Cleavages in religion, ethnicity and politics will always get in the way of a revolution, reckons Ayodele Okunfolami
When there were uprisings in Sudan and Algeria earlier this year that led to discontinuations of their respective leaderships, Nigerians were transfixed on their TV screens and other media platforms as the events unfolded, salivating on when such would happen in their motherland. Because of the several dysfunctions that Nigerians have had to endure almost endlessly, the calls for a revolution have never ceased.
Nigeria has actually come close to what may be termed revolutions in the past if one considers the demonstrations against the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections or the #OccupyNigeria rallies in January 2012 following the removal of subsidy in the pump price of petrol. But all these didn’t result in the immediate change in the existing political order.
Monday, August 5, 2019 was revved up to be another opportunity for a revolution after former presidential candidate, Omoyele Sowore, had spent the week leading to this date to rally Nigerians on social media for this nationwide protest. Prematurely, Sowore was arrested by the security agents a few days to the D-Day either making the protests lose its fangs or granting cheap publicity to the #RevolutionNow protests that might have otherwise gone unnoticed (depending on which side of the argument one stands).
So, what made #RevolutionNow go with the ifs and buts like the others before it? Was it the phraseology that security operatives misinterpreted as treason? Could the organizers have been more strategic and covert instead of going viral on social media? Was it the character of the pioneers? Or was it an idea whose time had not come?
Come to think of it, how could the mascot of the movement that couldn’t garner 50,000 votes along with his factionalized party, in February in his failed bid for the presidency after campaigning for months, hope to unite more than 50 million Nigerians behind him within weeks without countrywide travels?
If one overlooks the Lilliputian leadership what would have been Orange Beret revolution were subject to, the fact that he was a losing candidate in a recent election, gives the impression of a bad loser trying to grab power through the back door. One will only draw parallels with the more recent #OccupyNigeria, that was led by a losing vice-presidential candidate in the previous election and mainly supported by members of the opposition. Sure, Nigerians want urgent change but they are sometimes suspicious of arrowheads that couldn’t get their mandates through legitimate polls.
A flip back into history at the students’ protests in Prague that led to the Velvet Revolution or the petty cart pusher who set himself ablaze in Tunisia enflaming the Arab Spring, revolutions usually begin from unlikely sources and not familiar faces. Similitude to the Yellow Vests protests earlier this year in France before there was an intervention. In fact, revolutions don’t begin as revolutions, they often evolve from strings of remonstrations of dissatisfactions with the status quo and not necessarily an attempt to change government.
One of the viral videos on social media prompting Nigerians to go to the streets cited the ongoing series of Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests led by students and a few others. Well, comparing Nigeria with other nations may be unrealistic. Those nations in context are mainly homogenous unlike the heterogenous settings here where the cleavages of religion, ethnicity and politics are getting thicker.
If one now adds the widening difference of economic inequality which makes the target of any revolt undefined between the political office holder and an innocent member of the elite who’s sincerely acquired wealth irritates the proletarian. Another thing poverty does is that it makes the foot soldiers for any revolution cheaply compromised easily bungling the thought. Is it the largely illiterate Nigerian that is often accused for being ignorant of issues while voting that will grasp the true essence of a revolution?
Plus, increasing levels of insecurity, kidnapping, banditry and financial crimes, the level of mistrust in the society can’t be higher. Today, the average Nigerian feels so unsafe listening to strangers or going to uncharted territory. Novel monetary upliftment proposals introduced are received with a lot of suspicions as Nigerians have been defrauded in Ponzi multilevel marketing schemes, sweepstakes, uncertain trades, false prophets, fake drugs and other financial crimes. Therefore, any revolutionist must not only be seen to be genuine but be indeed transparent. Even the police don’t trust the army.
And talking about the army and the police, most revolutions succeed when senior members of the armed forces take the side of the mutineers without wanting to be direct beneficiaries of the triumph. Alas, despite being fellow victims of the decrepit system, uniformed officers protect the political class instead of standing by fellow countrymen for overall liberation.
With the scars of the civil war still tattooed on the fabrics of our national consciousness and the hitherto prosperous and peaceful Libya and Syria which are now war-torn because of mismanaged revolutions, Nigerians are shrewdly circumspect. Besides our proclivity to prayers, Nigerians have found checking out of the country in droves as another escape dimming the lights on a collective struggle for emancipation.
Although we have seen the successes of encouraging campaigns like #EndSARS that resulted in positive shifts, there have been some pockets of revolutions in the mode of insurgencies, militancy, separatism and even crimes which are informal (but unhealthy) ways of getting at the authorities, a political convulsion may be in the offing.
One more thing that has made those revolutionary states different from Nigeria is that they were primarily authoritarian or illiberal democracies. To be fair, Nigeria has never had the ignominy of tolerating an individual or being without an alternative government for over three decades at a stretch which was characteristic of those nations. If coups didn’t give Nigerians a breath of fresh air, periodic elections that come in predictive and foreseeable futures give Nigerians opportunities to change any unwanted administration.
And Nigerian democracy is multi-partied, caste and poly-branched that singling out any ruling party, executive or legislature at whatever tier is practically impossible. Everybody is involved one way or the other. You can’t accuse the president or national assembly and excuse the governor or state assembly.
Another thing is that our republic is institutionalized with various funnels of checks, balances, rewards and punishments. The various arms of government, opposition parties, impeachments, recalls, media, civil societies, trade unions and other democratic instruments are what we should continue to strengthen for the nation of our dreams.
––Okunfolami wrote from Festac Town, Lagos
One more thing that has made those revolutionary states different from Nigeria is that they were primarily authoritarian or illiberal democracies. To be fair, Nigeria has never had the ignominy of tolerating an individual or being without an alternative government for over three decades at a stretch