The first time I had the opportunity to speak to Chude of Red Media at length was at the Oxford Africa Business conference in May. It was a very pleasant conversation. At least, I thought.
Literally 20 mins later, he called me and mine cowards in front of 100+ people. That’s hyperbole. He didn’t called me personally a coward per se. He railed against all those men (and women) of means in Lagos who live in their gilded cages. Flaunting their prosperity, who speed past the problems of the masses. In a country where someone’s monthly salary is the same as an expensive meal on the Island. That those of means had a moral responsibility to do something about it. The fact that the minimum wage is N20k/month or so and most civil servants still go unpaid, is deplorable.
At my Oxford talk, I was speaking alongside Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw. He has been responsible for breaking dozens of stories about political corruption and organised crime in Ghana. See, I thought I was fearless. He dons a mask for fear of assassination. He is a frontline activist. A real hero. In our talk, I didn’t make jest of his efforts but I definitely didn’t give him the respect he deserved. For that, I am sorry.
See, I have been a capitalist. My first and foremost ambition was getting that money right. Getting those millions. For my wife and two children. It was easier for me to ignore all the problems around me. I am pretty good at narrowing my focus, and focus on growing my pie. So I did just that. More riches, more riches.
When you have children, you start to shift your perspective, you become more aware of the world he/she is destined to grow up in. Having my son is amazing. But he’s a straight up bruiser, so I know he will be good. Having my daughter is something very different. She turns one tomorrow. She is so fragile. I feel this constant urge to protect her. Why? Because she seems so fragile. Her name Nwakaego literally translated to [A child is worth more than money]. Having both makes me truly believe that.
Genesis of cowardice.
That happens to be Mrs Njoku’s mother’s name. More importantly, it happened to be her younger sister’s name. Nwakaego Remmy was the closest person in the world to Mrs Njoku. They were best friends. When they were growing up, they looked like twins. They moved as such. They did everything together. Mrs Njoku’s moral compass was driven very much by the constant fear of not letting her sister down. She sought her approval when we first met. She was literally her everything.
I remember the last time I saw Nwakaego. We were at my wife’s mother’s place in Festac. She was about to set off to the north to serve her country. To serve Nigeria. The entire family were all worried. There were increasing reports about terrorism and this thing called Boko Haram. They wanted to try and work the NYSC system to have her serve in Lagos. It wasn’t that complicated, money to bend the system your way. Nwakaego refused. She believed in Nigeria. She believed in NYSC. She believed in serving those in far flung places. She believed God would protect her. In September 2011, she was gunned down outside a church whilst handing out rhapsodies of realities flyers in Maiduguri. We buried her in her NYSC uniform. At no point did any officer of our great country come to offer commiseration. To offer answers. To fill us with confidence that the perpetrators will be brought to justice. From my recollection, 1,000 people died in those few days in September 2011. When we lost Nwakaego, our lives changed. It almost destroyed my wife. Thousands of people’s lives changed forever. No one cared. Nigeria went on. To the next celebrity scandal I hear you say. To the next Afrobeat tune.
So it cemented in the Njoku household. If Lagos doesn’t love you, Nigeria simply eats her young. So we disengaged. Narrowed our focus on making that paper.
Until we had a daughter. And it became increasingly important that she grow up in a secure, fair and just society. We could always choose a city to live in. Ship them out so they can be far from the melee. But we plan to be in Nigeria in the long term. Forever, if she allows us. So we need to abandon our cowardice and get building a better Nigeria. Brick by brick.
Because Chude was right. If you are of means in Lagos and Nigeria, and you are not busy trying to solve the plight of those around you. You form the crux of the problem. We are all cowards. And Nigeria doesn’t need cowards. She needs believers. The PDP won’t save us. The APC won’t save. God won’t save. We need to save ourselves. If not for ourselves. For our children.
Capitalism x Activism.
RIP Nwakaego Eucharia Remmy
Jason Chukwuma Njoku is the Founder of iROKO. He writes at jason.com.ng