by Onyinye Muomah
The day before the Monday protests, I had not totally made up my mind to be at the Gani Fawehinmi park, Ojota. I knew I wanted to be there- no, I had to be there. The subsidy removal issue concerns me too. This is my country. My future depends on its welfare.
As I made plans to go there, I was worried about my safety. What if a riot occurred? How would I protect myself? I called a male friend and we scheduled a meeting point. Woman or not, I was going to march. I was going to risk my life, for my unborn children, for my nation for posterity. God did not create only men to die for a cause.
The next day, it was onto the protests. When I got there, I was proud to see other women representing- mostly young women. They stood and walked in groups if they were all women or with a male companion(s).
On the podium, the wife of late Gani Fawehinmi was called up to speak. She narrated a story of how she had been informed of the January 1st subsidy removal by a certain “gentleman.” General knowledge was that subsidy would be removed by April 1st. Hearing of the new date, according to Mrs. Fawhinmi, she called a press conference at her home. She later organised a rally.
“No one listened to me then,” she said of her efforts to sound the alarm. But now we were all listening. She had come armed with a book written by her late husband in which he discussed the removal of subsidy and the chaos it would cause. She recommended it to everyone present.
Also on the podium was popular TV talk-show host, Funmi Iyanda. She stood tall and regal like a modern day living goddess. She was dressed all in red with a straw hat on her head. While I was there, I did not hear her speak but she has been part of the protests right from inception.
There were two mixed-raced ladies, sitting on a grassy knoll with placards they had made spread before them. They were like a tourist attraction as people came around them not just to take pictures of their placards but to ask them if they were Nigerians. Rather than give a direct answer, one of the young women lashed out in words at her questionnaire.
“Nigerians will continue having problems if we keep discriminating like this,” she said. “What does it matter if I am white or black?”
A guy sitting beside also inquired, “What does a Nigerian look like?”
From their accents, it was obvious they were Nigerians but the women who looked like sisters could not get over the thought that people would think them unworthy to protest or a strange sight just because of their skin colour.
The other sister mentioned that having dual nationalities does not stop anyone from protesting.
As they spoke, the subject of Kathleen Ndogomo came up. She is the Cameroonian Nigerian who was asked not to interfere in the subsidy issue and to “let Nigerians air their views” by Rene Omokri, one of President Goodluck Jonathan’s spokespersons on Twitter. I was informed that she actually has dual-nationality as her mother is Nigerian. As coincidence would have it, she was standing not too far from where we discussed her and I got to see her for the first time. Unmoved by the cyber bullying of the president’s man, she had come to speak up for one part of her ancestry.
After standing a long time under the musical stage and listening to all the speeches, my friends and I decided to move around. As we climbed over the dwarf railings that surrounded the park we immediately cited international soul singer Nneka.
“I am surprised to see you here,” my colleague told her.
“Why? Am I not Nigerian?” she countered. It seems we are continually amazed when Nigerians born with dual nationalities choose to acknowledge their Nigerianess especially when their second country is far more developed or “way better” than Nigeria.
Nneka dressed in a loose-fitting blouse, shorts and tongs was accompanied by another lady who apperared to be her manager. As the two women walked around, the singer appeared unafraid and comfortable in her surroundings. She continually stopped to pose for pictures with her fans.
There were also many female journalists (some of whom I know personally), some bloggers and members of Nigeria’s twitterati; private citizens who have become quasi celebrities from airing their views on the social networking site.
Coming back from the protests, I wrote on my Facebook wall: “I was at #occupynigeria protests at Ojota. Where were you?” My female cousin who is married with one child replied wittingly, “In the kitchen, lol.”
With her jocular response, she unintentionally made a social statement that with recent events would be and should be deemed anachronistic. Thank God, the kitchen or bedroom is no longer the places women are allowed to be during national crisis like this. The fact that two of the commanders on the other side of the fuel subsidy debate are women goes a long way in showing the level of our relevance in modern society. And for me, it was a thing of pride to see us emphasise that relevance on this side of the debate.