Black History to Black Future

By: Ima Duro Emmanuel One moment it was a sea of green-white-green flags proudly held up and being waved by young men and women proudly singing their national anthem. The next moment the dark night’s air rang with the sound of gunshots and the cries of pain and terror as people tried to run in all directions to safety, only to find they had been barricaded in by their tormentors. For what this group of protesters in Lekki an upmarket area in Lagos Nigeria did - laying down their life in a fight against police brutality and bad governance, their names are forever in the future history books of those individuals fighting to be heard that their lives matter. Over half way through what is Black History Month, the shooting of the unarmed protestors in Nigeria can be held up once again as a horrible reminder of what many individuals and groups through history have endured to show that black lives matter. The difference though is that those battles have been against a white oppressor. For example, In the 18th century a number of Africans used intellectual means to promote the message of abolition. As explained by the Black History Month publication, one such African was Olaudah Equiano who learned to read and write as a way of improving himself and charting a way out of slavery. Another is Phyllis Wheatley, who was captured from Senegal around 1753 at the age of eight and sold to a wealthy family in Boston, Massachusetts. She had an aptitude for learning languages and was encouraged by her more humane owners to develop her writing skills. In London she published a collection of poems. Mary Prince, a British abolitionist and autobiographer, born in Bermuda to an enslaved family of African descent, was assisted to write about her painful experiences to spread the anti-slavery message in a way that appealed to women, many of whom later organised anti-slavery societies throughout Britain. In the last century civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Malcolm X gave their lives fighting for equal rights for black people. And more than fifty years later the fight against racial injustice has gone global fuelled by reactions to the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minnesota. It has spurred world-wide protests calling for change and a greater understanding that all black lives matter. But for those in the most populous country in Africa many will not be feeling their black lives matter to the world at large. For two weeks now Nigerians across many cities in the country have been actively protesting and calling for an end to police brutality - thereby, putting their own safety and wellbeing under threat. Although the accusations of rape, murder and torture, against a particular now disbanded police force called the special anti-robbery squad (SARS) are nothing new, the criticisms gained renewed attention following the circulation of a video footage purportedly showing the shooting of a young man by SARS. Up until this week the protests have been peaceful, except for what many say were a minority of thugs hired to hijack the protests to create panic and confusion among the official protests. But then it took a turn for the worse when the protesters, defying a curfew by the Lagos State Government, resolved to remain at the tollgate in Lekki to protest peacefully. Reports, eyewitness accounts and videos told of the horror that unfolded as protesters were repeatedly shot at by what looked like members of army personnel. The final death toll from the Lekki protests has not been confirmed but it is believed the number of those killed could be as high as 78. And it is only now that this ‘genocide’ of the youth allegedly by its own government has started to gain the attention of the world and wider media. The bravery of the unarmed protesters who faced down the army not knowing if they would make it through the night has been humbling. They have sparked Nigeria and arguably Africa’s most important protest which could bring about real change and will serve as an example for many generations to follow. What many will certainly remember is that on 20 October 2020 individuals laid down their lives so that the next generation of black people in Nigeria and hopefully across the world can really understand what it means to say that all black lives matter.  

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