There used to be a time when the thought of a Nigerian dying for anything outside of self-interest would assure the offending mind a bed in the local psychiatric unit. And, even then, on the premise of self-interest, it was still a reckless position for any human being to take: Which was why news of the Underwear Bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, being Nigerian immediately sent Nigerians everywhere sounding the alarm and assuming defensive positions. It wasn’t a matter of trying to evade a national disgrace; for me and fellow Nigerians, the matter was much more complex – It contradicted everything we knew thus far of our “national genetics.”
That time now seem eons ago. Our genetics has undergone some obvious metamorphosis. The bold suicidal attacks by the home-grown terrorist sect, Boko Haram, have dispelled once sacrilegious ideas that a Nigerian would think twice before summarily giving his life for a cause, no matter how abstract it might be. But, in as much as this change in genetics has taken a diabolical turn, events since the beginning of the year yet give hope that this new disposition may well be what catapults Nigeria into its salvation.
The Occupy Nigeria movement that saw Africa’s most populous nation shut down for a week this past January introduced this hope. Nigerians, angered by the abrupt removal of fuel subsidy at the beginning of the year, took to the streets in large numbers, determined to force the government to backtrack its steps. It soon became less about fuel subsidy and more about everything that has been wrong with Nigeria since independence from Britain.
If you do not know, Nigeria is that nation where all 109 members of the Senate are each, by law, entitled to $1.7 million yearly and the 360 members of the House of Representatives a modest $1.4 million each for their labors of love. This is a fact of life that contrasts sharply with the $120 monthly minimum wage foisted upon the average Nigerian lucky to have a job. With well over 124 million Nigerians living on $2 or less a day, hopelessness and obscene poverty litters the landscape like cankerous bushes on a forlorn countryside.
It therefore becomes of great note that Nigerians, who are apt to suffer in peace while awaiting the coming justice of the Messiah, did arise in unprecedented unison – in a land fractured by over 250 ethnic groups, more than 500 languages, and an unending cascade of inter-religious sensibilities. This unforeseen mobilization showed a ready acceptance of what has to be done if change must come – a consciousness exhibited not too long ago by their brothers and sisters to the north, in places like Tunisia and Libya. And those kindred, in so doing, proved the wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but through continuous struggle.
There’s no delusion that this consciousness also comes with the realization that self would have to be put in harm’s way in any meaningful struggle. In rallies across the country, scene after scene, peaceful citizens could be seen braving the bullets and assault of an indiscriminate police force. Many did die and others wounded due to the brute force meted upon them. In one popular clip available on YouTube, a visibly frustrated and defiant young lady tells of how she damned her parents’ wish and showed up at a protest site, concluding thus: If I die, I die…but Nigeria has to move on.
It is this latest twist to Boko Harem’s treat on self-sacrifice that has me confident that Sub-Saharan Africa is in the throes of experiencing its first major movement for change. Although the peaceful rallies and protests were hijacked by labor leaders who injected themselves into the middle of the upheaval and surgically terminated the hopes and wishes of millions of Nigerians by succumbing to personal aspirations and glory, Nigerians have lived firsthand what hitherto was thought superstition. From the meager concession extracted from the government, it is no longer a question of “if” it can be done, rather, “when” shall it be done. And, for that, young Nigerians like me are hard at work in providing a speedy response.