There had been no petrol in the country’s petrol stations for five months. The President was missing – and had been for months. The country was drifting aimlessly, on the brink. The country’s most powerful men and women were mostly involved in a grand conspiracy to shield the ailing and disappeared president from public scrutiny. Just as it is now, when newspapers bear little boxes counting the days since the Chibok girls were abducted, back then, the newspapers also counted how many days it had been since President Umaru Yar’Adua went missing without handing over power to his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan.
It was in those dire circumstances sometime towards the end of February 2010 – shortly after the First Lady, Turai, and her accomplices smuggled a comatose Yar’Adua back to Nigeria from Saudi Arabia in the dead of the night, without the knowledge of the Vice-President – that Chude Jideonwo, having been abroad for a few weeks, returned to Nigeria. As he writes in his book, “Are We The Turning Point Generation” (reviewed on this column on July 7, 2014), he came back with “the hope that by the time I returned, the days of spending a fortune buying fuel for my car and generator, after heavily tipping the mechanic to help join the frustrating queues, would have ended.”
Nothing of that sort had happened, as he found out while driving through Lagos. “My anger was immediate and visceral,” he continues. “What rubbish!” He turned to his friend, Shade Ladipo, who was in the car with him, to rant. We have to do something. We need to leave the comfort zone of social media and take the anger to the streets. Ladipo agreed with him. An email followed, on February 26, 2010, to a group of like-minded friends. There were about 12 of us copied on that first email that Chude sent, titled: “Where is the outrage????? (Long, but do bear with me).”
From then on, things moved quite fast. The email chain grew, meetings happened, plans were made. A date was chosen for a protest rally to the National Assembly in Abuja. (I must make it clear that “Enough Is Enough” was not the only manifestation of citizen anger at that time. There was the even better-known Save Nigeria Group led by Pastor Tunde Bakare, with Yinka Odumakin as founding member and spokesperson. The SNG started life around December 2009 as a Group of 53 Nigerians (G53) concerned about the country’s state of affairs).
The protest was fixed for March 16, 2010, with the theme, “Enough Is Enough”. (Enough Is Enough holds historical resonance; it was the title of a November 1967 speech by Ukpabi Asika, during the Nigerian Civil War, when he was the federally appointed civilian administrator of the East-Central State). Using our own funds, we bought air tickets, and on the morning of that day, flew to Abuja from Lagos. At the Eagle Square, our takeoff point, hundreds of policemen were assembled, battle-ready. I saw at least one Department of State Service officer – incongruously wearing an Enough-Is-Enough T-shirt on top of his babanriga – trying to mingle with our crowd and glean information.
From the Eagle Square, we marched to the National Assembly complex, where a detachment of armed policemen was lying in wait, preventing us from approaching the entrance to the complex. We expected that the Senate leadership – at that time David Mark as Senate President, and Dimeji Bankole as Speaker – would come out to address us. They had other plans, it seems.
Speeches, songs, chants. The crowd grew restless. And then things snowballed swiftly. A crowd gathered at the security barrier put up by the policemen. The crowd started to strain against the barrier, while the policemen pushed back from their own end. Suddenly, the barrier gave way. Dele Momodu was somewhere at the head of the crowd, I recall seeing him, amid the chaos, push past the policemen as the crowd surged forward. The policemen, now confused, started barking and threatening to shoot. There’s a photo from then, showing a policeman trying to grab Audu Maikori by the shirt, to stop him from advancing. Somewhere in the background, the camera captures me looking on, trying to make sense of what was happening. It was an exhilarating moment, no doubt. It was also a lost cause for the policemen, and they were forced to retreat, and shore up the defences at the main gate of the National Assembly Complex.
We continued our chanting and singing. Eventually, a bunch of National Assembly members came out to speak to the crowd. I recall them being shouted down. People wanted to listen to the Speaker or the Senate President. None of them cared enough to show up. The disregard rankled; but it was only the latest in a long line of examples in which Nigeria’s ruling class demonstrates that the people do not count; they are dispensable, worthy of courting only when there is an election to be won.
We still see it today; for almost two years, President Goodluck Jonathan stayed away from the northeast; now, with an unpredictable election looming, he has visited the zone thrice in a matter of weeks. Two weeks ago, the Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was in Chibok to lay the foundation stone for the reconstruction of the school from which Boko Haram abducted almost 300 girls almost a year ago. In one memorable photo from there, she is the only one smiling; the women flanking her, mothers of the kidnapped girls, have no reason to smile, and don’t bother pretending.
And then of course, there was the event at Aso Rock last week, in which the President gave letters of employment to the family members of the 20 persons who lost their lives during the immigration service recruitment test last year. It has taken election pressure to compel the President and his handlers to pay attention to the matter. Meanwhile, the Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, who supervised the recruitment process, who forced an incompetent recruitment consultant on the Immigration Service, and who should therefore be held responsible for the deaths of these job-seeking Nigerians, still has his job, is still strutting around town as a Minister of the Federal Republic. It is for reasons like this that Nigerians say Enough Is Enough.
Enough Is Enough has come a long way since its birth five years ago. It transformed first from a protest slogan to a loose coalition of youth groups united by the common vision of a better Nigeria. It then underwent an institutionalisation process, so that today it is a non-partisan civil society organisation that works with local and international partners and depends mainly on grants from donor agencies. Its Executive Director, Yemi Adamolekun, says she’d like to depend less on international donors and more on the donations of ordinary Nigerians who believe in the vision. And beyond the noise of partisanship, of the All Progressives Congress versus the Peoples Democratic Party and certificate and health brouhahas, she says Enough Is Enough is most committed to developing what Oby Ezekwesili has described as the ‘Office of the Citizen’, which, in any democracy, should be the most powerful office. And so, in that light, on April 16, 2015, a month from now, Enough Is Enough will host, in Lagos, an event on ‘Building the Office Of The Citizen’.
I’ll end with these words from an email Adamolekun sent out last week, to commemorate five years of ‘Enough Is Enough’:
“Until Nigerians believe they deserve better and understand that those in public office hold that office as employees and in trust to administer our COMMON wealth for our COMMON good, we won’t make much progress […] Most of our cultures frown on challenging elders [and] those in authority, so how will you ask your Senator what he spent your money on? Furthermore, religion has turned our brains too much – ‘God will do it. E go better. God is in control’ – allowing us to abdicate personal responsibility.”
Those words capture the current reality of Nigeria, a country where the people routinely allow their leaders to get away with anything and everything. We have a long way to go, but the journey has to start somewhere. In fact, the journey has started. Here’s to the next five years – and then 50 – of building a true and deep and popular culture of ‘Enough Is Enough!’ in Nigeria.
Article written by Tolu Ogunlesi and published with permission from the writer, On twitter @toluogunlesi and Culled from PUNCH.
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