Words and terms are often bastardised; which was why Karl Marx and Frederick Engels chose to call their seminal manifesto “The Communist Manifesto,” instead of “The Socialist Manifesto” because, in their own reckoning, various pseudo-socialists and all manner of revisionists, stark anarchists and broad daylight confusionists went by the appellation “socialist” during the period. To distinguish themselves from the rabble-rousers, Marx and Engels found another name for their work. If those climes and epochs seem far away, how about the many funny characters and charlatans here who go by the appellation “progressive”? How many post-card “Awoists” were/are truly Awoist and how progressive, for instance, was/is Muhammadu Buhari’s “Congress for Progressive Change” or its successor “All Progressives Congress”?
As they say, what is in a name? True, a rose called by any other name smells just as sweet but a name or term perverted can cause a lot of trouble, a trending example being Omowale Sowore’s call for revolution, for which he is cooling his heels in (unjustifiable?) detention. Both Sowore and his traducers (the-powers-that-be) are manipulative, taking advantage of the word “revolution” without the former meaning it or having the capacity to bring it about and the latter mischievously latching on to Sowore’s obvious grandstanding to achieve a pre-determined outcome, thus killing a fly with sledge-hammer. When an elected government becomes vile dictatorship, baring its fangs at inconsequential opponents that are better ignored, know that it has lost self-confidence and its legitimacy dangles in the air.
But what is “revolution”? Today, I step aside for a long-standing Comrade of mine (all the way from our Alliance of Progressive Students [ALPS] and Movement for National Advancement [MONA] days at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife, in the late 1970’s to early 1980’s, Shenge Rahman (now Shenge Rahman Akanbi) writing with Femi Odedeyi (for an on behalf of “Egbe Omo Oduduwa”), to elucidate their views on “revolution” and situate it within the context of the raging “National Question”:
Contrary to the Central (Federal) Government’s assertion of “revolution” as the forcible overthrow of a government, and in this instance, linked with the demand by (Sowore’s) Global Coalition for Security and Democracy in Nigeria’s street protests, a forcible overthrow may or may not have anything to do with “revolution”, for the overthrow may be for the self-preservation of an existing regime (as recently happened in the Sudan) or a form of neutralising an internal or external threat to the regime without addressing any existential issues in the society (as happened in Zimbabwe).
From Nigeria’s experience, there had been many instances where forcible overthrow of an existing government had occurred and in no instance were any deemed to be revolutionary; from the January 15, 1966 forcible change of government, even as the principal actors deemed themselves “revolutionary” to the July 1966 counter-coup and in all of the successive military coups since then.
Ascribing its 2019 electoral victory to a preference for electoralism on the part of the peoples of Nigeria does not vitiate the need for street protests in pursuit of certain demands, as expressed by the coalition, more so, when such demands did not constitute part of the administration’s electoral projections.
Therefore, neither the use of force nor electoralism, by themselves, constitute a revolutionary act nor a recognition of the demands of the peoples and the administration cannot, thereby, call a dog a bad name in order to hang it.
This reductionism to a choice between forcible or electoral change of government is not only a disservice to the expectations of a people, but also an attempt at diverting attention from the contradictions embedded in the Nigerian state formation, of which the current president, Muhammadu Buhari, is a major beneficiary, not only as a result of his 2019 electoral “victory”, but more importantly, his being an active participant in all of the forcible overthrow of Nigeria’s government since 1966; such that even when he was himself overthrown in 1985; by 1993, he had ended up as one of the most trusted allies of Sanni Abacha’s military establishment.
Yet, street protests are a legitimate part of any form of social struggles, be it under a military regime, as we witnessed during “June 12” or under civilian dispensations, as had taken place at different times; for example, as expressed under the banner of “Save Nigeria Group”. If these protests ended up with a change of government, it can only mean that the government of the day was unable to address the contradictions that gave rise to the protests in the first instance but does not make those street protests a “revolution”.
Electoral victories or street protests do not necessarily translate into an interrogation of the social relations in the society, but pursue only a change of policy, as now being demanded by the coalition or change of government, as experienced by the current government in 2015, and which Nigeria has witnessed since 1999 where the various electoral victories did not touch the foundational structure of the post-colonial Nigerian state and its perversion of federalism, the form of state that accompanied independence; rather, what we have witnessed are various attempts at strengthening the aberration under the cover of electoral victories.
Therefore, for the Central Government to ask the Global Coalition for Security and Democracy in Nigeria to adhere to the electoral process as a means of changing governments only shows that the administration’s differences with the coalition are not about substance but of form; a question of methodology and not a fundamental critique of the society that will translate into a direct change in social and political relations; meaning both the administration and the coalition are on the same page, moving towards the same destination, but by different routes.
Why, then, should the same administration characterise its own route as “democratic” and the coalition’s as “treasonable”?
The answer could only be found in the historical role of the Nigerian post-colonial state, charged with ensuring sustenance of the colonial imperative, which is also the raison d’être of any agitation for revolutionary change—regardless of methodology; more-so when either methodology (electoralism or street protests), by itself, does not guarantee an interrogation of existing social relations.
The “winds of change” that blew across Africa, leading to the “independence” of many colonial creations, created conditions for social and political revolution in terms of the coming into being of hitherto suppressed peoples of Africa (who had been) balkanised into separate post-colonial states.
These expectations were suppressed by the post-colonial state apparatus, especially through the colonial military whose mindset was not different from that of the coloniser. The Nigerian Armed Forces, from its foundation as the Hausa Constabulary Force transitioning into a West African Volunteer Force, functioned as a colonial stabilising force, trained to subjugate the “natives,” suppress the peoples and relate with them as a conquered specie. This was why the “Nigerian Army” never batted an eyelid when sent on such errands as very many examples in Nigeria show.
Yet, these also created the platform for a fundamental critique of the colonial paradigm, hence, the various conflicts across the continent being tied to the existential control and/or influence or lack thereof, of the peoples on the post-colonial state, as had also been the real experience in Nigeria, and subsequently the imposition of all sorts of military-inspired unitarist and homogenising constitutions on the country, which is what the problem is, in Nigeria today, despite the administration’s claim to electoral or “democratic” sanctity.
Sustenance of the post-colonial state, in its “pure” form of suppressing the peoples, became this military’s own imperative; this type of military cannot possibly be transformed into its opposite, the anti-thesis of colonialism, unless its original intent is abolished such that it becomes a creation borne out of the “soul”, the essence of the society and which can only come from “within” the ethos of the nation/people/nationality, an essential ingredient absent in the Nigerian post-colonial state.
An extension of consequences of this anomaly is the current crisis of the Nigerian post-colonial state pitting the coalition and the administration against each other and expressed in the denial of the expectations of the peoples in and of themselves.
Both failed to interrogate the contradictions of the Nigerian post-colonial state, since none of the aspirations of the peoples, in terms of their becoming, consequent upon independence, were placed before the electorate by the victorious administration and are not even on the list of demands provided by the coalition.
The administration cannot claim to represent the interest of most of the peoples, despite its electoral victory, because of this denial of the peoples of Nigeria as the constituents by virtue of the military-inspired constitution on which its electoral victory rests; just as the amendments to the Constitution of the United States in favour of the African American community and various electoral successes by various political parties did not obviate the electoral or street protest agitation for civil rights by African-Americans.
Whatever level the administration aspires to, and whatever slogans the coalition embodies, the reality is that a historical precedent for recognising the peoples as the constituent exists—the regional form of government at independence – and all references to any form of development in Nigeria always point to this historical precedent, despite the limitations of that period – and the spirited attempts by the military to replace and destroy it is the foundation for the current crisis.
Proceeding from the precedent is the context of its necessary implication for the present, since the crisis simultaneously engenders the forces necessary for the solution, to wit, the negation of the denial of the peoples and which forces of actualisation are the nationalities/peoples that make up the country; the reaffirmation of their existential imperatives being the solution to the crisis of state.
This is why Egbe Omo Oduduwa proposed the Yoruba Referendum as the route towards addressing these existential issues of the peoples… stating as follows:
A Federal Nigeria, through a Federal Constitution, to be known as The Union of Nigerian Constituent Nationalities, with a Federal Presidential Council, whose members will be selected or elected from each of the nationalities as federating units and from whom a Head of State will be selected or elected as the primus-inter-pares with an agreed term; Western/Oduduwa Region shall be a constituent unit of the Nigerian Union; Western/Oduduwa Region shall adopt a Parliamentary System of government; The Central Government of the Union shall have no power to interfere or intervene in the affairs of the Oduduwa Region, save as shall be agreed to by three quarters of the members of the Region’s Parliament; There shall be a division of the Federal Armed Forces in the Region, 90 per cent of which personnel shall be indigenes of the Region. The divisional commander shall be an indigene of Oduduwa Region; The Judicial power of the Region shall be vested in the Supreme Court of the Region, Court of Appeal, High Court, Customary Court and Other lower courts as the parliament may establish. There shall be a Court of Appeal in each of the provinces. There shall be, in each province, a High Court from which appeals shall lie to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court of the Region; Western/Oduduwa Region shall have its own internal security system; Each Constituent Unit of the Nigerian Federation shall control primary interest in its own resources with an agreed Tax Model for the Federation…
From the above postulations of Rahman and Odedeyi, nothing in the personalities, methodology or demands of Sowore and his coalition was remotely revolutionary. Their using the #RevolutionNow can, at best, be described as “headline journalism,” just to attract attention or cause an already jittery government to hit the panic mode. While Sowore’s public rating is likely to soar with his populist ranting, that of Buhari and his administration will, without doubt, take a bashing with their jackboot reaction. Were both to be shares listed on the Stock Exchange, Sowore would be gainers and Buhari, losers.