I first wrote this piece 3years ago when Goodluck Jonathan was in power and some people had made it a career to “activist” against the government. It was meant to help people separate the genuine from those who were just posturing and waiting to get into government anyhow, somehow. Yesterday, the incident where some erstwhile activists came out to attempt to discredit Audu Maikori over the Southern Kaduna killings with a clearly forged letter without caring that Nigerian lives had been lost to marauding herdsmen who were not hiding why they were killing Nigerians reminded me of why I wrote the piece and the need to share the piece again — it was true 3years ago and it remains true today. So, stay woke.
Gani Fawehinmi. Beko Ransome-Kuti. Femi Falana. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. Olisa Agbakoba. Wole Soyinka. Chinua Achebe. Ayo Obe. Ken Sarowiwa. Kudirat Abiola. Dele Giwa. Tai Solarin. Fela Kuti. All these men and women plus many others are well known for their activism and vigorous fight against oppression of any kind and for justice, equity and truth. They pursued these ideals in every way possible. They went to court, even during military regimes. They organized protests. They used the media. They sometimes appealed to the government. They fought long, hard and strong. Some are still fighting as we speak, but they have all aged.
One thing that runs through all of them is this — they were all successful professionals or entrepreneurs. Their means of livelihood was not in any way linked to their activism. In fact, their activism took more resources out of their pockets than it could possibly put in. Fela was already a very successful musician before he started singing against the government. Beko, a fine medical doctor. Gani ran his own chambers, as well as sold the weekly law report. Solarin had his schools. Achebe and Soyinka made their name and money from writing. Dele Giwa owned one of the most popular news magazines of the time. They were very successful, at the top of their games without the activism. They had more to lose by being activists than they had to gain.
Make no mistakes, it was not a glamorous endeavor, activism in those days. But they did it courageously and consistently in spite of the tough hand of the military. Some even lost their lives in the process.
Today, we have many who identify themselves as activists (I chose this phrasing deliberately). There are those who are true. But many are not genuine. It is purely a hustle. Social media has allowed people have a loud voice, in many cases, louder than their real accomplishments are, creating an illusion to those that interact with them there, and delusions of grandeur and rightness in the hearts of this new breed of activists. They jump on every cause without verifying anything, competing for who can cry loudest with the hashtags. They do everything within their power to be seen as the drivers of every citizen movement on social media, many times not crediting the people who did the hard work and who initially draw attention the causes. They attempt to blackmail people into supporting their hashtagged causes and label anyone who doesn’t blindly hop on their train negatively, forgetting that everyone has a right to decide what causes to fight for. They assume a voice that speaks for everyone and when it is pointed out to them that this cannot be correct, they unleash their followers on the person. This voice they assume is autocratic and any who dare hold a dissenting view is treated as a leprous outcast, an interesting characteristic for those who fight autocracy. They go away from issues most of the time, attempting to whip up mass hysteria. They pick on everything, not having the decency to know which issues are private and those which are part of an officer’s public service. And they never apologize when they are proven wrong. It is beneath them. Unfortunately, too many young people take them seriously these days. So to help you determine which activist to follow, here are three things I’ve outlined to look out for, based on the lives of the guys in my opening.
Livelihood: Does your activist have a means of making money outside of the activism and all the things related to it? You see, a living must be made. And where you cannot find a career or business your activist is successful in, then it is almost certain that the activism is the hustle. And anything that is your hustle will be traded and usually ends up with the highest bidder. Economics always wins; the activist and their activism becomes the goods, and demand from all sorts of personalities will come to meet their supply and a price is determined and paid. Of course, that also means that the activist must prove that his/her voice is loud, that he/she has loyal followers (you, dear reader) and that they have strong influence. Without mentioning names here, I’m sure we can think of many in the past and even presently who started their career as activists but ended up bought. If we had done the livelihood test, we would have been able to predict this easily. Well, we can save ourselves the stress for the current ones who are on that path already.
Principle or People: What makes your dear activist jump? Is it when the injustice they harp on happens or when it concerns a specific individual? Do they lose all objectivity when specific individuals are involved? Do they vacillate, defending a principle once and then speaking against the same principle once the tables are turned or once it affects their people? Do they act with disrespect towards public officials when it’s not their person but refer to values and respect for office once their person is in position or power? Can you articulate what they stand for? Or is it easier for you to point out who they stand with?
Alpha Syndrome: The older activists in my opening collaborated a lot. When one reads their interviews about those days, they gave credit to whom it was due for actions and thoughts. They didn’t have to be the leader of the protest to join the protest. They also didn’t fight every battle. Some fought battles that were initially very obscure and unpopular. So check your activist. Does he or she have the alpha syndrome? Must they be the leader of the pack to join in? Do they always pressure you to join their every protest and cause? Or do they allow you have your choice? Do they give due credit to all for actions and thoughts, or do they arrogate this to themselves? Are they willing to fight obscure causes or must it be the popular populist ones? How have they performed when they had the opportunity to lead?
Protesters or Activists: There’s a difference between being an activist and driving various protests online and offline. For example, whilst writing about the bad state of primary schools in Lagos, is there a primary school you can afford or mobilize people to fix infrastructure? The writing alone does not make one an activist. Protesting about it doesn’t make one an activist. Positive action, showing example is what really counts. So ask yourself, that activist who shouts almost hoarse, what has he/she done to improve that specific thing in their vicinity? Do they always use protests and blackmail to achieve an end or will they do the hard work of things like litigation, drafting alternate policies, engaging and lobbying authority and many other possible means of achieving their goals? After the protests and the public events, what do they do to follow things to achieve the changes they protested for?
Right. So there you have it. Your very own Nigerian activist checklist.