In 1976, during the years of the apartheid regime in South Africa, young South African students were gunned down in the streets of Soweto for protesting against the injustice of racist separation especially in education. Their protest against injustice was met with injustice. Then, Nigerian artiste, Sunny Okosun sang about the incident in his album, “Fire in Soweto.” ”Tell me what you gonna do when you find out the truth,” sang Sunny Okosun in “Fire in Soweto”.
Now we must ask ourselves in Nigeria: what are we going to do now that a judicial panel has told us the truth that the Soweto of which Okosun sang is in our sokoto? T here is so much darkness in our world today, so much injustice, oppression and violence in Nigeria. The outcome of the judicial panel instituted by the Lagos State Government on the #EndSARS protest of October 20, 2020 reminds us what we have always known: that we in Nigeria need to build a nation where injustice and oppression are not tolerated.
Despite denials by government officials, the panel was able to establish that young Nigerians, wrapped in the Nigerian flag and singing the national anthem while protesting police brutality at the Lekki Toll Gate had live bullets shot into them by Nigerian soldiers. Some got killed, some others got injured. Corpses were taken away to cover the crime.
That young Nigerians are brutalized by the police is unjust. But even more unjust is the way government forces responded to their protest. The response was brutal and bloody. For us in the Catholic tradition, the First Sunday of Advent is the beginning of a new liturgical year. The Church uses every season of the liturgical year to teach us what we are to believe and how we are to live our lives as Christians.
What then does the season of Advent teach us, and how is it relevant to this discovery of Soweto in our sokoto? The season of Advent teaches us three lessons. First, to remember that Christ came and to remember all that he taught us when he came; secondly, that Christ will come again to judge us on how we have lived by the teachings he gave us during his first coming; and thirdly, that we are to live our life by keeping vigil, that is, in constant expectation of his return, his second coming.
The message of Advent invites and challenges us to work for a just world, beginning with a just Nigeria. Isaiah, prophet of the Advent season, s hares with us his vision of the first coming of Christ. Isaiah saw that vision at a time of war, a time when Israel was threatened with the dark clouds of war, of invasion by surrounding nations. At a time when war was imminent, Isaiah spoke of the coming of a Messiah who would bring about a unity of all nations on the mountain of the Lord, in the Temple of the God of Jacob. It will be an era of peace and tranq uility when nations will turn their instruments of war into instruments of life.
“They will turn their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles,” says Isaiah (Is 2:4). T he peace of the Messiah is not any kind of peace. It will be peace that f lows from justice, peace that flows from right relationship between human beings and God, manifest in right relationship among human beings. T he Messiah of which Isaiah spoke will use his authority to bring about justice, and where there is true justice there will be peace. He will bring about justice by bringing all the nations of the world to God. Isaiah saw the vision of a Messiah who would make all nations walk in the light of the Lord.
During the season of Advent, the word of God read to us in the liturgy teaches us to live our whole life looking forward to this era of peace and justice, preparing our hearts to receive the gifts of peace and justice, and working for peace and justice. This is how we shall prepare for the coming of the Messiah. In other words, our expectation of the Messiah is not to be passive, as is often the case with the pietistic quietism of many Nigerians who are waiting for God to transform Nigerian without their playing any role.
Advent is a season of active expectation in the form of actively working for justice. The season of Advent reminds us of the need to live this life in vigilance. And to remind us of this need to be vigilant, the Gospel brings to our attention the words of Jesus to his disciples: “Stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming” (Mk 13-35). “Stay awake.” It is quite possible, even tempting, to be so busy about the things of this life, “as it was in Noah’s day”, to the point of forgetting that the day will come.
In Noah’s day, people were eating and drinking and getting married, suspecting nothing. We too face the same danger. It is the danger of giving little or no time to care of our souls. We care for our pockets and we care for our wardrobes, for our bodies and for our stomachs, we care for power, position and fame. It is because we care more for these than we care for our souls that our life, as individuals and a society, is in chaos. But, we must not forget to care for our souls so that we may be found ready when that day comes.
The apostle Paul too, in the Letter to the Romans, maps out for us how to l ive this life in constant readiness for t he coming of Christ. He said: “The night is almost over; it will be daylight soon—let us give up all the things we prefer to do under the cover of the dark; let us arm ourselves and appear in the light. Let us live decently as people do in the daytime: no drunken orgies, no promiscuity or licentiousness, and no wrangling or jealousy. Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ; forget about satisfying your bodies will all their cravings” (Rom 13:12-14).
“Let us give up all the things we prefer to do under the cover of the dark.” Those young Nigerians at the Lekki Toll Gate were mowed down under the cover of the night. Lights and cameras were switched off at the toll gate so that the massacre would not be seen. So found out the judicial panel. The season of Advent offers a programme of life to all those who believe in Christ, all those who believe in his second coming. During his first coming, he offered us his Gospel to show us how to live until his second coming. When he comes again, may he find us living in the light and not as men and women of darkness.
Light and darkness begin in our hearts because the Soweto of repress ion is in our sokoto. Ambiguity of power resides in the heart of the power addict who is willing to crush the defenceless so as to attain or remain i n power. If our hearts welcome the light of Christ, we shall be living and working in the light. If our hearts welcome his peace and justice, we shall be agents of peace and justice.
But if our hearts are selfish, then we shall build a world of injustice and oppression, a land unsafe for all of us, as Nigeria has turned out to be. The message of Advent is clear. What are we going to do? We must stand up for truth and justice. And we must work with all lovers of truth and justice to build a nation where no one is oppressed. We who say we are Christians can and must make a difference. Let us not join forces of evil, let us, instead, come together with all men and women of good will to prepare a world that will receive the peace and justice Christ is offering us. And that begins in your heart and in my heart.
• Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Anthony A. Akinwale, a seasoned scholar and academician is the Vice Chancellor of Dominican University Ibadan.