By Owei Lakemfa
CHRIS Otokito, 37, is not known in Nigeria. He is not a famous actor, singer, boxer, businessman or millionaire. However, he has been honoured at least thrice within three weeks by the British establishment on the two prevailing universal issues: the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter, BLM, protests. He and four of his friends have also had good mentions in world media and received universal commendation for teaching humanity how to be compassionate.
Otokito, a bank manager in London and martial arts and fitness trainer, is the son of Anthony H. Otokito, a Nigerian who 44 years ago, left his Otuokpoti, Ogbia home in Bayelsa State in search of the proverbial golden fleece in Britain, and naturalised.
While Britons during the coronavirus pandemic outrage were under lockdowns and people feared for their lives, Otokiti and his wife, Eleanor, were going through the streets of Croydon and the train station providing and distributing food to the hungry, especially the elderly, and assisting the needy. The city on June 30, honoured Chris for his “incredible” work during the pandemic. Croydon City Mayor Humayun Kabir told Otokito the city was honouring him: “ …for your hard work, compassion, commitment and sheer dedication to go above and beyond throughout this crisis”.
However, it was the protests that drew universal attention to him and his heroic friends. As the BLM protests gathered strength in Britain, the far-right White Supremacists decided to hold a counter-rally on June 13. The latter wanted a violent confrontation under the guise of defending ‘national monuments’. It promised to be a day of bloody fights and the police mobilised for the inevitable clashes.
Otokito and four of his friends, Lee Russel, Jamaine Facey, Pierre Noah and Patrick Hutchinson, who are into mixed martial arts, decided that they could not be absent from the rally. They decided to use their skills to protect the BLM demonstrators against the expected far-right attacks. Otokito said the five were a band of brothers: “We’re all from similar backgrounds, we’re all from the same community and the streets of London. Same south London background, same morals, same principles. We’re all fathers, we all have our families as well – we’re trying to set an example.”
Facey in taking to his Facebook page to mobilise for the protests, wrote: “You couldn’t be bothered to be there when you were asked to help the future generations. So do not comment now that the outcome doesn’t fit your narrative.” Hundreds of racist protesters led by the Britain First far-right group gathered at Parliament Square. They did not waste time carrying the fight not just to the anti-racism protesters, but also the police. The battles started from the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square spilling into the streets close to Whitehall towards Chelsea.
As the battles became fierce, the BLM protesters caught a bloodied man, dragged and threw him down the steps near the Royal Festival Hall. Then they advanced for further attacks. Otokito and his four friends realised that the man, later identified as 55-year- old delivery driver, Bryn Male, was in mortal danger. Instinctively, they formed a protective shield round him as the protesters hit them in an attempt to get at their target.
Otokito said having read the situation correctly he and his friends knew that they stood little chance protecting Mr. Male against the surging crowd; it was at that point Hutchinson took the decisive step of scooping the half conscious Mr. Male from the ground. He said of that decisive moment: “They (his four friends) created a barrier around him, and I was the last one to come in.
I scooped him up into a fireman’s carry and marched him out with the guys around me, protecting me and shielding me and protecting this guy from getting any further punishment. I had no other thoughts in my mind apart from getting to safety…I could actually feel strikes and hits as I was carrying him; so these guys were probably taking some of that themselves on their person.”
Mr. Noah, a teacher said: “If we didn’t (help) I wouldn’t like to think what would have happened to the poor guy. We wanted to save his life and save the Black Lives Matter campaign as well.”
Mr. Male realising that he owed his life to the five men said through his 21-year-old son, Harry Male that he would want to meet and thank his rescuers. The British establishment is already doing that. Most major news channels featured and celebrated men who did not hesitate to come to the rescue of an adversary, thereby teaching that all lives matter, including that of a man who does not share such cherished truth.
The five were invited to the House of Lords where they were received by Michael Hastings, Baron Hastings of Scarisbrick. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, sent the men a commendation letter dated June 19, 2020 in which he wrote: “I want to thank you for the incredible humanity you showed during a day marred by violence, desecration and racism displayed by right-wing extremists.
I know your intentions were not to be seen as heroes but your actions demonstrated the very best of us and were the antithesis of the hate and division the right-wing extremists were determined to sow.”
Famous American Civil Rights leader, Reverend Al Sharpton, called Hutchinson on television to say: “I saw what you did, and it warmed my heart. I had just come from a demonstration the day before, and had done several speeches and what I had tried to articulate you did in one gesture…
You demonstrated that, without opening your mouth, without any drama or without any press notices, and I want you to know, you put the movement in a keener perspective than anything those of us that’s been out there could say or do… You’ve done a tremendous thing, because we’re not marching out of hate, we’re launching out of love for everybody, and if we become infected by the rancour and the hatred that we’re fighting, then we become the replacements, not the reformation or the answer.”
As they soaked in well-deserved praise and commendation across the globe, Otokito said what he and his friends did sent “a different narrative to how the image of a Black man is usually painted…we went down to make a change and make a difference. And it’s only going to happen if everyone stands up together and does that.”
I wonder why Nigerians are not holding up Otokito as an example of who we are; why Africans are not celebrating these five men for giving humanity a humane face and pointing to all races, the path to universal emancipation.