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It takes a spark to start a movement

A friend said recently that she couldn’t imagine herself putting her life on the line for Nigeria.

I mean, I get it.

And yet, it only takes a spark.

The people who have changed things in the past weren’t especially brave or rash. I mean, there were those who were, but I think for most it’s that a moment happens when they get inspired to take action.

That moment is the spark. And I believe it’s that spark that has all through history has driven people to take action.

I’ve seen that in our history in Nigeria and the history of change elsewhere in the world. People are simply more willing to put ourselves out when we can do it as part of something. It’s like catching a wave—it’s not, for most of us, something we start ourselves, but something we ride when it comes our way. You might say movements inspire motion.

In Nigeria, this happened with #EndSARS in October 2020, when after years of being accused of apathy, young people in cities across the nation stood their ground to the surprise of everyone. They organised, mobilised and when it came to it put themselves in harm’s way. And as they did, older people joined in to play their part, in Nigeria and from the diaspora.

For us the spark was the shooting in early October of 2 young men in different states in the country. That was what ignited a movement that grew until a terrified government was willing to, on October 20, massacre its own unarmed citizens.

The spark had lit a fire and they were desperate to put it out.

Sometimes the spark comes from a charismatic leader. Sometimes it’s carefully fanned by a group of people taking leadership. Sometimes it’s from cumulative frustration with a final event as last straw. Often it’s a combination of all of these.

One way or another, for good or for ill, there’s got to be the spark.

It’s the force that moves people from inertial rest into action.

That’s what smart leaders have always understood. They don’t complain that people are apathetic, they understand that people need a spark.

So they find it—or create it.

And so Rosa Parks refusing to give up her bus seat wasn’t something that just happened. She was picked to be the face of the resistance, and prepared her for her role, and then simply waited for the inevitable. That event was the spark for a movement, but it only happened because people had taken leadership to ensure flammable material was in place.

But even when the spark just happens—like with the riots after MLK was shot, or the #EndSARS protests—leaders still matter. It takes leaders to fan that spark into a flame.

Because the thing about sparks? If you don’t use them they fizzle out.


Thanks to Devin Avery (via Unsplash) for the header image.


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