness once and for all and like in Animal Farm, get the drunken and unkind Mr. Jones, our own Tsar Nicholas II of the Russian Revolution, to scamper away?
Already, #EndSARS and a few emerging contradictions of Nigeria’s pseudo-federation are beginning to reveal the incongruities of our system. They also point the way to go. As seismic as the protest has been and the positive international buy-in it is receiving, Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, (NGF) and Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong, after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja last Thursday, said that SARS, the execrable police unit, has been useful to the North in the fight against insecurity. “SARS is not made up of bad elements alone as it also includes personnel who are doing their work diligently,” he said.
Before this, the Zamfara State governor, Bello Muhammad Matawalle,, was said to have sold N5billion gold unearthed in his state to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) while Niger Delta, which lays the Nigerian crude golden egg, cannot sell its treasure. Osun State’s Itamogun, where gold is mined, still forwards own proceeds to a nebulous federal government. It will seem that, like the cobra’s fetus, renowned in ancient Yoruba incantations as originator of its death, the seeds of the unitarist federalism Nigeria operates are coming out to be its pall bearer.
All these will reveal the need for #EndSARS to transform into #EndHopelessness. Let the youth, who according to Burma boy, are “the monsters you made,” bring back hope to this country and subsequently resolve the Nigerian question. For me, Marley’s highly nihilistic track, Check out the real situation, is the way to go. It succinctly explains our crossroads. “Well, it seems like, total destruction, the only solution…” he sermonized. Like the Samarian lepers, if we stay put here, hunger and hopelessness in the hands of Nigeria will kill us but if we stand up to the system now, we can only be killed by hunger and hopelessness. Let us take our option.