by Ijeoma Ogwuegb-Uduma
“I looked at a picture of a group of young men from Northern Nigeria and thought, “I’ve never been more proud to call a group my brothers.
In the early morning of 5 of January, 2011, I got up from my bed, put my phone on my bedside table and went to the kitchen, ostensibly for a glass of water. My hands were shaking, my heart was pounding, I was extremely restless; classic signs of fear or excitement. But none of these things was because I hated a dark kitchen at night. I’m afraid of the dark, but at that moment, I was running from a greater fear: the terror that is the Nigerian state.
The real reason I had gotten out of bed was because I had just read @Dawisu’s tweet in which he said, “They’ve charged into the crowd with tear gas with their trucks! The crowd is scattered! I hope there is no serious injury or even death.”
I’d only started following Dawisu on Twitter earlier that afternoon because I realised he seemed to be at centre of a story I was following: thousands of protesters said to be gathered at a square in Kano, showing their displeasure at the fuel subsidy removal; a protest that had engulfed the country. I started paying attention to him when several people on my Twitter timeline retweeted his words, to the effect that a massive protest was going on in Kano. Protests were going on everywhere, but this was different. When I heard that the Kano one had been going on for at least 12 hours, I knew it was time to follow @Dawisu.
And so began an evening of wide and varied emotions. Tweet after tweet, picture after picture, @Dawisu relayed the magnitude of this protest to us as the sit-in went on. Around five thousand sat, prayed, listened and waited, having vowed not to leave the square until fuel subsidy removal was reversed. Supporters donated food, mattresses and water to keep the protesters going. There was a picture of a young boy who had gone home and been sent back by his mother. Being the middle of the harmattan season, the temperature dropped to fifteen degrees at a point and yet they stayed, out in the open, at the mercy of the elements. The police had arrived earlier and thankfully, at that time at least, did nothing but watch over them. The protesters even shared some of the food donated to them with the cops. As he kept updating us with comments and pictures, my senses swelled. My heart with pride, my mind with awe and admiration.
If anyone had ever told me I would one day see a picture of thousands of young men sitting quietly in protest, in a square in Kano, I would have assured them the protesters were clearly not Nigerian. But here was proof that this spirit we had admired and envied in people from other climes, resides firmly in our own people.
I’m from the east of Nigeria and knowing Nigeria’s history, it would be inesacapable for my view of these young men to be coloured by past experiences of both myself and my parents. But for the first time in my life, I looked at a picture of a group of young men from Northern Nigeria and thought, “I’ve never been more proud to call a group my brothers.”
Then the tone of the tweets began to change. At one a.m, the Kano State police commissioner arrived. Ever the optimist, @Dawisu said “the police commissioner is here. I hope he’s come to observe and not interfere.” My heart skipped a beat, remembering that one protester had already been shot dead in Ilorin by the police , but I, like him, hoped against hope that the good commissioner came in peace.
Of course, our naivete showed, when @Dawisu’s next tweet arrived. “They want to attack us now! May God help us! The crowd is roaring!”
To be completed at 2pm