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In Defense of Tweeting Even While I’m Dying

by Zainab Omaki

 

[Editor’s Note: This piece is part of the “Topical” series, with each piece solely submitted to and chosen by the Final Reader Pietra Dunmore.]

 

Because if I don’t, people will hear that I died at the Abuja protests, shot in the back while racing away, but never know that I was a real person, an individual distinguishable from the dozens of others who bled out onto the street under a yellow sun. Because my father still tells me stories under the orange glow of candlelight when the electricity goes out—and it goes out often— about how he grew up in the glory days of this country. When he was a child, they attended school for free, ate government paid lunches finer than anything they had at home, graduated to a surplus of jobs that they were practically begged to fill. His mouth twists mournfully when he gets to the end. “You people will never know a country like that,” he says. Because, last month, my friend,Kunle, was coming back from clubbing in the middle of the night and the police stopped him on the road and beat him until his lungs collapsed in on themselves, for having orange hair, for wearing a pink crop top, for behaving in an effeminate manner when being gay is illegal. Strangers rushed him to the hospital entrance but the nurses took one look at the severity of his condition and used their bodies to block their doors. “We don’t have the equipment oh,” they shouted. “Go to St. Mary’s.” At St. Mary’s they sent him to National Hospital. By the time the car squealed to a halt in front of the Emergency room at National Hospital, he was dead. Because on Twitter there is a scrolling list of fourteen names of other people killed by the police, I have recited them so many times, they’ve developed a cadence in my head, like a song, but who wants that type of song stuck in their head? Because when I turned eighteen, four years ago, my sister cackled, “Finally old enough to vote!” And I’d hissed long and loud in our stuffy living room. Who was going to waste time voting? Politicians would just rig the elections. I’d camped out in front of the TV too many times watching counting sessions where the number of votes exceeded the number of people in a State, and the politicians would swivel to glance at each other and break into laughter, like it was some type of joke. Because on my last trip to Lagos, I couldn’t afford to go by air so I went by road. We jostled in potholes the size of our bodies and got pulled to a stop by armed robbers. They made us all stand in a line and they went from person to person collecting our belongings, roughly feeling our breasts, our crotches, anywhere something might be hidden. I was trembling, my bladder threatening to give way, thinking about all the stories I’d heard of robbers raping men and women on the side of the road, passing diseases onto them. God please, God please, looped in my head. When they let us go, no one called the authorities. We just piled back into the car and finished the journey. Because every single season, rain floods Lagos and we laugh at people in the middle of residential areas, ploughing through the water on canoes. Guffaw. Guffaw. Guffaw. But we don’t complain to Urban Planning department because we know its Minister, dubbed ‘the smiling Minister’, will flash his white teeth on TV and nothing will be done. Because a shaky video of a heavy set policeman shooting a man at point blank range at a high-end hotel in Port Harcourt somehow cut through our apathy, our belief that things would always go on this way because it has always gone on this way. Our outrage overwhelmed the internet, bringing us out in a swarm onto the streets. Because ardors will flag without a visible reminder to be pulled up and recalled, a last reminder: this is why we’re doing it. Because ‘I’m shot, I’m dying’ are a rallying cry, not sent out into a void, but into fertile soil. Four words raises a multitude of others.

 

Zainab A. Omaki has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia where she was the recipient of the Miles Morland African Writer’s scholarship. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Passages North, Transition Magazine, The Rumpus, TSS Publishing and other spaces. She is currently a Reader in Residence at Smokelong Quarterly

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “In Defense of Tweeting Even While I’m Dying”?

It was inspired by a tweet during the recent #ENDSARS protests and the debate swirling online about sharing personal moments of grief. My initial thoughts had been that certain moments are to be inhabited not shared but then I began to turn it around in my head and see arguments for why that might not necessarily be the case.

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