It all started as a random tweet and blackberry messenger broadcast urging folks to gather at the Unity Fountain in Abuja, Nigeria. Being, one that preaches the supremacy of offline engagements in the use of online interactions to drive change, I knew I will certainly be there.
Background of the Situation:
We all woke up on the morning of 25th February, 2014 to the news of how students of the Federal Government College (FGC), Buni-Yadi in Gujba local government area of Yobe State were murdered in cold blood by insurgents. It has become a regular thing to hear of deaths and abductions in the North Eastern part of Nigeria by members of Boko Haram.
The Online Outcry:
Not long after the news broke, there was an immediate outcry by Nigerians denouncing the dastardly act. This was in the wake of another bizarre event which occurred on Tuesday February 11th that saw 20 young women abducted by Boko Haram members after a raid in Konduga village in neighboring Borno State.
Then came the message urging folks to gather at the Unity Fountain in Abuja, Nigeria. The focus was to say enough is enough to the unrest in North East Nigeria and urge the Federal Government to pay more attention to the plight of Nigerian citizens residence in the troubled areas.
Not long afterwards, several hashtags sprung forth in solidarity to the situation at hand. These include:
The offline engagement/protest:
Hours before 1000hrs local time: There was a heavy presence of men of the Nigeria Police Force, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps and Department of State Services.
1000hrs to 1030hrs local time: Protesters started arriving in trickles despite the presence of the security operatives. It was discovered that their primary aim of being around the Unity Fountain was due to the high powered guests lodging in the overlooking Transcorp Hilton Hotel. Apparently, they had come to participate in Nigeria’s Centenary celebration. Protesters were allowed to converge without incidence. About 30+ individuals had come at this time.
Media presence recorded are as follows:
- Daar Communications AIT and Raypower FM
- Today FM
- Daily Trust
- VOA Hausa
1030hrs to 1100hrs: There was a low key protest where the protesters individually and as a group voiced their concern at the heightened insecurity in the North East. Some of the protesters had to be calmed down with some shedding tears at the thought of helplessness and apathy perceived to be shown the Federal Government. All of these were captured by the media houses present. Individuals also took photographs with their smartphones and others used the opportunity to network and catch up on old times with friends.
1100hrs to 1130hrs: There was a subtle attempt by the operatives present to warn us of intending arrests and disperse of protesters. An option was given for us to use the Millennium Park across the road as we where embarrassing the Government. A handfull of protesters bought the call. Several others shouted a resounding “NO” and suddenly, the grabbing and arrests began in earnest. An overzealous operative released a can of tear gas and folks just started walking as quickly as they can out of the Unity Fountain Arena.
1130hrs to 1200hrs: The arrested protesters ranging between 12 to 15 had one feature in common. They all seemed to be glad that they were about to become true heroes. Reasons for arrests ranged from writing out grievances on cardboard papers to holding out hurriedly scribbled grievances. After about 20 minutes, of seating at the back of waiting Hilux vans, the arrested protesters were released. At this point, the protest was deemed over and access to the Unity Fountain closed off.
Testimonials from the protesters:
Whoever initiated the Unity Fountain protest is a genius – the intent was quite understood there, on realizing that it’s to embarrass guests coming to Transcorp Hilton for the Centenary jamboree.
One mystery remains, even at the venue nobody claimed authorship of the broadcast that had us converged.
Gimba Kakanda via facebook.
It was deemed peaceful but the Nigeria Police Force tried to remove the peace therein.
They briefly arrested about 15+ folks and suddenly realized their folly and reversed the action. The priceless moment for me was seeing the grin and smile on the faces of the folks arrested. They truly wanted to go to jail for the sake of country.
I got lucky as none of the officers stopped me nor made an attempt to arrest me. Why? I do not know.
Nnodim Blossom via facebook.
Our young girls are missing, our boys are slaughtered like goats. I am not speaking as an Igbo neither am I a Christian rather a Nigerian. There were no guns all we had were our hands and voices yet armed security men with tear gas were all over the place. My heart is heavy, I don’t know who’s the next victim of Boko Haram.
Chijioke Ogbogu via Instagram
Lessons from the protest (In my own words):
- Folks got wind of a protest against #BornoYobeMassacre on Social Media. Armed with a collective sense of worry, they came out to stay stop.
- There was no room for riding on the shoulder of an offline protest to stardom. I am proud of the folks that came out for #BornoYobeMassacre protest.
- To all that came out for the unsuccessful #BornoYobeMassacre protest, I celebrate you. Guns on both sides of the road and you cared less.
- To all that insist that any protest against #BornoYobeMassacre must hold in Borno and Yobe, you are right. Stage one and invite all of us.
- To all that conquered their fears and came out for the #BornoYobeMassacre protest, stay focused and above all, stay blessed.
- Finally, to all that came out for #BornoYobeMassacre protest, there are folks that would have loved to come but just couldn’t. Respect that.