Nigerian playwright Femi Osofisan, in his play ‘Morountodun’ creatively recreates the Agbekoya uprising of 1969 in the Western part of Nigeria. According to the play “ordinary farmers in the west of the country, rose up and confronted the state. Illiterate farmers whom we had all along thought to be docile, peace-loving, if not even stupid, suddenly took to arms and began to fight against the government”.
The farmers were protesting against the government’s indiscriminate tax which did not reflect on the provision of social amenities. It was their way of rejecting brutal misrule, insensitivity, and official irresponsibility on the part of the government. They adopted a guerrilla approach which made the towns unsafe until the government was forced to the negotiating table. Indeed, many times history provides a substratum for literature where its provenance is nourished and consummated.
The above literary scenario upholds protest and revolution as an effective instrument of resistance in the hands of the masses who are the unfortunate victims of socio-political misdirection. All over the world, protests are used by the populace to attract the attention of a responsible government to the negotiating table. Instances abound in the past in Nigerian where the government responded to protests and effected a change within the polity.
However, Nigeria is currently enmeshed in matters of semantics or nomenclature regarding the best name to give the approach adopted by Omoyele Sowore. What name do we give the actions of Sowore and his group? Is it a revolution or protest? Last week, there were reports in various media outlets that Sowore was arrested by the DSS for alleged treason. While some news outlets have reported that Sowore was arrested for attempting to carry out a revolution against the Nigerian state, others have stated in unambiguous terms that Sowore and his group only staged a protest march in Abuja to vehemently register their angst against the prevailing searing conditions in the country. Of course, it is apparent to both the living and the dead, to mortar and pestle, to the physical realm and the numinous elementals that Nigeria is in a critical situation. But who will bell the cat? Fear and consideration for safety, as relived by Fela, all constitute a major obstacle to belling the cat.
Certainly, it is very difficult to miss an opportunity to bring Nigerian realities before millions of our people who have become victims of sublime socio-economic bludgeoning. There are also a few coteries of Nigerians whose uneasy consciences are caught in the contradictions of their existence. I mean those who benefit, in one way or another, from the fetid cesspool that our political hierarchy has become.
The latter category of Nigerians prefers the truth adorned in sophisticated garment even though we all know that truth, as a phenomenon, glitters more when it stands in naked simplicity. The question then to ask is: what is the truth about the conditions in Nigeria which provoked Sowore’s revolutionary or protest impulses? Before we began to engage the truth of the Nigerian situation, let us first dissect revolution and protest as instruments of political resistance. I am not a political scientist but I have been forced to study themes of political engineering as a preoccupation of many texts. Is there a difference between revolution and protest? What constitutes revolution and what qualifies as a protest? Revolution refers to a radical change in any sector, for example, a revolution in manufacturing, a revolution in information technology, a revolution in the banking sector, and a revolution in Agriculture. Also, revolution as a major ingredient of political formulations can be understood at different levels. It can refer to a fundamental, radical change in the procedure of governance which occurs when a people’s will is consistently trampled upon by those who wield political power and influence. Revolution gravitates towards changing the status quo and restoring a plundered polity. In revolution, there is a will for a collective assertion of rights and privileges glaringly denied by maniacal, subsisting power hegemony. Extreme revolution thrives on the use of sophisticated weapons to overthrow the government or create a parallel government in a country.
However, protest, in as much as we agree on its effectiveness as a method of political resistance, is more ephemeral and short term. Political protest can be peaceful or violent depending on the approach of the proponents. Both of them are called to existence depending on the gravity of social ill and its disconsolate consciousness. Many times, protests, whether peaceful or violent are organized to register public disapproval of government decisions or a social anomaly. Given the following explications, did Sowore allegedly carry out a revolution or a protest for which he is now held captive by the government?
From my brief musings above, it is safe to say that Sowore embarked on a mere protest to bring to the attention of the government various issues that have made life unbearable in this country. His activities cannot be labelled a revolution because no arms or weapons were employed. In 2014, Muhammadu Buhari as a presidential candidate of APC, Rotimi Amaechi as the governor of River State, and Odigie Oyegun as the national chairman APC, embarked on a protest to register their displeasure against the Goodluck Jonathan administration over issues of insecurity, corruption, and overall incompetence. Then, the protesters completely shut down Abuja. No one was arrested, no one was molested too. They were exercising their fundamental human rights to underscore their defiant positions. Every citizen or group within a country has the right to stage a protest against the state apparatus. If however, such rights are no longer guaranteed, it follows that Nigeria has become a police state, a Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy, Idi Amin’s totalitarian junta and a Mobutu Sese Seko’s brute dictatorship
The current situations in Nigeria are ominously scary, fatal, and insomnia inducing. The level of insecurity expressed through kidnap, killings and many other treacherous activities carried out by the bloodthirsty Fulani herdsmen across the country are grossly under-reported. This is enough to provoke a mass protest all over Nigeria. Excruciating poverty in the land which admits new members every day is enough to provoke a mass protest across Nigeria. The daily loss of jobs, the evident bias in the headship of the three arms of government, the decay in the educational sector, the total lack of transparency in the fight against corruption, all sums up as enough evidence of state infirmity and can only be addressed through the instrumentality of mass protests.
However, if the government of the day has decided to crush the collective voice of the people who daily wallow in despair, if the government, in all its famed wisdom has decided to adopt a Gestapo approach to stifle reactionary voices, if the government has come up with a brutal scheme to suppress voices of dissent in a democracy, it underscores a primitive policy to keep the people at bay while governance is carried out in a clandestine manner. My position is summed up by John F. Kennedy’s submission that “those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable”.
Dr. Adiele writes from Lagos via