Nigerian Lives Matter: Why We're Protesting In London

Nigerian Lives Matter organizer Akinola Davies Jr discusses why protestors will rally outside the Nigerian embassy in London on January 25.

A group of Londoners have organized a rally to take place outside the Nigerian embassy in London on Sunday, January 25. Below, Nigerian Lives Matter organizer Akinola Davies Jr discusses why they're protesting.

The first thing to say is that we've never previously organised a rally, of either political or humanitarian significance. We have no political affiliations and agendas, nor do we intend to have any. Our concern is the loss of life and the perceived lack of action surrounding what has happened recently in Nigeria. Some of us are Nigerians with dual citizenship; some only have British citizenship; and many others offering help are from different countries within Europe and Africa. We are all, however, undoubtedly proud of our heritages and very in touch with the political climate across Africa and, indeed, Europe.

What happened in France was atrocious. No nation or people should have to witness those events. The solidarity shown by the French public — people of all backgrounds, religions and races — was spectacular, both on the day of the events and in their aftermath. The gathering of world leaders, while certainly a great photo opportunity, was important to the families of the bereaved. It too showcased the magnitude of the world’s support.

It was symbolic to see an array of world leaders coming together to condemn violence and defend free speech. We just wish that something on any scale could have been done for the 2,000 people in Baga; the 17 who lost their lives to a child suicide bomber; the 200 girls who went missing and are yet to be recovered; the 5,000 refugees in a neighbouring town; the 7,000-10,000 who fled to the border, and ultimately the 800,000 people now displaced from the terror caused by the violence from the republics of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. It’s important that people also show solidarity with the loss of lives from countries and communities farther away.

I'm nearly 30, have never been politically active, and have never voted. There are a huge number of people, like myself, who feel that we are not represented, both in the UK and Nigeria. The politics in practice do not resonate with our generation and there are seemingly no means, at least financially, to compete on their scale. Those in power need to be held accountable, and it's imperative that such massacres are, in the very least, publicly condemned and that the international community is made aware of what’s happening.

In an age in which we can organise a rally on Facebook, read tweets from those under siege in the Middle East and obtain satellite pictures of Baga, it is extremely disconcerting that we cannot even obtain accurate numbers of those who have perished in Nigeria. Furthermore, it is hard to find information about what is going on in Baga in regards to a humanitarian effort. This is why we are rallying. We want to make those affected know that their kin, thousands of miles away on this tiny island, actually care. Just as the French rallied in Paris, it’s paramount that action is taken to voice the discontent for Nigerians by Nigerians, accompanied by different nationalities.

Our motive in organising the rally on January 25 outside the Nigerian Embassy in London is to do something. To do anything. 5 people joined the event set up on Facebook, then 50 joined, and now, at the time of writing, the numbers have risen to 800+. This is still only a tiny fraction of the 88,000 Nigerians living in the UK (70,000 of which reside in London).

The constant stream of e-mails and messages we have received supporting the rally has been overwhelming. This is a cause that evidently resonates with many. We call on prominent members of society — those who are heralded and celebrated globally — to also show their solidarity. We'd love the support of those that have represented the best of what Nigeria has to offer. Renowned figures like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Wole Soyinka, Femi and Seun Kuti, Chuka Umunna, Ben Okri, Bola Agbaje and many others. Unlike us, these people have an elevated platform and greater ability to pressure the government into action.

We're gathering to show solidarity with the thousands of innocent people who have died and the million who are hoping for a peaceful resolution. We are asking the Nigerian government for a response; condemn the violence and prevent further loss of life. We want to show other Nigerians that we need to start taking ownership and standing together for what really matters, especially those members of our societies who are most vulnerable. Whether they affect tens, hundreds, or thousands of innocent people, all human rights issues are important in Nigeria, especially when they concern the loss of lives.

We need to start speaking up on these sensitive issues and start engaging in progressive public discourse; challenging the perceived notion that there’s nothing that can be done. We need to garner the attention of the international community for the people in Baga and for those displaced and missing as a result of recent atrocities, many of who are women, children and the elderly. Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and all in between, no matter what religion, we are all first and foremost Nigerian. Our collective values and culture as a nation are of increased significance in this time of national emergency.

On Sunday, January 25, whether there are 20 people or 1,000 people with us at the rally in London, we want all those suffering this violence, thousands of miles away, to know we are speaking up for them.

Nigerian Lives Matter is a group of individuals assembled to affect change and create informed awareness. Their aim is to show the diaspora that solidarity through mobilisation can hopefully help shed light on matters concerning innocent people and the loss of life by acts of terror.

Akinola Davies Jr is a London-born videographer who produces live broadcast events and web-based content. He co-owns dontwatchthat.tv and works as a content manager for Dailymotion.

Image: Courtesy TIFF

Jenna Cato Bass is Capturing the Horrors of an Unhealed Nation

The film marks the South African director's third debut and stride towards making a name for herself in the international film circuit.

Ever since premiering her debut film, Love the One You Love, which won the Best Feature Film at the Jozi Festival in 2015, Jenna Cato Bass has been a name to watch on the international film festival circuit. Her 2017 feature, High Fantasy, was the first of her films to land on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lineup, followed by Flatland in 2019. Her latest offering, Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), debuted at TIFF in September of 2021 — marking her third time at the esteemed Canadian film event.

Often provocative, always thought-provoking, Bass' films have come to establish her as a director who looks at South Africa's youth, the lives they're living and the future that awaits them, with a nuanced, open-minded lens. For the first time in her career, Bass uses the genre of horror to dig into an enduring mark of the country's past — that of the fraught, complex relationship between madam and domestic worker, in Mlungu Wam (Good Madam). Set in Cape Town, the film follows the unusual, disturbing things that start happening when a young woman moves back in with her estranged mother, who is the longtime caretaker for a rich, white household.

Bass also co-wrote the film Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute), which became Tanzania's first film to be selected for TIFF this year, and she co-wrote Rafiki, which was Kenya's first film at TIFF in 2018.

She spoke to OkayAfrica about playing in a new genre and her hopes for African cinema.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

This story revolves around the relationship between a domestic worker and her 'madam.' What made you want to make a film about this subject?

When I make films, I like the concept to revolve around something that we all have in common - because, despite the many fractures in our society, these shared places exist. And in South Africa, we felt that everyone - in some way or another - has been deeply affected by domestic work and domestic workers, who are a keystone in our society's structure. Additionally, the 'maid' and 'madam' relationship is the ultimate symbol of race relations in South Africa - as well as how they haven't changed significantly, despite almost thirty years of democracy. So a domestic worker was the perfect character around which to centre a South African horror.

The genre of horror works really well to explore this subject and tell this story — when did you know it would be the genre you'd want to use?

The early stages of developing a film aren't always linear for me. I'll be thinking about a genre I'm interested in, and then parallel to that I'll have an idea for a story or a character, and later on, will realize that these pieces all fit together. In this case, I'd been wanting to make a horror film for ages, but hadn't found the right story… until I had the idea for Mlungu Wam, and I realized I was finally ready to try this genre.

What challenges did you face in making a horror?

It was my first time working in this genre, and it was intimidating because there's no saving you if you fail. We were also working on a very, very limited budget, so it wasn't possible to show as much as we'd like to - but then again, this story was all about the subjective and the unseen, so I did as much research and planning as we could, and just had to trust it would work.

Where did you film, and did that have any impact on the process at all?

We filmed in a house in Cape Town, in a gated community in the Southern Suburbs. The house and the environment had a major impact on the film - especially because we were also quarantining there for the full 7 weeks of rehearsal and shooting. The house was our set and our accommodation, so it was very intense, very claustrophobic, and very triggering for many of our team members.

How did you and co-writer Babalwa Baartman work on the story? You've included cast members in the writing process in your previous work — did you do that here too?

Mlungu Wam was made along similar lines to my first two films, Love The One You Love and High Fantasy, where we started with an outline, cast actors, then workshopped the characters collaboratively before completing the story breakdown and using improv for the dialogue. Babalwa and I had worked together using this method on a short film we made in 2019 called Sizohlala. She really understands the process, and it was a really rewarding experience exploring the story with her and our cast.

How did Kristina Ceyton, who produced the excellent acclaimed horrors The Babadook and The Nightingale, through Causeway Films, come to be involved in this film?

I had met Sam Jennings, who is also a producer with Causeway Films, several years ago at a festival. We really connected and kept in touch over the years, sharing our work, and hoping there'd be a chance to collaborate. So when we were developing Mlungu Wam, I pitched her and Kristina the concept and they were immediately supportive. It has been a massive pleasure working with them both.

Your films are known to venture into themes of identity and healing from the past — how does this film speak to that?

Mlungu Wam is definitely about this too - it's a story about three generations of women (actually four, if you include Tsidi's grandmother, who is an unseen character in the film), how they are haunted by the past and eventually refuse to remain chained any longer. Their healing is collective, linked to each other, and wouldn't be possible for them alone as individuals.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

You've been at TIFF before - how has your experience of it been this year, with it being a hybrid of virtual and in-person?

Things have been quieter and a bit harder to navigate, but the TIFF staff have done incredible work getting the festival off the ground, despite endless challenges. It has felt very surreal to be here, and a privilege - and inspiring too, that we can still get together to celebrate films, even though our world is in such a mess. We had over 200 (socially distanced) people at our last screening, and that was an amazing feeling.

Yours is one of few African films on this year's line-up - is there anything you'd like to see happen to try improve that?

Regarding African cinema, TIFF has a real range of films this year, across several sections. Compared to many other festivals, they seem really invested in supporting cinema from the continent. Of course, this could be better, but it's also an example to other festivals who claim there aren't enough African films, that this is clearly not the case.

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