What does it mean to call yourself a Nigerian?
Identity can be difficult to answer in a country with 210 million people, more than 500 native languages, and hundreds of ethnic groups that were colonized by the Portuguese and the British.
However, two activists have chosen to utilize social media’s power through a forum called The New Nigerian.
The group’s 45,000 members can participate in chatrooms on languages and culture, politics and citizenship, pop culture, technology, and well-being hosted on the Clubhouse platform.
The idea, according to its designers, is to help subscribers “relearn to be Nigerian.”
“Like in many ‘Black countries,’ many people are unaware of their own history and culture,” says Lola Adele-Oso, who started the forum with Eniola Mafe.
Adele-Oso is the founder of a lifestyle brand that promotes anything from clothes to small-group travel. She was a previous activist in the movement to free schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram.
“Who are we, exactly? Who are the people who inspire us?” she explains. “As citizens, we can’t improve ourselves if we don’t understand where we came from.”
‘Ignorance is not an option.’
Last October’s #EndSARS protest movement against the country’s SARS – or Special Anti-Robbery Squad – provided the inspiration for The New Nigerian.
Before security forces cracked down on demonstrators, the protests grew into a bigger push for reform and became the largest in modern Nigerian history.
Mafe, a former activist, travels between Geneva and Lagos for her work in technology and sustainability.
“At the time, I was in Geneva, with my eyes on Twitter and my ears on Clubhouse,” Mafe says. “Within the diaspora, we were trying to figure out what was going on, debunk bogus news, and organize donations.”
“We quickly realized that we could make use of this platform as a tool. We made the decision to keep the momentum going.”
The army opened fire on demonstrators in the “Lekki killing” on October 20, 2020, putting a harsh end to popular #EndSARS protests in the streets and online.
Mafe and Adele-Oso, on the other hand, saw it as an opportunity to start awakening consciences through civic and political involvement.
“Being politically apathetic is no longer an option,” Mafe argues.
The New Nigerian acquired thousands of subscribers within days of its launch, making it one of Clubhouse’s fastest-growing groups.
The clubhouse is a live audio content platform with 10 million weekly active users that allows users to create, engage in, or listen to debates on a variety of themes.
Subscribers of The New Nigerian log on to discuss current events and living in Africa’s most populous country.
Courses in history, Nigeria’s various languages, local philosophers, and debates on Yoruba myths are all held in the group’s chatrooms.
While many of the participants are from the south of Nigeria, the platform’s founders claim that it promotes togetherness in a country where ethnic and separatist conflicts are always present.
Some hardliners in southern states have advocated for greater independence, if not outright secession.
Mafe defines a “New Nigerian” as someone who may represent a variety of viewpoints.
“In terms of gender or sexual orientation, they are really progressive,” Mafe explains.
“We want to include everyone and will never be tribalistic in our approach. Never.”
‘Hungry for knowledge,’ says the narrator.
Basil Abia, a 26-year-old political researcher and member of the New Nigerian, hosts four weekly chatrooms on current events and Nigerian history.
They examine the slave trade and decolonization with other researchers or invited experts and the heritage of the great Edo kingdoms or the Sultans of Sokoto.
Around 200 people from Nigeria and other parts of the world attend the discussions.
“Nigerians are starving for information. We sometimes start at 11 p.m. and work until 7 a.m.! But I have to admit… I enjoy conversing!” he declares
During last October’s protests, Abia claims police battered him. But, like Mafe and Adele-Oso, he saw the #EndSARS movement as a watershed moment that inspired people to get involved in politics.
“To know who you want as a leader, you have to comprehend the political establishment, the social contract, the notion of justice, and human rights,” he argues.
Since the protests, and with the country’s economy battered by the epidemic and spiraling prices, Abia claims that several Nigerians from the middle and upper classes have fled to Dubai, Ghana, the United Kingdom, the United States, or Canada.
The new Twitter ban by President Muhammadu Buhari has delivered a significant blow to freedom of expression and access to information in Nigeria, further deterring the country’s hyper-connected youth.
On the other hand, Abia has decided to stay and help develop the new Nigeria he dreams of and talks about daily.
He says, “I dedicated my life, my abilities, and my education to this country.” “I’m going to stay here till I die.”