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Nigerians Social Rights Crusade: Lessons From US Civil Rights Campaign

When the Igbo man said “Uwa mgbede ka mma” (I will leave you to find the meaning of this one), I did not give it a thought, but on my own, have most recently added that “Akwukwo mgbede ka mma” (adult education is better).  

If you don’t believe me, why do you think OBJ went back to school after becoming the president? There is fun in advanced learning. Adult education is not for those that did not initially attend primary, secondary or university schooling, I have come to realize. 

I am from a dydx background but most recently have been romancing with History that I have on many occasions included it in one of the possible subjects I would like to study at the post graduate level. 

I am also one of those who believe that postgraduate education should be done only after some kind of practical working experience. 

Only then would the principles make sense and only then can one contribute to improvement in the industry and towards the larger society as well, anything otherwise is academic, for me. 

To that end, in my pursuit of history as an alternative academic agenda, I have come to the same conclusion that it makes sense when juxtaposed with our everyday life and hence the parallel lessons I have drawn from my recent adventure into the autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.

This would be the first of such books am reading (and am not ashamed to say it as I have already declared myself in History adult education class) and I have not finished it yet but had to pause to share these lessons already. 

That is to tell you how passionate I became when I saw the similarities between what the blacks of the United States faced (and may still be facing in more fanciful ways today) and what we face in the present day Nigeria. 

The book The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr as edited by Clayborne Carson presents the account of King’s life from where we can draw a lot of lessons in relation to our present day Nigerian circumstances.

Perhaps, these lessons may help patriots. 

The likes of 2Face, many senior respected evangelical pastors and all those that their frustrations with the system have reached boiling point that they have made up their minds to do something about it by way of advocating for public awareness and active participation of the church in politics. 

For 2face, I pitied him when he bought the Police dummy and called off his well-planned demonstration. I wondered if he was expecting the police to serve him salad and ice cream once he declared his intentions.

I believe the smart police CP has already collected his congratulatory award from his bosses for 'sweet tonguing' 2face (and saving the money they would have spent from their budget to provide the required police cover) out of the protest which went on anyway. 

Enough preamble and let’s get to the lessons. Their fight was termed 'civil rights' because of things like discrimination and segregation, but we can term the same things happening to us in Nigerian as social rights.

A case where the elite led by the President jets off to the UK or his ministers go abroad for treatment when they are sick but leave Nigerians to suffer from ill equipped hospitals is social injustice!

A case where the president's children school abroad but the rest of Nigerians contend with strikes in our schools or a past president or vice president builds schools ordinary Nigerians cannot afford and which is far better than the state schools is injustice!

A situation where a corrupt few, the so called elite, stash the countries resources away in soak away in their homes and when they are caught, they point fingers at their collaborators or shout opposition persecution is social injustice!

 A case where the elite use the police to escort their public loots in the guise of security cover while chasing away other public road users and in some cases flogging those that would not leave the road for them is social injustice!

The civil rights fight was non-violent in nature as they were students of Mahatma Gandhi who had earlier used such scheme to win integration for the “Untouchables” of India, something similar to the Osu caste system of the Igbo’s. 

You would agree it takes great strength to refuse to retaliate violently when pushed to the wall as most Nigerians have been. Most interesting for me was the fact that this fight was led by the church! 

King, a well learned pastor spearheaded the struggle but was also criticised by fellow pastors whom he replied in one long epistle I was tempted to type out. Of course, he acknowledged it was that long because it was all he did while in that prison, writing long letters and doing long prayers. 

They sure raised funds, not for self aggrandisement but for bail bonds to bail out those souls who willingly offered to go to jail for the sake of the struggle as the police harassed them even when the walks were non-violent and peaceful.

They had a theme song that symbolized the struggle. The song fired up hearts and was a torment to passive men of honour who were standing on the fence and to their aggressors as well. “We shall overcome, we shall overcome one day” was the key one.

They had contacts to the highest levels in the land in the person of John Kennedy who would call up King's Wife, sometimes when King was in jail and this is similar to the contacts our senior pastors have presently in Nigeria. 

The fight was of course bigger than their relationship with the President because it required fundamental constitutional changes and in some cases implementation of existing changes, notwithstanding, the president had a role to play in advancing the course.

King himself rejected any form of protection and especially armed protection when the attacks on him increased. At a point, he agreed to some volunteer guard around his house but with no arms as he could not reconcile such in the light of his advocacy for nonviolence of any kind.

Most importantly so far, they tackled an issue at a time. This, they learnt from their partial success in Mississippi after their campaign for civil rights changes did not focus on any item but ranged from restaurant to bus segregations and voting rights. 

They learnt this lesson when they compared notes with the success at Montgomery where Rosa Parks set off the bus boycott that culminated in King's first major civil rights struggle which led to the end of bus segregation in that city.

In the light of these experiences, fellow patriots who ran away from the fight or have been shying away must learn to re-strategise to fight another day and this time around choose the battle wisely to ensure victory. 

There are social reform bills such as FOI, none use of life bullets to disperse demonstrators, transparency (review of non-accountability of security votes, review of immunity clause to exclude investigation of criminally related issues, full publication of public servants asset declaration, salaries  and if any does not want that then let him or her stay in his house ) related bills to be championed (the dilemma would be that the church seemed to have rejected the FRC demand for transparency so how will they remove the perk in the politicians eyes). 

The church must lead this fight as the custodians of the people's conscience. Make no mistake about it, the elites we see today would never give up their comfort without prompting and much pressure as history rightly suggests. 

Let me go continue reading joor, maybe, there will be more lessons to share when I finish.

Obidike Peter wrote from and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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