More than 12 people have been killed in the #ENDSARS protests by security agents of the state. There’s nothing funny about that but somehow, President Muhammadu Buhari has always found something to laugh about. When he received updates from the Lagos State Governor, he laughed. When the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives visited, he laughed. The most visible things the president has done over the last week, in relation to the protests, are to meet with senior government officials, take pictures, and laugh. That’s quite odd. Many Nigerians don’t seem to figure what’s funny. I don’t, either. For someone who hasn’t seen any reason to address the nation, I think the insensitive gesture is another confirmation of the president’s marked, and quite unfortunate, disinclination to the realities of Nigerians. Thousands of them – mostly young, have defied odds to protest across the country. Their campaign would go down in history as one of the most united and creative, nonviolent resistances to injustice in the 21st century. It’s very sad that lives have been lost, and far more injured, at the hands of ‘bad-egg’ policemen whose pernicious wont and mentality got us here. And that says a lot about the system.
Where is the president in all of these? Where is he choosing to stand in this moment of history? How would he want to be remembered when this chapter is opened? Whatever the president decides to say, or not say; do, or not do, is entirely left to him. His silence, in a time like this, is blaring. And we will not forget. But then, the president might have his reasons. Silence, in my reckoning, is better than facile comments on the issues without a corresponding commitment to remedying the maladies in the system. Despite the pronouncement against irresponsible police actions, there have been reports of intimidation and brutality in some quarters. There are videos to validate this. Attempts have also been made by some misguided louts, sponsored by some powers that will never be, to disrupt the protests that have largely been peaceful. Some areas in Lagos, Abuja, Benin, and a few other cities have recorded similar ugly incidences. Ironically, these are happening amidst appeals by senior government officials for the protests to end. Again, contrary to the government’s ‘hand of fellowship’, the military have taken to some parts of the capital city. Some fifth columnists have also been unleashed. This level of desperation is, in my view, misplaced.
The president speaking or not, the youth are no longer waiting on him. We are moving on. We would have none of the silence, or the cluelessness it breeds. The culture of silence is not a norm we want to be identified with. We are choosing to ‘soro soke’ (#sorosoke, meaning: ‘speak up’ in Yoruba). The youth are choosing to ‘soro soke’ against attempts to discourage and disunite them in their quest for a better country. MLK said it first: “There is amazing power in unity. When there is true unity, every effort to disunite only serves to strengthen the unity". He, and others before us, would be proud of the change the youth are inspiring in Nigeria. We are choosing to ‘soro soke’ against cant; the demand is action and sincerity. We are choosing to ‘soro soke’ against silence; the demand is strong commitment to good governance. We are choosing to ‘soro soke’ against oppression and police brutality; the demand is dignity and justice for victims. We are bold to ‘soro soke’ because we know ‘something will happen’. The actions of the protesters across the country are not to halt business activities (as the protests to a large extent have) but to, as MLK put it again, ‘put justice in business.’
In a time when the silence of a good majority is just as bad as the sordidness of a bad minority, the conscientious youth in Nigeria are raising the bar to speak up. By standing and speaking up in the manner that we have (over the last 2 weeks), we are inspiring a model for oppressed people (wherever they may be) to speak up; to ‘soro soke’ in unity. That’s what Nigeria needs. That’s what the world needs. We still have a long way to go, but we’ll get there, eventually. We are doing it because it’s the right thing to do. We are doing this for our generation, and the one after ours, who should get nothing but the best. We are doing this because we believe in a Nigeria where unity and faith, peace and progress are not alien concepts to everyday Nigerians. ‘Soro soke’ is the new norm. And it’s here to stay. Let’s embrace it.