… “I haven’t heard of anyone I know whose child has been harmed”. “Of course, you haven’t, the children of the people you know are privileged, they are no longer on the streets; it is the people you call ‘agberos’ and ‘thugs’ that are out there fighting”, I said.
Whew, 2020!! A sentiment I’m sure a lot of us share. In the midst of the pandemic and all the unfortunate events around the world; from gender-based violence, to racial Injustice, to the #endsars movement, it feels wild to me that I am now participating in something I never imagined. I found something in 2020; purpose.
I read somewhere that the goals that foster a sense of purpose are the ones that can potentially change lives. To be honest, it has never really been my life goal to “change lives”, certainly not on a large scale. I’ve always been one of those people that prefer helping on a smaller scale with donations here and there; pretty much in the background and in the shadows. As a child I was shy and as an adult, this has not changed much. So, my default is to NOT be in the forefront of anything. However, this changed in the past year.
My upbringing was pretty normal and I would say very cushy. I grew up primarily on the mainland of Lagos, Ikeja. There were no distinctions between the mainland and the Island at the time; the mainland was just as cool as the Island. I went to primary school and secondary school in Ikeja. The schools I went to were filled with kids just like me; children with nice and cushy lives who were chauffeured to school daily, traveled abroad for summer holidays , enjoyed the latest video games, watched cable TV, had access to the Internet, (yup cable and internet were a sign of luxury at that time and yeah I am old), children who knew their next steps after graduating secondary school was to travel abroad and begin college. I never really got to experience much outside of my cushy bubble. I grew up privileged.
After moving to the United States for college, not much changed. I met Nigerians just like me, people who grew up like me, some even more privileged than myself. While we were in school, my dad ensured that my brother and I had the best he could possibly provide. He needed us to be comfortable enough so we could focus all our energy on getting good grades. What this meant was that we lived in the best places while on campus and we didn’t have to work. In the United States, privilege does not dictate whether young adults would have jobs in college or not. In fact, it is not uncommon for college students to work while attending school. Having a job while in school helps some students pay their way through college or helps to foster the idea of the American dream – hard work always guarantees success. I didn’t have to bother about work. I didn’t need to pay my way through school and I didn’t care about the American dream. I was going to move back home after I had become a doctor and my dad’s connections was going to help me secure a job.
My college had “suites” and “dorms”. The suites were like what you would consider your standard 2 bedroom apartment, about 900 sqft big. You lived with one other person but each person had their own bedroom and a shared kitchen, bathroom and living room. The kitchen was fully furnished with your gas cooker, microwave and dishwasher. The living room came with furniture, a 2 seater couch and one love seat. The dorms on the other hand were what you will see in a typical U.S college dorm, 2 people occupying a small space complete with 2 beds and 2 study desks. The bathrooms and common areas were located on each floor of the building and accessed by everyone who lived on that floor. My privilege traveled with me and I found myself living a nice cushy life in another bubble. The bubble was about to burst though.
In 2011, my dad was murdered by robbers in Nigeria. This was undoubtedly the most devastating event of my life. For me, the circumstances surrounding his death pointed to all of the structural and institutional problems of Nigeria; the high level of insecurity (resulting from poverty, unemployment, lack of quality education and corruption), the failed health care system, the lack of basic/adequate infrastructure; all of these contributed to his death. His money and affluence couldn’t save him. Nigeria stole my dad from me. Pin in bubble; I was done with Nigeria.
Other incidents like gender-based violence and sexual assault on women I would see on the news or see on twitter, further strengthened my resolve to be through with Nigeria. Every day, there was some news about a woman being raped, a husband beating his wife to death, famous men committing crimes against women and getting away with it. I greatly sympathized with the women in these situations. To do my part and offer support, I would make donations to any feminist organizations that I was aware of.
In October 2020, a video of a man being murdered by SARs operatives surfaced on social media and sparked a public outcry that led to the #endsars movement. I had heard about SARs and police brutality but much like everything else going on in Nigeria, I never put too much thought to it. During the first few weeks of the protests, I saw posts here and there on Instagram, saw some people marching during the demonstrations, I paid little attention to what was going on. As the weeks went by, the movement garnered more attention, protests erupted across the country. I logged on to twitter (I’ve come to find out twitter is where you need to be to stay informed and get real time information lol) and began to read the stories of young Nigerians from all walks of life; poor, rich, educated, uneducated, IJGB (I just got back- Nigerians in the diaspora who return home to Nigeria for the holidays) brutalized by SARs operatives. Some, alive to tell their stories; others, missing with their families still fighting and holding on to some glimmer of hope that they would be found- that their son, daughter, brother, uncle will come back to them alive or sadly, dead.