How come Nigeria, one of the loudest countries in the world is one of the most silent? – Femi Odugbemi.
Whether it’s in church, whether it’s at a conference, whether it’s in a workshop, whether it’s a conversation, whether it’s a movie or a song, however many words are said spanning however number of hours or days, my take home is usually very simply profound and it follows me for a long time.
Someone says something in the midst and clamour of a lot of other stuff said, but just that one thing, one line could turn your whole life around. It could be an epiphany; it could create such a paradigm shift that from that moment, your whole worldview or outlook changes. Forever.
Usually, they say this thing and walk away, completely oblivious to what they’ve done. Like I read somewhere ‘we move but our words they remain and go on to become far more than we ever intended for them to be.’ If they (and you) are lucky, it is not something hurtful. It is something liberating and edifying. How many times have we heard stories of people who say to other people years later, ‘it was something you said ten years ago at that conference that made me the person I am today?’ or that made me choose this or that field of endeavour.
Such was what happened when Femi Odugbemi came as a guest speaker at the Afrinolly/Ford Foundation Cinema for Change script workshop in April 2014. He said plenty but this simple question left me reeling. How come Nigerians with all our swagger and whatnot have such a culture of silence? We scream so loud. Yes we do. I recounted (elsewhere) how at the just concluded EIFF, a guy came up to our table where we were eating and said ‘Are you the Nigerians? Everyone is talking about you guys, seems you have made your presence known.’ We took it in stride – what’s the point denying it? Where a Nigerian is, you will know. We take over. We announce ourselves. We are bold.
And yet, beneath all this boldness, there runs a thread of silence, a stifling of things that matter, a collaboration, an agreement to leave things unsaid, unspoken of. We propagate the notion that certain things do not exist. We engender, promote and insist that certain practices are alien to us. We look injustice in the face and look the other way. And find something ELSE to yell about. How come?
Is there a conspiracy? Is there a forum where we agree on the things we will address and the ones we will sweep under the rug? Is there an unspoken contract where we append our signatures to the things that matter and then unanimously turn our faces away from the things we say do not? How do we come by this consensus? Is it fear of rejection, of becoming social pariahs? Is it tradition and cultures that hold us in a stranglehold? Do we interrogate our beliefs at all? Or do we go with the flow, afraid to rock the boat? Do we truly not care?
- Do we care that our country is held together by a fragile thread.
- Do we care that our brothers and sisters are being slaughtered like so many chickens in what appears like every other day?
- Do we care that our institutions function at the barest minimum efficiency?
- Do we care that infrastructure is non-existent?
- Do we care that petroleum workers go on strike and babies die in incubators; that our economy and country collapses without oil, that our lawmakers are feeding fat when we insist our coffers are empty.
- That young women are labelled prostitutes and rounded up, locked up, raped and degraded, that people are shot extra-judicially, that jungle justice goes unpunished. That people defend rape; that children are raped by their guardians and it is treated as a ‘family affair’. That people are abused within the bond of matrimony as long as they put a good face on it.
- That history is knocked out of our school curriculum and education is in tatters. That people are unemployed and unemployable.
- That homosexuals are labelled unnatural and immoral and driven underground and forced to live in fear for their lives and freedom. That children are labelled witches and tortured.
- That people are sentenced to death for blasphemy! Such ridiculousness in a country that pretends it is secular. How do we stand by and accept this? Are we at all angry? That any society condones these things!
If we care, then by all means, let us speak.
With our work; be it our music, our writing, our social platforms whatever they may be. Let us refuse to be bullied, intimidated and muzzled. Or stifled and gagged. Hold your ground. In the silence of your heart, pick your battles, arm yourself. And speak your truth any and every way and where you can.
Somewhere, someone is listening. And don’t stop. It may be gradual, it may not happen in your lifetime but don’t give up. Start the ball rolling. And be at peace within yourself. This for me is the only way to live and not lose my humanity amid the tide of acceptance. Is your humanity intact? Then by all means, speak.
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