All I Have is My Voice, I Should Not Be Unfairly Targeted For Using It: RINU ODUALA
A few days ago, I turned 22. I am part of a generation of Nigerians who have lived most of their adult lives under ‘democratic’ rule and yet, I wake up this morning feeling there is no difference between the Nigeria I grew up in, and the Nigeria my parents grew up in. The sacrifices of the democrats who bravely stood on the June 12 mandate to bring our democracy to life seem to be in vain. Ironically, many of who are serving in this government and ruling party.
Everywhere I turn, I am told that I should be ‘grateful’ for a democracy that lives were lost, I should be thankful that I have a voice and I can speak up for myself and my peers. But how can I be grateful when young men and women disappear every day, some killed recklessly without cause, while others get scarred for life—physically, emotionally, or both.
When we began to protest, it was because young Nigerians decided to speak up.
We spoke up – not because we wanted to overthrow the government but because we wanted the police to stop killing us. We did not carry arms, or incite any insurrection. Our only weapon was peaceful protest enshrined in Section 40 of our 1999 Constitution. At every point we maintained calm and educated our followers – reiterating throughout the protests that we were not there to fight the government but to ask for change and to follow through to make sure that change was effected.
We believed that somehow we would be spared from the systemic violence and breakdown of social order, the direct result of the government’s actions. Unfortunately we were mistaken.
I was nominated to receive donations to the EndSARS cause by Nigerians at home and abroad who felt helpless to personally protest but believed they could make a difference through financial sacrifices. Such was the passion of average Nigerians to contribute how best they can to the #EndSARS cause, who sent in what they could sacrifice towards the cause. Some people even donated ₦500, which I strongly believe meant a lot to them, as it could have been all they could spare towards the cause. To have their motives behind their sacrificial efforts questioned is disheartening. The funds in question here also includes some of my personal hard earned money of over N200,000 naira. These funds were earmarked for disbursement towards the medical bills of injured protesters.
Amongst other demands, we called for a probe into the killings and torture of people. The government agreed to setting up judicial panels. To assure young people of the independency and fairness of the panel, after nominations, I took up the role as a youth representative at the detriment of my education, personal life and family. I did this to make peace. I did to ensure our young people understood that the only way to create a better and safer Nigeria is to do things lawfully. Why am I still being targeted for lending the government my good will?
I am not a part of Nigeria’s political or business elite—I have no relatives in government or family members with enough wealth to sway powerful individuals. I am just an ordinary young Nigerian. I study, selling hoodies and other clothing to pay my school fees. I also do the odd bit of freelancing, taking on some brand influencing work to ensure my family doesn’t suffer. Somehow, however, my existence threatens my government, the fact that I have a voice is enough for them to try to silence me.
In the Nigeria I am voicing out for, it wouldn’t matter that I am a child of nobody coming from the average Nigerian home. The Nigeria I am voicing out for is one that prioritizes every voice, protects every inalienable right, even mine.
I decided to use the only currency I have, my voice to speak up against extrajudicial killings, torture, extortion and unjust harassment that is still happening in a democratic nation in the 21st century! The government also agreed that reform is inevitable and promised us they were going to listen, however they have refused to honor their promises while they continue to deny the lives lost and also target the same people who spoke up.
I am not afraid, I am only disappointed that this country will treat me this way. We are the soul of this nation and no nation exists without her people.
Nigeria is all I have, and I have a right to demand that it works for all of us, not just those with influence, wealth, or a government position.
In a country that people have been voiceless for a long time, people holding the government accountable is being seen as too much? How can we ensure that this sort of thing will encourage people to build a new Nigeria? A Nigeria that will be filled with accountable government officials, where all forms of oppressions and injustice is a thing of the past. How do you expect me as a part of the future of this country to still believe in a country who thinks they have the right through CBN to freeze my account for no just cause.
This is not fair. But we will make it fair. Otherwise, there is no future for my generation and the generations to come.