Written by Michael Ibonye
Recently, I had a long conversation with an old friend about our heroes.The Martin Luther King Jr’s and Nelson Mandela’s of this world, who lived and fought for causes bigger than them so their children and future generations could live in a more equitable world. A theme that emerged was that heroes lend their voices. When others were quiet, they spoke, in spite of retribution, they spoke fearless, and in the process bent the arc of history toward a more equitable world.
The world has been watching what is happening in the US with sadness. Personally, I am inspired by the hundreds of thousands of citizens who are mobilizing, organizing and speaking out, particularly regarding the “un-American” executive order barring refugees signed by the most powerful man in the world, their president, Donald J. Trump. These are ordinary people, using their skills, expertise and good faith to support their fellow Americans. Lawyers providing free legal services to immigrants who need it and suing the federal government to have the order overturned. Americans know that they have to be their own heroes. If no one mobilized, the executive order would have stood, preventing thousands of people, including Iraqis who fought alongside US forces, from entering the US. And trust that is vital for maintaining peace would be even more threatened, so the ordinary American citizens contributed greatly to stability.
Across the ocean in my country, Nigeria, we are going through a deep recession, inflation is almost 20%, the worst in the last 30 years. Cost of living has basically tripled yet wages remain stagnant. The worst is, there are no plans being communicated to the people of how Nigeria will get out of recession. The current administration that took over power almost two years ago promises “change” and says “we are working”, meanwhile there is no evidence of it. Living conditions have become worse for more than 70% of Nigerians, while the government continues to to spend and waste money .
In Nigeria, when a civil society organization, Enough is Enough, organized to get people to protest against the current state of the country (rising inflation, insecurity, wasteful spending by government officials etc), the current government administration saw it as an opposition driven ploy to indict their regime, and so the police promptly advised that the protests be shelved because some “hoodlums” plan to hijack the protest and cause mayhem. Nevertheless, the protests were held, with thousands coming out all across the country, peacefully.
While our current President Muhammadu Buhari was in the opposition, they considered the #BringBackOurGirls movement credible and a major failing of the then incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan. They promised to bring the girls back if elected. Now the tables have turned, the Oby Ezekwesili led #BBOG movement has met opposition in an incumbent regime that was once an ally, but the movement continues to stay strong and stand up for the rights of the girls. Enough is Enough and #BringBackOurGirls movements are examples of the kinds of heroic acts we need. For us to change our world, we must speak out, like they are doing, on issues that matter.
War, insecurity, famine, unemployment, poverty, corruption, gender inequality and more are often a direct result of our failure to speak, act and engage when it mattered the most. We, the young citizens of the world, have stayed on the sidelines for far too long. We have trusted our governments to use power to make decisions on our behalf and build the world we want. But is this the world we want? When those we entrust start to create a world that we don’t desire then we must hold them accountable and withdraw their power. This is why we must speak and engage. Citizenship is a call to responsibility and care for our world. It’s time to do away with cynicism, “who e epp?” (rhetorical question in Nigerian Pidgin which implies a disregard for anything that’s unbeneficial) , and be our own heroes.
Our world needs more heroes today than ever before, and being a hero is hard. It means speaking about difficult issues that affects lives on a daily basis. It means backing up the words you preach with action, starting a social enterprise to address a problem or participating or organizing in a nonviolent protest. It means being prepared for the long haul, dedicating yourself to making progress, but accepting the fact that you might not see all the fruits of your labor during your lifetime and trusting your actions make a difference.