The journey started in the middle of last year when three of us started meeting and decided that it was time to do something to help change our country for the better, and not just to keep talking and lamenting as most people do. Given that we are based in different continents, with me being the only one in Nigeria, our meetings were online via the Zoom platform. Myself, my friend of over 25 years and fellow journalist and techie, Tunde Odediran, and Tunde’s HSC classmate and friend, Wale Croft.
Contrary to what her name might suggest, Wale is actually a woman and a project management expert. After a few months of weekly meetings, we decided we needed to bring on board some others that we knew personally to be good and upright, and who also have some of the competencies that our nascent organisation would require.
We were aiming to use technology and smart messaging to rapidly bring together millions of Nigerians, convince them to be good citizens, try to cure them of tribalism and ethnic rivalry, and mobilise them to totally reject incompetent, self-centred and corrupt leadership, while influencing election of selfless and competent people.
As such, we brought in Kunle Ajose, superlative arts director, co-founder of one of Nigeria’s top advertising agencies and Tunde and I’s friend of over two decades; Tomi Adeyemi, my friend of over 30 years, graduation classmate, and an economist of repute with PhD who has at some point consulted for a top Federal Government agency; and Imran Ganeey, a lawyer and activist whose activism has led to some positive moves by anti-corruption agencies on the part of government, and my brother’s colleague.
We had been meeting for long, and officially launched on October 1, 2020 the country’s 60th independence anniversary. It was shortly before the #EndSARS protest broke out. But we were not part of its planning or organising in any way. We were just ordinary citizens who believed we could drive good citizenship as a way out of Nigeria’s melee. On the day of official launch, we had issued a press statement, signed by Musa Moses, a pseudo name we had adopted.
The leaders of the movement had shielded their identities and had been operating under that and other pseudo names. In that press statement, we described our political elite as forming themselves into a ‘Brotherhood of Looting’ using their positions for personal gain at the expense of the rest of us.
“They use divide and conquer as their main strategy. They unite and forget ethnic differences amongst them, and focus on their only goal – to loot and re-loot. Yet will promote ethnic divisions and rivalries to distract from their crime,” we stated We described our mission as being to “rescue Nigeria from the precipice.
Our purpose is to create a nation of watchful, demanding and empowered citizens, who will take the country back for themselves.” On Sunday, October 31, we decided to stop operating under the Musa Moses pseudo name. And after what happened on that day at my office in a Lagos suburb, I guess I can now be tagged an ‘activist’.
We had invited a few people to be present onsite for a hybrid event we had tagged ‘Changemakers MeetUp,’ the first of what is expected to be a series of hybrid community events to held in several parts of Nigeria, to spread the message of RN, as we call Rescue Nigeria, and get members for the movement. On that day, I had gotten to my office at about 10:40am to prepare for the event, which I would be hosting, scheduled for 2pm. About 11am, I got a call from one of my colleagues who I had asked to assist. He said he was at the gate, and it was locked.
I had asked him and two others to come by 12 noon, so I wasn’t expecting anyone before then. My office is on the middle floor of a twostorey building. I went downstairs, and to the gate to open the pedestrian entrance. Then I saw the first sign of ‘trouble’.
A white police patrol van with about six armed policemen parked just shy of blocking the driveway to our compound. The van had Ogun State Police Command inscription on it. I asked my colleague, as I opened the gate for him, what was happening. He said he wasn’t sure, and that maybe their boss or someone of note was in the area for something. We went in, and I locked the pedestrian entrance gate. Being a journalist of over 25 years of experience, I knew it was too much of a coincidence for armed policemen in a patrol van to be at the entrance gate of my office on a day that I was hosting an event tagged “Change Makers MeetUp” being organised by the “Rescue Nigeria” movement.
I was envisioning a security top brass who deployed the policemen or was ordered to, sitting in his office, and thinking “which change do these people want to make?” or “rescue Nigeria from what?” At that point, I felt things could become unpredictable, and that I needed to inform other leaders of our group, which we refer to as RN. So, I posted a sort of situation report on our team’s communication channel, then continued with preparations. About 12 noon, I got a call from the woman I had contracted to supply small chops for the event. We were expecting just about 25 people onsite, while hoping many more would join online via Zoom. When her call came through, she said she was outside and couldn’t locate my office. She had never been there.
I told her I would come out. As I again opened the pedestrian gate and stepped out of the compound, what I saw would shock and intimidate anyone – about 40 armed mostly mobile policemen who came in five patrol vans, this time bearing Lagos Police Command inscriptions. Some of them had surrounded the woman and were asking her questions. I signalled to the woman to follow me.
As she did, some of the policemen too followed me. Once inside the compound, the leader of the group, who later introduced himself to me as the DPO in charge of one of the police stations in that area, started asking me questions. DPO: Do you stay here? Me: I have my office here DPO: Are you aware there is going to be an event here today? Me: Yes, I am aware. The event is being held in my office. DPO: What is the event about? Do you have a flyer? I must say that this was the defining moment. It is how activists handle these kinds of moments that determines whether the whole episode would end in confrontation, violence and arrests.
Or end in a win-win, whereby the activists would still hold their event, and a contingent of policemen would also have won because their objective of ensuring no breach of the peace would have been achieved. I didn’t confront them as if they were my enemies, as they were acting on orders. But rather, as those who want the same thing as I, a better Nigeria. I also felt secure in my knowledge that we were not out to do anything that could disturb the public peace, same thing they want.
I had the option of arguing that: “This is my office, I can hold any event I like, and you people have no right to barge in here, bla bla bla.” Instead, I chose to explain to them what the Rescue Nigeria movement is all about. That we are first and foremost trying to make Nigerians better citizens, and coming together to ensure we get leaders who are not incompetent, corrupt, and self-centred like we currently do. I invited them up to my office. They saw the arrangements already made for the event. A camera on a tripod, a big white screen, a projector projecting to the screen, chairs arranged facing the screen, etc.
The DPO asked for my name and telephone numbers. I wrote them down for him, and also included what we stand for. He also asked for the Zoom Meeting ID and Passcode. I gave them to him. I escorted downstairs those of who followed me up, and returned to continue with the preparation.
I again gave a status update to the other leaders, and at that stage asked if I should send messages to those invited to be onsite for the event not to turn up, for their own safety. I also called a friend who has been relating with the police for a long time due to the nature of his job, briefed him, and asked for advice. He said the situation was unpredictable, and that the fact that they were in our compound and in front of our offices meant they could still get an order to round up and arrest everyone present. At that point, another leader of the movement, Kunle Ajose arrived. He asked why policemen were everywhere, wanting to confirm they came because of our event. I confirmed this to him, and briefed him about my encounter with them. We continued our preparation. Shortly after, I got a call from the DPO who now said: “My boss said you have no permit to hold the event now. You didn’t write to the Commissioner of Police.” At that stage, I knew I needed to stand my ground. I told him “Sir, the event is being held in my office. I don’t think I need a police permit for that.”
He then said: “Ok”. At 2pm, we started the event with my PowerPoint presentation, and everything went on. In my presentation, our group called on agitators for separation to move beyond just making the call and carrying out demonstrations to support it, but to actually start suggesting protocols through which their desires could be achieved. While taking a position that Nigerians will do better under a single restructured country, the group also remarked that the problem of social injustice is fuelling calls for separation.
We reiterated that Rescue Nigeria, which has as its motto “working together for the common good”, has a target of raising 10 million members who would pledge to be model citizens – put their country’s greatness above their personal greatness, reject tribalism and ethnic rivalry, commit to acting morally and with good conscience, and totally reject bad, self-centred, incompetent and corrupt leadership – before the 2023 presidential election.
- Biodun Durojaiye is a journalist, technology entrepreneur and member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE)