Apply Sustained Pressure
If you’re trying to carry on while people around you die, your society is not collapsing. It’s already fallen down. — Indi Samarajiva
I have been thinking about Honk Kong a lot lately. To be honest, Honk Kong has always been one of those unfamiliar places that hold quite a bit of real estate in my thoughts. I loved Kung fu movies growing up and Hong Kong made some of the best. Movies like Kung fu hustle and Drunken Master made my childhood magical. I remember when I was about 8, finding out that Hong Kong was not a state in China but instead a country of its own. I immediately committed the fact to mind. It was significant to me that I could now think of this little place where my favourite movies were made as a country of its own. Older now, I know that the politics and geography of Hong Kong is a little more complicated than what my younger self committed to memory. I know now that pieces of land are not always easily categorised as being either states or countries. Some pieces of land are under dispute on what country they belong to, some countries break into provinces rather than states. Some areas are territories of other countries but not states. And some places, like Hong Kong, are part of a country but exist as autonomous entities with separate governments from the countries they are part of.
Hong Kong was a British colony up until 1997 when England handed the land back to China, striking a deal in the process. The deal was that Hong Kong will act independently of China, having its own government and economic structure until the year 2047. Essentially making Honk Kong a democratic, capitalist entity existing within China. The people of Hong Kong had more freedom and were governed by less strict laws than people in China (although with its own caveat). Then in 2019, the Hong Kong legislature passed a bill that would allow criminals in Honk Kong to be extradited to China for prosecution. China where laws are much stricter. The people of Hong Kong lashed against the bill and hit the streets to protest. The protesters quickly grew in number. Hundred of thousands of people flocked to the street. Mostly young people, a lot of them teenagers or in their twenties born at the same time that I was. This is why I have been thinking about Honk Kong.
The clip above is from a podcast episode that I and my co-producer made when the #endsars protests were just starting out. It was a few days into the movement and protests were still spreading to new locations around the country. There had been some incidences of violent police retaliation and people were angry about that as well as angry about the general shittiness of the country.
Why were we protesting for our country to stop killing us in the first place?
But at the time, the predominant sentiment (asides anger) was hope. We were hopeful about the future we were fighting for. Hopeful about our numbers. So many young people had hit the streets, prepared to claim back their rights to life. A right they had been promised in 1999. In that clip, my co-producer, Ayotunde, talks about the rules of protesting that she learnt on her first day out. She talked about the need to have a place to run to, have someone know who you were and who your next of kin was. She even talked about writing your blood group on your skin to save your first aiders the trouble of needing to find out. We never put out the episode (because the protests quickly moved on and got out of hand) but when we spoke on the phone and put that story together, I couldn’t help but think back to a story from the Hong Kong protests I had heard a couple of months ago.
The Hong Kong protests started in 2019 with the first protest happening toward the end of March. They escalated in June with numbers going up to half a million (Hong Kong’s total population is 7.5 million). The bill was paused in June and rejected by October but the protests did not stop then. They had protested continuously through to the end of 2019 and much into 2020. Protests every day. People woke up and prepared to go to the street. The protests that started against the bill at some point in time became a protest against the police (who had violently cracked down on protesters.) It was also a pro-democratic protest.
I kept seeing these similarities between the end sars protests and the Hong Kong protest. When we first started protesting, I looked to Hong Kong to see what we could learn from them. They had been fighting the fight for much longer, they had developed a system.
I heard a few radio stories about the protest. In one of them, a girl called Jennifer (not her real name) was interviewed. In that story I learnt that the protesters had a uniform, they wore all black and face masks to hide their identities (the demonstrations eventually became outlawed and people did not want to be arrested hence the masks. The masks also eventually got banned) Jennifer described her routine for the protest. She left her house wearing a pink shirt and put her protest clothes in her bag. She then took the train to a protest location. There she changed, met up with friends and joined the group of protesters in black and face masks. After protesting, she changed back, wore makeup and went home.
Along with her face mask and black shirt, Jennifer also left her house with a first aid kit and tissues for tear gas. She described the contingency plans young people had when they prepared for these protests. She had an app on her phone that showed escape routes and where the police were in the city. At the protests, the young people worked closely with each other, sending messages along the line. When the people in front spotted police, they would send a message back so people behind would stay at alert in case a retreat was necessary. There were people like Jennifer who went to the protests with the set responsibility that they would be first aiders. In the radio story, the protesters collided with a police team, the team attacked them with rubber bullets and tear gas and the protesters retreated. Jennifer did too but also in the process helped someone that had been affected during the stampede. Jennifer was born in 1997, the same year as me.
Since listening to those radio stories and since the #endsars protests started, I have done a lot of reading on Hong Kong, looking up to them as guidance, thinking of what we could learn from them. There are many similarities between our protests and theirs:
- They too were young people fighting against a tyrannical government
- The police were violently against them
- They too had five demands, some of them looking exactly like ours
Amnesty for arrested protesters
An independent inquiry into alleged police brutality
The protests in Hong Kong lasted for over 6 months and had many violent clashes between police and protesters but recorded only two deaths. Barely two weeks into the Nigerian protest, this happened.
I couldn’t look to Hong Kong anymore. I remember that night, watching the Instagram live that we all saw together, and hearing my father’s football excitement from the sitting room. The juxtaposition hit me hard. The next day, my father and I got into an argument that ended with me in tears. I think Tuesday broke a lot of people but for me, the breaking came the next morning.
I have been trying to avoid the news since then but still, the news finds its way to me. Even news from two years ago when the Nigerian army acted in a similar fashion (shot directly into a group of unarmed people and then played everything off despite video evidence)
If you’re waiting for a moment where you’re like “this is it,” I’m telling you, it never comes. Nobody comes on TV and says “things are officially bad.” There’s no launch party for decay. It’s just a pileup of outrages and atrocities in between friendships and weddings and perhaps an unusual amount of alcohol. — Indi Samarajiva
It has now been a few days since the massacre. I took time away from work and have been slowly easing back into it. But even as I say that, I know I speak from a place of privilege. I was reading an essay by Indi Samarajiva and this line hit me deep as I thought of my own life amidst all that was happening around me.
If you’re trying to carry on while people around you die, your society is not collapsing. It’s already fallen down
The president finally addressed Nigerians a few days ago and after the address, I went on WhatsApp status. That ‘shared hope’ from when the protests started isn’t there anymore. Many people have been broken and now don’t even know what to do or what to think. They had believed that their protest would yield results but instead, it yielded more death. We tried to push the system in the right direction but instead of moving, it cut our hands off
The question I have been wondering to myself now is what can we do? What do we actually do next? A lot of people have shifted their attention to the next elections which are 3 years away. That’s too much time to wait for many people. Even worse, there is no guarantee that the election will change anything. I don’t believe that it will. I don’t believe that with one election, our problems will go away. There are too many problems that are too deep for us to simply be able to vote once and fix them. I do think we should vote but even more, I think we need to understand that we are not going to get change.
I have been thinking about how many people want ‘change’ now, how they want to fix things now, but that’s not how change works. Change is not a result, it’s a process. It’s always happening.
You have got to start thinking generationally. This may actually help your mental state because — while difficult — generational change is at least not impossible. You’re trying to change everything right now and the only thing that’s going to give is your brain. — Indi Samarajiva 2
A motto of this movement has been ‘apply pressure’ but I think the idea had been to apply pressure now and push things till they get better. It has seemed a little to me like we want to shove the country in the right direction. Like one thing will change everything. The government’s response to us (begging that we go back inside after claiming to disband sars) is a testament that the exact type of pressure we need to make this country better is sustained pressure. Indi Samarajiva in his essay (that eventually became a trilogy) was talking to Americans about his reality living through a civil war and how that looked a lot like America now. Americans had responded to him and asked what they could do to return things to normal and he had responded that there was no normal for them to return to. Things were not going to get better now and not after the coming election. It had taken his family three generations to return to normal. His own parents never witnessed the normalcy his grandparents did, but luckily his children might.
Nigeria is not normal, what we have been living through all these years has not been normal. Every couple of years, we all get very outraged at something and we come out in numbers to protests it then we go back home and get ready for work the next day.
Collapse is just a series of ordinary days in between extraordinary bullshit, most of it happening to someone else. That’s all it is. — Indi Samarajiva
Nigeria experiences a lot of extraordinary bullshit and it's not going to stop next year or the year after that, unfortunately. It’s going to take much longer than. My hope is that we can put the type of sustained pressure to fix things that will make sure that my children or maybe my grandchildren don’t have to think about the country the same way I think about it now. In 2047 Hong Kong will become fully part of China and the protesters now don’t know what will happen then. They believe they will lose their independence and their fight now is to prevent China from taking it sooner. They don’t feel like they will win because they will eventually be taken by China. They are fighting to postpone their deadline but we don’t have a deadline, we can actually win.
That’s how this works. Human society doesn’t follow quarters or years, this is literally astrology. We follow generations. My grandparents’ generation started the fire. My parents’ generation put it out (with artillery). My generation can thus indulge in flame wars on Twitter. That’s how long it takes, and you are nowhere near the end. You’re at the beginning. — Indi Samarajiva
Thanks for reading!