How young Nigerians began the movement that just might change their country
“Imagine what would have happened if you had hesitated from clicking the ‘send’ button on that first mail?” My friend, the IT whiz Gbenga Sesan, asked me just a few days before the rally that resounded around Nigeria. “Thank you for taking the challenge.”
People always talk about ‘taking the first step’. It’s now an annoying cliché. But then, like almost all clichés, it is also a true one.
I have what I think is a healthy distrust for spontaneity. It is infinitely better, in my opinion, for things to be planned, structured, with systems and processes, maybe even focus groups and polls, before decisions are made. I fight my spontaneity as frequently as it comes. I subordinate it to the will of process.
But, this one time, spontaneity was a blessing.
I had just gotten back into the country. I had been away for three weeks and part of the subconscious strategy for the unusually long stay was that by the time I returned, the days of spending a fortune buying fuel for car and generator after heavily tipping the mechanic to help join the frustrating queues would have ended.
But then I came back, and on my first drive, I noticed. There were still queues! My anger was immediate and it was visceral. What rubbish! This fuel situation had lasted five months now, I turned to remind my friend, the travel expert Shade Ladipo, who I had just picked from home. What kind of country was this? Why were they taking us for granted? What was the NLC saying? What was NANS doing? Why this shameful silence? Why weren’t we in the streets, angry, threatening, taking it no more?
We have to do something, I said to her, as I made the turn under the Maryland Bridge. We have to organise a protest. Get young people who wouldn’t normally take to the streets to do so and prove that they are angry. We need to go beyond Twitter and Facebook and Blackberries. We need to show that things cannot continue like this. Young people should be angry!
God bless Shade. Her answer came without hesitation. Yes let’s do something, she said. I’m game.
Luckily, we were off to a meeting with other young professionals, and by the time we arrived, I had a plan. March to Abuja we would. I would call some of my friends who are influential in different fields; I would inform them of the urgency of the matter. They would lead their platoons. We needed to act now.
Expectedly, there were doubts. What would it achieve? Would ‘they’ listen? Would people turn up? Would ‘they’ take young people seriously? Since we were not “professional” activists, what experience would we use to make this work? How would we gain momentum? Would young people be fired up?
I didn’t care. Something had to be done. It would be better to do something than nothing. I left the venue – Planet One – in Lagos, more convinced than ever. Young people could do this. And we would.
That is how I came by sending the email to which Gbenga referred. Indeed, Gbenga didn’t know how close he was to the truth. I had in fact hesitated. It took hours to write the mail – writes and rewrites – and when I tried to send it, the inevitable second thoughts swarmed about me. I was worried about the perception problem for me and for my organisation. We are brand managers, not activists. I do not like the image of the angry Nigerian. I had a job and a business to protect. Marketing and sponsorship director have no use for politics. Neither did I.
There were many challenges: not just the risk to self and brands, but also the huge logistics, time, money, energy, resources, contacts that would be borne. This, in a life already swamped with work. The reasonable thing was not to do this. But I refused to be reasonable. This was a call that needed to be answered. This had to be done. It’s something we say to at The Future Project. If not us, who? If not now, when?
The mail was titled ‘Where is the outrage?’ It contained all my anger, all my frustration, and all my longing. I clicked send.
The next two weeks were a rush of activity. A first meeting with the Resource Group of The Future Project was used as a focus group for the protest. The response was electric. Let’s do this! This might have been an idea that flowed from me, but for it to work it couldn’t belong to me. The coalition expanded. And then kept expanding. There were meetings, there were meetings and there were meetings.
I had two choices for a name: ‘Where is the outrage?’ or ‘Enough is Enough’. I preferred ‘Where is the outrage?’, but others said Enough is Enough would resonate more. We chose it. I wanted a date a month away, others said it was too far. We needed to channel the anger following Turai Yar’Adua’s smuggling of her husband into Nigeria – now. Two weeks time, they said. The National Assembly Plenary was on Tuesdays. March 16, my friend Cheta insisted. I said okay.
The date was chosen. It was also the date of my 25th birthday. I saw the hand of God.
I descended Abuja that Tuesday morning with some of the others, filled with a certain excitement. There no was doubt that this was going to be historic. We arrived at the Eagle Square to meet a battalion of more than 300 policemen – enough to drive the fear of God into us obviously.
Then, as we ignored them and got ready, something beautiful happened. A most beautiful rainbow surrounded the sun on a clear Tuesday morning. It was beautiful. It lifted our spirits. It was a seal of approval. The hand of God. The hand of God.
I hadn’t expected to be at the forefront of the procession. I had never led a protest. I didn’t even know what songs to lead. But as the match began, a series of events thrust the microphone in my hand, and I had to lead.
As I turned to face the crowd under the sun, who had left their jobs and their school to risk the unknown and march for their future, something happened to me. The lull from strategy and organising that I had been in left, and it was replaced by a knot of rage in my stomach. My girlfriend told me later that my eyes were almost scary. I was enraged, she said. Yes, I was. This was our country dammit! Enough is enough, I screamed. They all screamed back. We were fired up!
We marched to the Assembly. They stopped us from going in; and so we sat down. For two hours, we sat, we sang, we cursed. Then we got angry. So we stood up and we pushed. Pushed against men with batons and tear gas and firepower. We pushed them aside, as iconic pictures in all national newspapers the next day showed. We held the National Assembly hostage for 4 hours. Brought them to their knees. The legislators fled. We jeered. This was how they would cower until we forcefully take our country back from them, starting from 2011.
Enough is enough, we screamed. Finally, young Nigerians get angry, our banner read.
Five hours after, we declared victory – for that day at least. The Senate leadership had sent us a representative that we regarded as an insult. We ignored him and we marched away. We would be back, we promised. We would be back.
As I write, watching yet another broadcast on the rally showing on CNN, thousands of young Nigerians in Nigeria and outside are fired up – many inspired by this move. Everyday there are emails, calls, smses, everything. People are grateful that a group of people are leading the charge, speaking their minds. Those that say Nigerians have given up on Nigeria are fools, sorry.
People want change and they are ready to work for it. They are so eager to be a part of this movement; to support it. This may well be the movement – groups like ours and the Save Nigeria Group – that changes Nigeria; it is too early to say. But cynics and naysayers be damned, it is better than nothing.
That beautiful day, as we sat for debriefing at the Eagle Square, just after the rally ended, minutes after I led the protesters away, shouting myself hoarse through the truck’s microphone, my friend, the music producer Alex Yangs, who was at that fateful Planet One meeting, turned to me and said: Can you imagine Chude? From that our small meeting – just 7 of us – at Planet One?
I was completely knackered by this time. The day had taken all of my strength. But I was happy; proud of my generation. I nodded to him. And then I smiled.
It’s the power of ideas, I had told Gbenga as we talked online. But he responded: No. No? No, he repeated, and then he came back at me with the most profound of statements I had heard in a while. It’s not just the power of ideas, he said. It is the power of ideas that are let out of the bag.
Gbenga was right. What use is an idea if you don’t act on it?
Many decades from now; when I tell the story of how Nigeria changed to my children and their children after them; I will remember that fateful day in the car, and I will remember that day at Planet One, and I will remember that push at the National Assembly. I will thank God that I didn’t let that idea die a natural death.
I will thank God for giving me the strength to push the ‘send’ button.
Chude Jideonwo is a celebrated winner, copy editor, publicist, producer and creative director of RedSTRAT Communications and the mastermind of the Enough is enough caolition.