As we commemorate the lives that were unfortunately lost in the End SARS protest, keeping their memories on and sadly reliving our collective trauma, the focus should be firmly placed on what’s currently pressing.
A couple of days ago, a recurring imputation – one that has caused heated and unending debates – reared its head once again. Feminist Coalition, an all-female group of young Nigerian feminists who were highly instrumental in last year’s country-wide protests against police brutality were once again alleged to have grossly mismanaged funds donated by various persons and organizations. While this fresh allegation bears some semblance of legitimacy – and in all fairness, FemCo’s somewhat prolonged silence hasn’t helped in either proving their innocence or shedding more light on this hotly debated mess – there is something rather dodgy and dubious about it.
In July of 2020, co-founder of PiggyVest Odun Eweniyi and Damilola Odufuwa founded Feminist Coalition. Their Mandate: to promote equality for women in the Nigerian society. However, their first major project was to support the EndSARS protests – mainly in financial and organizational capacities – which kicked off in early October 2020. They pulled donations from all around the world, apportioning them to various resources and personnel that kept the protests running steadily. While the public outcry continued on the internet, the demonstrations on the streets ended weeks after, in a rather abrupt and heart-rending manner – one that sent shockwaves across the country, especially among young Nigerians. On October 20, 2020, military personnel indiscriminately opened fire on defenceless citizens at the Lekki Toll Gate, killing a few and injuring many.
This event, coupled with the subsequent apathetic and deadpan presidential address, forced most to retreat, including FemCo. They stopped taking donations for the protest, disbursing the remaining available funds towards medical emergencies, legal aid for persons who were wrongfully detained and relief for victims of police brutality and families of the deceased. While at intervals during the protests, they gave breakdowns on how the donated funds were disbursed, about five months after the tragic Lekki event, they released a comprehensive financial report, clearly detailing how the donations were expended.
This report would spark outrage, especially on Twitter, as many found discrepancies, believing the figures presented by FemCo to be false, allowing them to pocket a handsome share of the donations. It didn’t help matters when FemCo emailed a copy of the completed audit to donors to the October protests two months later. Again, many found loopholes in the completed audit, challenging its validity. In contrast, many others believed the document should have been made public, considering how the donations were sourced. FemCo’s attempt at transparency left people on two opposing sides: while some believed FemCo to have genuine intentions and shouldn’t be brought under unfair scrutiny, others felt their attempt at accountability was a sham at best, and they needed to be more answerable.
These dissenting opinions kept the scale of public opinion evenly balanced. Some believers, some sceptics. It began to tilt towards one side of the divide when a new allegation surfaced just days ago. This time, FemCo was alleged to have embezzled a large sum of the donations rounding up to about 157 million Naira. While FemCo or any of its members haven't made any statements clearing up this allegation, something smells foul about it. Why now? The timing seems very peculiar and borderline insensitive.
During last year’s protests, there was a laser focus that most, if not all, shared. Most young Nigerians understood the gravity of the issue at hand and would not allow the conversation to be remotely rerouted or derailed in the slightest. However, what this new allegation has done is detract attention, not on what’s currently pertinent – honouring the memory of those who tragically lost their lives at the protests and collectively demanding better from our government – but on FemCo and the allegations against them. A group that assumed a charitable role – thereby exposing itself to grave danger – during one of the most momentous demonstrations in recent history is currently on trial in the court of public opinion, and not the government who allegedly greenlighted a mass killing against its own citizens.
Now, this is not to acquit FemCo or to say people shouldn’t demand accountability from them. By all means, they should. But timing, as most people may have realized with experience, is essential. Demanding that FemCo should once again respond to these allegations at this very moment is going to do one thing and one thing alone: derail the conversation. Whatever statement they might make would most certainly not be satisfactory for several people – considering the cynical and disputatious nature of Twitter in particular – and this would only incite a barrage of conversations and endless back and forths that’ll do nothing but split attention. Many will forestall this argument with this rhetoric: “two things cannot be done at a time”. But the truth is no two things can be given equal attention. As we’ve clearly seen, getting a favourable response to our demands from the government is damn near impossible. The only chance we have is when we present a bold and united front. Not one that is distracted and in disarray.
Another interesting thing to note is that while not completely baseless, this new allegation reeks of a familiar strategy. During the heat of last year’s protests, a bunch of unscrupulous-looking men, armed with brand new machetes, stormed one of the protest grounds, quickly inciting violence and causing panic. The narrative: ‘hoodlums attack pedestrians’. The aim was to sponsor thugs who would render the protests violent and unsafe and, in effect, divide public support and opinion. While this allegation isn’t as glaringly evident as the government’s previous ludicrous attempt at breaking our unity, it bears a striking facade and it wouldn’t be far-fetched to think they could also have a hand in this.
As we commemorate the lives that were unfortunately lost in the End SARS protest, keeping their memories on and sadly reliving our collective trauma, the focus should be firmly placed on what’s currently pressing. We should once again unite our voices, like we did the previous year, to demand better. To take a stand against injustice, corruption, and generally, bad governance. Albert Einstein once famously said, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”
Remember to remember their names.
Featured Image Credit: Tobi James Candds