By Edidiong Udobia
Having spent more than 10 minutes listening to Rev. Al Sharpton deliver a powerful and thought-provoking speech at George Floyd’s Memorial Service in Minneapolis, I became so emotionally attached to the event that I had to join the 8 minutes 46 seconds of silence to commemorate the last moments of George Floyd’s life. I was still standing at the center of my parlour sharing in the grief that had overwhelmed the North Central University hall, where the service held, when my wife walked up to me and asked that I hold our son for some minutes so she could briefly attend to something else. Unconsciously, I told her to keep the boy on the chair, but she gave me a look that immediately jerked my consciousness.
A lot happened to me in within that 8 minutes 46 seconds that I’ll probably not be able to explain in a lifetime. For the benefit of those who may not know, 8 minutes 46 seconds was how long former officer Derek Chauvin had his knee pressed against George Floyd’s neck while Floyd was on the ground crying for help and tearfully yelling ‘I can’t breathe’ till he eventually stopped breathing. In the words of Rev. Al Sharpton, 8 minutes 46 seconds was such long time that there should be no excuse for justice to be denied. Since the days of Martin Luther King Jnr. and even long before, unlawful killings, racism and discrimination/Police brutality against people of colour have been part of the fundamental problems in America. But like almost everyone has said, the response this time is so different.
Standing there in my parlour, I pondered on a lot of thoughts. One of such was, if Derek Chauvin had listened to the pleas of the onlookers and lifted his knee from Floyd’s neck after 4, 5 or may be 6 minutes, probably, George Floyd would still be alive. So that 8 minutes 46 seconds of silence gave me a new perspective about human actions. A wrongdoing of few minutes may require a lifetime to amend. Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for only 8 minutes and 46 minutes, but that was just enough time to deny Floyd’s children the opportunity of having a biological father for the rest of their lives. In the midst of that emotion-ladened moment, I began to soberly reflect on the society (country and state) I live in. A society where every moment of a common man’s life feels like George Floyd’s last 8 minutes 46 seconds.
I had flashbacks, and one of them was the recent legal battle between Kufre Carter and ‘the State’. I recalled how disappointed people were when it was reported that a supposed law enforcement agency bluntly refused to release the young man after his legal team had met the bail conditions. The legal team had to fight to get a Magistrate to hear the case in the first place, then fight to get a Judge to vary the initial and clearly outrageous bail conditions, go on another round of fight to meet the new conditions, then still had to fight to get the young man released even after meeting the bail conditions. I’m very certain that while all these fights were ongoing, young people showing up at the Court and protesting on social media for Kufre Carter’s release, someone powerful was somewhere feeling like Derek Chauvin.
We’re living in a society where the people with power take excess pleasure in making the rest of the people feel like they are living their last 8 minutes 46 seconds. From executive lawlessness, legislative rascality, judicial compromise to brutality among law enforcement, our society is structured to enable the powerful oppress the less powerful and the powerless. Therefore, the fate of the common people in this society largely lies in their strength to endure the oppression. For instance, it’s not a problem when a government constructs a poor quality road in a community, but it is a problem if the citizens speak against it. So the citizens have the choice to either keep silence and endure the suffering of the poorly constructed road, or speak up and face whatever wrath they incure from the powers that be. That is why an average Nigerian is always looking up to the next election as the ultimate solution to every problem associated with governance.
According to record by the Police Department, former officer Derek Chauvin had 17 prio complaints against him. ‘Sixteen of the complaints were closed without discipline’, reports The Washington Post. ‘The remaining complaint resulted in two letters of reprimand against Chauvin’. Clearly, this was not Chauvin’s first time as a rogue officer. Little wonder he tortured George Floyd with so much pleasure. But this time, 8 minutes 46 seconds made all the difference. During a news conference, the Minneapolis Attorney General, Keith Ellison, who is the lead prosecutor, openly admitted that despite all the undeniable evidence, getting a conviction against Chauvin will be very difficult. The reason is not farfetched. As a White Police officer, Chauvin will most likely enjoy the bias of the jury because of the white supremacist ideology. The same ideology that has shielded Chauvin so far.
Because every oppressor like Derek Chauvin, has a source from where they draw their strength, the oppressed must also find a source of strength if they must survive and ultimately overcome the oppression. In America right now, the people are drawing their strength from the last 8 minutes 46 seconds of George Floyd’s life. Black Americans have endured racism in America for hundreds of years, but today, one event has unified the American people; Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Asian Americans, clergies, celebrities, politicians, etc. So, I have been thinking, has irresponsible leadership not killed people enough in Nigeria? Have we not lost enough innocent lives to brutality by law enforcement agencies in this country?
In its 2018 Human Rights Report on Nigeria, the United States Department of State gave startling details on various forms of human rights abuses such as arbitrary and unlawful killings, forceful disappearance, torture and other cruel, inhuman treatments commited by state actors in the country. In 2019, brutality and extrajudicial killings by law enforcement officers was on a sharp rise in the country, which led to the #EndSARS campaign by citizens. Last year, a promising young man who was a popular mascot, was allegedly shot dead by a Police detail at a public event in Akwa Ibom. Few months after, nothing has been heard of that sad event. Yet, today, in this same state, the people with power will suffocate the populace with very provocative conspiracies, and if anyone dare grasps for breath, they unleash all their powers on such a fellow. Just yesterday, NSCDC officials allegedly shot and killed two unarmed civilians in Bakasi, Cross River State in broad daylight. I have been asking myself, what exactly will happen that will unify us as Nigerians and Akwa Ibomites against our oppressors? What will cause our own 8 minutes 46 seconds?
Now, back to the story about my wife asking me to carry our son. Nothing serious actually happened after she gave me that terrifying look, except that I hurriedly carried the boy. That’s all.
Edidiong Udobia writes from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.