Aside from making their voice known during an election, activism is a major tool used by the electorate to ensure that governance is done in the interest of the majority. In modern democracies, activist and activist groups serve as a major check against the dictatorial tendencies of democratic government. They protect the rights of the common man. They ensure that unjust laws and policies do not see the light of the day. Hence, the importance of a viable spirit of activism in a tenuous democratic system such as Nigeria cannot be overemphasized.
Historically, virtually every major transformation in the political arena has been as a result of socio-political activism. This is true of both developed and developing democracies. For example, the activities of the Civil Rights Movement in the United State was pivotal to the enactment of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, which prohibited discrimination in the US. More recently, the various activities of protesters in the US and other parts of the world over the death of Gorge Floyd and other victims of police brutality has resulted into various reforms in both the United States and other countries around the globe.
In Nigeria, a lot has been achieved through the invaluable efforts of activist and activist groups. During the heydays of military rule, activisms was always a major catalyst to the reestablishment of democracy. Back then Nigeria had impeccable activists who would not yield to the oppressive hand of politics. The Nigerian Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress, National Association of Nigerian Students among other interest groups were at the frontline of activism. These were groups that took proactive actions each time government makes an oppressive policy. Those were the good old days, perhaps the goldened days of activism in Nigeria. Even in the short history of our fourth republic, activism has played a major role in safeguarding the basic tenets of democracy. For instance, the “Occupy Nigeria” protest in the dawn of 2012 prevented the abrupt removal of subsidy on petroleum products.
It is rather unfortunate that in today’s Nigeria, the soul of activism has been strangled. Many of our great activist of old have become fallen heroes of the masses. Some of the few that are still alive have become politicians, oppressing the same people they once fought for. While others have become TV celebrities or simply too old to lead any meaningful resistance against oppressive governments and callous policies. Our youths on the other hand who should have taken the baton have been left impoverished, unemployed, politically ignorant or simply too busy looking for means to exit the country.
The Nigerian populace is increasingly becoming passive, which has empowered the government to be more oppressive. Without doubt, the increase in electricity bill and the pump price of petrol is just the beginning. Nigerians should either be ready to resuscitate the spirit of activism and start demanding for their right or brace up for more oppressive policies. To resuscitate the spirit of activism in Nigeria, interest groups and civil societies need to go back to their frontline roles as the primary anchor of activism. There is a need for increased political education of the masses, particularly youths who also form the larger percentage of the society. It is vital for people to not only know their rights but to also be ready to defend these rights when they are threatened. It is high time we awaken the spirit of activism.
This article is dedicated to Gani Fawehimi, Dele Giwa, Ken Saro Wiwa and other fallen Nigerian activist.