[NOTES FOR A PRESENTATION AS A PANELIST AT THE 2020 PRO-DEMOCRACY SUMMIT ON THE OVERARCHING THEME OF “FROM MOMENT TO MOVEMENT: SUSTAINING POPULAR POWER BEYOND 2020.”] 17TH DECEMBER 2020
SETTING THE CONTEXT:
The context for this conversation is quite apt in an all-embracing way. And although this is to be expected given the current situation in the country, it is nevertheless deserving of commendation.
The annual Pro-democracy summit is itself set in the context of enabling inter-generational dialogue between what the initiators and organisers have described as the generation of the veterans of the pro-democracy struggle and the generation of younger activists who have come into activism and are becoming radicalized in the post 1999 ‘return to democracy’ phase of our national existence.
This endeavour, taken on its own is so important for the continuity of the tradition of struggle and resistance, as well as for the constant renewal and revamping of that tradition. In 2020 however, given the numerous acts of resistance which culminated in the #EndSARS protest Movement, a Youth Rebellion and Youth led Uprising in October of 2020, makes this pro-democracy summit even more relevant and significant for the purpose of bridging inter-generational gap and building solidarity towards a sustainable movement of resistance and revolution for revolutionary social transformation of Nigeria.
This, our own October, is very much indicative and expressive of both the enduring nature of the tradition of struggle and resistance, as well as of the tenuous relationship and linkages – Organisational, political and ideological, between the two generations of the veterans of the pro-democracy movement and the post 1999 emergent young activists.
And although there are those on the left, belonging firmly in the loose category of the veterans of the pro-democracy struggle, who because like others, they took part in the October Youth Rebellion in varying degrees, have resorted to claiming full parentage of the #EndSARS protest movement, with respect to their purported exclusive paternity and maternity of the movement, and are spawning spurious narrative of grand initiators and leaders of the movement; it is important to establish the facts as they are.
But this is a story for another day. There is no existing cure for megalomania, and the sense of self aggrandizement that it fosters, and the appropriate response to the self-effacing narrative of falsehood it spawns is to confront the pseudo narrative with facts, and to firmly and consistently continue to engage with reality with a view to transforming it.
The rebellion was neither initiated nor led by the left in general, nor by the generation of the veterans of the pro-democracy struggle in particular, even though its emergence was prepared by the mobilisations and acts of defiance of the immediate period going back about two years, and even though its development after its emergence benefitted significantly from the engagement of the left and the platforms of the veterans of the pro-democracy struggles in various ways and to varying extents.
FROM MOMENT TO MOVEMENT:
Given the trajectory of our history, and of our struggle through the decades, it is not surprising that the 2020 pro-democracy summit is concerned with and focused on the notion of the necessity for a transition from moment to movement, and of the radical transformation of the moment into the movement.
However, what does this mean? Or rather what does this imply? A political moment is a definite or defined period in time, a historical period, short and transient by its very essence. In this sense, the Student rebellion of 1986 in the aftermath of the ABU massacre, the Anti-SAP Uprising of May 1989, the January Uprising of 2012, and the #EndSARS youth uprising of October 2020 are historical, political, and revolutionary moments.
A movement on the other hand is a sustained, long duration mobilisation of solidarity by organised groups increasingly acting together and collaborating, around a set of common grievances, articulating a set of common demands arising from those grievances, the resolution of which will mitigate or eradicate the cause of the grievance.
Central to both the historical moment and the political movement though is the essential necessity for solidarity, for activating, building and enhancing solidarity. Building solidarity however requires the ability and the capacity to initiative and nurture broad ranging relationships – interpersonal, and organisational, and inter-organisational.
A moment may or may not be the outcome of the conscious effort of a movement or of movements, but to have any chance of being sustained till the ends are met, it must spawn a conscious movement; one that will be able to consciously initiate new moments in the course of a more or less uninterrupted prosecution of the struggle and the cause over the long period.
Moments thus can be seen as apogees in the flow and ebb of a resistance and or revolutionary struggle. However, for each crest of the wave to be connected to subsequent crests, a movement is essential, otherwise it becomes random and chaotic, without a discernible pathway towards societal transformation.
BUILDING THE BARRICADE:
The specific topic I was given assumes that there are exclusively right or exclusively wrong ways of building the barricade. The history of barricades tells us that every expression and experience of the barricade will include both positive and negative lessons, even the successful barricades.
It is also important to stress here that the barricade here is a metaphor for the moment, the moment of the uprising or rebellion, that period when the resistance is expressed in its most concentrated, visible, tangible and political form.
In my opinion, six elements are essential to and necessary for the successful building of a barricade, for the success of the moment, and for the triumph of the movement. These include Organisation; Mobilisation; Leadership; Initiative; Purpose; and Politics.
But, first let us place the October Barricade, the Youth Led Uprising and Youth Rebellion, the #EndSARS protests of October 2020, in its proper historical perspective.
And although the #EndSARS protests in its immediate impact on the psyche of the nation demonstrated the truism of the fact that nature abhors a vacuum, and that to adapt Trotsky, “Where tradition is wanning, a striking example becomes pertinent”; nevertheless, the #EndSARS protests did not drop from the sky.
A number of significant incidences helped to prepare the Youth Rebellion. Among these must be included the deepening economic crisis and increasing impoverisation of the masses; the increasing tendency towards the criminalization of the livelihoods of the poor and the lifestyle of the youth; the deepening political crisis, occasioned by deepening distrust of the state, the government and politicians; the deepening levels of insecurity posing existential threat to citizens and communities; and of course the unconscionable spike in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariff; which compounded by the impact of the pandemic helped to engender a ground swell of deepening popular grievances and anger against the state.
Added to this, and enhancing the instigation of the uprising, is the multifarious series of active mobilisation of the popular masses around the numerous grievances by several groups, central to which are the left groupings and their coalitions, including CORE, ASCAB, JAF, the platform around agitation for revolution, some of whom crystalised recently into Movement of the People [MOP]. And let us not also forget to add the youth led constitutional reform movement, which was essentially political in its character, and which helped to raise popular awareness among young persons about improving the environment for youth participation in governance; the Not Too Young To Run Movement.
These series of mobilisations beginning to deepen from two years previously, culminated into the concentrated 6-week long mobilisation to resist the price hikes in August and September of 2020.
The capitulation of September 28th orchestrated by the Labour bureaucracy, and which was seen as a betrayal of citizen trust by the popular masses, helped to consolidate popular anger and precipitate the break with normalcy, that erupted into and fueled the subsequent #EndSARS protests which lasted about two weeks, and the brutal repression of which helped to unleash the untrammeled anger of the declassed lumpen proletariat, who are also overwhelmingly young persons.
Haven traced the origin and preparatory processes towards the October Barricade, let us now return to a discourse of the six essentially elements for successful barricade building.
The first is organisation, and by organisation in this instance we refer to both the structure in the form of a distinct body or bodies driving the barricade building; as well as process, in the form of how the activities of the barricade building are conducted and brought to life.
Organisation in this twin sense is central and essential to any political enterprise, and particularly one that is mass in nature. The presence of distinct, visible, tangible and conscious organisation is of paramount importance and has significant implication for the cohesion of the various activities and processes of the barricade, and for the ability of the political enterprise to successfully reach out to wider segments of society; and to concentrate, channel and focus its influence and impact on society.
An identifiable and visible organisation behind the movement and responsible for coordinating the effort imbues confidence in potential supporters, and makes it possible to prevent the diffusion of the focus, and mitigate against dispersal of its energy.
For a barricade to be successfully built, for it to attract and sustain the attraction of wider segments of society to its cause, there has to be effective mobilisation strategy in place. Such a mobilisation strategy will include targeted messaging, clear communication of the rationale for the resistance and clear communication of clearly articulated demands and messages.
Any effective mobilisation is for a targeted purpose and directed at targeted groups. And whereas mobilisation involves communication, effective mobilisation requires active interaction, direct outreach activities and processes.
A political mobilisation process is essentially a process of active dialogue and negotiation with the target audience, with not only members of the movement, but also with the wider society.
For such a process to be successful, it must be organised and structured, and it must be linked to a visible and identifiable organisation, regardless of whether that organisation is organising clandestinely or not.
The negotiation with the rest of society, the active dialogue with citizens, that a political mobilisation entails, is one that requires tangible interaction between the mobiliser and the those who are being mobilised, whose support is being sought.
Effective mobilisation requires effective organisation that can be directly linked to an identifiable organisational entity and structure; otherwise, the mobilisation will become diffuse and dissipated.
Leadership is the act of giving direction and guidance, and without direction and guidance the barricade will disintegrate and rapidly unravel and become dispersed, pulled in different directions. Every movement is has a tendency to be pulled and pushed in different, and sometimes even contradictory and mutually exclusive directions, given that a movement is an agglomeration of interests and interest groups; a leadership, that is known, that emerges from the movement, and that is accountable and responsible to the movement is however needed to help to balance between these various interests, and achieve the aggregation of the interests in such a manner that movement is united behind a common purpose.
Without such leadership, a movement can very easily disintegrate, just as the absence of an organisation, leaves any emergent leadership unaccountable to the movement, and thus not subject to the collective discipline of the movement.
An organisation helps to evolve and enforce collective discipline within the movement, helps to ensure the existence of accountable process for the emergence of representative leadership.
A collective of individuals enabled by the structure and culture of the organisation emerges to give leadership to the organisation, while the organisation as a whole, and as an entity, in turn exercises and gives leadership to the movement.
The way that leadership is earned within the organisation is the same way that the organisation earns leadership of the movement and provides vanguardship for the movement, the resistance, barricade, and the revolution.
The diffuse nature of organisation and form of leadership preferred by the celebrity leadership of the uprising, was deliberate, and was intended to prevent the consolidation of working class consciousness and identity, and provide a bulwark against the movement tending towards the left.
To possess initiative is to be able and willing to take risks, to be prepared to embark on a bold new process.
We saw rampant individual initiative with the #EndSARS protest and youth rebellion, and at best incipient organisational initiative with respect to individual organisations on their own, and very little organisational initiative with respect to active and actual inter organisational collaborations.
Effective initiative in a mass and political enterprise such as a protest movement, a barricade, an uprising is a function of organisation and leadership.
Without the existence of organisation and leadership conscious of the task at hand, conscious of the moment, conscious of the potential trajectory of the moment, there can be no effective political initiative.
Every movement must answer the question of purpose. What is the purpose of the movement? To what end is the protest or uprising? It is the ability to clearly define and understand the purpose, and its changing nature in the dynamics and fluidity of the processes of the barricade, and evolution and development of the movement, that makes it possible for the movement to identify potential allies, build solidarity, build alliances, and take initiative.
The politics of the barricade and of a movement is informed by its purpose, and in turn informs the types of initiative it will undertake; while the purpose is itself defined by the rationale of and for the movement or barricade, and shaped by the forms of its organisational expression and leadership.
Politics in the sense used here refers to the kinds of relationships, intra and inter organisational, as well as between the movement and the rest of society; as well as subsequent activities flowing from these relationships; entered into and undertaken by the movement, or the barricade with respect to the pursuit of its cause. If there is no definitive, visible, identifiable, tangible accountable organisational entity and leadership, then the ensuing politics will be diffused, amorphous and inchoate. This is why although the movement was driven largely by working youths and the children of workers, nevertheless, its politics was not Working-Class Politics/Workers Politics.
THE BARRICADE AND LESSONS FROM #EndSARS:
Lessons are what they are, things and processes that we can learn from. Those things we can learn from maybe mistakes, gaps, or the things that worked very well. In this sense lessons are neither occasioned exclusively by failures, nor are they occasioned exclusively by successes.
With this caveat, and against the backdrop of the essential elements of the barricade, which are invariably necessary for the transformation of moment into movement, we can now attempt to draw lessons from the #EndSARS protest Moment, the October Uprising of Nigerian Youths, and the rebellion of the young.
At the very core of the lessons to be drawn and learnt, and determining the outlay of the other elements, is the absence of conscious, identifiable, and organic, in the sense that it is alive and functions as an integrated whole, of Organisation; and the subsequent opening up of the movement and the barricade to emergence of unaccountable and unrepresentative leadership.
The existence of the kind of conscious political organisational entity, and a leadership responsible and accountable to it, meant that the movement could not seize the opportunity and take the initiative in its politics to build extensive structured, organizationally based solidarity across the country.
The movement missed the opportunity to enter into real, structured and constructive dialogue with all the other elements of aggrieved society, such as organised market traders, organised artisans, organised professional groups, organised workers, as well as other organised citizens associations and movements.
In the months prior to the October Youth Rebellion, and all through 2020 for instance, a youth led coalition youth groups across the north of Nigeria, the Coalition of Northern Groups [CNG], had been organising mass protests against insecurity and with the hashtag #EndInsecurityInTheNorth, moving from one northern state to the other.
A youth rebellion against Police Brutality, with a visible and identifiable organisation and leadership could have benefited from building alliances with the CNG and building solidarity, ensuring an even more widespread nature of the protest, and a potentially more significant impact in terms of its outcome. This represented a missed opportunity.
Another instance, is in the nature of international solidarity, which came predominantly in the form of celebrity endorsements and support from social media influencers. And whereas, this sort of endorsements can help to draw greater attention to the cause, it can also be disempowering, since these are individuals whose social media followings gives them a disproportionate power, leverage and access over the actual movement.
A more consciously organised and more consciously led movement, could have been able to build active international solidarity with other movements, through building relationship with their organised expressions and their recognised and mandated leaderships. So, for instance the endorsement and support of US celebrities and social media influencers could have been counterbalanced with the active support and alliance building with groups like Black Lives Matter [BLM] who are waging essentially similar battles in the US against police brutality.
This type of inter organisational relationship, alliance building and solidarity, would have been more longer lasting, more sustainable, and more mutually reinforcing and beneficial to collaborating struggles.
A more positive lesson that should be drawn, and that is of significance to changing the attitude of the generation of veteran pro-democracy activist, is the role of the social media, the use to which the social media and its interactive platforms was put with respect to messaging, communications, organising, mobilising, and awareness raising.
Yet another lesson that can be drawn is in the trajectory of the movement of the development and evolution of consciousness of the October Rebellion. One can measure the trajectory of the development of deepening political consciousness, which could have a tremendous impact of the evolution of the politics of the protest as well as the potential for the left to become the dominant force in the movement through the evolving slogans and demands of the protest. We saw shift from just ending SARS, the dreaded police unit, to ending Police Brutality in general, and through to ending Bad Governance by the tail end of the 14-day protest.
A similar trajectory of deepening radicalization of the struggle could also be observed with the January Uprising of 2012, through the evolution of the slogans and demands of that uprising as well. In vindication of Lenin, that the masses acquire more political education in days of concentrated struggle and revolutionary crisis, than they acquire in decades of political education in normal times, we have seen every revolutionary crisis and moment in Nigeria, from the Anti SAP through the January Uprising to the #EndSARS protest, beginning with less harmful demands and slogans, but ending in more radicalized and more clearly political demands and slogans, threatening and actively calling into question the legitimacy of not just the regime in power, but of the ruling class as a whole.
If there is one clear lesson taught be the youth in rebellion, it is that the social media is an available platform and tool, that we can put to use to facilitate organisation and mobilisation. The danger however, as demonstrated by the #EndSARS protest, is that without concrete organisation, virtual organisation is substituted for the real life organisation, and you can hear echoes of this error when you speak with active participants in the #EndSARS protest who speak very proudly of they proved that they can run the country by running a government essentially online.
One more significant lesson that ought to be learnt is the enduring necessity for the left and the generation of the veterans of the pro-democracy activists to continue, deepen and expand their outreach to and constructive dialogue and engagement with the generation recently radicalized by the #EndSARS protests, in the spirit of inter-generational dialogue and solidarity building.
Our movements need to be revived and injected with the energy and new found confidence of emerging layers of activists; our movements need to support and mentor the building and strengthening of their emergent organisations; and together, we should be moving in the direction of building a unity of struggles in a movement of movements, towards enabling a conscious political challenge for political power, such that the regenerated movement is enabled to take state power, and proceed to organise the radical and revolutionary transformation of our society, and engender the social emancipation of our people.
The only worthwhile trajectory from Moment To Movement, is the building of popular power, expressed in emergence of a revolutionary coalition of Movement of Movements, with a Broad Left Political Leadership, and consciously organising and mobilising to take political power and govern society.
And this cannot neither be the exclusive project of the young and newly awakened activists, nor of the generation of veterans of the pro-democracy struggle. It is must be the collective project of both. This is primary solidarity that we require to build, as the basis of the political movement of movements.
If we are able to do this, we should be able to collectively pose, and collectively find the answer to the question of how a Socialist Revolution might be made in the 21st century, drawing lessons from our own history, from the history of the left in Europe, and from the history of the rise of the left in Latin America in the last quarter of the 20th century.
JAYE GASKIA IS A MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL LEADERSHIP OF ALLIANCE FOR SURVIVING COVID 19 AND BEYOND [ASCAB], AND OF SOCIALIST LABOUR [SL]; AS WELL AS THE CONVENER OF TAKE BACK NIGERIA MOVEMENT [TBN].