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We Should All Be Activists By Tolu Kolawole

March 1, 2017

To say that Nigeria is a nation of absurdities is an understatement. I sometimes imagine the country to be some sort of cirque-de-Soleil of macabre acts or the nightmarish version of Alice's Wonderland where one wakes up every day to things thought impossible elsewhere, but that make up the cruel everyday reality of the citizenry. Over time, in a pattern very similar to substance abuse, we have become overstimulated by constant exposure to a barrage of bizarre events, so much so that over time it has numbed many of us to truly grasp our dire our predicament. To read about strange events that daily unfold such as the mind-boggling story of the gentleman who stashed billions of taxpayers’ money in a safe is just a typical day in our dear country and yet stranger things we expect still from the next. Many of us have become so much used to bad stuff happening it really doesn’t seem that much of a big deal any longer. It now requires calamities of earth-shattering proportions to jar us from our comfort zones, and even when it does, our reactions are short-lived

We have reached a point where we can barely stand up or speak up for what is our unalienable rights as citizens, and we are gradually getting caught fast in the web of inescapable servitude. This to my mind is the apt description to the depths that we have descended as a nation as over time we seem to have become trapped in some sort of sleep-walking national nightmare. We have forced to swallow all and every form of abuse, outrageous lies, brutal mistreatment, violent oppression and severe punishment from leaders meant to make our collective lives better. There is almost no respite from the daily trauma of experiencing the hardships of living that I imagine a lot of our people will have no mental picture of what a healthy functioning society should look like, a society that works for them rather than preys on them.  There is this critical lesson I have come to learn about freedom: So far I haven’t read of people being set free from the kindness or good will of oppressors. It is the nature of oppressors to oppress, just like it is the nature of a lion to roar or a dog to bark. Freedom, whether it be physical or mental, has always been won the hard way; by struggling for it. The world changes because actions make it change, the aggregate of little actions of determined and ultimately people fed-up with their predicament. And until eventually we get fed up with our predicament, then the motivation to do something about the situation would not set in. Without that, all we will continue to get is being robbed blind by unscrupulous people who not only loot the fortunes of the present but also that of future generations beyond salvage. And this we why we need to be activists, to produce more activists who are visionary and desire a better life well enough to try to get it.


Whenever we think of individuals or groups of people campaigning or leading the charge for positive political or social change in society, we immediately think activists. Activists in the society are generally considered individuals with unusual courage, unafraid of risks to their lives who are usually at the forefront of championing a cause and leading others to do too. Sometimes, they could be thought to be fighting for or against one thing or the other. Activists are people who see that things are wrong with the way the state of anything is and takes action, and does something to bring about change. They believe strongly enough in the issues they talk about to actually take action on it rather than endlessly complain and lament. Rather than spend all the time engaged in wishful dreaming about a better world, they actually go out there and do something to make it a reality.

While this is true of many aspects of activism, I also believe it focuses on only a side of what being an activist encapsulates.  Many times forgotten is the alternative side of being an activist, an equally powerful aspect to being an activist. We can all be activists by believing that every little we do helps to make our nation better and to know that to improve things and bringing closer the future we envisage for ourselves and future generations requires small actions every day.

Some years back, a class tutor back in high school gave my class an unfair punishment we felt was not commensurate with the offense we have committed. My entire class felt we didn’t deserve such a harsh treatment for such a trivial issue and I still sometimes think we were right. Anyway, we all agreed not to carry out this ridiculous punishment and revolt against the demands of this tutor. So there we were in one accord, defiant while our colleagues from the other classes and the school staff watched to see how things would play out. And then something unexpected happened. Some folks from the class began to give in and go through the punishment, what we had all agreed not to do. I reckon the discomfort some were passing through was too much to bear and some were peradventure too fearful to stay the course. One after the other, on the left and the right and soon everywhere people began to give in. Not too long afterward, I found myself alone, the only person remaining of my entire class. But I had determined that nothing would change my mind, and till today I have no idea where I got the courage, but I reckon I was fed up with being pushed around by tutors.

An observer would have seen a betrayal of trust and cowardice on the part of my classmates, but they did something dramatic that changed everything. They began to cheer, to shouts words of encouragement and support. They saw in me someone who could do something they could not have done themselves and threw their hat into the ring. In their own way, they were championing a cause they still believed in, and I became that day the symbol of it

I cannot say for certain I would have been able to last and stuck to my guns to the end, but their support definitely helped. They failed to stand up for themselves, but they stood up for someone who could do so. I have learned that as humans we all have different strengths and that we should play to them.

To make Nigeria anywhere close to the country we wish it to be, we would need a lot of activists, people who are ready to dedicate their energies, sacrifice their comfort, and put in all they have because they know that if we don't put in something, we will get nothing. I am fed up with a generation that thinks it can achieve something without sacrificing anything, build a country to greatness without putting in the great effort because when we think about it, nothing great was ever built without extreme determination.

I have learned through observing people of different faith the power of consistency. People never stop going to church or mosque because they the previous week nor do they stop praying for something because they prayed once. We keep praying until whatever it is we want to become turns into a reality. Why then do we do act that way in prayers but not in action always baffles me.  Why would we believe that marching in protest just once, writing on social media only once or few times, showing outrage on social media once or any of the things we do just once will suddenly bring a miraculous change?

To expect any progressive leap forward is to commit ourselves for the long haul, to be relentless and to have the fortitude and persistence to accept nothing less. We are always going to close to wearing out but whoever said anything good came easily.  This is a war of attrition for we wrestle not against undetermined individuals but against an entrenched system that has been built itself for years on servitude and will fight back to the bitter end.

And this is why we all need to be activists. We don't all have need to lead the march, fly the banner or be at the forefront neither do we all need to the mouthpieces or voice of protest and dissent.  But if you can't march, cheer those who do; if we fear those arrayed against bringing about social change, then change where you have the power; your family, your friends, your community. Lend support to those on the front lines, and if we are scared of the blowback of being identified, then we support those whose lives get affected by it.

That day many years standing up for my mates and they standing with me through their words and support afterward made me realize that we can stand for the values we care about in so many different ways.

We should never act like those who in Achebe’s proverbial words shake their heads and point their hands to the ruins where once lived brave men but contribute the bricks and the sweat to build the ruins back up.

It is high time we stopped just talking about change but act on it anyway we can and wherever we can. We can shine the light of truth into the darkness of deception, challenge wrong actions, teach our kids how to be better people, walk our talk every day and be the change we wish to see in Nigeria. We can all be activists because a revolution starts by lighting our little candles rather than cursing the darkness, and bring our candles together and make them into bonfires that blaze into a wildfire.

It will take time, grit and relentless resourcefulness, and though the change may come hard and slow, and though there are times we feel despondent, discouraged and exhausted, we never give in because trust me, the alternatives are not choices we want to make. Believe me when I say it is the only way to truly live: To be an activist.