There were too many of us in the car on the way to the Nigerian High Commission that Sunday morning. Knees meeting and heads bent, we nervously clutched our handmade placards. The green paint of our careful lettering, ‘The Human Spirit Is Stronger Than Any Government [Fela Kuti]’ had already begun to leave its impression on us. Congregated opposite the silent, stony façade of the Nigerian High Commission, our hesitant voices soon rose into a determined refrain of, “Nigerian lives matter! We are with you Baga!”
The North Eastern Nigerian town of Baga, once bustling with thousands, is now home to charred Pompeii-esque remains. Reports from survivors tell of a persistent bulleted hunt and fire attack to extinguish any sign of human life. As many as 2000 were executed in what is now known as Boko Haram’s most brutal slaughter. Boko Haram’s success in incinerating the town of Baga astonishingly gained very little outrage from previously vocal world leaders who at the time were keen to (rightly) admonish the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris.
Founded in 2002, Boko Haram, which loosely translates from the local Hausa language to, “fake education is forbidden,” was initially concerned with children being sent to schools that it considered too westernised. By 2009, the schools that the movement had set up had become increasingly militarised and had begun carrying out violent operations with an aim to turn Nigeria into an Islamic State.
A slow to act Nigerian government and an inadequately supplied, perpetually fleeing Nigerian Army have resulted in Boko Haram gaining control of a territory in West Africa nearing the size of Belgium. The 200 schoolgirls who were abducted by Boko Haram in April 2014 - now thought to be being used as suicide bombers by their captors - seem to have been all but forgotten in the media. The Nigerian Lives Matter (NLM) movement was set up in, “response to a seemingly unconscious government, not appropriately consumed with the urgency of this situation,” explains NLM founder Akinola Davies.
NLM’s inception in late 2014 was not dissimilar to the beginnings of many London club nights that spring up on Facebook. This parallel is unsurprising; given that Akin is a London born videographer whose co-ownership of underground music channel Just Jam has put him on the frontlines of London’s creative and nightlife scene. From the very start, every single NLM organiser shared an awareness of their inherent privilege to influence a network of people. “Far and wide I want to help effect change in Nigeria, but I need to start right here in London, because if I make you think about it, you’ll have a conversation with some one else.”
A core group pooled their talents together; intent on using their ability to have their voices heard in order to ensure the violent deaths of 2000 people didn’t become a footnote in the international press. Within a few short days of posting the rally on Facebook, NLM had acquired an overwhelming response from a community who usually engage over pop culture, as opposed to politics. “In reflection, I was probably the right person to do it, because I do parties. Everything about NLM is political, I didn’t want a political career, but now I think it’s almost necessary.”
You’d be forgiven for making clichéd sweet-boy references when describing Akin. His modelesque features, engaging conversation and sincere enthusiasm to create make him disarmingly charming. With NLM, Akin’s desire to share and affect culture manifested itself in a community project that brought together a multitude of cultures and gained international press coverage in the process. “All those that came, British people, Nigerians, Zambians, they were a part of something, something real that reaffirmed the value of human life.” Throughout the rally and our interview, Akin was keen to emphasise the input of those around him; “Bwalya, Zezi, Lidia, my sister and my friends. I would not have got there without them. I would have been out on that road by myself.”
On Sunday 25th January 2015, hundreds adorned the streets with emphatic placards of the green, white, green flag, proudly asserting NLM’s steadfast motive, “Solidarity, Unity, Love.” Alongside Akin, mouth and megaphones were galvanised in palpable conviction. Sporadic honking from passing cars punctuated our chants of, “Up, up Naija! Down, down terror!” sending shockwaves of cheers throughout the crowd.
The rally’s arrival and ensuing end were swift and surprising. Experience in the form of public speakers and human rights campaigners Bisi Alimi, Andrew Murray and Dr Titi Banjoko elegantly explained why governments must promote a balance of awareness and speak out against terror across the world. “The silence over Boko Haram is killing us!” pleaded Bisi. Lead by Grime MC Skepta’s impassioned speech, the rally concluded with sincerely bowed heads. In that moment, with our proudly emblazoned NLM cards hauntingly suspended above our heads like a field of solemn lilies, we paid our respects to 2000 lives that were lost. As the crowds departed that afternoon, it became clear that the rally was a modest beginning; a touch paper; a foundation from which we could build momentum and bring further awareness to a collective ambition to ensure that those Nigerian lives, like all lives, matter.