We Died Singing The National Anthem of a Country That Killed Us
For two weeks protests against the rogue police unit, SARS held across Nigeria. Acephalous and united the movement defied all the cheap tricks and tactics brought against it. No one remembered their religion, nor tribe. Even the issue of different sexual orientations was not enough to stop it.
Until the thugs and military rolled in. The first wave of violence was quickly repelled. The youths fought back against machete-wielding hoodlums. These people who were also young but so impoverished and ignorant that $5 was sufficient payment to attack people fighting for a better country for them. The attacks intensified, emboldened by the passivity of government authorities, and then the killing started. Innocent throats were slit, cars burnt and properties looted destroyed. State governments shed their lethargy and quickly rolled in the curfews. Their statements were similar, citing safety concerns while claiming support of peaceful protests.
Defiant protesters stayed out on the roads, knowing fully well that going home would be accepting defeat and letting people who had taken no serious action to address their concerns the chance to stifle their voices. Then the massacre happened at Lekki Toll Gate. Protesters armed with nothing but the Nigerian flags and their voices were mowed down by armored tanks. They sang the national anthem and held up the flags believing that it would keep them safe. It did not. A talisman can’t save you in a mad country.
Livestreamed on Instagram, we all watched in horror. Crying and weeping we prayed for the shooting to stop, for lambs to stop being slaughtered. We kept asking “Why are they shooting them?” “What’s the punishment for someone defying a curfew?” “Why should they be treated lower than “reformed” terrorists that were shipped off to foreign countries to be educated?” Make it make sense, please.
Our questions remain unanswered to this day. The military labeled reports of the killings as fake news. The president’s tepid speech brushed over the lives lost as though they were nothing. Media houses whitewashed the incident hoping to cover up the bodies and erase the armored tanks and bullets. Conspiracy theorists said it never happened. Nigerians suffered blow after blow pushing us further into a collective trauma. On the 20th of October 2020, we all lost something.
For me, it was hope in this country called Nigeria. I wanted to sleep and never wake up. I had thoughts of ending my life because what was the use of letting it continue in a place like this? The worst pain was that the movement had failed and that all the deaths, all those young lives cut short were all in vain. On Wednesday I texted my cousin asking him how he was able to migrate to the UK. A Nigeria where migration would be a choice, not a necessity was dead to me.
Why don’t we all just japa?
As days passed by and we rallied around, jokes were rolled out on Twitter. If you are a Nigerian, you know this is how we cope with living in hell on earth. We laugh about what’s wrong and try to pretend it’s funny. In our throaty laughter, there’s pain and in tears that roll down, we conceal our grief.
Even if you want to migrate, the color of your skin will never leave you. The atrocities this country is home to will haunt you. Many Nigerians had to pay for the terrorist activities of Boko Haram when travel to the US was restricted. We also have to pay for the activities of internet fraudsters as well, work visas denied because companies are advised to avoid hiring people from the giant of Africa. Even if we leave we’re still trapped.
For me leaving would mean that I would have to return back to school. I would have to pursue a master’s degree that I have not interest in. But I don’t want to abandon my budding career as a freelance writer but for a minute, I was ready to give it up for work in any country but this place.
I hate that we’ve to be forced out of our homeland and that we have to be ashamed of the fact that we’re Nigerians. I hate that we wonder if we are cursed. I want that to change. I hope it will change.
After the Lekki Toll Gate Massacre, I shut down my social media accounts. I avoided Twitter, the birthplace of the movement. What would all these people who spent time and money, risked their lives and careers, lost friends, businesses and family feel? How? I was not ready to know.
On Friday I went back online and then I saw it. The hashtag #ItIsNotFinished. It made me weep. I realized that young Nigerians know that they might have had to withdraw but the fight is not over.
The call to end police brutality in Nigeria is far from over. For once, Nigerians didn’t forget and move on to other things. Only a few demands of the protesters have been met and there are still reports of SARS officers on the roads. Police salaries, work, and living conditions are still appalling. Justice still needs to be served for victims of extrajudicial killings. There is a lot to be done. Leaders need to be held accountable and for once know that they’re not gods. We need to confront educated bigots and inform the impoverished people, young and old.
Social media is helping us drive the change. Attention has been drawn to deaths and inept government action. Political leaders like Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton and sportsmen like Anthony Joshua and Lewis Hamilton have amplified our voices. Brands like Coca Cola and Arsenal and entertainers like Trevor Noah and Cardi B have supported our cause. But it does not end here. True change will come from within. Foreign influence can only do so much because of the sovereignty of the Nigerian state.
We’ve left the streets and are focusing on remolding national structures and addressing issues that got us to this mess in the first place. Youths are now following national issues and thinking about voting and running for office so that next time they raise their voices, the responses from the political class would not be machete-wielding men in black jeeps but action to bring them justice. We’re learning about our laws and our rights. We’re asking leaders to be accountable. We’re writing our version of events and preserving history for prosperity.
Nothing in Nigeria will be the same after this. Especially after the lives we lost. Nothing. In my heart, there’s a kindling of something akin to hope. Despite the killings and looting that have occurred in my country the past few days, I know things can get better. For now, the hashtag remains #EndSars. Make we no lose focus.
This piece is dedicated to all the victims of the Lekki Toll Gate Massacre and to everyone who died fighting for a better Nigeria.