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What Does One Do At A Time Like This?



Peaceful protesters at Lekki Toll Gate at 5:45 PM. Photo by @MrAkinbosola

So many times I’ve come across the Tiananmen Square Massacre (the 1989 horror in China where troops armed with assault rifles opened fire on demonstrators), in essays, fiction, films, mostly with the massacre serving as a backdrop to the lives of characters. We see how the massacre affected the lives of maybe the character’s parents, and how its legacy was passed down through generations. Still, I’ve never taken time to reflect on its implications, what happens when your country unleashes horror on you because you demand better. I’ve never really thought about it, or even cared. Not until today.

Today, over 100,000 people watched on Instagram Live as a Nigerian took his last breath, after he was shot by what eyewitnesses claim are officers of the Nigerian Army. We watched as protesters tried to remove, with crude tools, a bullet from the thigh of an unarmed and peaceful protester. We watched on social media as these officers opened fire on protesters who were sitting on the floor, singing the national anthem, the bullets ringing out like fireworks on New Year’s Day. We saw the Nigerian flag stained red with the blood of innocent Nigerians, innocent Nigerians who were out on the street demanding not to be killed by the Nigerian police, demanding for better.

Things get worse, reports on Twitter claim that ambulances are being blocked from reaching the protesters who have been injured in the shooting. They say the military is putting bodies in trucks—an effort to hide the massacre.

What does one do at a time like this?

Everything else feels secondary. Was going to take a bath and found there was no more soap, yet it felt foolish to ask my best friend about it. People are dying and I want to ask about soap. Soap. Even crying feels pointless.

And even more questions: Who did this? Who is responsible for this? Who will pay for this? Will anyone pay for this?—for what has been christened the Lekki Toll Gate Massacre.

The texts have begun to pour in: You’re safe at home yeah? Stay safe. Prioritise your mental health. Love and light. Love and support. But it all feels so useless. How does one stay safe? Isn’t sitting, like the protesters were, doing nothing, the safest position there is? How does one choose to prioritise their mental health when one’s countrymen, friends, family, are out there dying on their behalf? And it makes sense, you know, staying off social media so that you don’t break—I want to, but the voice keeps ringing in my head: Now is not the time to look away. Once I do that, they begin to win. I feel so helpless. I know we all do. But now, for me, is the time to stay resolute on the goal: to end impunity and bad governance in this country.

Photo Credit: MrAkinbosola

Niyi Ademoroti is the Features Editor at BellaNaija and an MFA candidate at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. His writing has appeared in AGNI, Hobart and The Republic.

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