Hamzat Lawal: Love and the temperament of an activist

by Hamzat Lawal

Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies – Aristotle

My experience in activism exposed me to serious issues of life at an early age. Some people might not easily understand the reality that activism is not only about raising hell. It is not only about engaging the people that matter on issues that affect the lives of ordinary people. It is not only about the spotlight, the petitions, the street credibility, and the interventions.

Activism is about leadership, it is about consensus, it is about character, and it is about consciousness. It is about touching the most hidden part of the human emotion. And when that spark is ignited in two opposite sexes, it becomes the root of a most enduring love experience. It is in this context, for instance, that one can understand the attraction between an activists couple like the Odumakins – Yinka and Joe – who met at their school activism days.

activism-hamzat-2But let me go back to leadership. The electoral process that brought me in as the Communications Director of the African Youth Initiative for Climate Change (AYICC) was not that simple and straight. While serving in NYCAN, I declared my intention to run for the AYICC office, which was always decided through a virtual (online) election.

At the election, I lost to a Moroccan young lady by two votes. However, having found a strong affinity towards climate change issues, I found myself looking beyond the AYICC leadership position. I decided to concentrate more efforts on making NYCAN, which was actually a membership organization under AYICC, more visible in the Nigerian virtual space, while drawing more global support for it.

To my surprise, two months later, the Leadership of AYICC contacted me via e-mail and informed me that the newly elected Moroccan Communications Director was not competent and that she had been relieved of her duties and position. They asked if I could step into the office as her replacement. I replied that it would be my pleasure to take the responsibility. So, that was how I became the AYICC Communications Director, an office that, though without remuneration, gave me so much exposure to global affairs. I traveled to over forty African countries. I met world leaders and interacted with people that mattered. And as the days went by, the vision of mobilizing young people for change crystallized.

 

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I leveraged on this emerging innate capacity during the #SaveBagega project. But, naturally, it came with its usual blowback. During one of the monthly stakeholders meetings, the Director of DSS in Zamfara State threatened to arrest me, saying that I was instigating young people against the government. Despite the fact that the Zamfara State Commissioner of Environment who was at the meeting intervened and told the Director that he could not arrest me because I and my team were credible, and represented relevant stakeholders, I still sensed danger. I could clearly see the red flag.

Because of the attention our #SaveBagega campaign attracted, I feared a backlash from the government. I understood the Freedom of Information law and how to leverage on it for the crusade. We used it to ask specific questions. We ensured the documents that substantiated our claims and backed our demands were made public. We used infographics and visualization techniques to drive home these points. We went all out to the press. We especially utilized the grassroots reach afforded by the various radio services in the Hausa language.

 

savebagega-infographics-hamzatI was able to keep going in spite of my fears because I strongly felt that having witnessed the suffering in the interior villages of Zamfara, I owed them my voice, my energy, and my humanity.savebagega-infographics-hamzat-2

 

Nevertheless, as a human that I am, I was overwhelmed with trepidation and the consciousness of a dark cloud of danger which I felt staring at me from the horizon. I reckoned that if I were old enough to have experienced the human rights movement under the Nigerian military era, I would have been hardened enough to survive any type of threat. But I did not experience that historic and intriguing epoch in Nigeria’s democratic experience.

So, with the feeling of a great weight on my shoulder, I trudged on, without really understanding what to expect.

On this particular day, I was about to release the definitive press statement of our work, as guided by the Human Rights Watch – who had become very interested in our #SaveBagega campaign. I was very much aware that the material was uncomplimentary to the government of the day. I knew I was standing on the edge of history. There were a lot of possibilities. The statement could ignite immediate action: positive or negative. It could force the government officials to do the needful in the traumatized Zamfara enclaves. It could also make them arrest me, as it became obvious that I was calling the attention of the world to the shortcomings of the Federal Government.

Not knowing what to expect, I prepared for the worst. In my heaviness, I marched to my girlfriend’s house. Ummy is a smart lady, but that day I saw another part of her: a wise woman. She looked at me in a way that I intuitively knew she understood the turmoil that my mind was in. I told her the progress of the campaign and made her understand the implication of the press statement about to be released.

 

activism-hamzat-3As I narrated my work to her, I felt a fresh energy suffuse me, effectively replacing the angst that shrouded my whole being prior to my visit. She calmly listened. She communicated her support to me without uttering a word – and it suddenly dawned on me that no matter what happened, I had someone who understood my secret fears. I had someone who would transmit her energy and strength to me even if I was incarcerated in the darkest dungeon.

I felt a heavy weight lift off my shoulder and a new strength enter me. I found myself smile again as I handed Ummy the details of people to contact in case I disappeared after the press release.

Thankfully, things did not get worse after all. Today, I can look back and thank God for the success stories that followed those troubled days. Within forty-eight hours after our statement went out, President Goodluck Jonathan approved the over N800million remediation budget for the cleanup of Bagega community.

Subsequently, over 1,500 children were treated for lead poisoning. The Federal Ministry of Water Resources built solar-powered borehole for the community. The Zamfara State government constructed an access road to the area. The rural community also got an international standard hospital, electricity supply infrastructure and a school fully equipped with computers.

 

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What about me? Well, Ummy is now my wife. As the days go by, the activist in her keeps manifesting. Not only am I blessed with a truthful, supportive, patient and kind woman; I have by my side a fellow activist who is very passionate about grassroots women and children. These days, as I watch her reach out to less-privileged children in shanty quarters and help despondent women in the IDP camps, I realize why she threw her weight behind me when everybody thought I was crazy for deciding to quit a well-paid job to jump into the precarious terrain of activism.

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Next: Politics of us versus them


Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Hamzy! is an Activist and currently the Co-Founder / Chief Executive of Connected Development [CODE]. He is working to build a growing grassroots movement of citizen-led actions through Follow The Money for better service delivery in rural communities. He Tweets via @HamzyCODE

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