Once upon a time – six years ago actually – the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, audaciously proclaimed that they (he and his politician ilk) habitually loot Nigeria because Nigerians do not stone them. It was a moment of hubris that could only have come from someone convinced of his own invincibility. The “stone challenge” to Nigerians is analogous to a rapist blaming his victims for not doing enough to stop him. I wrote it in an article then that if Amaechi was convinced Nigerians were too docile to attack him, he should strip himself of all paraphernalia of power and walk the streets. Any coward can hide behind bulletproof vehicles and the DSS officials to taunt his victims. The real test of his assertion would be to face the people and see.
On Friday, Amaechi received his much-needed education when he was accosted in Spain by some Nigerians self-identified as IPOB members. The media described them as “angry” while Amaechi called them “misguided Nigerians.” For me, those who attacked Amaechi are patriots. If they are not passionate about Nigeria, they would not have put themselves at risk to challenge a confessed looter of collective patrimony. I am someone who cannot bear the spectacle of violence, but I can hardly fault Amaechi’s attackers. Whether they should have beat him up into a pulp or not is insignificant. The fact that they could defy -and for the second time after a similar incident with Senator Ike Ekweremadu in Germany – the halo that political power imbues on our leaders is what matters to me here.
Anyway, now that Amaechi has learned that Nigerians are not as meek as he supposes, can he and his friends now stop “looting”?
Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, headed by Abike Dabiri-Erewa, condemned the incident while also appealing to Nigerians to put up good behaviour anywhere in the world “because such incidents tarnish the image of our great country.” Like every other enabler that propels this unworthy administration, Dabiri-Erewa assumes two things: One, that the image of Nigeria that some smart alecs in Aso Rock contrive through scripted spiels and actions can override the globally acknowledged reality that Nigeria is in a deep mess. Remember that time Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) told the lawmakers that booed him during a budget speech that “the world is watching us”? Yes, that is how they get more fastidious about images rather than substance. Two, that the responsibility for cultivating a favourable image for the country lies with the people rather than the leadership. No, those who confronted Amaechi are not the ones who tarnish the country’s image; it is the action of our leaders that combusts the lies that what we run is a country.
On the same Friday that IPOB members reportedly came for Amaechi in Spain, the DSS re-arrested activist and journalist, Omoyele Sowore. That was just one day after the judge, Ijeoma Ojukwu, ordered his release, saving them from having to cook up another juvenile excuse to justify his continued detention. The crude drama that went down in the process of his re-arrest was captured on video and dispensed all over the world. Everywhere they read the news on Nigeria, they will watch that video and make a judgment on us Nigerians. By acting the way they did, the DSS made the rest of us poor Nigerians look like denizens of a jungle.
For an organisation like the DSS, intelligence should be an active verb. You should not only do better than use trained brutes to wave a gun in our faces, you must also consciously act with acumen. Unfortunately, the “intelligence” that should guide their operations as a so-called “intelligence agency” has become an emptied signifier. Their first unintelligent action in the Sowore debacle was ever picking him up over the #RevolutionNow protests. They kick-started a chain of events that has gone out of their hands. Now, because they cannot find any point at which they can exit the whole drama with even a modicum of dignity, they are doubling down in their use of brutish force. If you review the litany of parochial charges, they have made against Sowore – terrorism, money laundering, treason, and even his meeting with IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu – you can tell they have nothing substantial in their kitty to pursue this. So, between the DSS and Amaechi’s interlocutors, who is worse for Nigeria’s image?
Given how hard the times are in Nigeria, the placidity this administration demands of us is what is bad for the country’s image. Protests and revolution chants are, in fact, a project of self-redemption for us as a people. In all continents of the world bar Antarctica, protests have been a feature of their landscape this season. How can citizens of countries like Algeria, Austria, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, Guinea, Haiti, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Peru, Spain, Sudan, Syria, the UK, and New Zealand be protesting inequality, corruption and other dislocations of their national existence and Nigerians remain silent? We need it more than they do!
Our country is not only plagued with multi-dimensional poverty, we are also trapped in multi-generational indentureship due to our leaders’ habits of indebtedness. Things are worse for the majority of Nigerians. We check every box that indexes national hardship – from ungainful employment to maternal mortality, malnutrition, high costs of living, insecurity, environmental pollution, and even shorter lifespan!
Presently, more than 13m children are out of school. Many more times that number that passed through our decrepit schools have emerged as either stark illiterates or ill-literates. Education is not only poorly administered, opportunities for upward mobility have also shrivelled. From rural to urban centres, we lack even the most basic physical and social infrastructure. The figures about Nigeria are dire, and the apostles of anti-corruption are now the ones overseeing over some of the most blatant instances of corruption in Nigeria’s history. Right before our eyes, fuel subsidy ballooned by 2,000 per cent within one year. How do they justify that atrocious level of corruption?
Here is why I called those who confronted Amaechi patriots and should be thanked for their services: they are part of the proofs we have to show to the world that we are not all brain-dead citizens, congenitally cursed to embrace poverty and needless suffering. The rest of the world must have been looking at us and wondering how come that Nigerians who have far more compelling reasons to be on the streets appear quiet. Well, “stoning” Amaechi is a tendered evidence that not all of us are born to smile while we suffer. The fact that it took place abroad is even more redeeming of our dignity because the rest of the world can at least see that we have not yielded our humanity. No matter how hard they have tried, our Nigerian spirits have refused to be cowed. We are standing up for ourselves and our country. If we keep quiet, we will not only be dehumanised, someone like Amaechi will still blame us for our passivity.
They can continue making futile appeals to “respecting the law” all they like, but those who are engaging in acts of civil disobedience in these grim times are the ones history will vindicate. The real Nigerian patriots are not those who have internalised subjugation to the point they are condemned to justify every instance of abuse of power. No, the patriots are the ones who still have enough faith in Nigeria to confront her leaders with chants of “revolution!” Whether they like it or not, we will irritate their tone-deaf ears with our dissent. We will not stop speaking up against the precarity of our Nigerian lives and the oppressive forces they deploy to keep us down. They cannot deny us every dividend of democracy and expect us to play dead. We will keep talking about the conditions of our existence until they either listen-and make necessary reforms-or they get out of the way so we can rebuild our country.
Either way, we will talk. To be silent is to be twice defeated.