“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery,
None but ourselves can free our minds,
Have no fear for atomic energy,
‘Cause none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our Prophets,
While we stand aside and look? Ooh!
Some say it’s just a part of it;
We’ve got to fulfil the book.
Won’t you help to sing, this songs of freedom- ‘Cause all I ever have:
Redemption Song; Redemption Song; Redemption Song!”
BOB MARLEY (1979)
Out of his life’s work, this song more than any other truly defines the essence of the message Bob Marley tried to convey in his music. Apart from being a brilliant piece of art, Redemption Song was Bob Marley’s way of uplifting the downtrodden and oppressed people of the world. When one visualises the oppression of a people, the image that usually comes to mind is that of black slaves in shackles being whipped during the slave trade or crowds of South Africans being shot at during the Apartheid era or even the followers of our Prophets back in the Prophetic Days being dehumanised and slaughtered for daring to believe. While such images maybe its extreme face, the oppression of a people can take many forms. Situations where women are denied equal opportunities and abused by virtue of their gender is a form of oppression. Where a developing nation is buried under a mass of unreasonable foreign debt, it is a form of economic oppression. Where a 157 million people are living in a country that cannot boast of any maintained structure, or stable electricity, or clean water, or a successful educational system, or sound security, or jobs for graduates, the people are oppressed. Where the most populated country in Africa operates a one party democracy where the same party that has been in power since the inception of democracy continues to effortlessly win elections despite the public’s general dissatisfaction, those people are oppressed.
For anyone familiar with our political escapade, news that PDP had won the governorship election in Adamawa state came as no surprise. Nigerians have come to accept that alomost every election that is held will result in a positive outcome for a rulling party that insists on lording its might around the jugular of this nation. Many Nigerians may not recognise it as such, but the one party system that the PDP has hoisted on us, where the dynasty and reuse of leaders has gulped our structure, where the wishes of the vast majority is never adhered to and people have lost hope of ever seeing change is one of oppression.
No matter how much one admires the freedoms enjoyed by others or identifies ours as that which is oppressed, the responsibility for our situation does not lie soley with the rulling party, it must be shared by each and every Nigerian. By now all of us must have accepted the fact that there is a problem in Nigeria. Our inability as a people oppressed to admonish and reject the perpetrators of our decadent state forms a very large basis of the problem. Every day the likes of me and my colleagues continue to moan, groan and print all manners of profanity against our government on the front and back pages of newspapers. Market men and women huddle together in quiet protest, whining about the Nigerian leadership. But in effect all we seem to do is whinge, talk, complain, write and still tolerate. That was what was so special about the recent occupy Nigeria movement. The fact that for once in our history, Nigerians were able to collectively stand as one and reject a limb of oppression, is the very essence of what freedom is all about.
Throughout history when a people’s patience has been pushed to its full limits, those people eventually react to counter the oppression. That was why Nigerians reacted the way they did during the removal of fuel subsidy debacle. This is how the African-American people led by Dr Martin Luther King won freedom, to establish a post-racial society and push back the barriers to black advancement. As he led his people in that massive struggle Dr King told them that the freedom they wanted is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. He was correct. The freedom from the oppression that has engulfed this nation for the past many years will only be won once the people of Nigeria stand up for their rights at every call.
The majority of the people in this country are poor and their one focus is to meet life’s most basic requirements. Each day they wake up to an empty stomach; they are not concerned so much with the policies in Aso Rock or the Bills passed in the National Assembly, but with how they will provide their families with food. This dearth renders them hostage to their nation’s bureaucracy and has overpowered their will to reject the oppression they are stewing in. Perhaps more than ever in our history, Nigeria is, at this very moment, a union of collectively oppressed people at its most oppressed. People who have no say so in the direction of their future, no enthusiasm, expectation or devotion to their nation. People who are so clearly fed up with the status quo.
Unless the mass population of this country unites itself to create an effective opposition to the affairs of state we are dissatisfied with, we will continue to suffer a continuous tragic failure of leadership. Our contentment with the static debauchery we continue to operate as a political system has in effect invigorated the lack of accountability we see in our leaders. The fact that we continue to complain in the privacy of our homes and behind closed doors, instead of confronting the issues that corrupt and bleed this nation dry only sends the message that business as usual is okay as usual.
We have become like the zombies depicted in Hollywood movies that no longer have brains because their brains were eaten by other zombies. Living dead monsters with their hands outstretched that have no purpose but to feed, float, wander and walk slowly; very slowly into nothingness. Growing up as a child, if I was asked the one thing I could call myself as a Nigerian, I think I most definitely would have said that the one thing I was as a Nigerian is proud. But I am afraid today I do not know what the meaning of pride in the Nigerian context is. What is there to be proud of exactly?
The writing is on the wall folks, the march to freedom that was started by the Save Nigeria and Occupy Nigeria group cannot be allowed to evaporate. We have the challenge and responsibility of keeping our government on its toes and ensuring that our democracy emerges out of the dungeon of a one party system. A viable, good faith opposition has got to emerge soon, otherwise the predictability of all our future elections will be so heightened, there will be no point in having the elections. But we also have to realise that the politics of this country will only change if we, the people put away religious and ethnic sentiments and arise without fear or cowardice and legally demand for it to change.
In the Redemption Song, Bob Marley urged the oppressed to “emancipate themselves from mental slavery, none but themselves can free their minds”. He’s right because until we understand that we each have a responsibility in the future of Nigeria, we will continue to suffer. We all have a stake in this country and must hold each other accountable no matter the price. Therefore, as Marley sang, we should each ask ourselves, “Won’t you help to sing, this song of freedom- ‘Cause all I ever have: Redemption Song; Redemption Song; Redemption Song!”
Article Written By Hannatu Musawa