I was sitting at my desk in my studio apartment in Croydon London listening to a Great Nation by Time Dakolo when a phrase floated into my mind; “the child of nobody”. I let myself examine this phrase and what it meant to me as a teenager growing up in Nigeria and what it means to me now as a 30-year-old living in the United Kingdom. Then I remembered a statement that had been made by Aisha Yesufu; “… a Nigeria where the child of nobody can become somebody without knowing anybody”.
I was raised by a single mother in Akoka, Bariga, and then somewhere around Palmgrove Onipanu; I can’t remember where now. I do remember that where we lived in the Palmgrove area was a short walk to Gbagada. It was an interesting divide; we lived in an area where the “middle class” and “low-income earners” co-habited; 3-5 story buildings for the middle class and the bungalows that housed several low-income families living in either one-bedroom apartments or just one room with bathrooms and toilets they shared with several other people. I think we were middle-class-ish, mainly because my mum pulled us up by sheer will and grit. Gbagada was where the sun rose; literally and metaphorically. As a kid, I saw it as an area of affluence, and as an adult, I remember it as a place with homes with pink rooftops.
My point is I did not grow up rich. I was the kid of nobody and it was quickly made clear to me by my mum that any hope for a basically decent future rested solely on me leaving the country. My mum would say “there is nothing for you in this country; you have to leave”. The “because you are the child of nobody” was silent but I heard it. So everything I did was to that end. I developed a visitant relationship with Nigeria even though I was a resident. I viewed everything around me as temporary – a place I had to escape from. I felt awkward; like I did not fit in. I felt like I was existing in the wrong space.
When I turned 17, I left Nigeria for the UK where just as a human being, I felt more comfortable. By comfortable, I don’t mean infra-structurally, though true, I mean I felt like a person trying to make their way. I did not feel like the child of anybody. I was just me and the possibilities were endless. So I did not look back.
Well, I looked back once when my dad was murdered by robbers in Nigeria. Was it the insecurity that allowed robbers inflict injuries on him that stole his last breath from him; or was it the lack of a functioning health care system? I had just reconnected with my dad about 6 years before this, so losing him was devastating. I felt like Nigeria had stolen something from me. I grew even more distant from the country and my sense of self as a Nigerian… I think as far as I was concerned I was not a Nigerian anymore, that was the last straw. I could not love a country that stole from me; a country that fails me.
In October 2020, I saw a post on Instagram; my friend had posted a chat between him and his mum, where he was informing her that he would be attending the #endsars protest. So I started to look into what #endsars was about. Police brutality in Nigeria; “hmm, ok”; I thought. So I made an obligatory post on Instagram.
I follow a lot of Nigerians on Instagram and I was seeing their stories of the protests erupting across the country. It stirred something inside me. I had never seen so many young people in Nigeria, so united. So, I intentionally started lending my voice.
I wanted to learn more, so I joined Twitter to “listen” to the conversations. At the same time I was doing a ton of research – which by the way was difficult because in terms of in-depth, current and correct data, Nigeria is knocking on the door of non-existence.
I was gripped but in the way that things grip a visitor. I attended and led a protest in London – I started to think maybe, I could do more. More to me then, was going back to Nigeria to vote and taking as many people as possible with me lol.
As the days went by and the protests continued, I became increasingly vocal on Instagram and Twitter about the cause. I donated money to Feminist Coalition; a group of exceptional women who were collecting and disbursing funds to help sustain the protests. At this point, I was 75 percent Nigerian, complete with all the relevant slangs lol.
Across Nigeria, they held a candlelight service for the victims of police brutality. Now, when I close my eyes I see the iconic video of the service shot by Olalekan Olafusi – it depicts a sea of lights with Timi Dakolo singing a Great Nation. It was a moment of forgiveness, reconciliation, and deep national pride for me. I could love and fight for this Nigeria that valued her people like this. Like many other Nigerians, this moment was a turning point for me. I was fully awakened -100% Nigerian.
One of the lines in the final verse of the Great Nation is “every Nigerian, stand up”. These words resonated with me so deeply so I was asking myself more fervently, “what else can you do Elaine?” Elaine from Bariga and Palmgrove would answer; “What can you do? You are the child of nobody”
On the 20th of October, I had been protesting online all day. Around 10 pm, I remember feeling apprehensive because a curfew had been imposed in Lagos to curb the growing peaceful protests and the army had been deployed but some protesters at Lekki toll had stood their ground. The information which we now know to be untrue had circulated that the Nigerian army would never shoot at Nigerian citizens singing the national anthem and waving the national flag. So the protesters waited at Lekki toll gate, draped in the national flag; singing the national anthem. Probably around 11 pm, I saw reports that the army was shooting at protesters at Lekki toll. The series of reports led to the Instagram of a Nigerian DJ; DJ Switch, who was streaming the shooting life. I remember shaking and talking to my sister on the phone asking “what do we do, what do we do?” We would all later see that bloodied Nigerian flag that became the display picture of almost every Nigerian citizen and ally across the world.
I sent a message to my boss at work that something terrible had happened at home and that I did not know when I would be back to work. I put out a call on Twitter that I was going to the Nigerian embassy to protest in the morning; I asked people to join me. Then I sat on my bed crying and waiting for the morning. My brother and a few friends came with me to the protest. A few people were already there. By the time it was 2 pm there was a multitude of people. We were all angry and sad. We marched back and forth from the Nigerian embassy to Parliament square, almost like we were marching from one country that had failed us to perhaps, another that could save us? I don’t know. We just marched.
The days after were a struggle for me and I said as much to the family. I would literally cry all day swinging between a deep sense of helplessness and rage. I knew I could not go back to work like nothing had happened because something had happened. The children of nobody stood their ground at Lekki toll gate to fight for a country that had failed them and some of them paid for this bravery with their lives. Something had happened.
I spent the next few days attending webinars on the issue, joining in on conversations. When I think back, the way I picture it is; I was running around knocking on doors saying “let me help, I want to help, let me help” I still felt like the child of nobody that needed someone who was somebody in order to do something.
On the 24th of October, I woke up, defeated and tired. I needed to and wanted to do something but I felt no one would give me a chance. So I thought; “ok, maybe if I put thought to paper then maybe someone would”. So I did. I put pen to paper and as I did, I realized that I neither needed nor wanted permission. I am doing this. So N-YEP was born.
I spoke to a few family members, friends, and contacts about my idea for N-YEP, put my doodles into a proper “manifesto”, created a signup sheet and on the 1st of November 2020, we held our first members’ meeting for N-YEP. By the 16th of November, we were incorporated in the UK and planning our first community outreach in Lagos. By mid-December we had hired staff, were ready for our community outreach and had retained lawyers to incorporate us in Nigeria.
I started N-YEP because the children of nobody make up the majority of Nigerians. More than anyone else, they suffer the consequences of the structural issues in Nigeria yet, they are not active participants in making Nigeria a country where they can be somebody without knowing anybody or a Nigeria where they live beyond the age of 55. They cannot be participants because they are too busy trying to just survive. Yet, Nigeria desperately needs them to stand up and take their place in building our nation because the 1% alone cannot do it – Nigeria requires all hands.