Occupy Nigeria House New York, January 10 2012: A Personal Reflection

“Revolution is neither sadness nor bitterness. On the contrary, it is the enthusiasm and the pride of a people who have taken charge and discovered their destiny”: Thomas Sankara, 1987

On New Year’s Day, when Nigerians were celebrating the advent of another year, the government of Goodluck Ebelemi Jonathan announced the removal of fuel subsidy. This unpopular move which raised exponentially the cost of living for the common man was met with stiff resistance and led to widespread protests throughout the federation in what is now known as the Occupy Nigeria Movement. The nation pulsated with action which cut across the length and breadth of the federation. For the first time, Nigerians who have since independence being delineated along ethnic and religious lines came together in a ferocious attempt to stave off the impending doom which was sure to accompany this dastardly act. Voices of protest rang out from Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and found its way outside the shores of the country to London, Washington DC, New York, Belgium…

Mother Nature smiled on Nigerians in New York on January 10 when we trooped out to register our voices of anger at Nigeria House. The temperature was in the fifties quite unusual for this period in the dead of winter. The sun shone in its full glory as if it supported our cause. Armed with our placards and our fierce resolve to be part of history making, my friend Aijay Okaa and I stormed the 44th Street and 2nd Avenue offices of the Nigerian diplomatic corps in New York. Having ranted, raved and lamented on Facebook and other social networking sites, having posted countless articles and legal reviews on different websites about the gross mismanagement, inefficiency and sheer ineptitude of our lacklustre government, I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity to pass from mere rhetoric to symbolic action. We arrived just after noon and watched speaker after speaker mount the podium.

As I stood and listened to each speaker, I looked around at the faces of my fellow compatriots in the struggle. I had long diagnosed the typical Nigerian “siddon dey look” attitude as the bane of our entrenched, systematic and institutionalised malady of corruption. Each time I visited home, I could see the weary resignation underneath their beaming smiles of welcome. I had come to expect a people so cynical, indifferent and completely inundated by the happenings around them, a people who left everything in the hands of God, a people whose refrain of “e go better” was what got them through each agonising day.

I saw a different face of Nigerians that day on January 10. The cynicism, negativity, passiveness and pessimism which had been their trademark in the not too distant past was absent on that glorious day. I saw a people who with varying expressions of determination came together with one voice. Passionate echoes of “Enough is enough” filled the air. Motorists signalled their support by hooting, passersby gave us high fives, patted us on the back or simply waved. Placards of different sizes filled with all manner of messages, both comical and serious took up the Manhattan skyline. We sang our old national anthem and other solidarity movement songs. The atmosphere was electrifying. I quickly let go of my normal demure comportment of a learned gentleman and basked in the euphoria of the moment. And the sun continued to shine.

Having exhausted myself, I stepped aside from the crowd, looked up into the clear blue skies and buried my thoughts in contemplation. I asked myself over and over again, “How did we as a country get to this point?” A country that gave me sound quality education at the cost of peanuts, a country that imparted enough confidence in me as to stand at par on the international scene with colleagues from more “civilised” nations, a country which bore the golden era of African diplomacy, the economic giant of Africa, the big brother of the ECOWAS region. How did we get to this point and more importantly, how do we get out of this mess?

My people say that any time a person wakes up is his morning. Nigerians have woken up from their slumber. It’s taken a long time coming but the time is come. When a person is pushed to the wall, he is left with three choices: to flee, to cower in defeat or to fight. We have tried the first two choices but to no avail. They’ve kept poking their hands into our still fresh wounds and we have cried out in pain. We have therefore chosen to defend ourselves. Our anguished sighs of “e go better” have been replaced by our energetic cries of “Yes We Can, Enough is enough”. So far as we no longer bend our backs, no one can ride us like a donkey anymore.

So, Good morning my fellow Nigerians and keep holding the fort. The struggle still continues.

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