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Jessica Ireju: What My Mother Taught Me About Being A Hero



The events of the last couple of days in Nigeria, as regards the #EndSARS protests, have reinforced my belief that superheroes don’t always wear capes. They’re, for the most part, ordinary people like you and me who have the courage to inspire others to cause a change. From Aisha Yesufu, the lady in the iconic pictures at the Abuja protests in her hijabJane Obiene, who gained public attention when she set out to protest with her amputated legs; DJ Switch, who went on IG live to record the shooting at the Lekki toll gate, and thousands of Nigerians who have taken the protests from social media to the streets to lend their voice against injustice. They are you and me.

I had planned to write my personal hero in life – my mother – this sweet feature, acknowledging all her dreams that she sacrificed for me as she celebrates her diamond jubilee this weekend. But at a time like this, I’ll just share the lessons my mother has taught me instead about being the change I want to see as a millennial Nigerian woman navigating life amidst the backdrop of a country on the verge of a revolution.

I remember getting upset when people disappointed me when I needed them the most (thank God I’ve been cured of my sense of entitlement). My mother would say “help comes from the most unlikely places, not where you insist on.” In other words, you can’t tell God how your miracle should come. The change we want as a country didn’t come from our elected leaders—for the most part they’ve been a disappointment—but from social media, those dubbed “the lazy Nigerian Youths.” The regular Nigerian who this country has taught to be resourceful and resilient. We’re so used to getting a thousand nos while waiting for one yes, that we’re willing to sleep out on the streets, defy government orders, until we get a yes to our demands.

We’ve been waiting for change for so long, it seemed it would never come. Whenever I would complain about waiting for anything, a new job, positive results, my mum would remind me of her story, saying, “It took me 8 years to have a child. When I did, I had 3 children in 4 years.” After Tuesday’s shooting in Lagos, my morale is low, but I’m reminded that change will definitely come no matter the abortions. I’m still in shock that Nigerians were out on the streets protesting, raising funds and cleaning up after themselves. I honestly thought I’d be gray haired before I saw a day like this. Like the struggle with infertility plagued with miscarriages, lives have been lost, but the aborted dreams will precede the birth of a New Nigeria amidst the contraction pains.

The experience of Nigerians in the hands of the now disbanded SARS officials has left many without husbands, children and even friends. Reading their stories has left me in awe of people’s ability to live again when you’re stripped of a loved one. But I recognise that sometimes life doesn’t exactly give you a choice, we learn to live for others not ourselves, a lesson my mother taught me.

When my father died, my mum was distraught. She had to be heavily sedated and looked like she would never be herself again, until one of my siblings said to her, “Please don’t leave us. We need you.” Looking back now, it seemed like a miracle. The next day, my mum woke up, put herself together, and headed to the one thing she’s always loved: cooking. She made the decision to live for us; she couldn’t do it for herself.

Jimoh Isiaq will not live again, but maybe his family will get justice, and another family will never have to feel the pain they have felt. Kolade Johnson will never get to see his child graduate, but maybe the next generation will never have to live in fear of being brutalised by those who have taken an oath to protect them. Thousands of lives and limbs will never be recovered, but #EndSars protesters are in the rain not for ourselves but for the next generation, that’s why we demand change! I think one of the most important things my mum has taught me is to live life on my own terms and create the life I want, even when it seems slow in it all coming. That’s why Nigerians have created jobs for themselves, funded their protests, and learned to succeed in a country where the odds are against them.

Growing up, my house was always a bustle of activities, with an unending stream of visitors. My mum loved to cook and entertain (sorry Mum, but I seem not to have inherited your cooking gifts). She was hospitable. To this day, my mum will get upset if you ask a visitor if they would like to eat, rather than what they would like to eat. My mum believes every visitor should have a meal before they leave. It’s the same hospitality and kindness we’ve seen among Nigerians in the last couple of weeks. People cooking for free, donating money to fund protests, asking the stranger at the protest ground if they’d like a bottle of water in the blazing heat—that’s what we do as Nigerians; we are each other’s keeper. That’s why Tolulope Ebun paid for hotel rooms, LifePointe Church opened their doors to protesters, and strangers were struggling to save lives after people were shot at Lekki Toll Gate.

There’s a popular narrative that young Nigerians are fraudsters, when young Nigerians are some of the most hardworking and honest people I know. My mum was a civil servant, till today I can’t relate with the narrative that they’re lazy, skip work all the time, and don’t do anything. I spent twenty years of my life watching my mum get dressed every working day, put on her signature red lipstick and heels, and report for her duties come rain, come shine. The akara seller on my street tells my sister she’s awake by 4am every day. People spend 14 hours every day working multiple jobs, and if you’re a freelancer or young entrepreneur, there are no days off. That’s why we are not tired.

I want to say thank you to everyone doing their part to bring change, and that there are no small parts. To the mothers who will be at home struggling to balance work with their kids as schools are shut down, people tweeting in their break time from work, those on the streets who have abandoned their personal projects, people donating discreetly, and my mother, like other mothers who raised this fearless generation, thank you.

PS: Happy birthday, Mummy. No other person gave me the permission to live my life with authenticity, teaching me to be the change I want by being fearless in the face of adversity.

Jessica Ireju considers herself a storyteller; she believes everyone has a story worth telling! She weaves words together as a content writer to help brands tell their stories most engagingly. She's currently working on co-hosting a podcast to curate her personal stories and encourage others to share theirs. She loves small chops, thinks journals make the perfect gift, and is a fan of Johnny Drille's music. On the days when she's not creating content, she invites people to share their own stories by leaving a comment on Instagram @jessicaireju.

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