I pray President Muhammadu Buhari will bow to public pressure and terminate the captivity of Omoyele Sowore, publisher of Sahara Reporters, and former presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, AAC. In the event that prayer fails, and the order granted the Department of State Services, DSS, by the Federal High Court, in Abuja, Thursday, is not successfully challenged in a law court, then, the #RevolutionNow convener may be with the secret police for a while. I pray not.
But should that happen, two things will result. One, Omoyele Sowore will continue to enjoy his rock star status till he is released. Since the DSS swooped on him on Saturday, August 3, no news bulletin has been complete without his handsome face adorning prime time television. His popularity has so soared that those who didn’t know him prior to last Saturday now call him by first name. That is on a lighter side.
Seriously speaking, if Yele continues his tenancy at Yellow House (DSS headquarters in Abuja), it may project the administration as trying to stifle constitutional liberties, especially the freedom to express dissenting opinion against policies of state considered not favourable to the greatest number of the people. It may also cast a slur on whatever efforts the administration has made or is making to deepen representative government and strengthen pillars of democracy in Nigeria.
Before the DSS herded Sowore into detention in the wee hours of last Saturday, he had been mobilising for his #RevolutionNow protests scheduled for Monday, August 5. But the DSS took a pre-emptive strike and took him in. The service then dashed to court to procure an ex-parte order to hold the activist-turned-publisher for 90 days.
But vacationing Justice Taiwo Taiwo used the discretionary power vested in her by the Anti-terrorism Act and granted the service permission to hold him for 45 days only. The order took effect from Thursday, August 8. How all these would end depends heavily on how things play out in court.
In the meantime, lawyers, activists, indeed Nigerians across all social strata, have been discussing the merits and demerits of Sowore’s #RevolutionNow, and his current predicament. I won’t bore you with the details because everything is in the public domain. But I have heard people berate the administration for misconstruing the man’s idea of using his movement to draw attention to things government must do to ameliorate the parlous state of Nigerians, and give them the change they desire. Some likened the entire Sowore saga to government using a sledge hammer to stalk a mosquito.
Yet, others submitted that the government was probably scared about how quickly a protest like the type Sowore organised could snowball and bring unintended consequences. People in that school of thought supported their position with the Arab Spring that swept through North Africa in 2011. The revolution was inspired by a 26-year-old fruit vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, who resorted to self-immolation to protest police corruption and ill treatment in Tunisia.
The effects of the Tunisian Revolution spread like wild fire in harmattan to Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, where either the regime was toppled or major uprisings, including riots, civil wars or insurgencies occurred. As it was with the Arab Spring, so it was with Sudan that quaked under months of protests inspired by an 18-year-old girl over the rising cost of bread. The protests escalated and brought an end to the 30-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir.
Now, I’m unable read Sowore’s mind and state categorically what kind of revolution he had in mind because I do not have the gift of clairvoyance. I lack the knowledge to decipher whether what he canvassed was social revolution with the intent to cause a fundamental change in the status quo; the type of revolution that erupts when a government is weak and the system suffers chronic epilepsy; giving revolutionaries the opportunity to strike.
I also cannot tell whether #RevolutionNow aims at instigating wide ranging reforms that would change parts of the system that are not functioning well without necessarily causing those in the power loop to fret, but ultimately make Nigerians smile.
What I can say with 100 per cent certainty is that we have been in a revolution long before Sowore came up with his #RevolutionNow even if we pretend not to see it. It has been staring in the face like a cancerous thumb for years. It is called the revolution of the hungry. And it didn’t start with the Buhari administration.
Successive governments since 1999 have worked tirelessly to provide the basic ingredients for the revolution of the poor in our country. Over the years, they have nurtured a huge population of Nigerians who are so poor and hopeless that they prefer death to their lives of misery. Through mindless plundering of the nation’s riches, incompetence, and official corruption, spiced with deadly politics, successive governments have made poverty the closet companion of most Nigerians.
I was one of those that scoffed at the United Nations-inspired project, The World Poverty Clock, when, in June 2018, it announced that Nigeria had overtaken India as the world capital of the extremely poor people. The report rated India (with a population of about 1.34billion then) as number 2 with 71.5million, and crowned Nigeria number 1 (with a population of 180 million at the time) and 86.9 million extremely poor people. The report maintained that there was no chance in hell that the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to end extreme poverty by 2030 would be met. It blamed the situation, in large part, to Nigeria.
I jeered at the report because I believed it was archetypal Western propaganda against my fatherland. But truth is poverty walk on all four in our country. People are suffering and are so unsure of what the future has in its belly for them. Some do not know where their next meal would come from while many survive on one meal per day. And because of the uncertainty dogging their existence, everybody is on edge. People snap at the least provocation. They vent their anger on you even when you’ve done nothing to merit it. In some places, all you need to do to attract darts, and possible attack, is to dress neatly and ride a clean car. Ah! You must be “one of them”, “bloody looters who brought us to this dire strait.” And they must get their share of the national cake from you like it or leave it. God help you if you don’t ‘perform’.
If you think I’m exaggerating, drive in areas prone to traffic snarls in Lagos during late afternoon or evening rush. And see traffic robbers at work. They walk in pairs and carefully select their victims. There are lone wolves too. You are easy target if you are alone in the car. They come knocking your window with the butt of their gun. Eyes rheumy and bloodshot from heavy doses of opioids, they would order you to wind down and rapidly demand your wallet, phones, iPad and any other handy gadgets within reach. Then, they disappear in a jiffy. While I was with The Sun, I was robbed thrice around Mile 2 Bus Stop in similar fashion on my way home. Some of my colleagues had the same nasty experience. We were just thankful we didn’t lose anybody.
To escape the wrath of traffic robbers, a friend devised a survival strategy. She has a special package handy in case the bad boys come calling. That aside, she also gave her drivers a standing instruction that if they are driving and somebody rams his vehicle at their rear, they must not stop. They must keep moving. That decision was borne out of an encounter she had somewhere on Lagos mainland, a few years back. Somebody hit her car at the back and the driver came down to assess the damage. He walked straight into four gun-toting men who calmly told him to join his boss at the back seat; and the robbers drove them to somewhere along Badagry Expressway and dropped them into the pitch darkness. Luckily, the car stalled before the criminals got to Seme border. It was retrieved the following day where it was abandoned.
There is no justification for committing crime. And I don’t suffer criminals gladly. But the point is, it is quite possible these dangerous folks may not be prowling in traffic looking for preys to stalk if society was so organised that they had great opportunities and great expectations. It is possible they could be responsible citizens if they had decent education; decent means of livelihood; and opportunities to aim at the moon.
But what does our warped system offer them? Leaders who serve self instead of nation. Governors who provide education, jobs, healthcare, roads and housing projects on the pages of newspapers and television. And when they finish their miserable tenures, there is not much on ground to justify their eight or four years in office, as the case may be. The system has also yielded governors who sing ‘To God be the glory, great things He hath done’ as they loot their states blind; governors who sprawl obese in blood money whilst they counsel their subjects to tighten their belts.
And after pillaging their states, they move to another level of brigandage by retiring to the National Assembly, as ‘distinguished senators’ to earn jumbo pay without moving a single motion in four years. They defy the halo of congress through extortion and bribery from Ministers and Heads of Agencies over whom they have oversight functions. On top of the humongous salaries and allowances they are paid, they still struggle to be paid life pension, like civil servants. They grab everything and anything that comes their way to give themselves soft landing in case their constituents dump them or they have ‘chopped’ so much they don’t know what to do with their obscene wealth.
This is not to mention ministers who compete with governors in acquiring choice property in exotic capitals around the world. They steal for generations yet unborn and bequeath begging bowls to their hapless subjects.
That is why we have such a huge population of poor people all over the country. That is why the desperately poor have launched their revolution on whoever they consider as ‘oppressor’. That is why the poor, the hungry and the angry are now expressing their discontent through kidnappings, armed robbery, and sundry criminality. That is why everybody, including the super-rich and the powerful, the crooked and the pious, straight and gay, is now game in the killing field that Nigeria has become.
The only way to end these seemingly intractable conflicts is for President Buhari and his men to make this second term count by making reforms that will take people out of poverty, give good returns to long suffering Nigerians and restore our dignity and respect as a nation.
That, to me, is the only way to end the revolution of the hungry that we are currently enmeshed. That, again, may be the sense in what Omoyele Sowore is saying.
God bless Nigeria.