Why We Must Be Activists* As Delivered by Nwadike Ifesinachi Johnpaul (Mazi Johnpaul) on 07/07/2017 On the ING Lecture Series Platform.
Let me begin by submitting my immense gratitude to the ING Lecture Series Committee for finding me worthy to be long listed in this honourable tradition of interaction with one’s kin. It gives me great pleasure to note that the lectures are by no means an engagement of a hierarchical order, hence the decision of the committee to opt for a youth to handle today’s session is highly commendable. On July 2, when, Sir Gerrard Ibe approached me with the request, I was eager to accept it because the topic is a darling after my heart. For this, I thank you once more.
It was Frantz Fanon, who in his seminal work, The Wretched of the Earth, asserted that “Every generation must out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill or betray it”. This presupposes that every generation must confront its own problems and tackle them headlong. To achieve this then requires a level of activism as well as activists who will not betray that “mission”.
What then is activism and who is an activist? Activism entails the practice of using action to achieve a result, such as political demonstration or a strike in support of or in opposition to an issue. Note the italicized words “political demonstration”. An activist on the other hand is one who is politically active in the role of a citizen; especially, one who campaigns for change. Also note the italicized words “politically active”. What then is the nexus between activism, an activist and politics? This, in my own view, is as a result of the inextricability of activism as an engagement, the activist as the facilitator and politics as the platform, because, leadership and the expectations of societal development are crucibles of political engagements. In other words, it is political instabilities that propel or shape or dictate the dimensions of activism.
All over the world, since time immemorial, activism has always been an inherent trail in man and has been an abiding force for the achievement of a particular interest. This is because man has always attempted to resist oppression and has always succeeded in most cases. In political climates, activists like Fidel Castro of Cuba, Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu of Nigeria, Martin Luther King Jnr and Malcolm X of America, Mahatma Gandhi of India, to mention but a few, have in one way or the other rebelled, succeeded or failed in their various nations and at various times because of perceived injustice, disequilibrium or oppression, hence, all their insurrections, whether peaceful or violent could be tailored into what I refer to as counter-hegemonic rebellion.
Due to the delicate position of the Nigerian nation now, it may be difficult to have a national activist because of the ethnic veil which many tribal bigots are bound to allude such activist’s engagement. So we are going to zero this talk to Imo state, our dear state, because such stratification is the only plausible means of achieving national cohesion in and for good governance by encouraging activists to spring up in their individual states. The next question now is, are there activists in Imo state? Has there ever been? And what happened afterwards? An attempt to answer these questions may lead to a myriad of diverse polemics but it is safer to posit that activism has never been a vibrant affair in Imo state, though some persons have, at some stages, raised disturbing questions about governance in the state but it hasn’t gone beyond writing open letters which most times end up in the anus of the governor’s refuse bin.
Whereas one can mention the Femi Falanas, the Tai Solarins and Anikulapo Kutis as activists of their various states and the entire nation in the days of their reign, there is no particular individual we can point as a firebrand Imo state activist then and now, despite the fact of the unwholesome condition of living we have found ourselves today in a state that was reputedly rich in both material and human resources. All we have had in the recent past and penultimate election periods are factional agitators and RICEtivists who are only marking time for our collective annihilators in the name of rescue. Imo state has never had activists of upright disposition, who are all out for the general good of the downtrodden. What we have are bread and butter social media vuvuzelas and attack dogs of evil men in our hallowed stools; of low characters in high places.
The way out is a reorganization and reorientation of societal ethos and priorities, a reconstruction of our mentality to identify and follow the right path, know what to celebrate and what to jeer at because we cannot continue to remain indifferent in a pool of deadly misery that has already crossed our waist regions, threatening to reach the neck within the shortest of time to begin its suffocation. To swim against this tide is a call for activism, it is an incitement to becoming people oriented activists because this gathering pool is likely to enrapture us all in its overreaching emasculation. An attempt to remain indifferent or cynical as usual is like one signing up to be caught up in the snare of an imminent death. This is not the time to wait for an individual activist, whose lone voice could be mowed down like an unwanted grass. The level of misrule in Imo state has reached alarming heights and as such require all hands to be on deck to fight off the imposing hawk off our collective sky. Yes, we must all be activists.
We must all be activists because the oncoming annihilation that will be quickened by this continued and disturbing silence will spare no one. Thank God for ING and its Good Governance Initiative , so gone are the cries for a platform, we have one now- calling us to make good use of its various opportunities to drive home our points, our collective points. The Igbo hypothesis of Igwebuike, coincidentally, is embedded in our slogan as recurrent chant to remind us of the need to fire up an individual zeal for activism and unite under ING to put our heads together for a rapid result. Igwebuike is a reminder for a collective effort, it is a reenactment of the Ubuntu spirit- I am because we are, and since we are, therefore, I am. Umunnem, gidigidi bu ugwu Eze, agbakoo aka nyuo mamiri ya agbaa ufufu. It is possible to upturn any tyrant with unity, of course, oppressors dread unity from the masses they oppress, that’s why they use the factional method of divide and rule, by so doing, the hegemony continues. But we can sacrifice a little personal comfort, turn a blind eye to their gimmicks and, like the spiders, come together to craft cobwebs which in turn will surely bring the elephant to its sprawling knees.
The enigmatic writer, Dan Brown, is adamant that the darkest places in hell are reserved for those who remain silent in troubling times. Wole Soyinka even gave momentum to the above assertion when he said that “The man dies in those who remain silent in the presence of evil”. Claude McKay in his poem, ” If we must die”, also counsels for the need to speak up and avoid anonymous death. Man must speak up against evil, there is enough evil in Imo state, and we will, all by volition, die an anonymous death through silence and then assemble ourselves in historical halls where posterity will not indulge us. Umunnem, we can’t keep waiting. The wait is over, the time is now. Are we ready? I am.