Opinion: I am an activist… so what?

by Damola Adegun

To be honest, some of the most satisfying moments of my life have been when I have confronted oppression, extortion and shades of vices that continue to mortify our prospects as a nation.

In recent times, I have noticed attempts to label some very active good governance advocates on the Nigerian e-sphere as ‘activists’. Unexpectedly, most of those citizens have vigorously rejected this toga as hard as they can. I blame them not because the word ‘activist’ in Nigeria suffers a brand deficit. It evokes the image of a Safari suit wearing, Volkswagen Beetle driving, rooftop yelling socialist. As much as we appreciate their heroics, no one wants to be that kind of activist. No one! I perfectly understand.

But let’s save our breath a little. Who is an activist? George Clooney? Hassan Kukah? Aaron Swartz? Odigha Odighi? Desmond Tutu? Gani Fawehinmi? Bisi Alimi?  Femi Falana? Al Gore? Fela Anikulapo Kuti? It’s been rehashed severally what the meaning of activism is. It’s been described as efforts to promote, impede or direct social, political, economic or environmental change. Another definition describes activism as the use of direct and sometimes confrontational action for the support of a cause. The key words in this definition are ‘direct’ and ‘confrontational’ which in my opinion separates the activist from the rest of us. An activist has stepped beyond his safety – appreciating the risks to reputation, health and wealth, yet still forges on with his/her passion. An activist isn’t the average Emeka/Hassan or Toyin who prefers subliminals from a safe distance, eschews even peaceful protests, tweets very cautiously or even blogs not to offend.  Most genuine activists are passionate, fearless and sometimes almost irrepressible.

Aaron Swartz – who unfortunately committed suicide recently, wanted an open internet so much he broke the law. Say what you like about George Clooney but he has brought immense pressure and publicity on the atrocities in Sudan/South Sudan with his activism and has also been publicly arrested for his efforts. Mohammed Ali almost ruined his career because he directly confronted the authority on the Vietnam war. Even Bisi Alimi thinks gays should have rights in a Protestant/Muslim dominated country like Nigeria. Activists are a special breed – daily rising above our innate selfishness to influence a cause beyond them. How beautiful their souls must be. I wish I could become one.

To be honest, some of the most satisfying moments of my life have been when I have confronted oppression, extortion and shades of vices that continue to mortify our prospects as a nation. Twice in recent times I have had to confront government agents (‘WAI’ and Civil Defence) extorting innocent, hapless okada men. Fortunately, they left with shame maybe because of my bravado and formal dressing. The confrontation was risky but deeply rewarding for me. I felt alive. To be honest, I think activists are living the dream. Or what could be more satisfying than standing up for a cause you believe in – what most people will never do in their entire existence.

I don’t qualify yet to be rewarded with the noble title of an activist because I have allowed myself to be restrained by fear, familial pleadings and even the pursuit of lucre. That’s why I deeply respect those who have set themselves free and started living the ‘dream’, risking much to engage the beacons of destructive governance via twitter, blogs, wherever. These activists surely must be loved by heaven. Bad news for those being riled by the activities of our activists, be rest assured that more are coming. We need activists everywhere- in the military, police, company boards, Broad Street, Aso rock, market places and the civil service. We must improve on our very low activist per square meter ranking.

Blogtivism will also continue to fester. Only an ignorant stakeholder would fail to recognize that the social media/internet is the next frontier on socio-economic and political battles. It’s a new ecosystem of its own – virtual but with immense physical implications. Both the government/elite and the governed will continue contesting fiercely for this new kingdom. Either wants to dominate and the recent attempts to disparage e-activism is a subset of an ensuing war. The Nigerian blogtivists have found a useful, low cost medium to directly confront government and that should not be unexpected since a widespread lack of good governance is the burning issue in Nigeria.

Nonetheless, the brand problem associated with political activism in Nigeria is real and needs a makeover. The next generation of activists of whichever variant – blogtivists, twitivists, hactivists must be successful beyond their passion. A hungry man is always a terrible activist. The intending good governance activist especially must cultivate a comfortable level of wealth beyond reproach and government emasculation. Gani Fawehinmi is known for his activism but few really know how wealthy he was. His Nigeria Weekly Law Reports, an attempt to democratize law reporting in Nigeria was a wealth mill for him. Bono, Hassan Kukah, Femi Falana and even Omoyele Sowore all share the same fortune- they aren’t hungry. For the Nigerian activist to gain respect, attention and even followership, some appreciable level of personal prosperity would be critical.

Maybe one day, I might become an activist for a cause – political, social or economic, but for those who have stuck their necks out, risked reputation and potential wealth to demand for good governance in Nigeria, I know you are not perfect but you have my respect and admiration. Tweet, blog and if it would help, hack on!

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Comments (2)

  1. Fantastic write-up dude!

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