by Ijeoma Ogwuegbu-Uduma
But therein lies the paradox; we have to fight for this country to make it worth fighting for.
Our worst fears were of course coming true. Hot on the heels of that one, he announced that the police were now driving through the crowd of sitting and sleeping protesters, generous with tear gas.
Frantically across Twitter, the few who were awake following the action kept tweeting @Dawisu to find out if he was safe. No response. The tension was horrid, especially because we were all very aware of what could happen to him. People had been killed for less. Standing in my kitchen, slowly sipping cold water and trying not to look at the time, I realised I was whispering fervent words of prayer as I waited for this young man who had caught the world’s imagination to reassure me that everything was alright.
There was nothing to do but fear the very worst. Driving a truck through a crowd of mostly sleeping people? There was no doubt there would be casualties. I clicked and refreshed; still nothing. I searched the Kano hashtag, and eventually learned from others that there were at least fifty people injured and possibly one dead. At a point I set my phone down far from me, so I didn’t have to look at how much time had passed since Dawisu last tweeted. He’s probably just running for his dear life, I reassured myself. He can’t be bothered with tweeting right now. But in truth I was afraid – that he might be amongst the injured or, horror of horrors, the one dead.
I called my younger sister Chioma, who had tweeted at Dawisu earlier to say she would be keeping vigil with them. I could hear the tears in her voice.
“Why couldn’t they just leave them alone? How was their silent protest affecting those policemen?” My only response was for her to check her phone, to see if the young man we were both waiting for had updated again, in the vague hope that maybe her network was faster than mine.
Then, almost an hour later, back in my bedroom, I saw Dawisu’s last tweet for the night.
“No deaths at Kano Protest as far as I know please! The police just used tear gas and disperse the crowd. I’m safely home now.”
I would not have been more relieved if he were my own flesh and blood. Only then could my husband, my sister and I get a fitful sleep, knowing that our citizen journalist was safe for the night.
By morning, of course, we heard he was mistaken in saying there were no deaths, because at least one person was reported dead and some three hundred injured on what should have been a magical night of self-discovery for the young people of Kano. This should have been the night they realised their own power. Instead, one mother would weep.
All of our lives, we’ve struggled to live under the effects of the corruption inflicted on us by our leaders. Even before some of us were too young to understand, monies were being looted, promises were being broken by people who swore to lead us. We’ve each, at one time or another, shaken our heads in despair at yet one more story of some official embezzling money meant for some school, hospital, road or other such facility meant for us. We’ve gotten angry, sworn, cursed, but ultimately shaken our head, shrugged our shoulders and muttered, “God dey.” But for that one night, those young men and women decided they had had enough.
These young men hadn’t needed to be at “Liberation’ Square that night. When I say that, I don’t mean that the fuel subsidy removal they were protesting against didn’t affect them. I mean that they could have, like a million others have done, simply shrugged and uttered that Nigerian prayer, “E go better.” They could have been in their beds on that chilly harmattan night, whether it be on the street or the comfort of their own homes. Even though there were those there with their family’s support, I cannot believe that at least one mother didn’t say to her son that day, in typical Nigerian mother fashion, “If I hear you went to that square today, you will see what I will do to you in this house.”
There’s no way some of them couldn’t have been scared, terrified out of their minds. Amongst them, must have been, just like me, people with a child at home. They had brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers. And they left them that night to fight for this, pushed beyond the wall, believing it was something they needed to do.
Some have said they were foolish, misguided to fight; that the government means well. Some have even insisted that there is nothing in this country worth fighting for. But therein lies the paradox; we have to fight for this country to make it worth fighting for.
The young men and women of Kano have changed me. I was all for this fight before, but even I knew my fervour had limits. But not anymore. I will not deny that I’m scared, terrified even. I’ve never been arrested by the police or spent a night in jail. I have a husband and a child who love and need me, six siblings who I’m very close to, friends who I’m important to. But I can’t bear the thought that my son will have to grow up in a country worse than the one I have endured because dear friends, this is where we are going.
These young people have set me an example I cannot ignore. They did it. And now I must. My name is Ijeoma Ogwuegbu-Uduma, and I must #occupyNigeria. Speak for yourself.