by: Kajsa Hallberg Adu
a ccording to Amnesty International, 1500 Nigerians have, in the first three months of 2014, lost their lives to extremist Nigerian movement Boko Haram. As I am writing this, 200 schoolgirls have been missing from their school in the northern Nigerian state of Bornu since mid-April, likely abducted by the same group. In a country where citizens are on their own for organizing almost every aspect of life, be it electricity, health, schooling or security — all this in stark contrast to the affluence the oil industry brings to a select few — there is much to protest about. In Africa’s most populous nation and, since recently, biggest economy, there is diversity in protests as well. While extremist Boko Haram is receiving increased attention in the media worldwide for its horrid and violent actions, the nonviolent movements Change Movement Nigeria and Enough is Enough Nigeria work mostly under the international news radar.
Change Movement Nigeria
Change Movement Nigeria (CMNG) has met resistance to its activities since its inception. Leader Damilola Adegoke, in an interview with the author, explained that the organization is not registered, as initial documents were refused by the government and another entity took their name. “Though this does not deter us from organizing, we depend solely on donations from members and supporters. We shun foreign finance of the movement because we believe that some of the capitalist foreign donors, especially the corporate bodies, are parts of the problems militating against Africa’s development.”
The organization describes itself as a grassroots organization with cells across the country. Although Adegoke communicates as the leader of the organization, he is quick to add that the organization is flat, and he has no specific powers. Famous musician Seun Kuti (son of Fela Kuti) is a member. In an interview in UK-based web-magazine The Quietus, Kuti discussed his role in the organization: “Well, I don’t have a role, per se. I am a member. We don’t have a leader. We are all leaders of the group, because we believe it is a new system for African emancipation and enlightenment. We do not ask for foreign donations, we do not want anybody to donate us anything financially. Probably if we just need books we can go to libraries, and we can donate clothes. The only way Africans can come together and achieve things without having to cry to the West, like beggars, like our rulers do, we want to show that an organization can be run by Africans, with African ideology and it will work. We are fed up basically. We cannot keep talking, let’s start doing stuff. So that is what this movement is about. A group of young Africans who are tired of talking and want to do stuff, no violence, you know?”
The focus on nonviolent protest is key, Mr Adegoke stressed: “We believe in non-violent protest because we cannot be claiming to fight for justice if we use bully tactics. No violent tactic has ever worked in history because violence will always lead to violence. We therefore condemn every form of violent militancy, because the best way to change a system is by persuasion and dialogue and persistent protest.”
Enough is Enough Nigeria
Since 2010, Enough is Enough Nigeria (EiE) has been a coalition of youth organizations working toward good governance through increased political involvement among Nigerian youth. The Executive Director of EiE, Yemi Adamolekun, wrote in an article for the Nigerian newspaper Vanguard that “The electoral process is really more about the four years in between than and the election ‘event’ itself. For example, according to World Bank figures, there will be approximately 20 million new registered voters by 2015. This is huge! It is a significant number, and they need to be educated and engaged.”
EiE staged several large-scale protests in 2010 that were well attended and to some extent covered in media. In 2013, the RSVP campaign was launched, which aims to encourage voter registration and education.
Although both organizations are active online, EiE makes it clear that using online technology is their main strategy. On their website the organization states: “Given our limited resources — financial, human and time — we have decided to focus on Nigerians of voting age, especially 18–35 year olds, who have access to technology.
There are currently 6.41 million Nigerians on Facebook (as of 31 October, 2012) which is about 43 times the reach of the most exaggerated number of Nigeria’s most successful newspaper, therefore the use of technology increases access to information.”
CMNG looks at internet activities a bit differently: “We merge both the online and offline approach to advocacy. We discovered that some individuals have thousands of followers on Twitter and some even have millions of likes on Facebook, but in the real world, they cannot even get fifty people to follow a cause offline. We are committed to using every media possible to bring the people together to demand a just society of our dreams.”
A CMNG project that has received much attention is translating the Nigerian constitution into local languages. The Yoruba translation is complete, and other languages are underway. CMNG is currently organizing the online campaign #stolendreams, which aims to showcase the harm of corruption by having Nigerians taking a photo of themselves in a space that needs improvement and sharing it on social media. The protest campaign culminates with a Lagos demonstration on May 1, 2014. In August 2014, an online conference, iConference, will take place also organized by Change Movement Nigeria.
The invitation states: “This iConference is an online conference committed to uniting all active concerned Nigerians who are online to forge a common position for positive social and political change in the country.”
The organizations also collaborate and share information. The initial silence around the missing girls has given rise to the online campaign #BringBackOurGirls. While the hashtag is trending online , protest marches have been taken offline. The resistance is gaining momentum in Nigeria, and in a matter of time, we will see if it is the nonviolent protests that will echo around the world, or if international media will again focus on more violent protests.