I have been very perplexed about the whole debate over the “Revolution Now” issue over the past week. Let me start by stating that there are three elements of revolution that we have learnt from political sociology. The first is that when the revolution comes, the DSS and police, (security forces) cannot arrest people as they would be running for their own dear lives. The second is that the revolution does not happen because someone has announced time and venue for it and even invited journalists to cover it live and post on social media. What Sowore did was to radicle himself by arrogating the take-off of a national movement to his own antics. The third element is that neither revolutionaries nor scholars actually know what the objective and subjective conditions that could precipitate a revolution are.
My second point is that as a student of Marxism, I know that revolutionary pressures are not built by making demands but by building a revolutionary party that is able to mobilise a mass movement and that party cannot be Sowore’s African Action Congress. It’s interesting to look at his list of demands, many of which are copy and paste from President’s Buhari’s anti-corruption positions. Omoyele Sowore’s five “revolutionary” demands expressed through the Coalition for Revolution (CORE) are:
1. An economy that works for the masses (and not a handful of individuals, banks and foreign multinationals) – this is President Buhari’s core philosophy.
2. An effective and democratic end to insecurity and insurgency – this is President Buhari’s core promise to the electorate
3. An end to systemic corruption and for total system change in the interest of all – President Buhari’s mandate rests on this promise
4. The immediate implementation of the N30,000.00 minimum wage at all levels in the public service as agreed with the trade unions – this is the deal President Buhari negotiated with the unions.
5. Education as an enforceable right and not a privilege – our Constitution says education is a right but not enforceable.
If people who support these demands must be detained then President Buhari himself is in trouble. I fully support these demands because they are good and conform with core principles of good governance. What then is the big deal about the Sowore protest?
The problem can only be with the word “revolution”. When people say the word “revolution”, what security agencies hear is “insurrection” and they panic. They define their role as the protection and preservation of the individuals that run the government so when they think they have heard the word insurrection; their reflex is to lock up those who have pronounced the word they think they have heard. I believe that Omoyele Sowore is aware of this and used a word that would lead him to the added fame that unfair incarceration brings to attention seekers. The security agencies fell for the trick. They should have allowed him lead the protest that would prove he Sowore, President Buhari and my humble self all agree on certain objectives. We should also not forget that a revolution is not inherently violent and treasonous.
My own concern is that to show their loyalty to the President, the security agencies are resorting increasingly to language and action that restricts civic space and violate the rights of Nigerians. The Nigerian mass media has become a regular focus of illegal attacks by the security agencies. Unlawful arrest and detention of journalists have become a growing phenomenon, and our great tradition of a free press and freedom of expression is under severe stress. The Nigeria state is currently engaged in continuous attacks on human rights and anti-corruption civil society organisations and activists in the country are suffering. An example is the regular attacks on Amnesty International Nigeria by some security agencies and unscrupulous agents using hoodlums and miscreants threatening Amnesty International Nigeria to vacate the country.
Nigerians have the constitutional right to peaceful protest. There are existing provisions of law and judicial authorities recognising the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people to non-violently convene and participate in rallies, demonstrations and protest marches. As we saw in the Monday protests however, dozens of peaceful participants were arrested in Lagos, Cross Rivers, Ondo and Ogun States for exercising their rights. Mr. Sowore himself remains in detention.
Femi Falana argued earlier this week that that the Buhari administration has decided to extend the ambit of the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act to cover individuals and organisations that are critical of official policies or perceived marginalisation within the federation. He drew attention to how the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) was proscribed as a terrorist body in 2017 for agitating for the excision of the Republic of Biafra from Nigeria while the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) was proscribed recently for organising rallies to compel the federal government to comply with a court order by releasing the Shia leader, Sheikh Ibraheem El Zakzaky and his wife from custody.
The crimes of treason, treasonable felony and terrorism are serious offences and it is simply unacceptable to place simple protesters as people who have committed such crimes. In this case, protests against the worsening security situation in the country, the demand for payment of N30,000 minimum wage to workers and job creation for the youth cannot be translated into serious crimes even if the word revolution has been used. It would be recalled that Femi Falana himself and four others were charged with treasonable felony in May 1992 by the Ibrahim Babangida junta for organizing protests demanding an end to military rule in Nigeria. They argued that it was ironical that General Babangida and his fellow coup plotters who should be standing trial for treason had turned around to charge them with treasonable felony for merely organising street protests and rallies to end a corrupt military dictatorship in our country. In this 20th year of return to democracy, we cannot go back to such vile tactics.
There is clear judicial recognition of the fundamental right of Nigerians to convene and participate in rallies, protest marches and other public meetings for or against the government which must be protected. Let us not forget the judgment of the Court of Appeal in IGP v ANPP wherein Justice Adekeye cautioned: “A rally or placard carrying demonstration has become a form of expression of views on current issues affecting government and the governed in a sovereign state. It is a trend recognised and deeply entrenched in the system of governance in civilized countries- it will not only be primitive but also retrogressive if Nigeria continues to require a pass to hold a rally. We must borrow a leaf from those who have trekked the rugged path of democracy and are now reaping the dividend of their experience.”