BusinessDay
NigeriaDecides2023

Protect human rights defenders or stop fundraising in their name

Around 6.50pm on October 20, 2020, Catherine Udeh’s entire life changed forever. Using her platform as a well known DJ during the #EndSARS protest of October 2020, Catherine, aka DJ Switch had become something of a rallying point. The part of the story that is well known is that she live streamed the event that we now know as the Lekki Toll Plaza Massacre.

What is less known is that the reason she was able to live stream and others were not, was because the fibre optic cables supplying the area with internet connectivity had been deliberately sabotaged just a few minutes before the massacre took place, leading to a prolonged network outage for many users across Lagos and Nigeria.

Using her MTN line, however, DJ Switch was able to stay online using bandwidth from satellite connectivity. Whether this bandwidth was intentionally rationed to keep her online that night, only the network engineers can answer.

What we do know is that her live video became one of the most important pieces of prima facie evidence against the government, which subsequently went straight into denial mode.

While publicly denying that a massacre took place, the government launched a secret manhunt for DJ Switch, who found herself whisked across the border into a safe house in a neighbouring West African country. Just like that, her life as she knew it, was over. And then came the shenanigans.

The amazing world of the useless CSO

During the ensuing 1 year, when the word on the street was that DJ Switch had been “whisked away to Canada” and was now safe and out of the reach of the vengeful Buhari administration, she was in fact, stuck inside the safe house barely 600km from Lagos.

Alongside several other well known #EndSARS exiles, she found herself thrust into the never-ending vortex of assorted CSO jargon, gobbledegook and utter nonsense. First came the promises. They would ensure she was protected, taken care of, sent to this or that country, bla bla bla.

Then came the waiting. The waiting. The waiting. The waiting. More waiting. Nothing happening. And then more promises. Zoom calls. Filling of forms and web applications. Meetings. Interviews. Zoom calls. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Promises. Waiting. Promises. Zoom calls. Zoom calls. Waiting. Zoom calls. Occasional morsels of hope. Filling of forms. Zoom calls. Zoom calls. Waiting.

To date, I do not know for a fact whether she eventually left the continent using help from one of these myriad Civil Society entities, or if she merely got tired and figured out her own way to get things done, as I did.

I have never had that conversation with her, but if it does turn out that she ended up having to sort out her own situation by herself after carrying out such valuable national service and being abandoned by the very people who are supposed to help in such situations, I would not be surprised at all.

Why? Because that is precisely what happened to me at exactly the same time.

“Chasing clout” using our names

In my case, when I got to the country that became my intermediary stop, I had no intention of seeking help from any of these types.

From experience, I have discovered that one only achieves anything in Nigeria when one does so with as few attachments, promises and hangers-on as possible.

As dangerous as my line of work is, I never went into it with any expectations of assistance from Abuja’s CSO Industrial Complex, especially given that the said CSOs and much of the compromised media establishment were clearly in bed with each other.

This time around, however, I took my editor’s advice and I sent messages to a couple of these prominent, well-known “Civil Society Doyens” informing them that I had started my journey into exile.

One of them responded very enthusiastically, informing me that he would do everything in his power to ensure that this would happen, that would happen, and the other would surely take place.

I have never been one for relying on other people, and I don’t take people’s word for much, but I thought hey, what’s the worst that could happen? Give him a chance.

So I did. I did the things he asked me to do. Send your CV and personal statement. Sent. Send a comprehensive statement explaining why you have gone into exile and what you plan to do going forward. Sent. Give me a call at so and so date and time. Called. No answer. Called again. No answer.

Maybe he’s just busy, and he will call me back by himself, I thought, so I left it and waited. This was in November 2020. As you are reading this, I am still waiting for his response. He never called back or responded to any messages.

Worse still, while this was going on, this individual would publicly interact with me on Twitter, quoting my tweets and published stories with praises and encomiums. “David Hundeyin is a national treasure” this, and “This journalist must be protected” that.

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He did this for more than a year while consciously ignoring me and leaving my WhatsApp message on read since November 2020. Only after I published an investigation into the activities of Amnesty International Nigeria earlier this year, did he finally disengage and stop interacting with me in public.

As was the case with DJ Switch and countless others whose names I am not at liberty to mention here, what simply happened was that it was expedient to publicly associate with our names and faces for the purpose of either fundraising or justifying expenses.

Almost none of the fantastic sums budgeted by these “human rights defender” NGOs ever went to protecting or helping the people actually concerned.

I, for one, am proud to report that I have received the grand sum of $0 from any such CSO or NGO, despite their many public associations with my name and image. As we say on social media, this is all one big, convoluted “clout chase” on their part.

And frankly, I’m tired of it.

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