by Olu Onemola
…those that have worked to make Nigeria better – the activists, the vibrant academics, the ‘tell-the-truth-as-it-is’ journalists, the fearless politicians, and the everyday Nigerians that have wrestled against overwhelming odds to achieve the objectives of our common struggles have never been the inheritors of their own successes.
The ‘Tree Shakers’ have existed throughout Nigeria’s lengthy and often tumultuous history. They were the Herbert Macaulay’s of the 1940s – the brave men and women who formed the Nigerian National Council to demand our independence from British rule. They were the young Wole Soyinka’s of our country’s golden age, the energetic citizen-soldiers who took over radio stations to protest against election manipulations. They were also the Bola Ige’s of the dark Abacha days – the men and women who bravely challenged the despotic status quo and spoke truth to almost-absolute power.
The Tree Shakers also manifested in Babangida’s time. They were the student union leaders – cut across the breadth of our federal universities. These students like Omoyele Sowore – the then student government president of UNILAG who is now the publisher of Sahara Reporters – defied executive orders and military blockades to push for better conditions in their universities and the country as a whole. They were ably facilitated with the civilian-militant organizing capacity of trade union groups like the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) – which was then led by the current Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega – and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). Together, these groups ultimately formed the irreversible thorn that led to the loosening of the Babangida government’s ironclad hold on Nigeria’s affairs.
Needless to say, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola was also a Tree Shaker. A uniting figure whose memory stands as the unforgettable cornerstone of Nigeria’s road to return to democratic rule. His victory in the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential elections that is still characterized as Nigeria’s freest and fairest till date, makes him the quintessential Tree Shaker because he never got to ascend the mandate that he secured for himself and Nigerians at the polls.
If we go back to examine the beginning of our collective past, we will start to understand that those that have worked to make Nigeria better – the activists, the vibrant academics, the ‘tell-the-truth-as-it-is’ journalists, the fearless politicians, and the everyday Nigerians that have wrestled against overwhelming odds to achieve the objectives of our common struggles have never been the inheritors of their own successes. This is because while the Tree Shakers are busy doing all the work: organizing, protesting, knocking on doors – shaking the tree of liberty to reap the fruits of its dividends – the opportunistic few, the strongmen, the ‘Fruit Pickers’ – are those that have constantly been at the receiving end of the returns of democracy.
Yes, Herbert Macaulay founded the Nigerian National Council to set the stage for Nigeria to become independent, but ultimately, Nnamdi Azikiwe became our first President. Yes, Moshood Abiola won the June 12, 1993 elections, but he spent the rest of his life behind bars because he was considered a ‘threat’ to the military hegemony of the time. Yes, the likes of Bola Ige fought for Nigeria’s democratic freedom during the Abacha years, but Olusegun Obasanjo was the one chosen by the elites to represent Abiola and Nigeria’s lost mandate at the polls in 1999. The picture becomes clearer, and as we transition towards this new administration, under the leadership of General Buhari, it is important to ask ourselves: “Who were the Tree Shakers in the recently concluded polls?”
Some might suggest a few popular names like Bola Tinubu – but it has become increasingly clear that he already has a role to play in this incoming administration. In addition to this, it is very important to state that as the APC forms its new government, the impacts and effects of leaders the likes of Atiku Abubakar, Babatunde Fashola, Kayode Fayemi, Adeleke Mamora, Bukola Saraki, Abike Dabiri, Nasir El Rufai, Osita Okechukwu and Pat Utomi in the 2015 elections must never be downplayed. These individuals served as rallying points and game-changers when it mattered most. Their contributions to the new Nigerian project – from strategy, to policy development, to organizing capacity – shook the tree that led to the first defeat of an incumbent government in Nigeria’s democratic history.
But beyond the ‘big men’ mentioned above, many will agree that the true ‘Tree Shakers’ are the young men and women who knocked on doors, made stump speeches, participated in debates, protested in public parks, wrote articles, fired missile-like tweets, fact-checked the outgoing administration on inconsistencies, and convinced their peers that the APC was the party to vote for. Yes, the few individuals mentioned above served as overt ‘game changers’, but many of the covert champions of the APC’s unprecedented victory like Akin Oyebode, Hadiza Bala Usman, Moji Rhodes, Tolu Ogunlesi, Japheth Omojuwa, Olusegun Dada, Ismaeel Ahmed, Rinsola Abiola, and Bisoye Coker led the youths of Nigeria to invest their hopes and trust of a better tomorrow in a 72 year old man.
In this regard, now that the fruits have fallen from the tree and political offices are about to be harvested to chart a new course for a more effective and inclusive Nigeria – as a nation that has continuously made the mistake of forgetting those that have toiled to make Nigeria better – with the mistakes of our past as our guide towards correcting our future – the new APC government must not set aside the Tree Shakers of 2015 – otherwise, we stand the danger of returning to the status quo days of ‘strongman’ nepotistic politics.
Ultimately though, there is ample hope that come what may, the youth leaders of the new Nigeria will have significant roles to play in this government. This is because this energetic generation of Tree Shakers already knows what it takes to disturb the tree of democracy to achieve their aims of a better Nigeria. Therefore, if they are not listened to and included in the decision-making processes of this incoming government, come 2019, they might just have to shake the tree once again.
I rest my case.
– Olu Onemola tweets from @Olu1NE
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/e