In 2015 lawyer and activist Ayo Sogunro published a book with the title, Everything In Nigeria Is Going To Kill You.
On Tuesday, 20 October 2020, a yet unknown number of young Nigerians experienced this truth in the most brutal of ways. Under cover of both natural and man-made darkness, young people peacefully protesting police brutality and extrajudicial killings experienced the very thing they protested. The defining image of that night: a flag carried by one of the protesters stained with the blood of another.
Of course the government denied it: to hear them tell it, the soldiers were there shooting in the air solely to prevent escalation among violent protesters.
Not only had millions of Nigerians worldwide already seen the macabre footage, but we already knew they would deny what they had done. And while distrusting what the government tells you is something every Nigerian learns early in life, it’s not very often we get hard evidence of what’s going on. The Nigerian government—and indeed, Nigeria itself—is a deliberately opaque enterprise.
The ongoing protest movement has been precisely the opposite.
The degree of decentralised organisation at scale and in public view is such as I have never seen in my lifetime of being Nigerian. Individuals like Feyikemi Abudu and organisations like the Feminist Coalition helped translate online agitation into offline action. Protests were planned, and resources raised from Nigerians within the country and the diaspora. Lawyers were working pro bono to get bail for arrested protesters. Nearly ₦150 million (just under $400k) was raised. When banks were directed to freeze accounts for donation, Bitcoin was set up to raise funds. Information was being shared daily.
This entire movement has been marked by transparency. A big part of that lies in the innovative ingenuity of a generation that has mastered the deployment of tech to drive it all, including that now taken-for-granted tool, the phone camera. Quite literally, it has shone a light in the dark, and the darkness has sought to overwhelm it. Following the events of what some are already calling Black Tuesday, the heightened optimism from the previous weeks of protests was in danger of being snuffed out.
Because that’s the other way everything in Nigeria can kill you: by killing your expectation of a better future for the country you’re called by.
And that’s a critical landmark: it’s where we find out what we have is truly hope, or just optimism.
Hope versus optimism
Hope and optimism are synonymous, both referring to a belief that the future will be good, or at least better than the present and past. But I like to use “optimism” to describe a sort of passive expectation of a better future. Hope, to my mind, is an active thing: it’s believing your actions are contributing to bringing about that better future. So hope is active in two ways: it must be actively maintained, and it must drive you to act.
That distinction matters because a lot of people tend to think of hope as passive, as something for the weak, for those who don’t know better. Some even consider their cynicism as a mark of their higher intelligence—we all know such people.
But they’re wrong.
Hope—real hope, not just optimism—takes work. It’s something you fight for, not just something you just happen to have, or not. In fact, the most hopeful people aren’t necessarily optimistic—they know too much, and optimism is much easier to have if you don’t know a lot.
What happened on what some are already calling Black Tuesday was a painful dose of realism about Nigeria. It was a reminder that the underbelly of our nation harbours a dark and ruthless evil, and when it is pushed to the wall it will not simply roll over.
And that’s right when we most need hope.
In The Matrix Reloaded The Architect says to Neo :
“Hope. It is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and greatest weakness.”― The Matrix Reloaded
He is wrong that hope is a delusion. But then The Architect represents the villain in the story—whether he believes this or not, what’s important is that he wishes Neo to believe it. He is convinced that Neo will lose, but he’d rather Neo save him the trouble of proving it. Such is always the way of those with power who wish to hold on to it and continue to oppress others.
The fight for hope
Luckily Neo doesn’t buy it. He doesn’t know if he will win, but—and this is important—he doesn’t know that he will lose, either. As Gandalf says in The Lord of the Rings:
“Despair…is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not. It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope.”
On Black Tuesday, our innocence was brutally stripped from us as the facade was lifted and we saw the same horror that Nigerians over the decades have known and been struck speechless by. Optimism is no longer an option: we know too much, have seen too much.
And we are faced with a choice: to buy the suggestion that our hope is a delusion, and a weakness, or to fight to hold on to hope.
It would be easy, now, to lose hope. That’s precisely why we mustn’t.
But let us not pretend that hope will be easy to hold on to. No, we shall have to fight for it, both against the voices that encourage us to give up and against the voices in our own heads that tell us we are being foolish. If we choose to fight, we shall have to fight with every weapon we can lay our hands on: from social media posts to prayers, from actions to donations.
And we must fight for hope because the Architect was, after all, right about one thing: hope is quintessentially human.
To lose it would be to give up something of our own humanity—is anything really worth that?
- GoFundMe by Nigerians in the diaspora—please donate and share.
- Feminist Coalition’s website—they’re no longer taking donations for SARS but they’re a brilliant resource for information led by some pretty amazing women doing great work to promote equality.
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote with her typical brilliance in the New York Times: Nigeria Is Murdering Its Citizens
- The Wikipedia entry for the End SARS protests.
- I find the Psalms helpful in prayer, and if you’re a praying person, you might too. Below are some words from Psalm 10 I’ve found helpful in this time.
Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised…
He sits in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might.
He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”
Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;— from Psalm 10 (ESV)
forget not the afflicted.
Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?
But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none.