2014 was a tumultuous year. It’s a year I remember in the shade of red, in my imagination of the globe now as a mottle of red, green, blue and brown – blood, vegetation, oceans and deserts. And Nigeria, especially the northern part, is one of the red patches on the globe, having lost too many citizens to the year’s escalated terrorism. Several disasters, mostly initiated by the folly of man, contributed in making the globe redder this year. In Middle East, the State of Israel was furious in highlighting the red on the territory that hosts the people of Gaza, while, close by, the ISIS militants did theirs in Syria and Iraq. Africa which, like Middle East, has always been a slaughterhouse where we seem to celebrate the death of humanism, joined the Project Red fad as we killed one another in Central African Republic, Kenya, South Sudan and Nigeria, while the saner societies advanced in technological and scientific inventions. By the time Ebola struck, we weren’t actually caught off guard, only lacking the medical facilities to contain the virus that spread across various countries killing and exposing the deficiencies of a continent. Nigeria, having won the fight against the spread of Ebola, was badly hit by terrorism, and also by the ethnic militancy in the north-central states of Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba, which are the fault of its insensitivity to cultural and religious dissidents over the years. Consequently, 2014 was also the year of emergency activism and inspiring heroism by Nigerians who had had enough of the government’s unimpressive and considerably politicised counterterrorism and systemic corruption.
I chose to categorise this recognition of exceptional accomplishments by Nigerians into two to highlight the contributions of the private citizens who had no link with, and had never been in, government and that of public servants, past and serving. “Nigerian of the Year I” is a celebration of those ordinary Nigerians who, noticing the deficiencies of this country and seeming cluelessness and incompetence of the government, sacrificed themselves to protect the resources, interests, virtues and lives of the citizens. “Nigeria of the Year II” is for those influential public servants, both past and active.
Nigerian of the Year I
This recognition can never go to an individual as it’s on record that all the most successful advocacies witnessed in 2015 were pursued by groups of likeminded citizens. And it has to be given to a group because all involved in such advocacies were equally threatened, and members have lost lives or fortunes in their attempts to protect us from either the system or a perceived external threat.
My nominees for the first category are: the Ebola Fighters in Nigeria, led by the inspiring Dr Stella Adadevoh; the #BringBackOurGirls Campaigners, led by the courageous Dr. Oby Ezekwesili; and the Civilian JTF, led by that faceless and unknown Nigerian. I must add that all of these groups deserve this honour, but there’s a certain privilege that wasn’t enjoyed by one of these groups, in spite of its consistent incursions into danger all through the year, which make them the most qualified for this category. This privilege is media representation and praise, and the group denied that is the Civilian JTF!
Being the most dangerous, and yet unfairly underreported advocacy, the sacrifices of these vigilante groups of the north-eastern Nigeria are hardly noticed and rarely praised by us, because we’re only moved by televised tragedies, and while some of us were busy with the #FreeGaza campaign, with a certain people even writing to justify anti-Semitism in their attack of our call for commitment and dedication to protecting Nigeria, these unnamed and faceless “soldiers in kaftan” were walking the talk, being killed for what’s not exactly their business, doing the work of those constitutionally tasked with protecting us: the military and para-military institutions.
But I must apologise to those expecting me to mention the Ebola fighters, already declared as Man of the Year by TIME, especially our own beloved Dr. Stella Adadevoh whose sacrifice was indeed inspiring. The recognition, without mincing words, is in acknowledgment of the existence of a group that had risen to fight the biggest threat in the history of this country, a threat that is already turning the whole country into a funeral house. Similarly, while it’s the duty of doctors to protect lives, for which they may be paid, it’s not the duty of unarmed citizens to fight terrorism in the field, and succeeding despite getting killed.
But I understand the sentiments in favour of the Ebola fighters. It’s the reality that, here, Ebola is seen as a threat to us, the urban and itinerant haves, while the major victims of terrorism in Nigeria have been the “subaltern” citizens, the “second-class” Nigerians in Gwoza, Potiskum, Chibok, Bama, Baga, Mubi, and at Nyanya Parks, churches and mosques that can’t afford advance security arrangements.
Nigerian of the Year II
In 2014, of the Nigerian public servants, while the Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah and her colleague at the Ministry of Petroleum, Ms. Diezani Alison-Madueke were graduating from scandal to controversy, leaving their most cerebral colleague in charge of Finance to defend the government’s misappropriations of public funds, there was a Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, an active public servant, alerting us to the worst of such scandals, General Muhammadu Buhari still struggling to remain the poster-child of the opposition party in Nigeria, prominent members of the APC weaving cheap conspiracy theories about the genesis and operations of the Boko Haram and promoting them as facts to blackmail a clearly underperforming government and a Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, a former public servant, as the face of the nation’s hitherto dormant civil society. 2014 was indeed the year of both exceptional and characterless public servants, and while Sanusi had played a part in his whistle-blowing showmanship, with Buhari being resisted as a spent force, Oby was unstoppable.
Sure, you know the winner. I stood firm in defending her and even took it personal when some close friends disparaged an aspect of her, with clearly flawed statistics. She’s no saint, but Dr. Oby Ezekwesili is that beautiful mind whose existence, especially this year, challenged us to stand for something in life. She had paid a price for her revolutionary stance as the face of the civil society, pursuing a cause that most of our NGOs that had fed fat on grants from the West ought to have advocated and sustained.
She was called names even by some of her Igbo kinsmen in the cause of her struggle for a responsible Nigeria as she led the #BringBackOurGirls campaign to the attention of the world. She was called names for standing up for the destiny of some “northern girls” by a mischievous group that sought to blackmail her with a sentimental history of the Biafra War, reminding her that the ongoing social devolution in the north is an atonement for the sins of the North.
But she wasn’t deterred, she’s first a human being – a principle she advocates. And not even the opposition party was safe from her unpatronising criticism this year. As a guest of the opposition party at a summit held in the first quarter of the year, she reminded the members that the quest for change is more than just a change of party and acronym, highlighting their structural and ideological flaws. That’s the spirit of the phenomenal woman!
Needless to list her antagonists, among whom are young Nigerians on the payroll of, and sympathetic to, the government, especially the delusional ones on the social media who have made a career out of tweeting disrespectful rants at her. And these are young people, whose country and future she was fighting to salvage, young enough to be her kids. They called her a hypocrite, and it’s so because the indecorous clowns didn’t seem to know that they were really referring to that seasoned technocrat who’s become a globally sought-after policy advisor, having paid her dues at various international financial institutions, which peaked at appointment as a Vice President of the World Bank, after a tenure as Minister of Education. It’s, however, disquieting that a notable citizen who has sacrificed a lot in reactivating our dormant civil society, amplifying the tragedy of the ordinary Nigerian was so vilified by amnesiac hacks. But, may God save us from us!
By Gimba Kakanda
@gimbakakanda on Twitter