Activism refers to the actions taken by individuals or groups to bring about political or social change.
This can include things like protesting, lobbying, and organizing grassroots campaigns. Activists may work to address a wide range of issues, such as civil rights, environmental protection, and economic inequality.
“I refuse to live my life in fear…The secret to life is to have no fear.”
Activism can take many forms, from peaceful demonstrations to more militant or extreme tactics. The effectiveness of activism can vary depending on a number of factors, including the issue at hand and the tactics used by the activists.
Activists in Nigeria have been at the forefront of advocating for issues such as human rights, political reform, and economic development.
Activists have used various tactics to bring about change, including peaceful protests, civil disobedience, and legal challenges to government policies.
Despite some progress, activists in Nigeria continue to face challenges such as government repression, lack of media freedom, and societal resistance to change.
Historical Background of Activism in Nigeria
Activism in Nigeria has a long and complex history, with roots dating back to the colonial period. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Nigerian activists and leaders, such as Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and Obafemi Awolowo, began to emerge, advocating for greater autonomy and self-government for Nigeria within the British Empire.
In the post-World War II period, the struggle for independence intensified, with groups such as the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) and the Action Group (AG) leading the charge. In 1960, Nigeria gained its independence from Britain, but the country’s political and economic struggles continued.
During the military dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s, activism in Nigeria was heavily suppressed, with many activists and opposition leaders being arrested, tortured, or killed. However, pro-democracy movements emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s, leading to the restoration of civilian rule in 1999.
Since then, activism in Nigeria has continued to evolve, with a wide range of issues being addressed, such as corruption, human rights abuses, environmental degradation, and inequality.
Activists in Nigeria have used various forms of protest, including peaceful demonstrations, strikes, and social media campaigns to raise awareness and push for change.
These movements and many more have been instrumental in shaping Nigeria’s political and social landscape, and have helped to bring about important changes in the country.
Activists in Nigeria continue to face many challenges, including government repression and societal resistance to change.
However, in 2020 another rounds of protest tagged ENDSARS protest began in Nigeria following extra-judicial killings, brutality and extortion from Police Officers across the country.
The protest which became a widespread movement that began in October 2020, called for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian police force that has been accused of widespread human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and extortion.
The protests were sparked by a video showing SARS officers shooting a young man and quickly spread across the country, with young people taking to the streets to demand an end to police brutality.
The government initially resisted calls to disband SARS, but ultimately agreed to do so and made other concessions in response to the protests.
Unfortunately, on October 20, 2020, the Nigerian army was reported to have opened fire on peaceful protesters in Lekki toll gate, Lagos, leading to the death of many peaceful protesters.
So, in this article, we would highlight eight prominent activists who played/still playing major role in addressing dire issues like breach of human right, corruption, oppression, insecurity, youth profiling and marginalization in the country.
This article will highlight their contributions and how they brought about quality change to Nigerian State. They are;
- Gani Fawenhinmi
Gani Fawehinmi was a Nigerian lawyer, human rights activist, and pro-democracy activist. He was a prominent critic of the Nigerian government and military, and was arrested multiple times for his activism.
He made significant contributions to the promotion of human rights, the rule of law, and democracy in Nigeria. Some of his notable achievements include:
Founding the Nigerian magazine, “Newswatch,” in 1984, which became one of the most influential publications in the country and helped to expose corruption and human rights abuses.
Establishing the Legal Defense and Assistance Project (LEDAP) in 1985, which provided legal aid to indigent defendants and helped to promote the rule of law in Nigeria.
Defending numerous political prisoners and human rights activists during the military dictatorship in Nigeria, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was subsequently executed by the government.
Running for president of Nigeria in 1992, 1993, and 1998 and using his campaign as a platform to promote democracy and human rights.
Establishing the Gani Fawehinmi Chambers, which has become one of the most respected law firms in Nigeria.
Being a member of the Nigerian Bar Association and President of the Civil Liberties Organisation.
Fawehinmi was known for his outspokenness and his willingness to challenge the Nigerian government on human rights issues, even at great personal risk. He died on September 5, 2009, after battling lung cancer.
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- Ken Saro-Wiwa
Ken Saro-Wiwa was a Nigerian author, television producer, environmental activist, and member of the Ogoni people.
He became a vocal critic of the Nigerian government and the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta region, where the Ogoni people live.
Saro-Wiwa was arrested in 1995 and charged with murder in connection with the deaths of four Ogoni leaders.
He was found guilty and sentenced to death, despite widespread international condemnation of the trial as a sham. Saro-Wiwa was executed by hanging on November 10, 1995.
His death and the circumstances surrounding it sparked international outrage and led to Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations.
Ken Saro-Wiwa made several notable accomplishments throughout his life. Some of these include:
Writing: Saro-Wiwa was a successful author, with several books, plays and essays to his credit, which helped to bring the Ogoni people’s plight to the attention of the world.
Some of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s notable books include:
“Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English” (1985)
“A Month and a Day: A Detention Diary” (1995)
“On a Darkling Plain: An Account of the Nigerian Civil War” (1997)
“The Ogoni Tragedy: A Report on the Struggle of the Ogoni People of Nigeria” (1995)
Environmental activism: Saro-Wiwa helped to raise awareness about the environmental destruction caused by the oil industry in the Niger Delta region, which had a major impact on the Ogoni people’s way of life.
He was a vocal critic of the oil company Royal Dutch Shell, which operated in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria where he was from.
He accused the company of environmental destruction, human rights abuses, and collusion with the Nigerian government. Saro-Wiwa and other activists from the region formed the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) to protest against Shell’s activities.
The group staged protests, boycotts, and other forms of civil disobedience in an effort to bring attention to the issue. Saro-Wiwa also wrote extensively about the impact of oil extraction on the Ogoni people, including in his book “A Month and a Day: A Detention Diary.”
Human rights advocacy: Saro-Wiwa was a strong advocate for the rights of the Ogoni people and helped to draw attention to the injustices they had suffered at the hands of the Nigerian government and oil companies.
Political activism: Ken Saro-Wiwa was a strong advocate of non-violent resistance and helped to build a political movement for the rights of the Ogoni people.
Mobilization: Ken Saro-Wiwa helped to mobilize the Ogoni people and unite them in the struggle for their rights and dignity, despite the repression of the Nigerian government.
These achievements helped to bring the plight of the Ogoni people to the attention of the world and led to some improvements in their situation. Though, his execution sparked international outrage and led to Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations.
- Fela Anikulapo-Kuti
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was a Nigerian musician, bandleader, and political activist. He is considered one of the most important figures in the development of Afrobeats, a genre that fuses traditional Nigerian music with jazz, funk, and other styles.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti used his music as a tool for political activism, using his lyrics to criticize the Nigerian government, corruption, human right abuses, poverty, inequality, promote social and political change.
Fela died in 1997, but his music continues to be celebrated and influential in Nigeria and around the world.
Some of his most notable activism songs include:
“Zombie” (1977): This song was a powerful critique of the Nigerian military and their brutal tactics. The song was banned by the government, but it became a hit and an anthem for those opposed to the government’s rule.
“Shakara” (1971): This song criticized the Nigerian government for its policies of poverty and inequality. The song became very popular and the title of the song “Shakara” which means “arrogance” was a direct reference to the government officials and their attitude towards the poor.
“Sorrow Tears and Blood” (1977): This song deals with the brutal military raid on his Kalakuta Republic commune and the murder of his mother by government agents.
“Expensive Shit” (1975): This song is a commentary on police corruption, with lyrics that satirize the police’s use of intimidation and extortion.
“International Thief Thief” (1981): This song was a critique of the Nigerian government’s corruption and greed, and specifically targeted President Shehu Shagari and his regime.
“Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense” (1986): This song was a critique of the education system in Nigeria, and how it failed to provide students with the knowledge they needed to succeed.
Fela also used his music to promote Pan-Africanism and to call for the unity of the African continent. He sang in both Yoruba and English, and his music often incorporated elements of traditional Nigerian music and rhythms.
Overall, Fela’s music was more than just entertainment, it was a powerful tool for raising awareness and promoting change. His music continues to be celebrated as a cultural heritage of Nigeria and his legacy lives on through the political and social movements he inspired.
His music continues to be celebrated and influential in Nigeria and around the world.
Another notable accomplishment of Fela is the creation of Kalakuta Republic, a commune in Nigeria that served as a base for his political and musical activities. The commune was an autonomous community where people could live and work together, and it was a symbol of resistance against the government.
- Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti
Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti, also known as Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was born in 1900 in Abeokuta, Nigeria.
She was a teacher and political activist who was a strong advocate for women’s rights and the independence of Nigeria from British colonial rule.
In the early years of her life, she was educated at the Abeokuta Grammar School and later at the British-run Wesley College in Lagos. She later became a teacher and worked in various schools throughout Nigeria.
Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti was a prominent feminist and political leader in Nigeria during the mid-20th century. She made significant contributions to the fight for women’s rights and was involved in several key movements and organizations.
She passed away on 13 October 1978.
She played a major and notable role in the fight of activism during her time.
Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti was a strong advocate for women’s suffrage, or the right to vote, in Nigeria. She believed that women’s participation in politics was essential for achieving gender equality and social justice.
During her time, the right to vote was not extended to Nigerian women. However, through her leadership in the Abeokuta Women’s Union, she organized and mobilized women to demand the right to vote. She also used her platform as a political leader to raise awareness about the importance of women’s suffrage and to lobby for its inclusion in Nigeria’s political system.
In 1951, her tireless efforts paid off when Nigerian women were granted the right to vote, allowing them to participate in the country’s political process. Her work on this issue was a significant achievement in the fight for women’s rights in Nigeria.
She also played a key role in the fight for the women’s representation in the government, and her efforts led to the creation of the Nigerian Women’s Political Party in 1954, which aimed to increase the representation of women in politics.
Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti’s work on women’s suffrage laid the foundation for the greater participation of women in Nigerian politics and her contributions in this field are still remembered and celebrated today.
Anti-colonialism: Anikulapo-Kuti was a vocal critic of colonialism and advocated for Nigeria’s independence from British rule. She worked with other political leaders to push for independence and was an important figure in the movement for decolonization in Nigeria.
Political activism: Anikulapo-Kuti was also a political leader in her own right. She was a member of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, and ran for office in the Nigerian Federal elections of 1951.
Education: She also played a key role in the education of women by setting up a school for girls, providing them with education and empowering them.
Cultural preservation: Anikulapo-Kuti also worked to preserve Nigerian culture and tradition. She was an advocate for the use of the Yoruba language and helped to establish a school that taught the language and culture to children.
She was a remarkable woman who fought for equality, rights, and independence in a time where women were not encouraged to be involved in politics. Her legacy lives on and continues to inspire many women and girls in Nigeria and across Africa.
- Wole Soyinka
Wole Soyinka is a Nigerian playwright, poet, and novelist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986, becoming the first African to receive the honor.
He has written many plays, including “Death and the King’s Horseman” and “A Dance of the Forests,” and several novels, such as “The Interpreters” and “Season of Anomy.”
Soyinka is also a political activist, and has been an outspoken critic of human rights abuses in Nigeria. He has been arrested and imprisoned multiple times for his activism.
Wole Soyinka has made significant contributions to activism throughout his career. He is known for his outspoken criticism of human rights abuses and corruption in Nigeria, and has been an advocate for democracy and freedom of speech.
One of his most notable contributions to activism was his involvement in the pro-democracy movement in Nigeria during the military dictatorship of Sani Abacha in the 1990s.
Soyinka was arrested and imprisoned for 22 months for his alleged involvement in a plot to overthrow the government.
He was held in solitary confinement for much of his time in prison and was released only after international pressure on the Nigerian government.
Soyinka has also been involved in various human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and PEN International, and he has used his platform as a Nobel laureate to raise awareness about human rights abuses and to call for political reform in Nigeria.
Soyinka has been an advocate for the rights of ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples, and has spoken out against the marginalization and exploitation of these groups.
He has been critical of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) government in Nigeria. He has expressed concerns about human rights violations, corruption, and what he perceives as a lack of political will to address these issues.
In a recent interview, he stated that “the present government is a catastrophic failure” and that “the people have been let down.”
Additionally, Soyinka has also been a vocal critic of the government’s handling of the ongoing insurgency in the northeastern region of the country and has called for greater transparency and accountability.
Throughout his career, Wole Soyinka has used his writing and his public speaking to raise awareness about political issues, and to call for change. He has been an important voice in the fight against human rights abuses and corruption in Nigeria, and has inspired others to speak out and take action.
- Aisha Yesufu
Aisha Yesufu is a Nigerian social activist and advocate for women’s rights. She is known for her activism in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which sought to raise awareness and bring attention to the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2014.
She is also involved in various other social and political causes in Nigeria.
Aisha Yesufu played a prominent role in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which sought to raise awareness and bring attention to the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria in April 2014.
She was one of the leaders and co-founders of the campaign, which aimed to put pressure on the Nigerian government and international community to take action to rescue the kidnapped girls.
She organized and participated in protests, rallies and social media campaigns, and also traveled to countries around the world to raise awareness of the issue.
She has since been one of the most vocal and visible advocates for the kidnapped girls and their families, and has continued to work for their safe return.
Aisha Yesufu is a still a voice of youths in Nigeria.
Aisha Yesufu was one of the prominent activists who played a key role in the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria in 2020.
Aisha Yesufu participated in the protests, rallies and social media campaigns, and also gave speeches and interviews to raise awareness about the issue.
She also supported the organizing of peaceful protests, and helped to bring attention to the cause on a global level. She advocated for police reform and accountability, and also provided support and assistance to the victims of SARS brutality.
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born on September 15, 1977 in Enugu, Nigeria. She grew up in a middle-class family. Adichie was exposed to literature at a young age and began writing stories as a child.
She attended primary and secondary school in Nigeria and later studied medicine and pharmacy at the University of Nigeria. However, she later switched her focus to studying communications and political science.
Adichie received a scholarship to study communications at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and later earned a master’s degree in creative writing at John Hopkins University.
Her first novel “Purple Hibiscus” was published in 2003 and was critically acclaimed, winning the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book.
She has since published several other novels and non-fiction works, and has been recognized with numerous awards and honors for her contributions to literature and activism.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has contributed to activism, particularly in the areas of feminism and gender equality.
She is known for her TEDx talk “We Should All Be Feminists,” which was later adapted into a book of the same name. In it, she argues that gender equality is not only a women’s issue, but a human rights issue that affects everyone.
She also critiques the notion of a “single story,” or the idea that one narrative or perspective can define a group of people, and advocates for the importance of diversity and multiple perspectives in storytelling.
Through her writing, speeches, and public appearances, Adichie has become a prominent and influential voice in the global conversation on gender and feminism.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has also spoken and written about race and the experiences of people of color. In her book “Americanah,” she explores the experiences of a Nigerian woman living in the United States and the ways in which race and racism shape her life.
In her speeches and interviews, Adichie has also discussed the intersectionality of race and gender and how these experiences of marginalization overlap and amplify each other.
She has also spoken about the importance of representation and visibility of people of color in media and literature, and the impact of colonialism and post-colonialism on the lives of people of color.
Adichie has been a powerful voice in the conversation on race and has helped to bring important perspectives to the forefront of public discourse.
- Chinua Achebe
Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian novelist, poet, and professor.
Achebe’s early life experience in a traditional Igbo society, his education, and his work as a teacher, broadcaster, and researcher all contributed to his understanding of the complexities of African culture and society, which he later reflected in his literature.
Achebe passed away on March 21, 2013.
Chinua Achebe’s most significant contribution to the understanding of colonialism was through his literature, specifically his novel “Things Fall Apart.”
The novel is widely considered a classic of African literature and is one of the most widely read and studied African novels in the world. It provides a unique perspective on the effects of colonialism on African society and culture, specifically Igbo society and culture.
Through the novel, Achebe challenges the dominant narrative of colonialism presented by European colonizers and their literary representations, which portrayed Africa and Africans as “primitive,” “uncivilized,” and in need of European intervention and control. He presents a nuanced and complex portrayal of pre-colonial Igbo society and its customs, values, and traditions, highlighting their richness and complexity.
Achebe also exposes the violence and destruction of colonialism, both physical and cultural. The novel shows how the arrival of the European colonizers led to the disruption of traditional ways of life, the erosion of cultural values and practices, and the subjugation of the African people.
He is also known for his criticism of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and its portrayal of Africa and Africans.
In summary, Achebe’s contribution to colonialism was to provide a counter-narrative to the dominant European perspective on Africa and its people, showing the humanity, complexity, and richness of African culture and society, and exposing the destructive nature of colonialism.
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