From my reading, the week just ended was a bad one for our country. Harvest of errors came from every direction: the citizens, the security agencies and of course, the federal government. Monday was particularly not a good day for the citizens of the country. What was not supposed to be an issue became an issue and by the time it ended, our sensibilities were assaulted and the standing of our country in the international community took a further dent. On that day, the Coalition for Security and Democracy made good their promise to get into the streets and protest about what they consider to be the ills of the Nigerian state. They defied security warnings and poured out into the streets. They were mainly very visible in Lagos.
The avoidance of Abuja, the federal capital can be understood against recent developments in the city and their appearance in Lagos would seem very strategic. Lagos is the heartbeat of this country and the hub of the Nigerian media. So any event there captures the headlines just as this development, “#Revolution Now” has attracted great notice. Some have said the protest failed and even the federal government has congratulated themselves, saying the poor turnout confirms the people’s support for the present atmosphere and their preference for democracy. Nothing could be farther from the truth than this. The truth we ought to know is that our country has become a deeply polarized one and gaining a consensus on anything is a tough order. The other will be that we are becoming increasingly intolerant to the culture of dissent. We saw that with the Islamic Movement of Nigeria and now with organizers of last week’s protest. The mobilization, security equipment and the attitude of our security officials were clearly not in tandem with democratic atmosphere.
The poster boy of the protest, Mr. Omoyele Sowore, is not known to so many Nigerians even though he was a presidential candidate in the last general election. He didn’t go to the tribunal to challenge the outcome of the poll. Yet many critical observers have read so much about him. They know he worked for M.K.O Abiola. They are aware that he is a close friend of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, currently the biggest political figure in Yoruba land. They also know himself and Tinubu worked assiduously to get Buhari into power in 2015; it is particularly for the last reason a lot of Nigerians believe Sowore is not in the best place to do what he is doing currently. My attitude to it is different. Principles may not change but reality can change; what a man called reality yesterday could alter tomorrow as a result of new facts. It is also a known truth that what destroys a decadent system arises from the contradictions within. I don’t know whether Sowore and his team can effect a change but I do know having been insiders they have good stories to tell and there is nothing wrong if they are now willing to tell us those stories. They should be allowed to say it. My worry in all of these is that their story would have made more sense if they were told before the last general elections. Why they didn’t do so is an explanation they owe us.
The culture of dissent is good. It is a propeller for progressive development. It has been accepted everywhere as a part of democracy. It is a concept we have accepted by mouth yet one of the most abused processes in our democratic practice. Evil politicians and citizens are used for ulterior motives. Change agents who employ the process don’t even know it is a serious business. Many of them mistake it for roadshow devoted to attracting attention to themselves. Nnamdi Kanu, my brother from the East, for instance talks about self-determination but they had enough time to grant interviews, organize gatherings and to take titles. Sowore titled his own “Revolution Now.” For a man planning revolution, for two weeks preceding the D-Day he was all over the place talking to journalists, hugging the television cameras; two days to the revolution hour, he was in his house sleeping among his children and wife. He was there when security agents came and picked him up like chicken. This is not the hallmark of revolutionaries.
Revolutionaries are tough people, they are austere, they avoid people; they try to keep their pictures away from public view. The government made so much fuss of the coinage “Revolution Now” and some of us laughed at that. People agitating for something can always employ language in ways to depict anger and it will not necessarily translate to threat or danger, moreso when there is no evidence of activities pointing to the possibility of social disorder. The inability of the federal government and the security forces to distinguish between publicity stunts, real struggles for change and threats to security raises strong issues about competence and pure motives. Wrong definition of events by the federal government is becoming too costly for the citizens and the country. The confrontation between the federal government, its agencies and the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, which eventually led to the death of innocent citizens was avoidable if the development was properly defined within the context of citizens and democracy.
The fact that the leader of IMN, El-Zakzaky has been granted freedom to travel overseas for medical treatment has produced some level of peace. This ought to have been done three years ago. The same way the “Revolution Now” protest would have come and gone and only a few will remember that such a thing ever took place. But now the government and security people misdefined everything and in the end chipped away at the legitimacy of the president and singled out the country as a bad example of democracy. The government should release Sowore and other detainees immediately and adjust its mentality to fall in line with democratic principles and temperament. Branding every act of dissent as a threat and terrorist action will not help anybody including the government. A regime that just won a general election should not thrive on fear. Our country requires democratic reforms and one of the most critical is democratic education for our security agents. Currently all of them, army, state security, police road safety, customs and immigration behave and talk as occupation forces. Some of us are surprised that our own SSS arrests and detains people. Their role ought to be reexamined and limited to intelligence gathering.
It is important to tell the president that the era requires a change of style and approach for him. He must know he can’t get the best ideas to run a complex country like ours with only men from his zone surrounding him. He must open the kitchen cabinet and make it national. It is time to leave policies with cultural and religious colorations and run on clear national programmes. Running from cattle colony to RUGA then to control of waterways gives out an intension that provokes hostility. Let the administration dwell on power, roads, education, agriculture, manufacturing, international trade, health etc, and at the same time learn to talk as democrats. Constructive engagement is also very important, we have chosen democracy, and we must stay on it.