We all, at one point in our lives, must have experienced this (directly or otherwise) while growing up: you notice an older relative doing something your prepubescent mind informs you—based on what moral codes you were brought up with—is wrong. You cannot understand why he’s engaged in something so wrong, and so brazenly at that. You approach him, for no other reason than to correct him.
“Brother, but this thing you’re doing is not good—”
His palm, in a flash, connects with the back of your head, so fast that you’re temporarily discombobulated—the sound produced by the slap resembling a sonic boom that you would be forgiven for thinking his hand, in reaching for the back of your head, broke the sound barrier. Tears well up in your eyes. You start to protest, fighting back the uncontrollable tears. Your protest is met with four words. Four words we’re all so familiar with:
If I hear pim!
There’s this premise—one inculcated in us by our socio-cultural value systems—that the actions of authority figures must be met with cowed silence and blind acceptance, regardless of how those actions affect us. Our parents employed it in training us. Their parents did. Our school teachers do. Our law enforcement officials flagrantly abuse their constitutional powers while expecting silence from the abused. And the present Nigerian government, like every preceding administration is no better—using every weapon in its arsenal to stymie every perceived voice of dissent.
ON PLANNED PROTESTS AND GOVERNMENT REACTIONS
Tianamen Square, Beijing.
June 4, 1989.
Students from different schools across Beijing, China, had gathered in the square to protest against, among other things, the stifling of press freedom, inflation, corruption in the unitary party, the suppression of democratic voices. The protests had spread across the county and were being held simultaneously in over 200 locations. China’s paramount leader, along with some party elders, perceiving the protests as anti-government and tagging it as such, declared Martial Law. Armed troops were deployed to Beijing and opened fire at the protesters trying to block access to the Square. Over 500 deaths were recorded. Violent crackdown on protesters continued for days afterwards and systemic censoring of information concerning the massacre has continued to this day.
In the wake of the Arab Spring that started in 2010, death toll figures from the different countries which witnessed the pro-democracy protests were north of a thousand. Over a thousand lives lost, and for what? So the respective governments can receive common sense?
The Nigerian government is no different. It never has been. Believing the Nigerian government is pro-freedom of speech is an exercise in self-delusion. In our leaders is that visage—that characteristic embodiment—of an elder who doesn’t like being criticized. Power tends to inure that character in the powerful. A pro-government march is quickly met with approval. Security clearances are quickly issued. Mention anti-government protests, however, and no matter how peaceful it is dressed up as (even if protesters were to protest without limbs) the government would find a way to deny the protesters security clearance. Nothing says the government is hiding something from its citizens and mean them no good more than blocking their fundamental rights to protest against what they perceive as injustice.
ARE NIGERIANS COWARDS?
In light of Tuface’s withdrawal from the planned protests against the government’s glaring ineptitude, a lot of social commentaries have labelled the musician as a coward, a chicken and a sellout. But is our continued endurance of a repressive administration even in the face of hunger, lack of subsidized health care and poverty, indicative of our cowardice? I daresay it is not. Nigerians are some of the strongest people I know. When a man, tired of this existential drudgery called life, decides to end his life, he is called brave by various sociological schools of thought. Yet, the many who continue to trudge on, in the face of pain, helplessness and hopelessness are not called cowards.
To opt out of a planned protest for reasons of security is not cowardice. More so if you consider the government’s shameless track record of handling post-protest violence and deaths. Were the families of the ones who lost their lives in the 2012 fuel subsidy protests ever acknowledged by the same government that killed them? By the successive? How about the hapless IPOB protesters used as target practice for daring to stand up for what they believed in? Didn’t the president turn a blind eye to the massacre?
In the face of this crackdown on peaceful protests by the same government people are protesting against, and realizing that the one who goes out to protest in a third world nation like Nigeria is directly responsible for the sustenance of at least 4 dependents, how, in all honesty, do you call the one who decides to stay at home a coward? Tuface might be called many names, but I would not call him a coward.
The video of Gov. Ajimobi of Oyo State shutting down belligerent students revealed something very sinister. And that is, a public office holder, elected into office by the very denizens, using public security operatives, paid by the very same public to stymie the voice of that same public. That is our reality. The sooner we realize the people we elect into power care very little for us, the sooner we’d have less of these people in power.
It is a shame that in 2017—and coming just two years after a milestone was achieved in our elections history, the most peaceful, free and fair election—the best the government that promised Change can do is to look all its citizens in their teary eyes and say to them:
If I hear pim!
Written by Godswill Vesta