“…For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams…For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday…” – Khalil Gibran
I have watched as my beloved Lagos – a city by the sea known for its tolerant and welcoming attitude to strangers from both far and near – has been reduced to a city under siege.
Even without the horror that scrolls minute by minute across the tiny phone screen that I clutch in my hand I have heard the gunshots myself long into the night and seen and smelt the smoke of a burning high court – fitting in its symbolism. Why did we get here? And how do we mourn the dead, rehabilitate the injured – both the visible and the far more insidious invisible injuries, rebuild the destroyed and looted physical assets, and above all memorialise these events so they never happen again?
It started as all good stories must with an intention – an unarguably reasonable request by young people that they would no longer accept being the subject of extra judicial killings by a police unit that appeared to have gone rogue. The allegations of horror stories of extortion, of missing persons, of rape, of torture chambers began to emerge. As the request became a demand – the young people began to gather. They organised their peaceful protests – displayed their demands on placards, fed the hungry, provided legal aid, sang songs and danced, took photos to update their social media pages and incredibly cleaned up after themselves. All this to begin again and again the following day with unflagging determination and energy. Their numbers began to swell – they came out in their thousands all over the country. They met in person and they mobilised online utilising all the digital skills that to them are innate while we stare in wonder at their manipulation of that virtual world. Then on the fourteenth day of their peaceful protest in the evening of October 20, 2020 as they sat singing the national anthem and waving the green-white-green flag they were attacked – in the dark. They didn’t stand a chance. How many? The numbers like the allegations of the perpetrators and the denials swirl – amorphous and dangerous. Whatever the intent of that attack this on-going terrible fallout cannot have been envisaged.
These brave young people are not of the persuasion of their parent’s generation, nor of their grandparents’ generation. Each generation that goes before has its own beliefs and values formed by the extant societal demands and pressures at that singular moment in time. Each of these earlier generations when young have made their own demands of the authorities, staged dissent and faced up to the might of the State – from tax protests against the colonial authorities to university student protests during the military era to demands for civilian and democratic rule. The difference in this current crop of young people is that they have not grown up in an atmosphere of fear of people in uniforms. They have to a large degree been able to form and express their own opinions without having to couch them in hidden language or utter them in secret. This lack of societal repression has emboldened them and will allow them to continue to press their demands. We have to respect the fact that the last twenty years of democratic rule has nurtured young people who are confident, opinionated and well informed. Their parents’ generation has had to realise that successful modern parenting is not achieved solely by the use of the issuance of orders for immediate compliance and the threat or actuality of brute physical punishment but has to involve elements of discussion and compromise.
In the same way, society now has to embrace this lesson and realise that these young people deserve to have their voices heard, their opinions respected and their suggestions implemented if we are to forge our way out of this impasse.