“Speaking Up” is NOT Enough: A Word to Nigerian Youths
I wrote this post for the membership of the online mentoring platform which my wife and I run — Alive Mentorship Group — on 15th October in the wake of the October 2020 protests in Nigeria by the Nigerian youths. I basically proposed a few biblical principles that show how not to achieve what I believe the Nigerian youths are trying to achieve by the protests while offering a few (biblical) thoughts on a better approach. Here goes…
#iRemember | Episode 502
In the past few posts in our #iRemember series, I have been sharing some reflections on a few Proverbs (from ‘The Book of Proverbs’). In today’s post, I thought to leverage on the ongoing reflection on Proverbs to spotlight a few Proverbs for our consideration particularly with respect to the recent protests in Nigeria which had trended with the hashtag #EndSARS on Twitter. (#EndSARS is a social movement in Nigeria that started on Twitter calling for banning of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit of the Nigerian Police Force. It is a call to end police oppression and brutality in Nigeria.)
Before I proceed, few disclaimers will be helpful:
1. I am grossly inexperienced in the secular field of Political Science and the related theories about patriotism, nationalism, corporate social responsibility etc. As such, the thoughts I propose in today’s post are simply based on scripture. The extent of their contextual application, I reckon, will depend on our understandings and/or experiences of the issues involved and how each of us can thus make a difference.
2. I recall being stopped and searched by some uniformed men in 2015 in Lagos around Ojota. My ‘crime’ was that I crossed the motorway without using the flyover bridge. This led to them ransacking my properties and going through my tablet. They were amazed at how many Christian books I had on it and engaged me in a long conversation (centred around Romans 13, I kid you not.) I was delayed because I was unwilling to give them what they wanted — a ‘bribe’. They were going to put me in an armoured tank and take me to their station at Alausa before one of them decided to ‘free’ me after seeing my ID Card. Maybe they were SARS. Maybe they weren’t; it’s all a foggy memory now. I am not unaware, however, that many young people’s bitter experience with people of the Force in Nigeria started like that and went south rather quickly. Some of those young people, unfortunately so, did not live to tell their story.
These two disclaimers are meant to highlight how unqualified I am to offer any thought on the protests and violence that had trailed the desire to see things change for the better in my home country. This desire for change, however, is a shared desire, hence, my ‘qualification’ to offer a thought or two. Besides, we have a Christian responsibility to inveigh injustices. But how, exactly, should we do that? That’s my bone of contention in this post.
I have learnt that what we lack in experience, we can make for in the truth of God’s Word, and since we’ve been on a journey through an assortment of reflections from the Book of Proverbs, there is no need to look further for scriptural wisdom on a posture we can take as young people in light of these revolution-in-view protests to end police brutality and its siblings and cousins. The Book of Proverbs is instructive enough. There are proverbs therein on how to have political influence on those in leadership, or to put it like Solomon sometimes put it, “find favour with the king.” The key, of course, is WISDOM.
Proverbs 14:35 (AMPC) puts it clearly: “The KING’S FAVOR is toward a WISE AND DISCREET SERVANT, but his wrath is against him who does shamefully.”
In other words, those who have influence on government are those who are WISE. But what does that look like? Or, to begin with, what does that NOT look like? I think Proverbs 24:21–22 is very instructive in this regard. Here is what it says in a few translations:
— The Message (MSG) “FEAR GOD, dear child — RESPECT YOUR LEADERS; DON’T BE DEFIANT OR MUTINOUS. Without warning your life can turn upside down, and who knows how or when it might happen?”
(To be ‘mutinous’ means “refusing to obey the orders of a person in authority”)
— Living Bible (TLB) “My son, watch your step before the Lord and the king, and DON’T ASSOCIATE WITH RADICALS. For YOU WILL GO DOWN WITH THEM TO SUDDEN DISASTER, and who knows where it all will end?”
— The Voice (VOICE) “My son, fear both the Eternal and His anointed ruler. IT IS NOT WISE TO ASSOCIATE WITH THOSE REBELLING AGAINST THEM because disaster can arise from either of them without warning, and who knows what destruction comes down from both of them?”
In other words, biblical WISDOM in influencing the government — and Solomon did not qualify what nature of government is implied here — is NOT in joining a company of those who are so hell-bent on change that they will defy authority and radically rebel mutinously in pursuit of the change (or worse, personal ulterior motives — whatever those may be). On the contrary, Solomon offers us a few thoughts on how we can become so influential individually and corporately that even the government of the day will dance to our tune. I will spotlight four of such thoughts, viz:
1. Strive To Be So Competent That You Rise To the Realm of Policy (Change) Makers
Simple, right? Wrong! There is nothing simple about this. Besides, this takes time. While there may be varying degrees of wins from protests (and it goes without saying that any peaceful protest can very easily turn violent in the twinkle of an eye — as, unfortunately, has been the experience of some of the protesters), it’s only a matter of time before we are faced with the reality that such wins are more often than none going to birth new challenges. However, Solomon counsels,
“Show me SOMEONE WHO DOES A GOOD JOB, and I will show you someone who is better than most and WORTHY OF THE COMPANY OF KINGS.” (Proverbs 22:29 GNT).
“If you are UNIQUELY GIFTED in your work, YOU WILL RISE and be promoted. YOU WON’T BE HELD BACK — you’ll stand before kings!” (Proverbs 22:29 TPT).
What does this look like? I think it simply looks like becoming the best at what you do. It looks like subscribing for an endless pursuit of personal development. It looks like positioning ourselves for the inevitable opportunities of tomorrow. Indeed, for the young wo/man who is competent, has a good character and continually acknowledges the grace of God in his/her life, only God knows what can limit such.
2. Having a Valid Message and “Speaking up” Is Not Enough; You Also Need To Be Gracious, Patient & Tactful
You see, ordinarily, “Kings and leaders LOVE TO HEAR GODLY COUNSEL, and they LOVE THOSE WHO TELL THEM THE TRUTH.” (Proverbs 16:13 TPT). And before you say “that’s true everywhere else apart from Nigeria”, understand that it is how that truth is communicated that determines how the drama will end. To put it as Solomon did, “Those who LOVE A PURE HEART and SPEAK WITH GRACE will find that THE KING IS THEIR FRIEND.” (Proverbs 22:11 VOICE).
The one thing that had seemed to be missing from the rhetorics about the recent #EndSARS protest is not TRUTH — most of the arguments I read online are valid and even more so are the true experiences of people; you can’t fault that. What I didn’t see much of is GRACIOUS communication. (And this transcends this current issue to how we have unconsciously learnt to communicate our opinions in the public sphere by the instrumentality of free social media accounts.)
Yet, the biblical truth is timelessly true: “He who LOVES PURITY OF HEART and HAS GRACE ON HIS LIPS, The KING WILL BE HIS FRIEND” (NKJV).
So Solomon came to this conclusion: “Use PATIENCE and KINDNESS when you want to PERSUADE LEADERS AND WATCH THEM CHANGE THEIR MINDS right in front of you. For YOUR GENTLE WISDOM WILL QUELL THE STRONGEST RESISTANCE.” (Proverbs 25:15 TPT).
Did you say our leaders are HARD-HEADED? “With patience . . . a gentle word can get through to the HARD-HEADED” (NCV)
Did you say our leaders are RIGID? “PATIENT PERSISTENCE pierces through indifference; GENTLE SPEECH BREAKS DOWN RIGID DEFENSES.” (MSG) Yeah! “By LONG FORBEARANCE AND CALMNESS OF SPIRIT a judge or ruler is persuaded, and SOFT SPEECH BREAKS DOWN THE MOST BONELIKE RESISTANCE.” (AMPC)
I could go on and on, but, again, what does this look like? I think it looks like intentionally modelling a new kind of leadership in our respective spheres of influence as young people on the short run — redefining the values we want our nation to be known for and owning it in a practical sense — and on the long run, allowing these new values dictate our engagement in the next (and subsequent rounds of) electoral process. It is refusing to be a victim in the prevalent oppression of corruption and choosing, instead, to acknowledge the tremendous power we have in secret (in prayers and personal development) and in public through practical Christianity, even a wise engagement in the politics of the land.
3. Kill Your ‘Self’
No, I don’t mean to commit suicide; I mean to swallow your need for self-assertiveness. If it’s all about YOU — wanting YOUR opinion to be heard and YOUR will to be done — you run the risk of being credited with the wages of self-satisfaction, which is DEATH — of whatever sort. That’s what landed all of humanity in the quagmire of being born dead — every single one of us — until we encounter the LIFE-giving Saviour.
What Solomon says of someone who has been invited to dine with a King (Proverbs 23:1) is true of how we should deal (generally) with leaders and those in authority — and by acknowledgement of our respective leadership influences, how we should lead. First, he reminds us to “consider (our) manners” (TPT); “mind (our) manners” and “use (our) best manners” (CEV). Then he goes on to remind us of SELF-CONTROL in the next verse. “Control yourself”, he says, “if you have a big appetite.” (23:2 NCV). Some translations put it even more vividly: “put a knife to your throat” (NIV) — “…do whatever is necessary to curb your enthusiasm for food.” (VOICE). [And you can replace ‘food’ with anything, really. The principle is the same.]
We find it again in Proverbs 25:6–7. “Don’t work yourself into the spotlight…” (MSG); “Be not forward (self-assertive…)” (AMPC). Whatever it is that we do in the public spotlight, it should never be about us.
4. Acknowledge the True King.
Of one fact, we must never be ignorant: “THE LORD CONTROLS THE MIND OF A KING as easily as he directs the course of a stream.” (Proverbs 21:1 GNT).
While we will never have a perfect earthly government as long as sinful men are governing over sinful people, the Sovereign God remains in absolute control! The only perfect system of government is an eschatological anticipation rooted in our blessed hope. But in the meantime, there is nothing stopping God in intervening in the affairs of men. We can achieve much more in our closet in communication with our Father and in public through prophetic prayer walks (in twos or in thousands) than we can in public mutinous protests. It’s unfortunate how we tend to relegate this privilege to the background when, in fact, it should be our first point of call.
You should never be silent about the injustices in your community — NEVER! But who you speak to about it goes a long way in determining how events will unfold. You’ve got King Jesus on speed dial; what are you waiting for?
Could it be that we have repeatedly failed to win a hearing from our leaders because we are ignoring these simple principles? Could it be that the reason why we had sometimes been ignored or disregarded is basically that we had not demonstrated competence or civility? Could it be that our words have not been gracious enough, but rather unhelpfully critical or even caustic? May we learn from the models of Daniel and his three Hebrew friends who were very influential in government in spite of being young political prisoners (Daniel 1:17,19–20). May we learn from the model of Joseph who, by virtue of his exceptional wisdom, left behind the injustices that led him into prison to becoming a transformative leader within the same context (Genesis 41:39; 43:32; 46:34). May we be the kind of young adults who grow to be so wise and so skilled that those in government will seek our contribution. And may we be ever-so-tactful in the way we speak and act, thereby influencing the influential. And may we never forget the One Who is truly in charge — whatever form of government we may live under.
O God of creation,
Direct our noble cause;
Guide our Leaders right:
Help our Youth the truth to know,
In love and honesty to grow,
And living just and true,
Great lofty heights attain,
To build a nation where peace and justice reign.
PS: #iRemember is a daily mentoring retrospective look at Chronicles of our past — my wife and I — drawing life lessons from past experiences. It is exclusive to members of Alive Mentorship Group — an online mentorship platform for young adults across the world that provides an avenue to learn practical life lessons across geographical barriers. If you will like to be a part or access any of our free resources, visit https://linktr.ee/josephola.