There is Still Hope for Nigeria After All: The #EndSARS Protests and What It (Personally) Means to Me.
On 24 January 2020 while aboard the Emirates Airways Flight EK30 from London Heathrow Airport to Dubai, United Arab Emirates from where I was to take a connecting flight to Lagos, I found myself lost in thought, which was predominantly one of melancholy.
What was the source of my pensive mood? The feeling or realisation that I might have failed. I had just graduated from King’s College, London where I bagged a Master’s Degree in International Business Law and I was returning to my home country.
If I had been born five or six decades earlier, and embarked on this same trip, I would have been guaranteed a rousing welcome complete with the Ohafia War Dance or other cultural troupe to welcome me at the airport. Alas, I was returning to Nigeria after all and it certainly did not seem like that there was something to celebrate!
What made this return flight such a tortuous one for me was the reality of the country that I was returning after about 15 months of the exposure to a developed economy, with a world class transportation system and a functional healthcare delivery system.
I was returning to the land of erratic power supply or the marginally more comfortable reality of the sound of a cacophony of generator sets. A country where the law enforcement agencies entrusted to protect you were more likely to kill you. Where even as a lawyer, I commute with the constant fear that a Police officer might shoot me before I even get the chance to introduce myself. A country where I had gone to the infamous ‘Human Abattoir’ in Abuja to secure a client’s release and saw human blood on the flow and a SARS official had bragged to me that he was going to kill the suspect that was lying on the floor that day. After which I swore never to return.
The preponderance of opinion of the people I had spoken with before my trip and throughout my stay in the United Kingdom (“UK”) was that I had to do EVERYTHING within my powers to stay back in the UK after my programme, even if it meant entering into a contract marriage.
The option of starting my education all over again in the UK (after 7 years of law practice in Nigeria) to enable me to qualify to practice law there not very appealing, but I would be dishonest if I say that it was not a proposition I seriously considered. And that alone says a lot.
What was most frustrating to me was the abundant opportunities we were allowing to go to waste in Nigeria. But has it always been like this? The little history that we are exposed to suggests the contrary. Should it be like this? The socio-economic indicators disagree.
There is no denying that Nigeria is blessed with abundant natural and human resources, most of which regrettably remain untapped. In addition to being one of the largest producers of oil in Africa, Nigeria is also blessed with other resources. With an estimated population of 196 million, Nigeria has a large consumer market and therefore what it takes to be one of the biggest economies in the world, with the right leadership. The legal profession in Nigeria ought to be one of the most lucrative. Yet, we are where we are.
Lost in my thoughts on this cold night, I remembered all that I suffered to bag this degree, especially the huge indebtedness I had racked up. I was returning to Nigeria!
It was therefore a tug of war between one part of my subconscious telling me that I had not tried hard enough to stay back. Do you know the millions of others who have been praying for the opportunity you had to leave Nigeria and never return? On the other hand, the other part was encouraging me that there’s still hope in Nigeria and that returning to Nigeria was not a death sentence. Gentlemen, I know which part was winning this war.
Since my return in January I have been looking for that hope and trying to find positives in everything around me including in the current political class. You can imagine how difficult that has been. Until the past few days.
In the space of 7 or so days I have seen everything right about Nigeria and I did not see it in the ruling class or the generations that had held us back for decades. I saw my hope in the protests of the “phone pressing” generation! That after all there is still hope. I have seen Accountability, Compassion, Empathy, Responsibility, Selflessness and Unity of Purpose. And all of these have been against all odds!
These protesters have been provoked, they have been tested, shot at with live ammunition and water canons. Hoodlums have been sponsored against them, yet they have handled all of these with grace, running at first, then returning to face their assailants, ultimately overpowering their attackers, feeding them and handing them over to the security agencies, while taking the injured ones to the hospital. For possibly the first time in the history of peace protests in Nigeria, these protesters have been responsible enough to clean up every morning after.
The Nigeria of our dreams (of the past 60 years) has played out before our eyes in the past 6 days!
It is unfortunate that things have had to degenerate to this extent and that dozens of Nigerian souls have had to be sacrificed by the Police for our collective eyes to finally open. Now that it has, it will be greater sacrilege if Nigeria remains the same after now.
I am the most unqualified to tell this story because others have suffered with their limbs and some others with their lives. I am not even one of those coordinating these transformational protests. I am only a Nigerian who has found my hope in the #EndSARS movement of the Youth!