- Category: Ahmed Olayinka Sule
- Published on Sunday, 15 January 2012 19:19
- Written by Ahmed Olayinka Sule
- Hits: 1458
In the United States, the 16th of January 2012 is Martin Luther King Day. The day is a public holiday to commemorate Martin Luther King’s birthday. During King’s life, he championed justice, equity and freedom. In Nigeria, the masses, who have been continuously raped by past regimes, have once again been dealt a serious blow by the present regime with the complete removal of the fuel subsidy. As a response to this subsidy removal, Nigerian’s for the first time decided to fight back and formed a protest movement called #OccupyNigeria. The economic justice which #OccupyNigeria is fighting for, is similar to the cause that King began to pursue between 1967 and 1968. In this hypothetical piece, I imagine a situation where King writes a letter to express his support and offer his advice to the #OccupyNigeria movement. Please note that actual Martin Luther King’s citations contained in this hypothetical letter are in quotation marks.
My Brothers and Sisters in the struggle,
Happy New Year to all of you. I know you may ask what is so happy about the New Year, especially as you all woke up on the first day of 2012 only to find out that the pump price of petrol in your country had increased from 65 Naira per liter to 140 - 250 Naira per liter. What a way to start the New Year?
You may also ask why I have decided to write a letter to you specifically and especially today, as it is my posthumous eighty-third birthday and 300 million Americans have taken the day off to commemorate my birthday. Well this letter which I am writing from Father Abraham’s bosom has been penned because your cries have reached my ear drums and my eyes have seen your suffering and pain and I have been left with no choice than to write you and to offer you some words of encouragement and wisdom.
I salute your courage for standing up for not only the unjust act of the government’s removal of the fuel subsidy, but also for saying NO to poverty, corruption, the astronomical cost of maintaining public officials and the lack of provision of electricity, healthcare and other basic amenities by your government. You have been bearing this injustice for decades without reacting or as my brother Fela Kuti would say you have been suffering and smiling, but as I always used to say “there comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over.”
I am always intrigued when I read in a number of newspapers like the Financial Times, the Economist and the Wall Street Journal and when I see government, finance and economic officials within and without Nigeria use Nigeria’s growing Gross Domestic Product, expanding middle class and increasing Oligarchs as an index to analyze Nigeria’s prosperity. They commit what the philosophers call the fallacy of composition, as they infer that because all is well with these few Nigerians, all is well for the majority of Nigerians. A problem with this fallacy is that it creates a false sense of achievement and ignores the plight of the millions of Nigerians living on the margins. It relegates people to numbers, statistics and percentages. This false sense of prosperity has often led the rich and the so-called middle class to be apathetic to the sufferings of the poor.
The government’s fuel subsidy removal has had the unintended consequence of creating a ‘symphony of brotherhood’. One can see from the #OccupyNigeria movement that it does not matter whether you are young or old; rich or poor, male or female, Christian or Muslim, Urhobo or Igbo or if you are a "Ph.D." or a "no D.” ; you are all united in your tears, pains and sufferings.
You may be frustrated that there has not been much coverage given to your protest in the mainstream Nigerian media. I smiled when I learnt that you marched to some of the media houses to let them know that you did not like their asymmetric reportage; I must congratulate you on introducing a new concept to protesting. However, remember that you have a tool, which was not available during my time, i.e. the social media. I have been amused how you have been able to use the social media to your advantage not only to mobilize, but also to get your message across the world. During our time, we had to use our bodies to get attention from around the world. When we started the Birmingham campaign, very few people were interested in our plight. But when the whole world saw on their TV screens, old women and men battered by the police, boys having their shirts ripped off their bodies by water hoses and girls having their heads cracked open with police batons; our struggle then became the center of global attention
You must be frustrated with the attitude of many of the religious leaders who have remained silent to not only your sufferings but also to the government’s clampdown on your movement by its security apparatus, which has resulted in the death of some of your colleagues in the struggle. You may be disappointed that some of these leaders have endorsed your oppressors in the past or provided them with platforms to air their political message. I must commend the few religious leaders who have decided to buck the trend; leaders such as Tunde Bakare and some Catholic Bishops have been very vocal in protesting against the subsidy removal and they are the very few lone voices in the wilderness screaming: GOVERNMENT GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER.
The attitude of most of your religious leaders is not new. King Solomon was right when he wrote centuries ago that there is nothing new under the sun. When I was leading the Civil Rights movement, I witnessed how many church leaders were apathetic to the sufferings of my African American brothers and sisters. When I was arrested in Birmingham for leading a protest against segregation, eight clergymen published an article in the newspaper saying that my activities in Birmingham were unwise and untimely. I was accused of being an outside agitator. I have always been disappointed when I see religious leaders take the side of the oppressors to the detriment of the ‘least of these’. I once reminded the church that, “it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.”
I must warn you that the biggest threat to your movement is not your oppressors, but rather the potential for internal disunity. I want you all to maintain the unity that currently exists. Do not let tribalism and religious differences break up your movement. You must work towards making Nigeria a country where people will be judged not by their tribe or religious affiliation, but by the content of their character. You must watch out for forces that may try to sow the cords of disunity among you in order to disrupt #OccupyNigeria. When we were battling segregation in the USA, our great victories such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, The Selma March and the Birmingham campaign came when the civil rights organizations came together as one body and united in the fight against a common problem. Our lost battles in places such as Albany and Chicago occurred due to suspicion, infighting and bickering among the various civil rights bodies.
The most important thing I have to say to all of you is to embrace non-violence in your protest. I am pleased to learn that, your protest movement has generally been peaceful. However, I was saddened to learn about the five people killed in an attack on a mosque in Benin. This attack was supposed to be a reprisal against Muslims for previous attacks against Christians of southern origin in the northern part of the country. I also heard that in some parts of the country, a number of buildings have been set on fire and government officials attacked. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE refrain from violence. I know that your oppressors have treated you badly and that you may want to revenge, but as our Lord Jesus Christ taught us: love your enemies and pray for those that persecute and despise you. I have a few tips to tell you about the importance and benefit of adopting a non-violence approach in your struggle. Below is what I have said in the past about the non-violence philosophy:
“Non violent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”
“We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.”
“It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”
“I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”
“…..we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”
Whatever you do, make sure that you do it in love. Showing love and embracing non-violence in your protest is redemptive, as it should appeal to the moral compass of your oppressors. However, I appreciate that many of you will say that your oppressors do not have any moral conscience, especially when one learns that between 2000 and 2008, they siphoned almost $130 billion out of the country, some of this looted funds could have gone to satisfy the hungry bellies of the millions of children who go to bed without a meal everyday; especially when one learns that 75 per cent of the entire budget was spent on recurrent expenditure; especially when one learns that Nigerian legislators earn almost $140,000 a month, while most people in Nigeria go home hungry; especially when one learns that a former Speaker of the House inflated contracts to the tune of 984 million Naira; especially when one learns that the government earmarked more than $150 million to buy a new aircraft for the presidential fleet; especially when one learns that the government budgeted nearly $6.5 million for meals for the households of the President and Vice President, and millions of dollars more for the purchase and refurbishment of furnishings in the 2012 budget; especially when one learns that Nigeria is a country that provides no social safety net for its people; especially when one learns that politicians who have raped the country dry have now installed their children to continue raping the country; especially when one learns that a former party chairman was sentenced to only two years imprisonment for stealing 100 billion Naira, only to be given a heroes welcome upon his release from prison, while another person who stole yogurts worth less than 500 Naira still languishes in prison having been sentenced to five years in jail. Despite all these crimes against humanity, I still believe that human beings have the capacity to change. I hope I am proved right in the Nigerian situation.
Another thing you need to bear in mind is that the road to justice is a long journey. My brother Nelson Mandela once said that there is a long walk to freedom. You may appear to be cruising initially, but there will be setbacks and dark days. However, in these dark days, do not despair because “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” One reason for the long time it often takes to achieve justice is because “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” You have taken the first step in demanding freedom from your oppressors, the next step is to ensure that the oppressor voluntary gives you that freedom.
There will be many detractors made up of your oppressors, those who do not believe in your cause and supporters of the status quo . You will be called all sorts of names ranging from loonies, jobless and troublemakers to radicals, rebels and communist; you will be beaten , tear gassed and bruised; you may lose your jobs, you may lose your friends and at the very extreme some of you may pay the ultimate price by losing your live. It happened before my time, it happened during my time and it is happening after my time. Despite this, I want you to take heart. It is people like you that have made this world a better place. As I have said before "The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority."
Others may argue that you should all keep quiet and stop voicing out your grievances, because change will come to Nigeria sometime in the future. This is a wrong approach towards the quest for justice. You have remained silent for fifty-one years and nothing has happened - you must always have at the back of your mental sheet that “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent.” You may be hated, vilified and insulted today, but I can assure you that one day, the pages of history will record that there was once a generation of Nigerians who stood up to tyranny, oppression and corruption and said ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Believe me when I say this. When I spoke up against America’s war in Vietnam, I became one of the most hated figures in the USA. The Washington Post wrote this about me
[…he has done a grave injury to those who are his natural allies…. and an even graver injury to himself. Many who have listened to him with respect will never accord him the same confidence. He has diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country and to his people. And that is a great tragedy.]
Paradoxically, forty-five years after the article was published, I am now regarded with respect in America and today 300 million Americans are marking my birthday. That is the irony of life.
Brothers and sisters while you are occupying Nigeria, please do not forget those who are suffering. Reports reaching me tell me that shortly after the movement started, in an unrelated event, some people in the Northern part of the country were brutally murdered because of their religious and ethnic affiliations. I implore you not to forget the sufferings of the many Igbo’s who have seen their kinsmen killed in the churches, on the streets, on the buses and other places in Northern Nigeria since the commencement of #OccupyNigeria. My heart bleeds for them, as I am sure that they must be having a feeling of déjà vu and having flashbacks to the pogroms of 1966. As I have said before: “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Finally, be strong, keep the faith and remain resolute. Positive change does not come cheap, positive change does not come free, positive change does not come easy; but if you remain committed to the cause, one day Nigeria will come to fulfill its long awaited, long due and long expected potential. I must now sign off because Father Abraham is beckoning for me to come and observe how my American brothers and sisters are marking my birthday.
Yours in the Struggle
Brother Martin Luther King Jr.
Transcribed by Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA