…many of those who mocked Sowore have now learnt from him what it takes to be courageous, and his style of peaceful but effective resistance serves as a model of what we are witnessing in this revolutionary movement, #EndSars.
Up till a few days ago, it might have been correct to say that “Nigerian youths are cowards”. Some few critical Nigerians have written in the past about the near-total lack of courageous men in our country, after the death of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and Ken Saro-Wiwa.
It is common knowledge that the current political elites and those who have been in the corridors of power in the last two to three decades have certain collective characteristics. These include corruption, incompetence, the lack of vision and ideas, pseudo-democratic politics, oppressive tendencies, conspicuously flamboyant lifestyles and engaging in politricks – all at the expense of the largely poor masses of the country. These peculiarities are no news to Nigerians, as we mostly console ourselves with jokes about them. For instance, Nigerian legislators are alleged to be among the most paid lawmakers in the world, despite being in the country with the highest number of extremely poor people anywhere.
Amazingly, until the current uprising of the Nigerian youths tagged #EndSARS, we have been relatively cooperative with and submitted to our oppressors for decades. Our age-long complacency was inherited from the generations before us, but for what is currently happening, we were well on the path of transferring the same to the coming generation.
On November 14, 2019, I wrote an article titled “Culture of Collective Silence in the Face of Injustice” published by Sahara Reporters. On October 16, I attended an online town hall meeting tagged “Why does the culture of silence thrive in Nigeria?” organised by @Aisha Yesufu. Although, many young Nigerians are currently protesting (both online and offline), and this protest has already metamorphosed into a movement.
There are two main reasons for this article: First, to set the history or records straight. Secondly, to attempt to answer the question: How did Nigerians suddenly go from being contented cowards to the point of staging a revolutionary leaderless peaceful protest (#EndSars movement)? This is an important exercise and I consider myself privileged to be one of those who will document this part of our historic moments, so that the upcoming generations will have access to an authentic account regarding some of the main events that led to what may be Nigeria’s 21st-century revolution, especially knowing that our generation was denied the official means of acquiring the knowledge of history through schools. Plus, one could almost be sure that the conventional media will not report this.
According to the Wikipedia, the #ENDSARS hashtag had up to 28 million tweets between October 9 and 11, and people are still protesting and making demands on the street and online as I write, despite the attacks of the Police and hired thugs on the peaceful protesters.
While researching this article, I sought to resolve the puzzle of who started the hashtag, #ENDSARS, which has metamorphosed into what we are currently seeing in the over two weeks that it gained so much traction? I went through hundreds of web pages on Twitter and Facebook. I observed many people accusing Sowore of attempting to take credit for #ENDSARS, but he does not appear to have sought to take the credit for this (on the basis of his interview with @TundeEdnut). It seems that the hashtag had existed long before now but it came alive again on October 3, after a boy was allegedly shot dead by SARS in Ughelli, Delta State. An eyewitness (@iam_bussie) tweeted the incident using the hashtag; thereafter, @segalink and then a few of the RevolutionNow protesters also started using it. On October 5, Omoyele Sowore called for and had a zoom meeting with some #RevolutionNow protesters and the theme of the meeting was #ENDSARS.
On October 1, 30 #RevolutionNow protesters were arrested in Lagos. They were not released until October 6. The call to #ENDSARS had began to gain momentum as more and RevolutionNow protesters saw reason to use the hashtag, especially because of their comrades who were in police custody, and there was the purported judicial bureaucracy of Lagos State, which prevented lawyers from securing the bail of those in custody, and they were held through that weekend. The judiciary does not work on weekends.
Now, the second purpose here is to answer the question: How did Nigerians suddenly go from being contented cowards to the point of staging a leaderless peaceful protest?
On June 20, Dele Farotimi, a lawyer, wrote: “Yele is not your enemy. Yele is one of us, warts and all. He is human, just like you, and me. You’re no saint! And neither am I. We are Nigerians. We are not “normal”. Yele is you, and me. If you would pocket your selective senses of personal outrage, you’d see that he is us, but infused with something severely lacking in this generation: the courage to dare, in a generation of cowards”.
You may disagree with Sowore on many things but you cannot deny the fact that he possesses “daring courage”, which has been lacking in Nigeria for decades. We should pay attention to the following strategies used by Sowore’s RevolutionNow and how it has rubbed off on us as fellow citizens:
• The demonstration that a non-violent protest is possible, even when tagged as RevolutionNow;
• An assurance that we can arrange a credible team of lawyers who will be on standby in case of arrest during protests;
• The model to young Nigerians that you can speak to and criticise the corrupt and powerful older elites, regardless of the age difference, even when you have no connection.
• The need for sacrifice in the face of arrests and detention for a few days or months due to our warped judicial system;
• The creation of awareness of the influence of social media in 21st-century protests. This is especially true in societies like Nigeria where major news media outlets can be easily bought or compelled into doing the bidding of powerful elites;
• Also, many people will agree that Sowore made civil protests look fashionable.
Finally, the #RevolutionNow protest may not have garnered much participation because it was strange to people of our generation. During his first arrest by the State Security Service (SSS), many of those who mocked Sowore have now learnt from him what it takes to be courageous, and his style of peaceful but effective resistance serves as a model of what we are witnessing in this revolutionary movement, #EndSars. You can deny these facts for political reasons or just because you do not like his personality.
Omoyele Sowore means different things to different people. Some Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members and loyalists of former President Jonathan will probably continue to hate him vigorously because of whatever part they believe he and SaharaReporters played during the election that saw GEJ out of office. Others are either All Progressives Congress (APC) loyalists or followers of some powerful Nigerians who have been victims of his style of journalism. But, for others, Sowore represents the figures of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Gani Fawehinmi and Femi Falana from the generation before us. He has become a force to reckon with, whether or not he eventually achieves his political ambition.
Fadumo Abiodun Paul is a social worker, educationist and author.