[On Monday May 15 at the ILEC International Conference Centre in London, I delivered a keynote address at the Coalition of Nigerians Living in the United Kingdom (CNIUK) global press conference titled “Nigeria On Trial – Does Democracy Matter?” Other speakers at the event included Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, Dele Farotimi and Aisha Yesufu. Here is a transcript of the concluding part of my address that afternoon.]
Those were my words to Parliament a few weeks ago, and I have an addendum. It is that if the UK actually has a commitment to promoting democracy in Nigeria, it needs to demonstrate that commitment by refusing to allow the very kleptocrats and criminals who subvert our democracy from obtaining political legitimacy and parking their money here. A few days ago, a Bloomberg investigation exposed the existence of a Nigerian state corruption enterprise involving the proceeds of oil theft which were invested in real estate here in London.
The buyer of said property turned out to be the son of the “president-elect,” who at the ripe old age of 31, and without any substantial or well-defined source of income, somehow paid $11m cash for the mansion on Grove End Road, a few miles north of here. Now we can hold all the Parliamentary enquiries we want and host press conferences like this from now until the cows come home, but actions will always speak louder than words.
If the UK through its silence or inaction demonstrates that its stated commitment to entrenching democracy and promoting good leadership in Nigeria is just talk, well, the reality is that if and when Nigeria and its youthful population find their way in the world and become a larger potential trading and diplomatic partner, they will remember who their friends were in times of adversity. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
My final words are aimed directly at the elements in Nigeria’s political, judicial and security establishment who – if they are not central to it – are enabling this brazen attempt to end all meaningful attempts at democracy in Nigeria – because I know they’re watching this.
14 years ago in 2009, I remember looking at the news and seeing a breaking story about a terrorist who tried to blow up a transatlantic flight using plastic explosives sewn into his underwear. Nigerians at the time were maybe a bit worried about potentially having more visa scrutiny and potentially more visa refusals, but the concept of a “Nigerian suicide bomber” was so unheard of to us, that it became material for viral comedy videos on Facebook and Basketmouth punchlines at Nite of a Thousand Laughs.
“Imagine a whole Nigerian blowing himself up! Nigerians that love life so much?”
Hahahaha, it was very funny.
And then in 2011, it happened again. This time it was in Abuja. This time 27 people died. Then it happened again in Madalla. Then in Gadaka. Then Damaturu. Then Jos. The deaths piled into the hundreds and just like that, it stopped being funny.
Almost overnight, “Nigerian suicide bomber” went from being the ethereal punchline of a very funny joke to becoming a very real thing that regularly appeared on the pages of Punch and Vanguard. The Facebook viral videos from 2009 stopped loading. The comedians stopped mentioning suicide bombing.
Why am I telling you this story?
The thing about established orders is that they count on their own inertia and don’t believe that things can or will ever actually change.
Until they do.
Legend has it that right at the moment when the barbarians were overrunning the gates of Rome, the city’s legislators were locked in a debate on the subject “If a fly falls into Holy ointment, is the ointment then tainted or does the fly become holy?” Then of course, the barbarians broke in and the question didn’t matter anymore.
No matter how elastic a people might be, there is always a breaking point. You just haven’t found their breaking point yet.
If you have been paying attention, the signs are already there. I mentioned earlier that the 2019 and 2020 riots in Lagos which came before #EndSARS were both parts of an escalating pattern. What I did not mention was that the next time young Nigerians hit the streets, they will do so fully expecting you to shoot them down as you did during #EndSARS. This means that they will have nothing to lose. Which makes them infinitely more dangerous.
In case you still do not understand what the 2023 election was, you should have seen it as one final opportunity to exit relatively gracefully and leave the young people whom you have failed woefully, to clean up the mess you created. That is all they have asked for with their vote, and you still have the opportunity to avoid making a bigger mess.
It is not too late for you to make things right. But having said that, if history is a judge, we know what you are most likely to do. If it happens that way, well, I have spent 10 minutes explaining how it will – inevitably – end for you and for Nigeria.
We don’t pray for it to happen.
But if does?
We will host a press conference.