by Rinsola Abiola
He was a young man, miles away from thirty. He grew up in a home neither too clean nor too dirty, neither too rich nor too poor. He knew deep down within him that something was wrong; he had seen the lines on his mother’s forehead burrow deeper and his father’s dimples seemed to live in a distant memory. Their pension wasn’t forthcoming and being the first son of the family, the responsibility of sending his younger ones through school fell on his shoulders. Gracefully, he coped… barely… but with each extended hand came a lot of anger – anger that he wasted no time in voicing out.
“See… I’m an undergraduate and I have to ensure that my sister stays in school. My parents served this country, but now in their old age, this country has refused to serve them.” His spirited appeals and passionate speeches, his charisma and eloquence attracted like-minds and other students in similar circumstances to him. He was the naked flame dancing in the gentle breeze; they were the moths that just could not get enough. He lent his voice to every perceived wrong, organized and led every protest you could think of; he opposed the school authorities, got suspended, but instead of starting over elsewhere, he waxed even stronger during those four semesters and returned with an even bigger bang. A legend was born. All hail, the Activist, the one whose name, whose words made tyrants – military, civilian or academic – shiver in their boots, the one whose presence at a conference ensured that most government officials would stay away, the one who could mobilize thousands of youths simply by walking out of his house – they would join him in droves.
Naturally, he was seduced by the power of the pen. He climaxed across platforms, reaching crescendos, sending messages at the most urgent frequencies. With frenzied passion, he kept on. He kept on until… until… he could no longer keep keeping on.
“What happened?,” they ask.
“How could he?” they wonder.
“He betrayed us!” they exclaim.
They forget; it is inherent in the nature of man to secure himself first… always.
They say: “Be careful when you fight against evil so that you do not become consumed by it.” It gets to a point, the Activist begins to think: “I have been fighting for years; I am poor and can barely get by, the people I fight for are not concerned about my personal affairs, and those I’m fighting against keep offering to better my lot.” If you were in his shoes, what would you do?
Activism is capital-intensive; sounds strange, doesn’t it?
Young Nigerian/Activist, activism is not something that you want to do on an empty stomach. It may sound harsh and contrary to your ideals, but it gets to a point that things get real; it gets to a point that you’re stared in the face by the harsh reality and you have to make a choice; you either continue to march on the path of truth and justice without a dime to your name, or you ‘compromise a bit’, ‘become more realistic’ and become your oppressor’s ‘boy’ or mouthpiece. The choice is yours.
Right now, while you are young and angry, serving your oppressor might seem impossible, but look around you – in a couple of years when the millions come knocking, will you dance to their alingo, or will you continue to inhabit that same one-room that you lived in as a student?
Don’t stone me – yet. I’m not asking that you compromise your values, I’m asking that we learn to be our brother’s keeper. We take on other people’s fights so easily, but how often do we remember each other? What are comrades for?
We get in vehicles all the time, travel to one remote location, give succour to the needy, enlighten people on social issues, empower indigent folk, but how often do we empower each other? How well do we know our fellow comrades? Can we identify those amongst us who have strong voices but weak finances? Have we tried to help them?
It’s heartbreaking when one thinks of all the activists that have crossed to the ‘other side’, those who today seem hell-bent on un-writing those truthful, impactful articles that they once churned out without fear or favour, on swallowing their truest words, whose voices have grown deeper with the constant dipping into falsehood and tactics of manipulation. Oh, manipulation is the writer’s turf; but once upon a time, they incited people for good causes, not attempt to insult their intelligence with shoddy works of shameful, heart-breaking art.
But really, can we absolve ourselves of all blame? Can we really say: “We tried our best to help each other grow but our best wasn’t good enough for them?”
The problem of who is genuine and who is not exists – for all intents and purposes, there aren’t nearly enough jobs to go round. Many become self-proclaimed activists simply because they believe that activism is about who can scream the loudest, get noticed, and meander their way into someone’s pocket. There are some of those amongst us and they will always exist, but let us not give the genuine ones reasons to stop pressing on. It’s time for us to come together and take care of our own. We need to stop losing bright minds out of genuine wants and needs and the fear of poverty. Let us care for ourselves and each other the way we care for others.
– Follow this writer on Twitter: @Rinsola_Abiola