Nigeria’s quiet revolution

This post was first published on 23 May on the Mail and Guardian’s Thought Leaders blog

I woke up to horrible news this morning and I’m angry. John has worked for my family for years. I’ve known him since I was a little girl when he used to take me to school every morning. This is an African story. The one big happy extended family that blends employees with relatives, where birthdays and holidays are celebrated together.

This morning John’s wife died during childbirth. Now she’s just another statistic you hear from Nigeria, a country that produces two million barrels of oil a day but where one in 18 women, or 144 women a day, die during childbirth because there aren’t enough doctors, nurses or equipped hospitals. What number is John’s wife in that list of 144?

My family has an electricity generator that provides us with light when there’s no power from the national authority (this is most days). We drilled down miles to create our own water borehole to provide us with consistent water because the water authority has not provided water in years. My sister and my brothers’ wives all fly to the UK or US when they are about two to three months away from giving birth so they can be attended to by capable medical staff, in an environment that almost guarantees the safety of mothers and their babies.

Nigeria is unlikely to experience the birth that comes after the rage against injustice, similar to what is being experienced by our brothers and sisters up north. We too have bottled up our frustrations for decades. Our survival instincts have made us self-centred and led to apathy in our expectations from governments and institutions. We have created our own little havens of sanity, insulated ourselves from this harsh world and the failures of our government. Meanwhile corruption continues to thrive, health systems have collapsed and education decays. It’s in this decay that we find the minds of most of our population. Where no-one demands services any more because they don’t know that they can. Without education how can my people know to demand electricity, health, water or roads. My people are more likely to believe a hex was put on John’s wife by an evil neighbour than blame the government for this tragedy. Churches have replaced community centres and with limited access to the internet, organising capacity is extremely low. So, a North African style revolution is not coming to Nigeria. That’s not our story.

Instead, our story will resemble a quieter change that will only come about when we start thinking beyond ourselves. When we recognise that these walls we cocoon ourselves in are actually made of glass, and when those that can, start doing more for communities, our extended family, for John. Solutions for countries like Nigeria lie in our hands. And this story doesn’t have to be about building another hospital or other such daunting projects that you and I are unlikely to take on. It can just be about distributing mosquito nets to pregnant women in your community to tackle malaria, Africa’s biggest killer. Or it could be exercising the strength of your voice by advocating for women to take advantage of prenatal care in their communities. Our quiet revolution will only follow the demand for and real address of the poverty that has chained people’s minds. Our quiet revolution will mean rejecting corruption in all forms because we cannot fight poverty if we are corrupt ourselves. If we stay silent we are just as complicit.

We have all heard this story.

I am angry and I refuse to be silent. Can you really stay silent? It’s a long road to change but we must begin the journey to create our new African story.