Recently your brush with SARS officials went viral. You could have given them the money they wanted and walked away. Why didn’t you do that?
Innocence. I believe innocence should be free. Giving them money wouldn’t save me from a repeat. Instead, it would fund it. We have been doing that all this while yet we complain that these guys are still at it. Of course, they won’t stop, it’s profitable. I fight injustice on behalf of others in my own little way. It drives me nuts to see people suffer the abuse of power. The least I could do for myself was refuse to be extorted. I only had to be careful about it. It wasn’t even for myself. On the surface, it might look like that but it went deeper. You might say it wouldn’t stop the impunity but it started a conversation and got a few officers to account for their actions. Next time they might have to think twice. I was with the DPO of Okota police station the other day to thank her for her role in solving the problem. Some local leaders came into her office over an issue about security. My case came up and she told them, “See him there, that’s the guy.” They were pleased to see me. The matter has raised a lot of talk and action and that’s something.
The officers were arrested. So what is happening to the case now?
The truth is that I don’t know. They were arrested and scheduled for a room trial. The media have been asking me for updates. I should be the one asking them for updates. I have done my part as a private person and a citizen journalist. It’s now left for all of us as Nigerians to demand justice by continuing the conversation and prodding more media curiosity. The police also could tell Nigerians what is happening at the moment because it is also in their interest to be seen as having punished errant officers since they have this campaign to rid the force of bad eggs. If they want the public to take them seriously on their appeal to the public to report erring officers, they should not let the matter die. From their response to the issue, I’m confident they will ensure justice. But then again sometimes you might have to push first before they brief you. I don’t know.
Are you worried about your safety?
My family, friends, and well-wishers are all worried. They keep saying these SARS guys are dangerous and could seek me out to harm me or frame me up or kill me. Someone talked about how her cousin went to them to report armed robbers. They allegedly held him instead and turned the case against him. He’s been held in detention since last year, accused of armed robbery, with guns tied to his name. So these stories keep flying around and everyone is worried about me. Asking me to watch my back and lie low. But I don’t fear death at all. If you know my story you’ll realize I’m not alone in this life. I’m not afraid.
Couldn’t you have started a larger advocacy from this experience….You know, something around the popular #EndSARS campaign or about police injustice?
I think it’s beyond hashtags. We all should take seriously to defending our rights one person at a time. We have ceded too much of our civic space to arbitrary power and should begin to reclaim it. The police also need to collaborate with Nigerians in opening up the civic space because it is in everyone’s interest to deepen public trust and confidence in the force. I will most likely take up a more organized intervention in this regard. It’s not late yet.
And the media support you got then would give any such campaign leverage…
True. And I can’t thank the media enough, especially social media. Some people think social media is useless. The whole credit goes to Nigerians on all platforms speaking with one voice. They fought for me. Fellow writers, friends in the media, including the platforms I report for as a freelance journalist; friends in the Nigerian civil society space, especially at Spaces for Change and Youth Development; total strangers also. All of them! I was pleasantly shocked. And yes, there is a basis for a larger campaign. We look ahead.
Now let’s talk about politics. You’re actively involved in political discussions. We are talking about youth getting involved. What’s your view on that?
I think that’s a good idea, but we may also need to fill a certain intellectual gap. I don’t mean we are not intellectually competent to lead. We can even be better than the folks around. But there’s a gap between political interest and problem-solving leadership. Beyond complaining, we could seriously begin to advert our minds towards solving our political problems as young people. I could ask myself, ‘If I were the governor how would I solve the Lagos traffic problem?’ That challenges thought. I could think about how to solve poverty, terror, unemployment, etc.
So what do you think should be done?
We need to invest in youth leadership. Leaders are groomed or mentored in the climes we emulate. You don’t just grow older, find some money or a sponsor and boom, you want to lead. Can you think? Can you solve problems? I’m not talking about the government investing in youth leadership because that’s not realistic. I’m talking corporate Nigeria. In 2012, I worked with Lanre Messan and Steve Adesemoye to sell my brainchild, a political reality TV show for the youth. Where we can gather young people together, set leadership tasks, and get them to think and present ideas on how to solve our specific problems. Real problems. We sent proposals to firms and made even a few presentations. But corporate Nigeria said they preferred entertainment shows. They were unwilling to invest in youth leadership and help start a conversation. That programme could groom young, incisive minds and give them a platform for political limelight. In any way we can, we need to prepare the youth with cutting-edge ideas and mentorship.
Do you plan to join politics at some point?
It depends on what you mean by ‘join politics’. Perhaps you mean seeking an elective position, otherwise, I’m already involved. We don’t all have to be at the center. I prefer providing insights, oversights, and engagement from the civil society standpoint. Being nonpartisan helps you to maintain a certain sense of patriotic objectivity. I’m not sure I’ll be able to contort myself around the truth, let alone having to completely eclipse it. I had refused two invitations to campaign for a major political party during elections. However, at some point going forward, I might have to take a stand if the situation is right and demands that.
This is something I like to ask political critics: if you were the president of Nigeria, what would you do differently?
First, push for a constitutional review to address the many imbalances. That would also knock down our recurrent spending and free more funds for development. Then institute a data-driven governance. We are flying blind, bullshitting our way through. Research and data will point you in the right policy directions—where to invest in as a government, how to build capacity and measure performance, etc. I keep talking about why we are likely to remain stuck on tarring roads forever. Some of the roads built four years ago by previous administrations have already collapsed because we don’t have strong institutions that perform project oversight above the whims of the executive. We also have cases where governors build roads on credit, take the praises and run away. It’s insane! I’d encourage scientific and technological research and development. But then again it’s not like our politicians don’t know these things. Vested interests may not let you. Sometimes I think we’redone, stuck.
What do you do for a living?
I run a house-finishing company. We do turnkey finishing from carcass to painting—flooring, surface effects, etc. We work for individuals and construction companies. I also do commissioned journalism work, speech writing, and creative writing.