It is in trying times such as now when we are overwhelmed by the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to dire economic circumstances as well as political uncertainties of our beloved nation that we are compelled to acknowledge the lofty pedestal which is occupied by Soroptimist International – as the “strongest and oldest women’s club in the world with almost 80,000 members in one hundred and twenty-four countries.”
Its mission and vision have converged on three E’s: Educate, Empower and Enable women and girls to realise their potentials and achieve – leaving the men to fend for themselves! Regardless, I thank you most sincerely for inviting me to join you as Guest Speaker.
I have chosen as my topic: moved to tears. These are really troubling and turbulent days (and nights) in Nigeria especially in Lekki having regard to the shooting of unarmed peaceful protesters at the Lekki Tollgate on October 20, 2020. I did not realize the depth of feeling over the shooting of unarmed protesters at Lekki Tollgate until I received a midnight call from 84-year-old Professor Amos Lawal who is a legend in his own right on account of his outstanding contribution to both Mathematics and Physics, as well as Engineering. He has been living in the United States of America for almost sixty-five years and has lectured at several Ivy League universities – Yale; Harvard; Stanford; Princeton; as well as Massachusetts Institute of Technology etc. Two of his children have followed his footsteps and may have surpassed their father’s stellar achievements.
As the year winds to a close, what is most ironical is that 2020 is the year we conjured up VISION 2020 and we set ourselves lofty goals and targets which we genuinely believed would be achieved
I have a vague recollection of Amos Lawal who as a student at King’s College won several prizes in Mathematics and Physics. He bagged an ASPAU (African Scholarship Program of American Universities) scholarship, which catapulted him into University of Stanford, California. Anyway, there he was on the phone. He was really tear-jerking and repeating “Lekki Tollgate” over and over again. He was clearly distressed and simultaneously beside himself with rage. I did the best I could to calm him down. It did not work. Even now, several days afterwards, I still have trouble weaving a coherent strand through his outpouring of shock and disbelief over what he had been watching on television especially CNN regarding what looked at first to be a movie only to turn out to be the real thing – with live bullets competing with dead corpses for forensic examination.
At a point he replayed an announcement attributed to Nnamdi Kanu, leader of IPOB (Indigenous People Of Biafra) inciting Igbos resident in Lagos to go on a rampage. That was a truly amazing outburst. I felt compelled to caution the eminent Professor that pending confirmation that it was actually Kanu’s voice; he should refrain from jumping to conclusions. He promptly sent me a video showing Adeyinka Grandson who, without disclosing the source of his mandate, gave Igbos living in Lagos forty-eight hours to pack their bag and baggage and exit Lagos. For the Professor, it brought a fresh round of tears. He kept repeating:
“JK, people like you should stop this nonsense. You must intervene. If your Dad was still alive, this sort of rubbish and nonsense would never have happened in Lagos. He was the Lisa (Prime Minister) of Lagos.”
Then he was back on track. This time it was to emphatically insist that according to the Nigerian Constitution, the Governor of Lagos State as the Chief Security Officer of the State is well within his rights to invite the military if the security of the state is under threat (where the police are unable to cope). Suddenly, he went off at a tangent to lambast the police for their past misdeeds. He claimed that he had learnt from his relations in Lagos that he police were notorious for hiring out their guns and ammunition to armed robbers for a fee. Thereafter, the weapons would be returned as if it was purely transactional!!
The Professor also made a very strange observation. According to him, he had closely studied the uniforms of some of the “soldiers”/troublemakers involved in the Lekki Tollgate saga and discovered that their camouflage kit was stuff that would only be worn in the desert! There was an element of fake uniforms from what he could discern. As if to further compound matters, Professor Lawal sent me a video of a factory/warehouse somewhere in Ajegunle where the military had stumbled on a consignment of five hundred military uniforms, which were ready for sale to customers who were eagerly awaiting delivery. However, what was beyond contention was that for reasons which are yet to be explained, hoodlums had dug huge holes/craters across the Lagos/Ibadan expressway while the rioting and rage were in full swing. What remains most puzzling is how come there were so many fatalities at Lekki Tollgate considering that the military insist that even though soldiers had both live and blank ammunition, they only shot into the air and those bullets were blank. To my consternation, Professor Amos raised the possibility of a mix-up between live and ammunition even before the soldiers embarked on their mission. To my mind, this would be carrying absurd speculation and mere conjecture too far. We had been on the phone for well over an hour but my caller insisted on injecting what he had stumbled across on the internet, an article premised on Professor Usman Yusuf lamenting the overwhelming state of insecurity in the north.
As the year winds to a close, what is most ironical is that 2020 is the year when (under the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo) we conjured up VISION 2020 and we set ourselves lofty goals and targets which we genuinely believed would be achieved. Alas, we have drifted way off target almost to the point of being shipwrecked. We have only ourselves (especially the men) to blame. The #EndSARS disaster at the Lekki Tollgate could have been Nigeria’s finest hour. For the first three days, the rest of the world watched in admiration as idealistic young men and women (along with a sprinkling of the older generation) embarked on a peaceful protest without any hindrance from the police. Suddenly, it all went awry and deadly. According to Soren Kierkegaard, “there are two ways you can be fooled – one is to believe what isn’t true, the other is to refuse to believe what is true”.
We cannot thank Soroptimist International enough for the tremendous amount of work and good causes you have accomplished in Nigeria. However, much of that excellent achievement has been subverted by the sheer scale of the abandoned government projects all over our beloved country.
The article was extracted from an address delivered at the inauguration ceremony of the Lekki chapter of Soroptimist International on 13th December 2020.