The ground beneath shook that hot afternoon as it helplessly bore the weight of a thousand feet running helter and skelter. It was another failed protest in Kanto, the hilly capital city of Mandabo. At the station I secured my release. While in the taxi home my body ached for absolute quietness so it can heal from the terrific beating it received from the hostile policemen. How I landed at the Kanto Command I cannot clearly remember, but I recall hearing people shout and run for cover. Tony was nowhere to be found in the crowd, the music crew and everybody were all gone.
A week before the March day, there had been a wide awareness of the Walk. Banners and fliers were extensively distributed, and if you were tuned to Radio Kanto by 8am that windy Saturday morning, you certainly would have heard the radio talk on the event. The radio chat was so interesting that the studio could not contain the number of inbound calls from delighted citizens. I felt so encouraged that moment and convinced that it was the right time to set off that well planned campaign against the quick indiscriminate felling of trees in the ancient forest of Mbaita by the new Chineseconstruction company and the loss of the arable lands that has over the decades served as the major source of food for the poor in the rural countryside of Ibedu.
The new Industrialization bill which was passed into law by the State House of Assembly was designed to throw the gates open to outrageous structural change. It was a political move that exhilarated the people; little did they know that its application would turn out to be their greatest nightmare. But for some of us that have been active in the crusade for environmental protection it only meant wide clearance of forestlands to create space for the stadium the Governor promised to erect during his campaign, the excavation of earth for road construction, and loss of arable lands where necessary. This spurred the young environmental group into action. We saw another opportunity to right the wrongs that marred the first protest and grabbed it. And again it was stalled by the police
Thursday, 3am in the morning, my phone rings. Unenthusiastically I picked the call. It was Tony. On hearing my voice he screamed out of joy
“How boy?! How on earth did you survive that kata kata?” he asked laughing
“Oh well, I looked for you and didn’t find you. The next thing I remember is a Black Maria. I must have been knocked out by the Police”
“Good you are home. How are you feeling?”
“Pain all over”
“You will be fine. There is good news” he said sounding hopeful
“There is a mail from USAID. We must meet today by 10am. So sleep well and be strong” he said and dropped the call.
The next five hours felt like an eternity of peace as I was able to sleep very well for the first time in a while. Tony did exceptionally well to reach out to the others. Jude was slightly injured, Mary left earlier before the run so didn’t sustain any injury. As for Kalu, I learned that he had to be hospitalized due to injuries he picked at the protest. The group considered the event; the ups and the downs. At the end we realized that what we thought was a failure was actually a huge success. The turnout was overwhelming compared to the previous protest. At least roughly one thousand volunteers participated minus those that campaigned online. Then we talked about re-strategizing so as to meet the set target of stalling the proposed projects; a peaceful approach such as sensitization. This will include wide online advocacy, community sensitization seminars and workshops, publications on the impacts of indiscriminate clearing of land and felling of trees, and recruitment of volunteer lawyers to educate and remind the land owners of their rights to properties and life. There was no room for procrastination as the atmosphere created by the protest was still charged. The letter from USAID meant we have been noticed by the world. Attached to it was a call for proposal for community development projects. It provided us the opportunity of partnering with UNEPA. There and then a motion was moved for a plan to be drafted after which the meeting was adjourned to Monday the 26th.
Back home, Jane my fiancée was patiently awaiting my return. She had called many times but to no avail as my phone was switched off. Hers was the first call to come in when I eventually switched on the phone.
“What is going on? I have been trying to reach you” She interrogated readily upset
“I am very sorry baby. I was in a meeting” I said
“Where are you?” She asked calmly
“I will be with you soon darling. I just left the office”
Jane and I met during the governorship debate at the State Auditorium. Then she was a reporter for KTV, the State’s Channel. I was back then this excited co-founder of GreenTouch Ng, the latest non-profit group in town. I led a group of environmental managers and advocates all carrying placards with the inscription “ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION HARMS THE EARTH” and “SAY NO DEFORESTATION” on a virgin protest against the plan to clear Mbaita forest, an ancient forest which is home to hundreds of species of wild life. Jane was on her first assignment and needed a story badly for her editor. She was out to impress her editor. When she noticed us approaching the gate she walked hurriedly towards us and stopped right in from me
“Can I ask you some questions please” she begged
“Who are you?!!” asked a lady at the back but she ignored the voice and kept her focus on me
“About?” I asked
“Your protest. What is your problem please?” she asked politely
“What would you do if I tell you?”
“I will tell the world” she said confidently
“Okay, that’s a good one. Tell them it’s an offence to clear Mbaita forest. By so doing they will destroy the only thing sustaining us and protecting our watersheds, saving our soil from erosion and mitigating climate change. Is that not true my people!!!!?”
“It is true!!!” yelled the crowd
“So tell them Miss….”
“Jane, and please call me to cover your future protests” she said softly, and offered her card to me. That day a side of me I never knew existed came alive. The rest is history
I got home right on time for dinner and to the loving arms of Jane. She heard of the protest this morning and rushed down to see if I was okay. I gave her my edition of the event and she promised to solicit for some minutes talk time on their platform. When Jane left I called Mary, the program officer to schedule a quick meeting so we can plan towards a live chat on KTV. This excited the rest when they heard about it. It was to reach as many people as possible and would also be observed by the government. It was to bring to life that needed awareness of the dangers that lies ahead if these projects continue
The Last Campaign
The day began with a heavy cloudburst that lasted for roughly three hours as I do recall. It successfully stalled the usual busy traffic that prettifies the capital city. By 11am the sky was clear and I could hear voices in the street. They were voices of my neighbors laughing and thanking God for a beautiful day. Set for the scheduled meeting I stepped out into the morning sun which was now out in full. Usman, my driver was already out of garage waiting. The trip to the office was smooth and quick as the city was yet to pick its tempo again after the torrent.
At 1pm we were all seated and the deliberation began. The agenda for the day was to revisit every matter discussed at the last meeting and to mobilize resources for the next campaign. This time the floor was declared open for suggestions and recommendations. We were poised to finish the fight and if possible break the earth’s rotation for a day. The following three days saw the mobilization of resources including the needed funds. There were more than enough volunteers this time. On Friday the scheduled City FM chat aired and the response we received encouraged the crew. Saturday fliers and posters were everywhere. The city echoed our name. You could hear it at the market place; the message had begun to make sense. The people had now realized that they stood to lose even their very means of livelihood. Saturday Live, the popular VTV 9pm show is scheduled to host GreenTouch for a chat on the campaign so far. This gave us a very wide coverage. Hundreds of calls came in including those from oppositions. There were threats here and there but they all meant we have been heard. At Redemption square, the podium was already set, and the excited crowd seated and waiting. After the opening performance by the dance groups, Tony took the podium and introduced the purpose for the gathering.
“…it’s a beautiful day my friends. Thank you very much for coming. Your voices have been heard. They cannot pretend anymore or act deaf to our cries and anger and frustrations. Thank you once more. I would love to invite our director to come and address us. Please let’s clap for him as he approaches the podium”
The excited crowd enthusiastically clapped as I somewhat nervously took the stage. From the podium I took a moment for a quick scan of the crowd. Before me was a sea of humans; a crowd I have never faced all my life.
“Thank you very much for coming. Thank you. I am short of words. I do not know what to say at this moment. To be frank I never thought you would turn out this much. I know what you have had to deal with; the lands you have lost, your river that has been polluted which happens to be your only source of drinking water, your crops which has been destroyed and poisoned. We know your pains and we warned that it could get worse if the government is not stopped. Most of you were at the last protest. Thank you for attending. Sorry for what you endured. But I promise you that the world will come to us…”
The crowd clapped and shouted in excitement
“…yes. You have been heard. The time has gone when they can do anything they want and get away with it. We do not oppose the development of Mandabo. We are only saying while you plan to develop, put into consideration the people and the environment. It’s more expensive to protect than to reclaim and recover. Before making promises ensure that its implementation will not affect the environment and the people negatively. So we must keep saying it until they listen and act as they are expected to. Talk about it on every social network. If you do not have Facebook account, create one. If you don’t have twitter account, set up one. Post and share till the internet is overwhelmed that way they will be forced to sit up and work. Today go home knowing you are safe. Go home assured that the next day will be far better than today. Thank you once again for your commitment. Thank you”
The speech though brief sunk deep into the crowd. Their countenance changed and they looked happier and bolder than they were when they arrived. As for us that day marked the beginning of a new dawn. The organization grew bigger extending her campaign to other regions as well with the message of love and environmental protection
(A fiction by me culled from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/protest-ndubuisi-okezie-okeh)