- This government weaponises poverty, pain, insecurity just for their benefits — DJ Switch
- ‘They use a system entrusted to them by Nigerians to break Nigerians’
- ‘Nigeria feels like a department inside hellfire, sometimes’
- ‘We need to get ourselves together to create a new political party’
By Godwin Okondo
‘The Nigerian government, in all its failure, still wants to look holy. They still want to look good in the eyes of the international community. They don’t want you and I to document those failures. We have to share our experience with these devices. I believe protest and documentation go hand in hand. If not for the power of documentation, which many of you recorded and shared, you think you were being gas-lighted when they said no soldiers were there? Imagine if there was no documentation’
THE Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) held its usually stormy Art Stampede session dedicated to the 2020 #EndSARS revolutionary protest on Sunday, March 20, to bring to an end the 2022 edition of the iREP Documentary Film Festival. The programme included the screening of Metamorphosis, Stanlee Ohikhuare’s documentary on the revolutionary youth protest at Lekki tollgate in 2020.
The Stampede proper featured DJ Switch (Obianuju Catherine Udeh) speaking on the #EndSARS movement, its ruthless crackdown and disruption by government forces and how Nigeria and Nigerians have sunk deeper and deeper into political and socio-economic misery ever since.
Themed: “Power in the Hands of the Citizens: Protests & Documentation,” that featured guests in the session were photographer/art activist, Aderemi Adegbite who documented ‘Occupy Nigeria’ protest that marked the Goodluck Jonathan’s fuel subsidy removal of January 2010. The filmmaker/visual artist, Ohikhuare served as both anchor and speaker. The Secretary General of CORA, Toyin Akinosho gave the opening remarks, situating the context in which the discussion was being held.
The session gave Switch, reputed to have brought the nitty-gritty of the #EndSARS to global attention through her social media pages, ample opportunity to speak to the various aspects of the protest that signposted a significant moment in the life of Nigerian youths otherwise written off as ‘lazy’ by their own president, Muhammadu Buhari.
While speaking on the types of protests that can be carried out to bring about change in the barren system and its visionless operators currently plaguing the country, DJ Switch said, “How many of us are willing to suffer the sacrifices we need to make for change? Protesting can be done in different forms — physically protesting on the streets, and this form can either be constructive or destructive. The #EndSARS protest was constructive; we hit the streets peacefully and conveyed our pains and demands. When the government unwisely decided to introduce elements and hoodlums in order to disrupt the protests, it unfortunately and ultimately turned it into a destructive one. Rather than talking to, or working with the young people, they ended up causing major damages to the state.
“Another form of protesting is boycott. This is asking people to endure more suffering to make the system suffer. It is an effective power that is also in our hands as well. The Lagos State Government has plans of reopening Lekki tollgate with the intention of collecting money. To add insult to injury, they set the date for the reopening on April 1, 2022, April Fool’s day. I can’t help but wonder why that is: are we the fools?
“Since many are afraid of physically protesting, and I understand why, the next thing we can use is boycotting, which will send a clear message that we are not fools. There are alternative routes from Victoria Island to Epe that people can take without using the toll gate. You can even ask a friend or family member to drive you up to the tollgate, walk over to the other side and get on a bus. Whatever you do, avoid paying the toll. If there are brands that refuse to stand with the people but enjoy taking money from us, stop using the brands. Same goes for celebrities who keep mute when it’s time to stand by us. That is what boycotting means.”
“Another form of protesting is online,” DJ Switch continued, “and I must say we are fortunate for the invention of the internet and social media. This is such a powerful tool that our great-grand parents never had. By creating hashtags, sharing your story how you’re protesting and making it a trend just might influence others to join. We have to make good use of the technology we have.
“We have high definition cameras that fit into pocket-sized devices and at no extra work, we can seamlessly connect to the internet. These devices we record with put a form of power in our hands.
“More and more, we see the consequences of a declining democracy, from infiltration in our civil society organizations down to truly shamelessly bribing of journalists, to independent media houses only interested in clicks and traffic, to the most recent outright ban of Twitter. Why is that? Just like many of us hate to be trolled, the ruling class is no different.
“Where dem better pass me and you is that they will use a system entrusted to them by Nigerians to break Nigerians. The Nigerian government, in all its failure, still wants to look holy. They still want to look good in the eyes of the international community. They don’t want you and I to document those failures. We have to share our experience with these devices. I believe protest and documentation go hand in hand.
“If not for the power of documentation, which many of you recorded and shared, you think you were being gas-lighted when they said no soldiers were there? Imagine if there was no documentation.”
The fearless Disk Jockey stated the imperative of protests, but also warned about its consequences in a ruthless state like Nigeria where life is less valued.
“Protests have consequences all over the world, but in a lot of African countries, like Nigeria, protests have even more dire consequences, which then leave the question: should we still protest? I guess the answer to that question lies in how much more you are willing to lose, because we are already at a loss. Insecurity is at an all-time high; there is no light, no fuel, bad road, bad hospitals. Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is on strike, kidnappers are running rampant, extortion, airlines and broadcast networks are threatening to shutdown because of fuel. Nigeria, to me, feels like a department inside hellfire sometimes. I think the answer to the question is a bit more obvious now.
“The next question is: ‘what kind of person are you?’ Are you an individual with integrity? You should be able to know, and if you’re not, don’t bother protesting. Don’t be like those who say one thing and do another. Another question is: are you angry enough? Remember, it may not be you today, but think about that level of uncertainty, think about your family, children and friends, then you would know if you want to, or need to protest.”
Speaking on how she had envisioned the protest would end, she said, “I had been attending the protest prior to the October 20th (2020). I attended a show, and then I flew back, and then I put out a tweet asking for where the next protest was going to hold, and someone said I might not be able to get out of the airport, but I made it, and I joined the protest.
“I remember a young boy came to me on stage and told me they were dismantling the CCTV cameras. I don’t know who that young man was, but I said we should have some proof; we should have pictures, so they don’t think we destroyed them. I tell you, I didn’t think for one second that soldiers will come there and open fire on us. We were not doing anything illegal; we were exercising our fundamental human rights. I didn’t expect it was Operation Phyton, or whatever, was to come and kill people.
“They had announced a curfew, and a lot of us decided to sleep there when the curfew began, and not move around. I didn’t know that was going to happen.”
She also addressed the attacks on the protestants, saying, “If I knew something like that was going to happen, I would have told people that they could go home if they wanted to, and you could stay if you wanted. Like I said, when I was giving my opening remarks I said, ‘you must know who you are, you must know what you are fighting for.’ We’ve gotten to the point where it’s either do or die, and some people died. I don’t even know how I made it (out alive), to be honest. Sometimes I wake up in the morning. I stand in front of the mirror for like 30 to 40 minutes, and I’m like: this is unbelievable!
“If I could look into the future, I would have said: look, this is going to happen. If you know you can’t stay, go (home). The people made that decision themselves. The government did not give us a chance; they didn’t respect us. They just came there and opened fire. I’m happy to see footages I’ve not seen before, which means the documentation on ground on that day was so extensive that there is no argument to be had.”
DJ Switch also addressed the issue of protest experience and cautioned against changing the narrative: “I can’t speak to the experience of the people that were there, but do you think if things are working, would they have been at that tollgate? We wouldn’t have been there. I saw a video today of a politician being chased out of his own town by the residence of his hometown. People are so angry, and if you look at the people chasing him, you would put them in the grassroots level, below the poverty line.
“This is a government that weaponises poverty so much, and pain and insecurities just for their benefits, right? You are hurting people who are still coming out, and fighting on top of that. So I think that day it was more or less a disbelief. I remember a time when I was screaming, ‘record my life,’ I think in my head I’d already resigned that I would die here today, no problem. Let’s just make sure that people know what’s going on. I can speak for myself, but as to the experience of the people there, I can’t say.”
On the effects of the attacks during the protest, she said, “I try to see things in my mind as plainly as possible. If I’m around, absolutely, but I’m not, that’s why I’m virtually having this conversation with you. Everything I had, and I owned, have been destroyed. People don’t understand what happened to so many people. I lost everything I built. The organisation that literally took me out of Lagos literally had to drag me out, and I have proof of that, I have email communications and text messages to prove that. I was outside Lagos and I was locked up in a room for 11 months.
“I’m not saying this for sympathy. I went for that protest, and I’m using my platform every day to the best of my ability. I’m requesting for meetings with all kind of people. I had a conversation with a foreign delegate, and what they knew about Nigeria was actually different from the truth.”
In her final submission, Dj Switch addressed the issue of documentation of Nigerian history, noting that a “lot of people don’t know that a lot of our history is just unavailable. Documentation is available so we should be talking about our culture. It feels to me like some degree of blame is about to be pushed on the victims of police brutality, about to be pushed on people who died because they stood for something that they knew. They had a right to be there and they gathered peacefully.
“Talk about protests in other places: is it for the government to send in soldiers to start shooting people? A judicial panel was set up and they found the government and the LCC guilty, and then what happened? Sanwo-Olu said he wants to release a White Paper. What happened? This country has been in decline for years. Since I was born, all I’ve been seeing is decline.
“The police brutality we’re talking about, the most of it is targeted at young people. Young people who are going about their businesses just end up getting shot or extorted. Girls are harassed and raped; people are arrested and killed for no reason. How many of these old people who have the influence have actually come out to speak on behalf of (young) people? We have been so beaten down that some things just seem normal to us. Someone said she doesn’t like the way #EndSARS ended. I know that feeling and I tell you #EndSARS has not ended. It is still a very active movement online. It’s almost like an insult when the government sees that they could not stop that trend.
“We young people need to start planning long-term gain. It could not work now because we didn’t have the resources or the political clout. We need to get ourselves together to create a new political party, one that is inspired by the attitude and characters of people that came together for #EndSARS. It’s very possible. So, protest is an important thing, but it is not a culture of ours because it is being pressed down every time. We have the fundamental human rights to protest in whatever form we can protest.”