What is Nigeria?
A place? A people? A way of doing things?
A flag? A government? A passport?
On Oct. 1, I joined the live feed from Eagle Square, Abuja, of the national festivities to mark our 60th year since independence. The event was attended by the president and commander-in-chief, his VP, high-ranking members of the legislature and judiciary, top government officials, members of the armed forces, cultural troupes, and well-meaning Nigerians who had come to pay their respects to a nation in its prime.
Together, we watched the patriotic display of acrobatics and other performances, as well as the symmetric and beautifully coordinated aerial display by military aircraft.
Then in united silence, we observed the traditional three hearty cheers and the national salute, which constitutes the firing of 21 artillery volleys.
It was a proud moment. Nigeria was alive; displaying her glory and splendour through the color and precision of her people and institutions.
On Oct. 13, I joined young protesters at the Lekki tollgate where they peacefully gathered to voice their grievances against a rogue police unit that for years had killed, maimed, brutalized and oppressed the constituents they were mandated to serve. I mingled with the crowd; we spoke passionately about our expectations of a better country, we sang, danced, shared refreshments and renewed our awareness of the deep bonds that connect us a people. It was a fine moment. Nigeria was as alive on those protest grounds as she’d been on Eagle Square during the national parade.
On Oct. 20, unspeakable horrors were unleashed on these same peaceful protesters gathered at the Lekki tollgate. Armed men in military fatigues, who appeared to be officers of the Nigerian Army, invaded the protest ground, shooting sporadically at protesters.
As one eyewitness account coined it, “They were shooting at us to kill us, not to disperse us.”
The young protesters huddled together as they sat on the ground. Chanting the national anthem and raising the green, white and green flag in the hope that it will be their defense against the invading army. Blood was spilled on the flag as the protesters were riddled by a steady stream of bullets from the machine guns.
I spoke with West, an aspiring young entertainer, who was present on the scene. He shared with me how he watched as up to four people around him were gunned down by the men in military uniform. Right beside him, a young girl begged for her life after seeing them spray her boyfriend with bullets. They shot her in response.
Nigeria was present at the Lekki protest ground. Just as she was alive in every location around the country where her young people were rising, awakening to the power they hold and the possibilities that their beloved nation could provide them.
The attack on the protesters was nothing short of an attack on Nigeria. The evil forces who for decades have profited from dysfunctional national systems, realize that the awakening of Nigeria in these young people is detrimental to their continued looting and robbery of the commonwealth.
So they sought to silence these powerful new voices, and Nigeria bled out unto her flag.
But what our enemies fail to realize is that Nigeria cannot be silenced; she has 200 million tongues. The hope of Nigeria cannot be extinguished; we have much more reserves of it than crude oil.
The aspirations of these young people, who out of the dark cloud of poverty and oppression that held them captive, defied the cowardly assault of a brutal enemy, while holding on in faith to their national flag, cannot be gunned down.
Our hopes and dreams for a new Nigeria must be amplified by this massacre. We owe it to the fine young men and women whose vision of a new day was the passion that fueled their discontent.
We owe it to our children. We owe it to ourselves.
We owe it to Nigeria. Peace and unity.