With back to back protests all over the world, it was probably inevitable that one would spring up in Nigeria, but rather than being a straightforward affair it’s threatening to derail before the first placard hits the street.
When 2Face first announced plans for nationwide protests calling for good governance, almost immediately it started trending. On social media, Nigerians are split; the pro-2Face camp are lauding his past efforts to promote civic engagement and speak out against poor leadership, “no one is perfect” they argue and “at least he is speaking out.”
The critics however, are citing a series of reasons why he isn’t fit to lead the march, ranging from the bizarre accusation of his supposed ‘lack of personal governance’ to claims of his ‘illiteracy.’ While the sceptics are asking if he or any celebrity should lead the march due to the cosy nature of relations between some entertainers and politicians.
In the midst of all this chatter is the march itself, which has already been relegated to the back seat. Rather than have debates about the aims of the march, the logistics, or even if a march is the most effective form of protest in this environment, other issues are taking centre stage
Conversation about the protest has been dominated by talk of who is sponsoring it, or pulling strings from behind the curtain, what APC politicians think, what PDP politicians think, what the presidency thinks, what celebrities will show up and 2Face. At the center of it all is 2Face. Questions keep rolling in about what his motives are, if he’s being paid, what artistes are supporting him, what artistes are not, if this march is a launch pad for a political bid and so on.
While I agree that it’s right to have questions and to ask them, the intense concentration on the man shifts the focus away from the message. Ideally such a movement would spring organically from the everyday Nigerian, like the Black Lives Matter movement or even closer to home in Zimbabwe. Last summer, Zimbabweans took part in an organised stay-away day, where schools and businesses across the country completely shut down in protest over a government policy.
But we don’t live in an ideal world and the power and draw of celebrity is undeniable. Let’s be honest, if an unknown Akin or Ijeoma from Mushin tried to galvanise a protest, how many people would listen, and more importantly, come out to take part in the protest?
Despite clarifying his position by saying that he didn’t initiate the movement but just offering his support, he has almost universally become tied to it, perhaps through no fault of his own. The hashtags for the movement are #IstandwithNigeria, #OneVoiceNigeria and #Istandwith2baba. While all three were trending on Twitter yesterday, it was another hashtag #IstandwithTuface that started trending first.
While it might be honourable to lend a powerful voice to a cause, it’s important that focus on that voice doesn’t shift and become bigger than the cause itself.
Worse still is the danger that this voice will become the long-desired hero, idolized and relied upon to magically solve everything with the wave of a hand. There’s a tendency in Nigeria to pin hope on a hero; a politician, an activist, someone that will not only lead us, but save us. This mythical figure will do the hardwork of thinking, fighting and preserving our freedoms so we don’t have to.
In one of the videos he released on Instagram 2Face clearly defined what the march isn’t about: politicians trying to hijack the movement to score cheap points and highlighting of political leanings and tribal differences. And he’s right, it’s not about any of that, so let’s not make it about him either.