My early life was fascinating. I remember lots of family friends visiting, writers, poets, quasi-revolutionary types. Just around the block from where we lived, a renown Nigerian artist had a studio. Every Saturday morning, my younger brother and I would go there and he would teach a bunch of kids drawing and various art techniques. It was there I learned to draw and started my foray into all things creative. My formative years were spent around books, lots of them, and a bit of art. I dabbled in playwriting and poetry as well – all of this before I was ten.
I also remember the day police officers or army soldiers (I really don’t remember which) invaded our home, and arrested my uncle. My dad had travelled. We were having such a nice breakfast that Saturday morning. I distinctively recall Satis beef sausages. My mom holed up my younger brother and I in the master bedroom while she dealt with the commotion outside. Within two hours, we were hurriedly packed up and fled the city. We traveled down to my hometown of Akwa Ibom State, and we stayed with relatives for a while, constantly moving. The men in uniform had come looking for my dad.
My dad has been an activist for as long as I can remember. These days, he is world renowned and recognized. When Wikipedia knows who you are, it’s sort of a big deal. I grew up around this stuff. Now to be brutally honest, I’ve never really been interested in activism and I don’t pay super close attention to my dad’s work. I’ve always felt its one of those things you get called to…like religious office. I’ve seen the kind of trouble it can land you in, my dad has been arrested and detained for extended periods by the government a few times (during the military regime). So I’m not overtly interested in being an activist, plus I haven’t discovered a passion for it yet. What I am interested in though, is true systemic change. That is how can you embed the proper mindset and behavioral patterns into a collective consciousness so that society evolves or changes to what it should be.
What activists and revolutionaries know, is that the status quo is flawed. The current state of affairs is not the right state of affairs. The general populace is usually divided across two lines – the activists, the ones who scream murder and demand change, and the apathetic. Most days I fall under apathetic.
Turning an eye to the systemic problems of the world can be really depressing. Researching into the history of the African continent, the reality of colonization, the extent to which foreign interests have their claws embedded in our skin, the daily subliminal conditioning of Africans with western culture, ideologies and perception through media and entertainment…the problems seem too much to bear. It is much easier to ignore the problems and focus on more pressing concerns like ‘me’ and ‘my life’ and ‘my comfort’. That’s what the most of us are trying to do, just survive and make it.
But someone has to speak up. No matter how powerful and how extensive the powers that be are across the globe. No matter how much resources they have. Someone has to speak up. Because these issues are real. The looting of third world countries by foreign multinationals is real. The degradation of the environment is real. The millions of people dying of starvation is real. The shortcomings and outright corruption of the political-economic system is real. We can distract ourselves with MTV and Facebook all day. The issues are still real.
I asked my dad once, ‘All the effort, does it really pay off?’ He replied, ‘Not all the time, but there has been some change and awareness’. Sometimes I think activists are just wasting their time, the enemy they face is too big, is too powerful. Outright activism is fine, but I don’t know if it is particularly effective.
I think sometimes that what we need is a group of people utterly committed to infiltrating the present machinery, and using their cunning and strategy to gain power and leverage that to topple the system. They may even have to be dark knights sometimes, but they are committed to working for the common good.
We love to shift blame. People are always looking to others to solve their problems. We look to governments to provide jobs and infrastructure. They should, we pay all those taxes. But I don’t believe in ‘help from above’. I believe it all starts from down here, at the grassroots. I believe in people taking matters in their own hands and working out solutions to our problems from the ground up. I believe in saying ‘what can I do right now to help’. I believe in communities building themselves and creating a friendly, livable and peaceful environment. I believe in young people creating businesses and working their asses off to make something of themselves. We need more idealists to dream and inspire us. We need more optimistic realists to do whatever it takes to make those dreams a reality.
Change always begins within. It starts with me, and it starts with you. It starts with the changes in our personal lives, making our lifestyles more sustainable. It starts with community engagement, lending a helping hand, thinking up and building solutions to our societal problems. It demands commitment. It starts with treating ourselves better, loving our neighbors and even our enemies. It begins with understanding that the entire globe is connected, and our actions and inactions invariably affect one another. It starts with studying and knowing our story, our place in history, learning the truth about the world around us.
Christianity and other great religions all give the command to love, and act in love. I find though, that too many people give up on this world, place their hopes in another world to come and use that as an excuse to not engage with this one. If I were the Supreme Being, I would not entrust my new world to people who make a mess of the old one, and refuse to fix it.
I believe in activists, they wake us up; they show us what we have been blind to. I believe more strongly in everyday people actually giving a damn and making sure that their lives, their aspirations, their work all contributes into making the world a better, cleaner and fairer to live in.
The Occupy movement has swept across the world. A lot of people are fed up, and are coming together to express their frustration together. It’s nice. I hope that the awareness of our world’s systemic problems becomes ever present in our collective psyche, and we can start taking steps to solving them. But whether we are the 1% or the 99%. We have to own our situation and know we are all to blame for this, as we all have our parts to play in forging ahead.