Monday, 12 March 2012
HOW TO BECOME A NIGERIAN "ACTIVIST" by Elnathan John
You stare at the Nigerian on CNN; at his gleaming forehead. He is taking his time answering questions about Nigeria in an accent that is improved for export. After his name comes the title, ‘Activist’.
This man has gone places with this title. You are not quite sure what this guy does, but you like the fame. There is NGO money involved for all the noise and ah, he travels. He goes everywhere. Places you dream of, London, Vienna, New York.
Ok. Calm down. I am here for you. You can be just like him. Just listen closely and you will very soon be acclaimed as one of Nigeria’s foremost activists.
Find something to be angry about; nothing special, nothing revolutionary. Something easy you can handle; like fuel prices, corruption or electricity. Finding the right thing to be angry about can be the key to success.
Many people in this business have gotten international interviews for organising town hall meetings with projector slides and statistics. Call it anything. Fuel-up Nigeria. Road-up Naija. De-corrupt Nigeria. Whatever. In fact don’t call it anything. Just be angry about something.
Be angry at the right time and in front of the right camera. Foreigners won’t give you cash or attention if they can’t access some tangible evidence of your work. Have a friend follow you around with a camcorder which will eventually be used to make that CD or DVD which will sell you to the clueless international media for whom Nigeria is a just a country with two regions that hate each other.
An activist doesn’t need to do anything in particular. So, avoid projects that will make you work as hard as Kenya’s Wangari Maathai whose Green Belt movement has planted 10 million trees. That is the real deal and it takes decades to get any recognition that way. So no Wangari moves, God bless her soul.
Let’s say you choose ‘Road-up Naija’. You see, you don’t have to build roads; that’s the business of government. You don’t even have to organise communities to pave their own roads with mud and stones to show the government how it’s done. Not like that other Kenyan, Evans Wandongo, who, instead of holding ‘Light-up Kenya’ town hall meetings in the heart of pretty Nairobi, made nearly 10,000 solar powered lanterns for the good people of rural Kenya. The man thinks he knows too much eh?
For our ‘Road-up Naija’ project, we will do press conferences, write scathing articles, and rent a projector for our town hall meetings in pretty Abuja and posh Lagos. Places like Kano, Kaduna, Ebonyi, and Akwa-Ibom are too dangerous.
Now to be a successful activist, social media is a prerequisite. Twitter and Facebook. Twitter especially. You must spend a lot of time tweeting angry thoughts and statistics. You must say to the government, ‘I am watching’.
Have the right people following you on Twitter, those with many followers who will be awed by your intelligent anger given in 140 character instalments, so awed that they can’t help retweeting. I’d choose someone like popular gossip blogger Linda Ikeji. Just make sure she retweets you. Gbam. Slowly you will gather followers and one day, you won’t even need Linda.
Ok. Let’s go hardcore. Just in case you get bored and want a little action. Not the real deal- no hunger strikes and crap like that; just something sufficiently wild that you can boast of. Let’s get arrested. Don’t panic. It’s not that bad. Just be in the right company so that it gets in the news. Then brag about it for the next many years. Tell people who doubt your activist credentials that you spent so and so period in jail with so and so and that they don’t know the half of it.
Name the cells you have slept in and how awful they smell so that your accusers will bend their heads in shame and curse the day the thought came up in their minds to challenge you. Prison or police-cell time boosts your activist CV. It sells you. Before you know it, you will be spending more time in London and America than you could have ever dreamed of, holding meetings with NGOs trying to help suffering black people.
Be prominent in a protest. You don’t need to start the protest. That is plenty work. All you need is to be in front where the cameras are. The videos and photos of you frothing at the lips raining curses on the government won’t say who started the protest or why. Even though you have houses in your home state, in pretty Abuja or Lagos, and in London, you speak for the masses.
Wear a lousy t-shirt to prove it. The masses will be grateful and will speak about your goodness on radio, on TV and on Twitter.
There are landmines though.
Say your activism gets noticed, and you start feeling like the best thing since nkwobi. You start getting invitations from the Presidency to represent and speak on behalf of groups you know nothing about. Then they stab you by leaking information of the transport fare they provided (which you totally deserve by the way). It could be a mere fifty thousand, an amount you spend on recharge cards and shawarma in a month. But when it hits Twitter, it will look like a huge bribe delivered in Ghana-must-go bags. Then people will hate you, with the same fervour with which they loved you.
Another landmine, closely related to this, is that you begin to have government contacts. You will become friendly with so many people in government that when the time comes for a real event, say a protest you could have exploited, you are already too entangled with these people to join in insulting them. So you offer half witted statements on Twitter or disappear from Twitter altogether. And people WILL notice! Lesson: don’t play god or get greedy.
So, there you have it. I wish you a long and fulfilling career as a Nigerian activist.
Kayode Ogundamisi is a commentator on Nigerian and international affairs, he was involved in the Nigerian pro-democracy struggle, Ogundamisi survived a trumped up charge of treasonable offence against the military government of General Babangida, he was detained in Jos prison in 1991 and released after intensive local and international campaigns against the government charging him and 12 other students before a military tribunal. Ogundamisi was a frontline member of the National Association of Nigerian Student and a former secretary general of the the University of Jos Students Union in Nigeria and the O'dua Peoples Congress.