ANTHILLS OF TIME: Shrapnel of a Rising
An essay on the reflections and aftermath of the #ENDSARS protests.
Like anthills surviving to tell the new grass about last year’s bush fires
— Chinua Achebe
I come from a small town in the outskirts of Port Harcourt, Rivers State. In this town, Bane, we have a vast range of interesting traditional practices. Yet one of the most peculiar of them is one that is hardly exclusive to us — Storytelling. A rite of dialogue, cultural preservation, and a sense of identity, passed down from old to young.
I have long moved to the hustle and bustle of Lagos, so the Bane part of me wanes with the passing years. But the latter parts of 2020 caused me to dip into my pool of memory and pull out a short story my grandmother once told me, of a man named Dumka, her great-grandfather. From the story, Dumka was a fierce and ferocious hunter in 18th century Niger Delta (a region south of Nigeria) who trampled on the weak and took whatever it was that he demanded. At the time, it was seen as a thing of power — an enviable trait.
The events in 2020 also reminded me of a saying from the same grandmother of mine; that only when a lion chases a man, would he know his true speed. The proverbial lion has chased Nigeria for years, and from what it seems, we are only just coming knowledge of our true speed. These realizations have come to open our eyes more to what we need. And while that list is endless, we would start with the need for dialogue and how much it is needed.
During the #ENDSARS protests, the togetherness of the youth seemed to have centre stage against the large divide that existed in other areas. One of them was between the old and young, the traditional Nigerians and their children whose protests were either ignored by them or deemed as erratic behaviour from a spoilt generation. There was also the divide amongst northern and southern Nigeria, two regions that had largely different degrees of police brutality yet largely similar reflections of bad governance. It all the more stressed the need for dialogue amongst ourselves. We needed to set up conversations long before the gap of silence became painfully obvious. In essence, we needed stories. Stories that let us all know that we are the same and that the viciousness of the enemy pays no attention to the societal constructs that we used to differentiate Mr A from Mr B. We needed stories of resilience and drive. Stories on a contemporary basis, stories from the past, stories about a future that we have so achingly longed
for. Because it is common ground, a shared language that has a bit of all of us in it. Because in the end, these stories are who we are.
As all of it subdued into an ending phase that was caused by widespread violence and an infamous shooting incident with the Nigerian army, more and more people started to voice their satisfaction with all of the protests in the first place. People from the general populace. To them, all of this wasn’t their story. To them, they reflected a story of peaceful Lagos and Nigeria at large that was run under the gazing eyes of her detractors. They also reflected the stories of caricatures of law-abiding citizens, ones who would never refute their government outside of the walls of their living rooms.
Yet for those who dared, the struggle had to continue. This time, with dialogue. The conversation had to keep going and the paraphernalia of a resilient rising had to remain fresh in our minds. And if the winds of time blew fast enough to recollect ourselves, we would instil it in the minds of the generation to come.
When this next generation comes, we will hope that what we have done before then would make a better society for them. If not better, more progressive. A society that is more conscious of itself. One that eludes itself from minor divisions of age, religion, or tribe. A society where we wouldn’t have to worry about how time discarded us and opened its arms to the vibrant but contrasting minds of our offspring or worry about our now-limited perspectives and how they could narrow our children’s view of the world, or worry about how our bid for dialogue — for a shared story — would be dismissed by the next generation as they chart their own course away from the little progress we built.
There were many takeaways from the #ENDSARS protests, one of them being a sense of unity that we didn’t know we had. If this unity is to remain, we have to keep the conversation going; the conversation for a better Nigeria. Because the only division that exists is between the oppressors and the oppressed, the Dumka’s that trample and the villagers who scuffle away from their paths, the people who stand to lose from a shared dialogue and the people who are responsible for this dialogue.