Spaces for Change | S4C hosted over a hundred students and lecturers of Covenant University at its Lagos office on June 13, 2023. The visiting students are currently in their second year studying Political Science, International Relations, and Policy and Strategic Studies in the Departments of Political Science and International Relations. They embarked on the excursion to deepen their understanding of social activism and change-making, as well as the role of civil society organizations in strengthening democracy and human rights in Nigeria.
The excursion began with the students viewing S4C’s documentary, Courage in Difficult Times. This documentary used story-telling and didactic techniques to chronicle the history of human rights activism in Nigeria and the roles played by pioneer civil society leaders during the dark days of military rule. Featuring pioneer activists like Clement Nwankwo, Olisa Agbakoba, Nkoyo Toyo, Abdul Oroh, Innocent Chukwuma, Joy Ezeilo, YZ Y’au, Felix Morka, and posthumous representations for Beko Ransome Kuti, Jadesola Akande, Emma Ezeazu, and Oby Nwankwo, the film documented the courageous struggles of Nigeria’s foremost activists that spearheaded campaigns against military authoritarianism and the extreme curtailment of civic freedoms at that time, paving the way for the final return to democratic rule in 1999. They also formed the first set of human rights organizations in Nigeria, beginning with the Civil Liberties Organization.
After watching the documentary, one striking observation that resonated strongly among the students is that all the pioneers started out as student activists in their teens and twenties, leveraging their passions, convictions, and youthful exuberance to challenge impunity and social injustice. Another major finding is that gender has never been a limiting factor as men and women played major roles in advancing democratic freedoms and social equality. The third lesson is that activism is fraught with many risks. Activism can expose the youth to the risks of mental and physical harm, coupled with other restrictions on civil liberties. That’s why activism requires conviction, courage, and the determination to overcome. Not only that, a good education, good grades, innovation, consistency, courage, and tenacity are some of the factors that distinguish and set certain activists apart from the rest. A background in political science is also an added advantage for anybody considering a career in international development and social justice work.
The students were excited to engage in a virtual call-in session with some of the pioneer activists. This afforded them an opportunity to ask questions about opportunities, risks, and rewards of activism, drawing from their experiences in the 80s and 90s. There were also conversations around the distinctions between the activism of yesteryears and modern-day activism which is enabled and amplified by access to digital technologies. Students were particularly encouraged to maximize their access to technology to develop and proffer sustainable solutions to societal problems.
They also listened to pep talks and presentations on the political economy of popular participation. This is grounded on the willingness of a large percentage of the populace to participate in public decision-making, politics, and the governance of their country. The more people get interested in their country’s leadership, the more accountable governance becomes. This means that everyone has a role to play in bringing about accountable leadership and governance. Personal experiences shared by their fellow young activists working in civil society organizations not only inspired them but also highlighted relatable experiences about the dilemma of following one’s convictions vis-a-vis popular career choices.
The excursion ended with a question-and-answer session where the students asked questions that revealed their budding interest in change-making and social justice activism. They also learned about the opportunities and possibilities available to them as future political scientists and international relations experts. The excursion ended with hopes rekindled and the flame of passion to serve humanity ignited in the hearts and minds of the young students. Indeed, they left with the feeling of certainty that the future does hold some promise for them to attain set goals and ambitions.