In the ongoing protests to end police brutality across the country, one female rights activist, Aisha Yesufu, remains a constant reminder that genuine change is possible. Her courage is unpredecent. Tobi Soniyi writes
In a country, where many are too fearful to speak out against palpable injustice and call out the perpetrators; in a country, where people hide under religion to shy away from their civic responsibility, Aisha Yesufu is a rare breed.
Her photograph wearing hijab, raising her clenched fist in the air, daring armed policemen while calling for an end to impunity by men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), should make it to the national archive. It takes someone who is ready to pay the ultimate price to exhibit such courage.
Many see her as an enigma. They could not understand who she really is and why she does what she does. Others don’t know what inspires or drives her. But to understand Aisha, you only need to listen to her.
She understands people are curious and she has always done her best to explain her motivation sometimes using her Twitter handle @AishaYesufu. She might be writing her autobiography through her tweets. The message beneath the handle says it all: “I do not do labels. My mum says in my court, nobody wins. You would either love me or hate me and either one is perfectly okay!”
Unlike those who allowed their religious and ethnic sentiments get the best of them, Aisha understands the landmines. She is able to focus on issues. For instance, when some youths showed up in Abuja to confront those calling for SARS to be scrapped, Aisha would not allow them to be described by their tribe or religion. She understands that in Nigeria, patriotic issues worth dying for easily get toxic when coloured by ethnicity and religion.
“We should never assign tribe or religion to thugs. What we should assign to them is thuggery. The thugs that attacked protesters at Berger, Abuja, today must simply be known as the thugs they are,” she said.
She was also quick to advise the protesting youths not to be distracted but have their eyes on the ball, even as they continued with the protests.
When the authority announced that SARS had been replaced with SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics), Aisha saw through the scheme as a plot to get the protesting youths out of the streets. She called on the youths to remain focused.
In a video message through her Twitter handle on Wednesday, she commended the success of the protests, which she said had yielded some positive results, insisting that they should not get distracted.
“Dear Nigerian youths, you have the government, where you want them to be. You are doing amazing. You are doing something that you haven’t done before,” she said, adding: “Please don’t get distracted. Eyes on the ball. Forget the distraction. There is nothing for you to fight over.”
She therefore told the protesters to “focus on the result that you want. That is what is more important. Yes, we have seen the headline from the government but have you seen the execution? What is the basis for a committee? Can the government bring an execution plan?”
When allegation came up that the protests had been monetized, she again saw through the plan as an attempt to derail the protests. She noted that most of the people discrediting the rally were those who had not been part of it, asking the protesters not to be carried away by the rumours.
“I see that there a lot of people, who have been part of these protests as you would expect and they are trying to discredit it by talking about the protest being monetized. If anybody collects money for protest, drive the person out. Let those who didn’t collect do their thing,” she said.
Why is Aisha, a Muslim, who should be in the ‘other room’ (apology to President Muhammadu Buhari) so courageous in taking up issues that even men are scared of? She, however, gave a clue in an interview granted recently.
“When I was 10 years old, I came to the realisation that the worst thing any human being can do to me is to kill me. I don’t even know how I came about this thought. I am someone, who always thinks that anything can happen.
“But then, I realise that no matter what, I am going to die anyway. So, basically, dying is not really the worst thing. Death is inevitable, and as a Muslim, I believe that my life is in God’s hands. Whatever is destined to happen will occur.
“While growing up, I didn’t fear human beings. I have respect for people, but not fear because I know at the end of the day, there is one Supreme Being and it is only Him I fear. So, as long as I have the right conscience with my God, I am good.”
For those who still believe that women should not be heard and for those women, who have accepted this as their fate, Aisha has some words for them.
“First of all, I am not from the North. A lot of people always make the mistake of thinking I am from the North, though I was born and brought up in Kano. I am from Agbede in Edo State. I am an Edo woman and married to an Auchi man. Some people say a woman should not be heard, especially a Muslim woman.
“But over time in history, there have been exceptional women, who stood out in the Muslim world and did a lot of things. We have people like Aisha, one of the prophet’s wives (peace be upon him), who would stand for justice and would not tolerate any form of injustice.
“She was very outspoken, very intelligent and very knowledgeable. There was a time she went to war against a particular caliphate that was involved in some issues she felt wasn’t right. Relegating women to the background is not about Islam. It’s about the culture of those involved.
“The woman has many places in Islam. Yes, there are some things she cannot do, but overall, her right has been given to her and she has a lot she can do. She has a right to property. She can inherit, she can be inherited from and there is child support in case of divorce. But these are things people don’t do again. They forgot and tie things to Islam. Being a Muslim woman doesn’t mean one cannot have one’s voice out there,” she said.
Before the #ENDSARS protest, Aisha alongside other women of courage took it upon themselves to campaign for the release of the kidnapped Chibok Secondary Schools girls. They successfully internationalised the campaign. Their efforts paved the way for the release of some of the girls.
One of those who understand Aisha is Dr. Chidi Odinkalu. Hear him: “Aisha is straightforward. She cares deeply about people. But don’t mess with her. She doesn’t have reverse gear! She doesn’t have a crooked bone or a bone of fear in her body.”
Through her actions, Aisha is challenging Nigerians to be brave and take their destiny into their own hands. The interesting thing is that many are heeding the call. Those who had lost their voice have suddenly found it. Aisha is simply great!