Revolutionaries At Work, By Banji Ojewale
…when Omoyele Sowore and his #RevolutionNow! movement seemed to be acting in consonance with a cardinal demand of history, our nation and our leaders hardly knew how to respond. Our answer has suggested we’re missing the point, we’ve missed the harvest of history. You can’t dance to drumbeats and music alien to your ears.
I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. – Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), third president of the United States of America.
Revolutionaries do not go to work unless there’s work to do on behalf of the masses. Revolutionaries don’t jump into history if there’s no prehistory of injustice and anti-people policies prompting them to act. There’s always plenty of work for them when there appears to be a gaping disconnect between the government and the governed. And what moving stories they have given us as we go into the books!
That’s what history has taught over and over. Unfortunately in Nigeria, we and our schools broke diplomatic relations with history for years; the discipline took flight and went to other climes, carting along its bottomless mine of eclectic civilisations. We lost companionship with the compass that sails nations through the tempests and storms required to interpret or experience the perpetual three-way ideological graph: thesis, antithesis and synthesis.
So when Omoyele Sowore and his #RevolutionNow! movement seemed to be acting in consonance with a cardinal demand of history, our nation and our leaders hardly knew how to respond. Our answer has suggested we’re missing the point, we’ve missed the harvest of history. You can’t dance to drumbeats and music alien to your ears. If you have studied the annals of the growth and march of society and its rulers, you would observe that no nation thrived without dissent and rebellion erupting to challenge the abrogation of the welfare of the people. No nation indifferent to the suffering of the greater population ever soared to distinction.
243 years ago in the north of the Americas, thirteen united colonies revolted against what they described as Imperial Britain’s “oppressive rule”. Representatives of the states mandated Thomas Jefferson to craft the Declaration of Independence document that solemnly proclaimed the break from the British Empire. First, the revolutionaries said it had become necessary for them “to dissolve the political bands which connected them” to their colonial masters in London, which it accused of “a long train of abuses and usurpations…to reduce (the colonies) under absolute despotism.” They said the king of England had “abdicated government…by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.”
The ruling class always makes it impossible for the democratic norm to prevail in the change process. That is what led to Sudan’s revolution, for instance. After 30 years in power, Omar al-Bashir wouldn’t quit. Same with Abdelaziz Bouteflika. A reign of some twenty years as Algerian president wasn’t enough for him.
The France of the late 18th century also created the conditions that gave the revolutionaries work. The country was on the brink of bankruptcy, while prices of staple foods had gone up, with unrest seething among the peasants and urban poor. There was “widespread discontent with the French monarchy and the poor economic policies of King Louis XVI.” That sparked the creeping French Revolution which, in the assessment of a historian, “played a critical role in shaping modern nations by showing the world the power inherent in the will of the people.”
The tribes of later or modern revolutionaries haven’t come from the blues, either. Russia’s Vladimir Lenin, China’s Mao Tse Tung, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, Ghana’s John Rawlings, Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhani Khomeini, Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara etc. all showed up in battle fatigues to fight failed systems that had outlived their usefulness and needed to be displaced. The societies they pretended to be overseeing had overgrown the milk level of feeding. They required solid meat to keep them nourished for complex nation-building engagements. The decadent rulers opened the floodgates that brought in the lack of faith in the state and its policies. When that is the situation, the people thirst for a change, and that comes through the ballot box or less pacifist means.
The ruling class always makes it impossible for the democratic norm to prevail in the change process. That is what led to Sudan’s revolution, for instance. After 30 years in power, Omar al-Bashir wouldn’t quit. Same with Abdelaziz Bouteflika. A reign of some twenty years as Algerian president wasn’t enough for him. Their rule was marked by deprivation and repression of the rights of the people. Popular revolutions came to their rescue.
…Sowore isn’t the first to call for a revolution in response to a situation adjudged a curse on the good people of Nigeria. Muhammadu Buhari called for a mass action (read revolution) against the administration of Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 in comments commending the revolutionaries of Egypt. He was then in opposition. He has also been known to speak vehemently like Sowore.
We must note that it wasn’t revolutionaries who came first. Rawlings and his friends, the junior officers in the military, who staged the putsch in June in 1979 and again in 1981, were ordinary figures walking the barracks and streets of Accra. They were ‘invited’ to stage their revolts by a broken society put together by a conspiracy of a thieving political class and a gang of military adventurists who introduced a high-level form of corruption and cronyism called “kalabule”. His revolution cleansed Ghana of the decay it was plagued with after the golden era begun by the country’s founding president, the great Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah. Today in Ghana, politicians and public officers comport themselves with utmost circumspection. Why? Rawlings’ revolution has given birth to a wraith; it is in the air, waiting to heed to materialise and rescue the masses if their material conditions are battered again by the polity.
In Nigeria, Sowore isn’t the first to call for a revolution in response to a situation adjudged a curse on the good people of Nigeria. Muhammadu Buhari called for a mass action (read revolution) against the administration of Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 in comments commending the revolutionaries of Egypt. He was then in opposition. He has also been known to speak vehemently like Sowore. Hear him: “2015 elections will lead to mass revolt without the elections being credible and free and fair. Nigerians are tired of this mess and we must stand up and do something by chasing riggers out of power.” And Sowore said: “We don’t want war…We want a very clean, quick, succinct revolutionary process – surgical. That we put an end to oppression, the corruption of government.” Where is the difference between the two views of these compatriots? Aren’t they headed to the same destination?
Any concerned Nigerian could air these statements, as did Bola Tinubu in September 2014. Like millions of Nigerians experiencing hardship, he pleaded for a revolution to save the masses. His teammate, Rotimi Amaechi said his party would form a parallel government if they didn’t win the poll. No doubt, these were extreme positions. But they come on cue of failed governance. Those who cudgel, cow or cage such honest interrogations are reading history to repeat history.
Banji Ojewale writes from Ota, Ogun State.