Protests by Midnight – Motunrayo Akibu

I woke up to the same noise again, it was just like last night, this time the chants of the students louder with each bang of the drum playing in the distance. Christine’s clock showed the time was 3 AM. What madness drives people to protest at this time? At first, my drowsiness made me think it was the usual lady cat fights about who snatched whose boyfriend, but when I heard them the second time, I knew the protesters were at it again.

This was the third time this week.

I cursed under my breath and used the pillow to cover my ears in an attempt to shut them out. “Fola, get dressed,” my roommate Christine said as she put on her  favorite nightshirt, a black shirt with the words, ” FELA, KING OF AFRO POP ” inscribed on it. I pretended to yawn and pulled the covers over my head to show her I had absolutely no interest in joining the protest.

It’s been three months since the obviously rigged election and the country’s been tense since, more so now that the inauguration is in a few days. Most of the federal universities have gone on strike and my “great” school had to join the bandwagon.  Even though students weren’t allowed to go home, there was no means to cater for them. Water had stopped running two weeks ago and we had to walk what seemed miles away from our hostel to fetch water from an abandoned well in school. Needless to say, the water reminded one of the runoff water from a child’s clay modelling. Some students even swore they saw spirogyra growing inside the well.

The lack of stable electricity and banking services in school contributed to the inflation in prices of foodstuff that is pissing everyone off. That I had not defied the school authorities myself and scaled the fence to get provisions was a testament to my perseverance. My foodstuff had long gone and I have been reduced to soaking garri with salt since the price of sugar is simply incredulous. My small change was to see me through this rough patch and transport me back to Abeokuta when we were finally asked to go home.

 I wriggled into an old pair of jeans and picked my already dimmed torchlight and staggered outside to join the angry mob outside with Christine following behind. As I and Christine were approaching the crowd already gathered at the front of the school library, I immediately started regretting not insisting on staying back in the hostel. I wasn’t a fan of crowds and it felt like the whole school was here.

“Why do they even bother anyway?” I asked Christine as I pulled my hoodie over my head. It was the middle of October and harmattan was fast approaching. The already dried leaves fallen on the ground made crunchy sounds as we stepped on them. “Nothing ever changes” I said as we navigated between two placards obstructing our view.

 “One day, it will”, she said as she tugged at my hands.

 We quickly blended into the crowd and were almost deafened by the level of noise the students were making. Everyone seemed to be talking at once and shouting barely decipherable words. They all looked angry about the strike and rigged election. All I wanted was to be back on my bed. Some held flashlights and lamps while others held cardboard and planks and iron bars. I even saw a student holding a cutlass.

  I lost all faith in the Nigerian government when my dad was arrested last year. He spent a week in jail for publishing an article against the government on how they were treating the masses and the double standards for corrupt leaders. He came home with painful looking mosquitoes bites as big as boils with pus oozing from them and his favorite trousers sagged from his waist. My mother didn’t bother soaking the clothes he wore in the washing machine like she usually did but brought kerosene the next day and burnt them all in the backyard while invoking generational curses on all the corrupt politicians and their offspring. Ever since then, my dad never interfered in government matters and minded his business and so did I.

As we were neared the VC’s house, the noise intensified and they started chanting war songs like the ones we sang when we we were kids. I turned my head to tap Christine, when I saw a Muslim sister beside me. She held a card that read “Conducive Environment for Learning Is a Must!”

She wore a long black gown and a pink scarf  wrapped around her head and fell to her shoulders. Her eyes were lined with black kajal and she pierced her nose. I suspected she might be the daughter of a cleric as I eyed the beautiful design of laali on her thin hands. I wasn’t good at making friends but I began to wonder what a devoted Muslim was doing here amidst the rebellion and violence.

 “Why aren’t you holding a card?” She asked, eyeing me like I broke a very important rule. I could lie to her that I forgot it back at the hostel but decided against that. It was better I told the truth since I wasn’t coming back here again.

“I don’t give a damn about the protest or the strike”, I paused and added for full effect, “I’m only here because my roommate dragged me out of bed.”

By that time, we had already gotten to the VC’s house and some students were banging at his gate while others made new holes in his windows with stones the majority of the rest were hurling insults at him and his family. I could imagine he was scared witless at the moment. A student threatened to burn his house together with him inside if he didn’t come out of the house.

“So you think we’re wasting our time here right,” the Muslim sister I’d even forgotten was beside me, asked.

I nodded.

She re-wrapped the scarf around her head before replying me. The scarf was embroidered with silver stones at the hems that glistened  under the moonlight and sparkled every time she turned her head. “Why should we complain about the poor government if we do not have power over them. Together, if we decide to fight against them, we would win because of our strength in numbers.”

 I thought she was crazy and overly fanatic so I decided to just ignore her but was caught off guard by a deep, husky voice. Although the person spoke with a British accent, you could still tell the speaker was Igbo. “Yes, that’s right that’s how a democracy is supposed to work”. I turned my head, surprised to see a lady, judging from how deep her voice was. “Ohh, and I’m sorry for interrupting” she added while tucking a stray hair behind her ears.

 She wore a white T-shirt with “I love London” written in black studs and pink shorts. I was pretty sure she was a London returnee. What she I was doing here, I hadn’t a clue.

 “I’m Halima,” the Muslim sister stretched to shake her while using her other hand to hold the cardboard.

 “Its Nneoma but my friends call me Nne,” she said between smiles showing off her deep dimples.

  I figured out I had to introduce myself in order not to come off as snobbish but stood at a distance to make it clear I wasn’t ready for small chit chats. “It’s Fola by the way.”

Halima resumed the conversation and Nne was eager to jump in. “We can’t keep mute forever if our parents won’t do anything, we the youths will stand up and fight.” Halima said, her voice rising far above the surrounding din than was necessary and slightly surprising  me, she seemed like the shy type.

  “My siblings left the country last week and tried to lure me to go with them but I know if I leave right now, they might be no Nigeria to come back to. So I decided to stay and show this useless government that Nigeria is ours and not theirs alone,” Nne replied.

   I was about warning them that was a terrible idea remembering what happened to my dad and that was when I heard the sirens and knew we were in big trouble. Most times during protests like this, the police would show up and beat the hell out of anyone they find connected with the protest or worse take you to jail even if you’re just an innocent passerby.

 Last year, two girls died while trying to escape the batons of the policemen and many were rushed to the school clinic. A stray bullet hit a final year student studying medicine and he died instantly. I remember seeing the boy’s mother hitting herself on the floor repeatedly while crying. Her eyes were red as blood and she didn’t even bother cleaning the mucus that flowed freely from her nose.

 The mob  dissolved quickly and everyone was running as fast as they could to their hostels. As expected it turned into a human stampede as everyone was trying to leave at once. A lady fell down and bruised her forehead and that red warm liquid flowed sluggishly from the spot but no one cared as everyone was trying to save themselves.

 Someone yelled in thick Igbo accent “Mr VC, you may have won the battle but the war continues.”

As I laid on my bed that early morning with Christine snoring soundly beside me, I remembered what Nneoma said, “This country is not only theirs but ours too” and then it hit me. Maybe it was the peaceful noises of the early birds outside that morning, the familiar cricket sounds outside or the serenity of early morning thoughts. I knew that at 3 AM the next morning, I’d be on the front line at the VC’s house together with Halima and Nneoma with my cardboard as high as I could lift it.

I’ll keep protesting till my voice is heard.

6 thoughts on “Protests by Midnight – Motunrayo Akibu

  1. If we all can really suck it all up and face the government through physical protest and not all this Twitter bullying thinking we are making a difference. Nigeria might be great again.
    Lovely piece by the way, Akibu💕


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