#OccupyNigeriaReview: Funmi Iyanda’s ‘Chop Cassava’ leads the way

by Bankole Oluwafemi

Multi award winning broadcaster, journalist, columnist and blogger, Funmi Iyanda is many things. And in the past few weeks, we’ve come to see yet another side to this young Nigerian media icon – the activist.

Throughout the duration of the Occupy Nigeria protests, Funmi marched alongside thousands of Nigerians, awash in the wave of new-found people power and demanding accountable governance. But far as she was from the facial contrivances, scripts and props that are a screen diva’s best friend, “the image of her angry self” (her words) somehow managed to circulate on major news networks all over the world, and it was only a matter of time before the irrepressible journalist came through. With the help of friends in the business, she’s had enough presence of mind to preserve the substance of this unprecedented dimension to the Nigerian struggle in a video log that they have chosen to call “Chop Cassava”.

Chop Cassava is a video log (or blog, if you will) that comprises footage of significant events, sights and sounds from the Occupy Nigeria movement. On what Chop Cassava is about, its editors wrote –

“In Nigeria “chop” means to eat, it can also mean to eat with immoral or criminal greed.

On January 1st 2012 the Nigerian Government shocked its citizens with a 117% rise in fuel costs. People of all classes took to the streets. ChopCassava.com is an editorial documentation of the people’s protest as it unfolds as well as a revelation of many layers of disconnect between power and people.”

Of the Occupy Nigeria national mass protests themselves, Funmi said –

“It was clear that something had shifted in the Nigerian consciousness, which requires a different sort of documentation. Our challenge was, shall we just stand back and document or shall we have an opinion. Should we editorialize history as it unfolds?”

Funmi certainly thinks so, considering what she perceives to be an extreme disconnect of the government from the condition of the people to the point that its policies, however well intentioned, have disastrous consequences on their lives.

But it would also seem that it goes beyond mere detachment, as the integrity of the country’s leadership began to be called into question. Rudely jolted by the sudden removal of fuel subsidies by the government, the Nigerian public soon went from bewilderment at the steep rise in living costs to outrage at the correspondingly astronomical cost of sustaining a government that had little or no impact on their lives. And here might lie the key to understanding the symbolic origins of the concept, a grossly unequal society where leaders live lives of ostentation at the collective expense, with the expectation that 70 percent of the populace will meekly embrace austerity and “chop cassava”, which indeed might be no more than what a meagre 2 dollars a day can afford.

What a lot of observers did not count on however, is the fact that these naturally “resilient” people could have a collective epiphany about the purpose of governance and rise to challenge the order of things. And thus, from the carnival-like protests at the “Freedom Park” at Ojota to the Interviews with Labour and civil society leaders, the voices of young Nigerians at the heart of the protests to the tragic death of Ademola at the hands of security operatives at Ogba, Funmi and her team are working to make sure that these events will not only be remembered, but will be placed in their proper context, the intellectual and political rennaissance of a people who till now have consistently turned a blind eye to the ruinous excesses of a predominantly corrupt elite. As of now they have uploaded 8 videos and have also made a number of strategic documents available for those interested in gaining the objective high ground on the issues at stake.

Following negotiations and some sort of compromise with the government, organised Labour called of the nationwide strike, effectively taking the wind out of the movement’s sails, at least where public demonstrations are concerned.So what next for Chop Cassava? The protests are over, but the grievances and demands that were made as a result, are still on the table. Whether the Cassava team will be content to leave the project as is, or will continue to explore related thematic approaches to the Nigerian situation remains to be seen.

Given Funmi’s track record of using her position in the media to leverage humanitarian and philanthropic interventions, we can expect that the story will not end here. While active participation of professional media in citizen struggles is not entirely avant-garde, the trend has probably only just begun to gain ground in the ideal conditions of an epoch that has increasingly disintermediated access to information, heralded the death of tighly controlled traditional media oligopolies and is bringing the human personality of the media professional to the fore. With its roots in social media and the web, Chop Cassava could also be the Nigerian front-runner of a new media age in which popular media personalities (because media will be personal) go beyond reporting the zeitgeist, and take up active, participatory roles in tackling the myriad issues that affect society.

Watch a video from Chop Cassava

See more at www.chopcassava.com

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