By Osinachi Ezema
@WhatsApp: O8144O26 799 [email protected]
One of the very features of democracy is the freedom to debate and, if you may, hold opinions. Debates are integral parts of the course to national developments. At least, they allow for diversity, especially in a multi-cultural society.
Debates, however, can be very diversionary and problematic, especially when unmediated or moderated.
The problem with debates are their inflammable tendencies to turn into contests, and from this to gradually carry on into a battlefield of combat of voices rather than reason between the two hitherto debating but now warring sides.
What is at stake is the possibility of obscuring the real issues as well as the valid points raised by the less popular or vanquished side, in the capitalist ‘winner takes it all’ manner.
For a nation with a politically diminished sense of optimism and direction such as Nigeria, debates can provide fertile grounds for the performance of the inflammable political and economic despair and pessimism of the state and citizenry, characteristics of a failed state. Worse for it, nothing else drowns the possibilities of the prayed revolution expected especially of the youth demography.
You would recall that on the 25th of May, 2020, monster Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis corps, knelt for some nine minutes on the neck of an armless brother, George Floyd, killing him in what seemed a racist manifestation. A few months later, we would be burdened with yet another horrible news of the pilling of seven bullets in the back of another black, Jacob Blake.
The dusts raised by the events of these catastrophes have condensed into two combative and contesting views or tunes, leading to insults, blames, counter-blames and name callings, instead of a critical appraisals.
It is time really to respond to those, as the need for this has all the more been made necessary by the case of Jacob Blake.
The first view holds that the solidarity protests from Africa against the resurgence of racism against blacks in the United States leading to the death of George Floyd and now Jacob Blake, seem not to be very sufficient.
Combating this proposition is the more popular tune which designates Nigerians’ attempt at demonstrations and protests over George Floyd as hypocrisy.
This view holds that Nigerians have all the while been mute and done practically nothing about the much worse conditions and monsters led by the rein of the General, and thereby have no moral right to cry foul of offshore depravities and monsters.
My position is that of a mediator, for I think that more voice than reason has been raised here or there by both sides, which are both revealing of the shallow and misinformed state of the minds of their assertors, as well as misguiding and obscuring of the efforts and plights of helpless Nigeria.
Let us therefore, begin our examination or mediation if you may, from the first assertion that seems to understand our protests as insufficient demonstration of solidarity with the African-Americans over Derek’s depravity.
The relationship that existed and still exists between Africans and the African-Americans is a long and biological one. We inhabit the fatherland, and they have stretched our habitations to the further parts of the world.
You would remember the works of Marcus Garvey, Emire Cesare, Frantz Fanon, W.E. B du Bois, Buka T Washington, and many too numerous to mention about and for Africa.
You would also remember that in reaction to the segregation laws in America, attempts were made to carve out lands in Africa for the repatriation of our suffering and rejected brothers and sisters who were refused integration on racial bases in the land they had offered blood and bones to raise.
Together in solidarity we fought racism, slavery, prejudice, colonialism, oppression, dehumanization, racial hierarchy, and all the vices that Europe and America symbolized.
This brotherhood and solidarity are perhaps, what when vividly remembered, motivate the opinion that our responses this time might be insufficient.
As emotionally and historically true as the above re-memory from which the opinion in focus may have been drawn seems, we may need to admit that accepting the indictment for insufficient solidarity through demonstrations or protest would have been much easier for us in Nigeria and Africa if things really worked out the way we all thought, believed and hoped during the anticolonial struggles.
The truth is, when in brotherhood and solidarity we fought colonialism, oppression and racism, chanting such fine slogans as ‘black power’, ‘black and proud’, and Africa for Africans, we all thought that the vices that the white man represented would be a thing of the past as soon as the black man had political independence and freedom to preside over his affairs and fate.
But very sadly, we realized that the suffering and slavery, hate and oppression that we witnessed under the supervision of the white man was only a TIP OF THE ICEBERG. For the corruption, oppression, brutality, wickedness, ethnicism and decadence that black leadership was going to supervise and engineer against their own people were going to be worse by an unimaginable percent.
I had mad an argument in the introduction to my poetry collection in response to why we couldn’t have been very proud and vehement with our solidarity protests and demonstrations over the American depravity that resulted in the wicked murder of Floyd.
I wish to replicate that response here.
When from the hearts of America, our black brothers and sisters echoed, BLACK LIVES MATTER! They expected those of us at home to re-echo the pledge with the same anti-racial anguish. However, their expectations created a deep conflict back at home. Although back home, we did chorus back, yea! BLACK LIVES MATTER! It was merely a lip service paid for the sake of colour and race solidarity with the diaspora. But in truth, there was a deep sense of guilt which reminded us of our own unbearable catastrophes and thus tormented us as we strove to sing along.
This sense of guilt would rather we echoed much more daringly but sincerely, that alas, it is HUMAN LIVES MATTER! For even we at home cannot breathe.
By implication, the even so-called little protest that greeted the George Floyd’s catastrophe from Nigeria were ones raised not against American racism per se, but against human depravity actually. So that, if one listened quite carefully beneath those responsorial echoes from Nigeria particularly, against Derek Chauvin’s monstrosity, one would hear, though feint, helpless but vehement, the accompanying songs of protests from the same lips against the OTHER more depraved monsters holding rein and our breaths in Nigeria.
So, to all those who expected more from us and feel betrayed by our “insufficient” solidarity, we say, apologies. It is not that we have lost solidarity with our diaspora brothers. We heard that you can’t breathe! We hope too that you are in the know that if we here at home were allowed as much breathe as you already have, we probably would think we have made heavens. And worse for us, the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’ cannot hold at home. We find it quite difficult to appropriate, for those monstrously holding our breath in Nigeria are not the white men, but men of our own very colour and complex.
Times were when repatriation was chanted for you, today we are crossing the Mediterranean by ourselves, drowning to resubmit ourselves into the white man’s slavery and yoke. When I read online, I see the record of all that died by police brutality in the history of America. All together, they do not come near our annual cases in Nigeria alone. The thousands that we never get to hear of, the ones we hear of but cannot do nothing about. Where does one begin?
The monkeys and snakes swallowing tax payers’ money, or of armed men killing and raping our mothers and daughters in the bushes in the name of herdsmen? The operation crocodiles and python dance leaving the battle line drawn by Boko haram to dance in our homes? The tagging of innocent and armless group of men and women as terrorist groups? The pardoning and reintegration of members of the world’s second most dreaded terrorist group into the national military?
We are ashamed to sing these dirges to deafened ears. But sing still we must.
Before the election that brought in the monsters of the day into power, we could stand and walk the streets in protest like you do in America, to show our discontents. Today, the world’s most dangerous Derek presides over the affairs of our fate, and even protest for us has become a treason. We wished we could do more, but how could we being thus suffocated?
So much for that. One day, we hope the tides will turn, and the tyrant will be tripped.
Let us quickly attend to the more popular but more diversionary opinion which tags us hypocrites for participating in the condemnation of an offshore evil while being unable to do same about our own conditions.
It is not hypocrisy on our part that we are able to still show and make real our senses of judgment and distinction between good and evil. There is a saying in Nigeria that when a leave stays too long with the soap with which it is tied, the leave becomes soap itself.
We have for too long lived with and under organized evil, killings, maiming, rape and rusts of all kinds that somehow, one is right to fear that we may have so much adapted ourselves to the situation mentally that if those vices cease to occur amongst us, we might feel abnormal.
We can be accused of some other things else, not hypocrisy. The rise in action and condemnation by Nigerians over Derek Chauvin’s monstrosity among other things, revealed that even though we have lived for five years now under the terrible and despotic condition supervised by the Buhari administration, we have commendably not lost yet our humanity, our senses of judgment, nor have we become the soap to which we have been tied for the past five years now.
On a more critical note, let me carry further our analyses by offering a proposition that:
The evils done at the peripheries are usually aired at the centre due to the centres’ potential pressure, but the centres’ evil are amended for the mockery from the peripheries. And this is how human societies compel and aid their advancements in the dawn of globality.
How do I mean?
Evils equally obtain perhaps in varying degrees in every society. These evils are checkmated through the interplay of pressure and mockery between the so called centres and the peripheries.
The centres, for their military, economic and technological powers are able to pressure the peripheries into improving and reforming their policies and principles of operation. The peripheries however, do not usually pressure the centre, but at least, they can mock her for falling short of the angelic status which they have sold to the peripheries and which they profess to uphold.
We are not unmindful of the rust of monsters we have in our own land, supervised today by General Buhari and his deadly cabals to whose plunder and ruin he seems helpless. We are equally aware that we cannot pressure America.
But if America has, in proclaiming her principles and ideals, told the world that, they hold this truth to be self-evidence, that all men are created equal, and have such undeniable rights as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Then it should never be interpreted as hypocrisy that we had the courage to mock America for falling short of that glory and image which they constantly pressure us to imitate.
Thus, let our theorists of the hypocrisy of the periphery first and foremost, learn to understand that the protest from the peripheries is, (apart from a disguised emission of suppressed quest for expression⟩, a plain mockery which is geared towards reminding and aiding the centre to assume her proclaimed image.
However, if these theorists still chose to code-name the protest from the peripheries as hypocrisy, then
they should as much admit that the pressure always mounted by the centres on the peripheries is a
Let me offer more explanation in respect to the proposition which I made earlier.
Those who proclaim the hypocrisy of the peripheries for their lack of courage in staging revolutionary protests against the evils perpetrated in their own spaces, should observe that the nature of protests are negotiated and renegotiated according to the interplay of freedom and suppression engaged in each society.
Struggles, revolutions and protests are being renegotiated at the peripheries to be able to beat the suppressive regimes under which they exist. But those who have less keen eyes will find it quite difficult
to understand that airing is a renegotiated protest.
When African governments, parties, organizations and groups, for instance, rush to the international arena or the so called centres of the world to report, for instance, the politically motivated and backed killer-herdsmen in Nigeria, they are engaged in a heavy protest. This type of renegotiated protest is what I chose to call “airing”. It is not new to the peoples and nations at the peripheries. In fact it is the commonest and most secured means of protesting in the highly inflammable and suppressive governments of the underdeveloped or periphery nations like Nigeria.
Now, there is a second point that I have mentioned, but which demands a little expansion, because that is where the problem seems to lie.
I have said that when the peripheries protest the evil done at the centre, it does so either in mockery of the centre, or finds itself in an unconscious display of the long suppressed quest or desire for expression.
The centre with its relative sense of freedom, we have admitted, offers the peripheries the opportunity to test and re-awaken her humanity and sense of judgment, since doing so in their own countries are almost treasonable. Hence the reason we always jump at every opportunity offered by the mishaps at the centres.
However, what really happens is that we arrive the scene of protest against the catastropes and depravities at the centres, not without our own immediate issues. We only shadow in the centres’ depravity to perform our disgust and anguish in our own spaces. This action I shall here call transplanted performance. Its most endearing value is that it saves us from the threat and brutality of our own senseless government.
The problem with transplanted and or disguised protest however, is that it sometimes tends to obscure almost totally, the grievances of and in the homeland. And when this happens, the difference between it and hypocrisy is always very hard to tell. This actually is behind the theorization of hypocrisy as the problem and trouble with Nigerian, for instance and the other peripheral nations.
It takes a generous effort from an observer to understand that while the demonstrations or participation in protest by the peripheries against the centre might assume a hypocritical posturing at its face value, it is anything but hypocrisy.
Even more so, it takes twice the efforts of the generous observer for the victim who suffers afflictions at home but is suppressed from expressing it, to redesign his transplanted and disguised anguish and protest on a foreign scene or catastrophe, in such a way as to consciously and deliberately accommodate, visibly, the suffering at home.
We Nigerians really wish that we could replicate here the demonstrations and protests that rocked the American world over the Floyd’s catastrophe. We wish we could sing the same song. But since our universal conquest of colonialism and the crown of independence which empowered us as masters of our own fates, we Africans at home have obviously become witnesses to a very devastating and heartbreaking truth, a truth that the African American might find quite difficult to comprehend or believe.
That hard truth is that, black lives do not matter even to blacks. And for those of us in Nigeria, even though human brutality and depravity could have racial motivations, they are not natural functions of colour but a universal evil growing from the indivisible human elements of greed, pride and prejudice.
I give you some examples. Within the same period of the Floyd’s catastrophe for instance, about ten cases of police shooting and killing of innocent civilians in Nigeria were recorded. Were they protested? Shall we speak of the daily raping of our mothers and the destruction of our farmlands by the killer-herdsmen none of whom suffer conviction today in the prison, but go about enjoying the full backing and protection of the government?
If we have not genuinely protested all of these, or revolted against them, it is really not because of our lack of courage or our sheer hypocrisy. In fact, it only goes to lend emphasis to the emergency situation and the dictatorship under which we live. If it is not the most mutant and suppressive in the world, then show me elsewhere. Ours is the worst for whom protest is treason.
Finally, let us put it very clear to those who assert our hypocrisy for protesting the evils done at the centres, that we are not mute about the orchestrated catastrophes in our spaces, we have rather been muted by the authority for whom protest is treason. We are not silent, we have rather been silenced. This is why we have taken to airing our grievances at the centre.
However, when we do go to the centre to air our grievances, we are not unaware that catastrophes also obtain at the centre, and no matter how relatively less, it doesn’t make it any less despicable.
Let us therefore make it very clear, that since the conditions under which we live, both at the centres and at the peripheries are interconnected, and that as long as human monstrosity and depravity obtain
equally in all societies for the different reasons that they do exist, it is the “matteriness” of human lives that we must fight for and protest, not just the “matteriness” of black lives; for even the so called racist whites are not left out in the harm and brutality of their own.
This however does not obscure the obvious truth of the higher tendency for brutality on blacks on the American soil. But we who have borne the brunt of brutality for ages unaccounted, must now begin to internationalise, expand and interconnect our revolutionary posturing to cover for all of the suffering peoples of the world, indeed, all of humanity.
Derek Chauvin is a monster, a super monster. But he is not without his brothers littered everywhere. Human lives are under great threats wherever they live. Ironically, unfortunately, they live everywhere. In Nigeria today, he is symbolized in the person of General Muhammed Buhari. If we must overcome them, we must sing louder. But it might not be enough to sing that Black Lives Matter, we may just have to echo much loudly and unanimously that, Human Lives Matter!
(OSINACHI EZEMA IS A GRADUATE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NIGERIA, NSUKKA, AND A MASTERS STUDENT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF IBADAN WHERE HE STUDIES THEATRE ARTS⟩.