I’m Here to Die for Something
This is the time!
They are already shooting at us right now
The military are already shooting at us right now
But we are not backing down
You can hear the gunshots
I’m hear to die for something!
- a Nigerian youth
When Nigeria’s military shot into the crowd at the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos state, I broke down and cried.
I was at home — tweeting, retweeting, tagging and sharing DJ Switch’s Instagram live as well as those of few who were among others who dared to stand up to a corrupt and unjust system more than willing to kill and deny that they had ever walked the face of the earth.
Four days later, and it seems almost unreal. Some people say that things have gotten back to normal, others say that the country’s youth are now wide awake, cheering on blooming acts of civic duty by citizens who now see it pertinent to prepare for the next elections well ahead of time.
I think I am somewhere in-between, I acknowledge that indeed, something has been stirred in most of us who watched the massacre unfold in real-time, but I am carefully optimistic.
A Zoom class on electoral practices I had signed up for soon after the incident already had more than 1000 members, and the class exceeded the Zoom call capacity such that the organisers had to extend it.
Still scarred and shocked, many were more than willing to finally take up the responsibility of the country's future in their hands.
The next day of the electoral class which held at the same time as the previous saw only one-quarter of the number from the previous day.
“Marathon, not sprint.”
Did we expect a nation still running on a colonial system which exploits its resources to the benefit of those in power to suddenly turn around in 12 days? To suddenly relinquish the power which it has helped itself to at the expense of its citizens all these years?
In my head, I didn’t. But in my heart, I was hoping for the smallest commitment, the tiniest realisation from a self-serving government that it would somehow realise that we are headed nowhere, and take the reins to ensure we do not crash sooner than later at the very least.
I thought about the first calls for the need to sustain the EndSARS protests by individuals like Kiki Mordi after the first day of outrage. How the Feminist Coalition, which had positioned itself as the support for the protest had literally carried the sustenance of thousands and thousands of individuals on its back, in order to ensure that they came back fighting stronger.
There is a need to sustain the rude awakening from the way those protests were ended. But this doesn’t carry all the fire and vim of collective anger and communal support. This is slow burn, and fires like this need to be fed little by little from a constant source.
I believe this is why — long before the media and the government started spewing its lies — many had attached the phrase “never forget” to the critical and important moments that marked the EndSARS protests in Nigeria.
How do we go on? How do we ensure that we arrive, fully kitted, fully prepared, and jazzed up! as we told ourselves and each other during those 12 days?
It is easy to be driven into numbness, inaction. After the cruel displays we all collectively watched, I believe it is safe to assume none of us is okay.
At some point, trigger warnings became irrelevant because an environment steeped in fear and insecurity is a daily reality.
But I have also watched and read a few stories of those driven into action: Instagram skits emphasising the need to put your body in harm's way when you see the police harassing someone indiscriminately, people engaging those living in extreme poverty on the need to put a collective goal ahead of their individual hunger, and more individuals offering up already scarce resources for free.
And why should anyone do that? How can anyone believe that any one of these things will be worth it, especially seeing that we still have to scale the odds of gender inequality, religion and tribalism among others? How can we continue to remember? And for a country so used to quickly moving on, how do we never forget?
This picture, in colour, holds all the answers we would ever seek: young Nigerians, peacefully seated and waving their flags in civil disobedience — the greatest acts of patriotism I have ever witnessed, and dare I say, the country has ever seen.
Whenever I think about that day, the 20th of October, 2020, I remember the young Nigerians who were ready and who paid the ultimate price.
I do not just see myself in these young men and women who chanted the national anthem, even while trembling, and still showed bravery in the face of what must have been the most terrifying night of their lives. No, those people were me. When I saw the guns that were pointed at young Nigerians and the bullets recovered from the scene, I see them pointed at myself.
When Dj Switch, who had recorded most of the incident live, later shared a video of her thoughts on the incident, she unveiled her collection of bullets: amongst what looked like 25 of them, one retrieved from a person’s leg and one which she claimed as hers because it had flown past the side of her head.
For the few things that this country has managed to produce, I never imagined that I would be grateful to it for love — the kind of love that Christians say would make a man lay down his life for his friend.
And this is what I would forever remember:
That a person, somewhere, whom I do not know, died for me to have a shot at a flourishing life. This makes any mediocre living a waste.
It feels like my life as I knew it, ended. That I am in debt, and the only way to repay that debt is to ensure those people died for something. That they did not die for me to spend my days complaining, suffering and smiling.
This is what will sustain my awakening.