In the midst of the chaos that has been an unprecedented year enveloped by a global pandemic, the likes of which none of us have never seen before, there seems to be a never-ending cycle of battles that we’re constantly facing to start off the new decade. Earlier this summer, we raised our voices in unison against the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, two black lives that were unjustly taken as a result of racial and gendered police brutality.
Barely off the tail-end of that fight, we saw that black lives continued to be threatened across the globe, particularly here in Africa and numerous reports from countries including Nigeria, Cameroon, Angola, Congo have shed light on the decades-long state oppression and violence. Since the beginning of the year, it has truly felt like there has been no time to catch a break because of the continuous injustices that continue to pop up in every corner of the world. The new decade did not come with the grand and lofty ideas we nursed of cosmic technological advancements, but instead, has unearthed the deep rot that exists in society and how marginalised groups continue to suffer the most in these cases.
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Here in Nigeria, the gerontocratic and patriarchal system is responsible for shrinking and suppressing our voices. When President Muhammudu Buhari addressed the nation in his second televised statement since the #EndSARS protests began, he failed to mention how exactly any of the demands of the young, peaceful protesters had been met, and was more concerned with the idea that the “promptness” with which the government has acted seemed to have been “misconstrued as a sign of weakness” , going on to warn against young Nigerians persistence in exercising their democratic right to peacefully protest. His speech was a clear indication of the way the Nigerian system works, one that constantly sees the demands of a younger generation as an affront to culture and a sign of disrespect and instead of listening, makes effort to subjugate.
It’s easy to feel like your voice doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. In fact, many young Nigerians like myself would agree that no one believed we had a voice or say in the political world up until now. We grew up in a country where we were constantly told that we’re “the leaders of tomorrow” but as we became more aware of how the world works, it was made clear that we were inheriting a system sullied with corruption, police brutality and a lot more societal ills from the generation before us. That’s why this current movement has been particularly important in galvanising many of us to action, and no one is simply comfortable taking a passive step with their future when we know what exactly is at stake.
Given everything that’s going on at home, it’s been difficult to focus on anything beyond our shores. That being said, the ongoing Presidential Election in the USA is impossible to ignore. In what is ostensibly the battle between the lesser of the two evils, as it sadly always tends to be, there is a glimmer of hope. According to VOX, the turnout rate for the elections this year has reached a record high, recording more than 160 million people voting in the presidential election. This means that 66.9% of the eligible voting population turned out for this election, the country’s highest rate since 1900 and remarkably so, amidst a global pandemic. These numbers stuck out to me because it showed how much Americans were ready to come out in waves and demand that their voices and their votes mattered.
Here, demanding that your voice and vote matter is much harder in practice, made so by years of election-linked violence and malpractice in our country’s fabric. But following the #EndSARS protests that coursed through the country in the past month, young Nigerians seem to be awakened to a new reality, one where they demand more for themselves and asked to be recognised in their country. During the heat of the protests, efforts were successfully sustained through the actions of young individuals who were pooling resources from their community to provide for any monetary, legal, and medical demand that arose from the movement. We saw the Nigeria that we were fighting for being represented through their actions and the swelling sense of camaraderie that ensued from the protests. As a result of this awakening, there are already projections that the 2023 elections will be a different one in this country’s history.
At this point where physical protests across the country are on pause, the question on many minds seems to be what’s next in our collective steps to take back our country and demand the future we deserve. If the #EndSARS Protests of October 2020 taught us anything, it’s that the current leaderless, decentralised movements do not need one group needs to fight for the collective future of all of us. We all have a part to play in individually ensuring that our voices are heard and that our lives matter to those that we elect to lead us. Our country is not short of its problems, and already we’re seeing young people come up with ways they enact change and mount pressure on our leaders; whether that’s by recalling a senator or taking an active role in the ongoing judicial panels investigating SARS-related abuses.
Goodmorning Everyone . 👉 Are you ready to exercise your voting rights and change the narrative of the Nigerian political system for good 🇳🇬💪.
We have launched the “GET YOUR PVC CAMPAIGN #2023” at My Voice My Future NGO (MVMF). Please see Thread pic.twitter.com/sGu9wpmrn2
— Seddy 💕🧜♀️ (@SGaWD01) October 29, 2020
For me, the more people willing to get on board, the better chances we have of making sure the demands of the minority are met. We can only ensure this future by informing and educating each other and making sure that the voices are heard, and what better way than by sensitising the population to get their voter’s card and take an active involvement in politics ahead of the next round of elections. To this end, My Voice My Future initiative is a non-governmental organisation in Nigeria that is currently launching a #GetYourPVCCampaign2023 aimed at sensitising young Nigerians, especially those from low-income families, on their civic responsibilities and voter’s education, as well as easing the process for registration and collection of their PVCs ahead of the elections. The team is currently expanding and looking for volunteers in the aftermath of last month’s protests as a way of taking advantage of our collective anger and channeling it into sustainable political and civic action. Having a 66.7% registered voters turnout like America would be a monumental feat for Nigerian youth, whose contributions in past elections have been largely low. According to Sahara Reporters, the just concluded 2019 presidential elections recorded the lowest turnout of voters in the history of Nigeria, with only 15.2 million voters participating out of 84 million registered voters in the country. In fact, there has been a steady decline in voter participation since 2003.
These low numbers are chilling considering they are to elect the most powerful political office in the country, but they reveal larger truths about the distrust from the public. There’s typically a general sense that your votes and voice don’t matter when election malpractice is at an all-time high. But now despite all this, young Nigerians are determined more than ever to get as involved as possible with subsequent elections, whether at the state or federal level, to ensure that we’re electing those who care about the Nigerian people at heart. The issue, however, is that even if we get the right people in power, issues like voter suppression and the exclusion of Nigerians in the diaspora from voting will always be a hindrance to our collective power. That’s why initiatives like My Voice My Future are welcome because they show what’s possible if we all get involved in our own way. One person who has been very vocal about the power of our voices and votes, is a 23-year-old artist and Fresh Meat alum, SGaWD whose legal background has spurred her to take a more active role in the country’s politics. She’s joined the My Voice My Future team to get more people involved in education and combating voters suppression in Lagos.
Here’s a summary of our chat below:
On why she’s chosen to act.
My relationship with Nigeria has been very naive in the sense that I know that this is where I’m from and live but that sense of privilege no matter how small, kind of makes you docile to the things that are happening around you. And having lived in America, being a black immigrant woman who is young, I didn’t have a lot of privilege or safety and I had to learn through community to speak up about a lot of things. Coming back to Nigeria, that sense of community isn’t strong, you really get to understand that nothing is going to change until you put your hands towards changing it. The same thing happened with my music, I was very nonchalant about my music and I kept wondering why no one was paying attention to my music but the truth is that I had to put in the work and effort and do the cover art and be more professional. That’s how life is you have to be intentional and you can plan and plan but the joy is in the actual execution.
On the work My Voice My Future do.
In the rise of the #EndSARS protests, people have been like, we have never had a time where everyone was so inquisitive and trying to be aware and actively seeking out information and sharing the information with everyone. Yes, protests are great, they gather momentum and keep morale high but we have to actively have to do things to ensure change and to safeguard and guarantee the change for future generations and the only way this can work is if there’s a reform in policy and through the constitution.
On how they plan to do the work.
We plan to tackle 3 main areas ahead of the 2023 elections and that includes the bureaucratic process of registration and collection of PVCs, voter suppression, and the exclusion of the diaspora from voting. We support other NGOs doing the work and, we also have a lady called Bolu Ogboye who has volunteered to exclusively help with any female politicians that are running for office in 2023. We also have general volunteers we have been able to gather from the community. The aim is to make sure that not only people online have access to the information but also people in grassroots communities. Also, we want to educate people on the line of accountability; everyone is so quick to hold the President accountable and they should but then you need to know that in your LGA you can hold someone accountable.
We’re making sure that all through the upcoming elections, people are making an informed decision on who they are voting for, who they are recalling, and who they want to actively support or volunteer for. We will also help people find public hearings where they can go and ask questions but because the public is not actively engaged, there is no sense of accountability and people are not proactively involved. You can’t ask someone to change something that you are not aware that is happening. For example, with the recalling of a member of the Lagos House representatives like Mrs Alli-Macaulay, not many people are aware of how the process works. Electoral recalls require 50% of the registered voters in her constituency. If you think about it, just imagine how many people would need to effect this change. And then with voter suppression and the general disdain for politicians, did up to 50% of the registered voters in a local government even vote? So how can you request this amount? Things like this really matter so paying attention to electoral laws and policy and just knowing where and how to effect change.
On how she plans to galvanise more people to action.
As much as everyone is asking what’s next, I did mention that this is a thing of choice. So you have to know deep in your heart that you genuinely want this and you are genuinely interested in doing this. It’s free to join, it’s open, all you have to do is volunteer your time and services and share information. We already have people who have volunteered and joined the community and who are actively asking other people to join the community but I feel like you don’t have to be a certain person to join the campaign. This first wave is focused on information and logistics and we will still get to the grassroots work with people who speak languages. So everyone has a part to play. I can’t speak more on a global campaign but I am trying to run a music campaign where we can direct all of our musical energy and all of our artistry, entertainment, and sports into actually pushing for education and having them make informed decisions rather than campaigning and rallying for people who we know are going to disappoint us.
On why it’s important for artists to use their platforms.
I feel like there is a big difference between having an opinion and having a party that you support and doing the right thing. Here and now, where we are in this time of End SARS, everyone is asking for the right thing to be done so it’s either you support the right thing or you move out the way. No one is here to applaud half-assed efforts because they know you, everyone is here for accountability. For artists, no matter how much you feel you are entitled to having your opinion and your own privacy and you don’t want the burden of the public on you, because you have been gifted that platform (yes I believe its a gift), the only thing you can do is try to be the best version of yourself and push for awareness and information. So that when people are making decisions, they are making decisions based on what you have informed them about and not what you are trying to feed them. So with artists, we have to be really careful with the information we share and misleading our fans and followers because essentially your voice does matter and you influence people whether intentional or not.
On the Feminist Coalition.
As a woman, I take an active role in my local government in Akwa-Ibom. I volunteer and have been for a while for political awareness of the masses. I also work with widows in my community with the support of my mum. I think it’s a blessing when you know that life is bigger than you. My whole thing is that community is infinitely important. Once you accept that life is bigger than you, then why you need to be empathetic makes sense and why you have to even care about what other people are doing to the world around you. I am trying to push community and that’s why I applaud Feminist Coalition because they are a physical manifestation that community exists even if it was just online. It’s proof that we can build sustainable communities that exist today despite people trying to cause discord. I think that’s what a lot of people have found, that community is the only thing that can save us here.