Sowore and RevolutionNow: Seventy Thousand Years of Inheritance
By Toyin Falola
Justice, equality, and fraternity were the tripod forces and principles that triggered the 1789 French Revolution. These became the song on the street of Bastille and other parts of France that year. It was sung and animated so much so that it became the signpost of hundreds of demonstrations of people’s power around the world in the years and centuries that followed. The organization of polities around the notion of a nation-state and the political coordination of such an entity was at this time remodeled. This implies that the 1789 revolution brought a deep search-light on the social contract that existed between the ruled and the rulers. Even more interesting in this year’s event is that since then, the French aristocracy has neither stopped nor yielded its place for another in the history of the people’s revolution against the ruling class and the state.
From here, one wonders what the Great Teacher meant when he called on us to ask for our daily bread in our communication with the universe. Bread might have been the primary staple of that civilization, but it has turned out to be a metaphor for the significance of food consumption in the everyday life of human beings. In the more recent times, as recent as the year 2020, after over three decades of endurance under the draconian regime of Omar Al Bashar and his terrorist state, the people of Sudan finally gained the courage to break the yoke only after an astronomic hike in the price of bread. Scientists have equally equated an empty stomach to a gloomy and temperamental spirit. As Harari demonstrates in his work on the history of humankind, the domination of this planet earth by humans only began about 70,000 years ago when they climbed and remained at the peak of the ladder of the food distribution chain in what could be fairly called the animal kingdom—the world in which man and other animals competed for food and survival in the same environment.
Arriving at this superior pedestal was not an easy fit for humankind after years of cohabitation with other animals, especially the jackals, lions, and other “kings” of the jungle they lived with. But ever since that 70,000-year-old revolution described as the “Cognitive Revolution,” the impulse to constantly reshape and recalibrate their physical and social environment for purposes that boil down to protecting their interests and common good has been one of the great preoccupations of humankind. Through this, humans have made an indelible footprint on the planet-earth, both in collective and individual terms. Not surprisingly, therefore, attempts at the redistribution of wealth have continued to produce and reproduce the history of mankind for over 70,000 years.
Since the Westphalia treaty of 1648, this attempt has been increasingly linked to the condition and notion of human rights. Child and female education, freedom of will, association, speech, and all, as well as the rights to a dignified life, employment, wellbeing, and others, are intrinsically weaved into and around the question of wealth distribution. Among several other historical notables, this brought about the Methodist Revolution in England, the Fifth Amendment in America, the Bolshevik Revolution in the old Soviet state, piecemeal independence in Africa and other colonial states, the Iranian Revolution, and the unrelenting press for democracy and democratic reforms around the world, especially since the symbolic or rather, the technical end of the cold war.
Revolution, like development, has never been a destination but a thorough and consciously tamed endeavor by the collective awareness of the people. Nigeria and Nigerians have been in this saddle for over a century since the 1914 mercantile-inspired amalgamation. Before this time, various peoples and cultures, not yet to be called Nigerians, had made a fundamental print on this pedestal of revolution and change. More than any other time in history, this was particularly so in the nineteenth century, which cannot be referred to as the Age of Revolution in the Niger area. Nineteenth-Century political establishments in this area were faced with the odds of not fresh ideas, but refreshed motifs from various forces bent on changing the status quo as dictated in their peculiar environments.
In this regard, one could name the likes of Uthman dan Fodio, Ogedengbe, Lisabi, Jaja, and a host of others. These great men and their protégés reformed and instituted new forms of governance across the Niger area along the line of the socioeconomic reality of the time—expanding trade, burgeoning population, and permanent foreign relations. In some cases, as in the new town of Abeokuta, their attempt at remodeling the political and socioeconomic morphology of the states was spurred and directed by their returnee kinsmen from the Americas and Sierra Leone. Their protégés in the twentieth century, many of whom were descendants of the returnees, and western educated individuals, namely Herbert Macaulay, Dr. Obasa Randle, Chief Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikwe, and Ahmadu Bello, also tuned into the prevailing sociopolitical ambiance of the colonial era to demand change in the coordination of the state affairs.
Their demands ultimately ignited the independence of the state in 1960 but did not put an end to the conditions to which they responded, organized, and expressed their nationalist agitations. In the same way they hijacked the transformational process initiated by these nineteenth-century figures, others in the postcolonial state have taken the gauntlet from them, demanding a better state and the redistribution of wealth. This struggle has been staged on different platforms and has been the career notable of some impeccable and iconoclastic Nigerians. Many of them never joined partisan politics, others did at some points, ostensibly seeing the tomfoolery in demanding a butterfly to act an eagle. Tai Solarin, Wole Soyinka, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Omoyele Sowore, and others have been in this ring and have paid dearly from the tyrannical response of the state.
In all of this history, it is safer to refer to these men as the vanguard of the society. More broadly, in recent times, that is from the twentieth century, they constitute the conscience of the society. Although their predecessors can hardly be described as the conscience of the society, given the circumstances in which some of the revolutions were staged, which were purely a matter of military prowess and quest for power, they all share the commonality of being drawn from the small pool of “enlightened” members of the society whose vision of tomorrow becomes the trailblazer of public action. Many thanks to the age of the Internet of Things, which was heralded by the digital revolution of the current millennium, the works and thoughts of these formidable figures have been animated and easily disseminated to the public.
Since the debut of his online investigative journalism platform, Sahara Reporters, in 2006, Omoyele Sowore, perhaps the youngest and most vibrant of these popular figures in recent times, has become a target of the state. Whereas this was a notch forward in his engagement with the state in the demand for a just society, the battle line had long been drawn between this indefatigable figure and the state since his days as a university student in the late 80s. Talk about the struggle for democracy and democratic principles in Nigeria from this period onward, and you will find Sowore acting in one capacity or the other. If he is not organizing protests and calling for reforms, he is joining the hands on deck to do the same.
From phantom charges to detention, restriction of movement, to all sorts of psychological incarceration that are the hallmark of all dictatorial regimes, Sowore has grown to become the nemesis of the state and the albatross to be constantly checked by its elite political class. Just a couple of days ago, the death of his brother, Olajide Sowore, in the hands of the marauding forces of evil and retrogression was added to this appalling profile. Neither Sowore nor his brother could be protected by the state—and neither is any of us—but they could be murdered, incarcerated, exploited, and dehumanized by the same state they pledged to serve in the national anthem and other legal documents and actions. Such a sad story! Once again, my deepest condolences to the Sowore family.
Even though, as Professor Olatunji Olaopa rightly observed during the interview session, the structure, approach, and praxis of the revolution championed by Sowore still need a thorough rejigging for clarity, direction, and mobilization, for its modus operandi to materialize, given the mammoth to be subdued in this pursuit, no one can question his commitment to the cause of changing the postcolonial narrative of the Nigerian state.
As revealed during the interview session, and as many must have known, this has taken the trend of building or attempting to build alliances with like-minded individuals and organizations and establishing structures of action across the federation. So, when Professor Moses Ochonu asked if Omoyele Sowore saw no contradictions in the clamor for restructuring by a section of the social movements and space of the state, secession by others, and his own call for revolution, the media guru had no problem drawing the parallel that exists in this public space and efforts he and his comrades have made in building bridges across divided lines. Certainly, no one can doubt the need for a common ground and coalition among the revolutionary forces in the state. As Sowore pointed out, call it demand for restructuring or secession, all are revolutionary drives, and the word “revolution,” which scares the enablers of the status quo so much, does not necessarily have to be violent or bloody. This is why there is the option of a referendum.
Talking about a referendum, not a few who were present at the live streaming of the latest Toyin Falola Interviews, and most certainly sharing the minds of other patriots within and outside the country, were of the view that the 2023 elections under this current stricture would be another waste of public resources for the recycling of the old problem. Like a commentator mentioned, in some cases, the problem of governance in Nigeria is not so much of having incompetent hands in the saddle of leadership but of a system that has been programmed to make them fail and incapacitated. Others warned that if Sowore were to participate in the charade called elections in 2023 without pushing for and achieving tangible compromises in the current electoral system as well as the rogue constitution, whether by way of referendum, constitutional conference, or even the combination of both and other viable means, no one should be surprised if there is a repeat of the 2019’s.
When pressed further on how he hoped to effect change on the political scene while responding to Professor Ochonu, Omoyele Sowore seems to base his hope on the limited six percent of the population that could relate well and key into the message of his party, the African Action Congress (AAC), the Liberation Movements, RevolutionNow, and others. If this population could upturn the ignorant-majority electing and “de-electing” candidates, it is believed that the political landscape of the state could be hugely transformed. Where then does this six percent lie? They are mainly found among the middle-class population and students, many of whom have given up on the state. Getting this population on board will not only reduce the cost of campaign but is also sure to recalibrate electioneering processes. This way, more competent heads can throw their heads in the ring. However, even with this population of “refined minds,” politics will remain that dirty arena of slings, manipulation, and shenanigans, though this could be at the level of intellectual, rigorous, and stimulating debates. I pointed this out because politics is a game of interests, and interests are never static but dynamic with time and circumstances, even with a guiding principle. Hence, man is a sociopolitical animal.
Interestingly, not everyone buys into the idea of Sowore’s revolution and overhauling of the political atmosphere of the Nigerian state. In place of this, they advocate for the evolution of the state. In one sentence, they subscribe to the evolution of the state, as against revolution, for its sociopolitical and economic transformations. They hold this position to the view that the revolution did not transform the condition in Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, or Libya, as the states have since relapsed into an even deeper abyss of political uncertainty, pandemonium, and dictatorship. Among this group belongs Dr. Ena, who described himself as a pro-investment as against a pro-people person. The young man argued that there could be a dichotomy between these two approaches to development without ripping one’s heart and soul into the bin of degeneration.
Aside from the prayers of fortitude for Omoyele Sowore at the opening of the interview session, Dr. Ena’s stance was another of the most significant moments at the event. It offered to the public caption-clear opposing views dominating Nigeria and the global economic world. The discussion touched on the relations between private and public entities in the state. To what extent should the government be involved in private businesses? And here, the question of the Dangote refinery was brought to the fore. Although Sowore was quick to pronounce this ambitious project aimed at pumping 650 000bpd to West African markets, including Nigeria, a failure, his skepticism, like that of many other well-meaning Nigerians, is unfounded but a palpable one rooted in the political culture of the state. This is even more so considering the primitive approach of the current regime (not administration) to governance, which has repeatedly brought about the accusation of sectional agenda against it from different quarters within and outside the Nigerian space.
However, on a broader lens devoid of sectional interest, the $4 billion commitment of the Nigerian government, which gives her a twenty percent share in the $19 billion project, could be the best conduit for the country to be self-reliant in energy consumption and take a leap in the value chain of global production. I am not acquainted with Mr. Aliko Dangote, but let no one be deceived about an ethnoreligious undertone of this deal. Dangote Corporation and the man are two different entities. By any chance of legal circumstances, the Nigerian government or any other legal entity could even take over the refinery in the future. As far as the interests of Nigerians are duly represented, it cannot be denied that they will benefit from this pro-investment project. Not only can they save from the cost of petroleum products, further infrastructural investments and developments from the returns can also be expected. As a pro-investment person that Dr. Ena is and as shared by many big businesses like Dangote, the elites’ interest supersedes the interest of the people in cases like this.
Consequently, we find a recurrent situation where the corporate responsibilities of multinationals are jettisoned for the interest of these elites. Dr. Ena also referenced this in his critique of revolutionary movements regarding the Niger Delta crisis. A pro-investment drive that tags along the wellbeing of the people remains the sure link to development, and not the mere growth often flaunted in statistical data measured by the GDP. From the Nigerian case in particular, and the economic growth story of the rest of the world in general, an upward trend in states GDP is not equal to improvement in the everyday life of the average person on the street. It takes holistic relations between pro-investment plans and pro-people schemes to unleash the potential states as seen in China in recent times. There are no metrics for the damage that pro-investment excesses have caused and its continued cancerous effects on our everyday life. Covid-19 politics have added a new icy to this macabre cake.
Meanwhile, it remained to be seen how evolution could be achieved without revolution at some point or another in the 70,000-year history of man. Earlier in the program, Mrs. Motunrayo Alaka had brought this view to the question of women participation in politics, policies, and public space, to which Sowore admitted that his party failed to do justice to as intended in the previous elections but reiterated their position on the aphorism– “educate and empower women, educate a nation.” The preceding points remain the central and intricate drive of changes and transformation, which have driven human society for thousands of years, and which no nuclear weapon had been able to decimate despite the incarceration and muddling of voices like that of Sowore.
At this point, I join the elders at the interview session to pray for the family of Omoyele Sowore, asking for the strength to bear the unfortunate loss of their son, husband, father, and brother, Olajide Sowore. I also say a big “Ase!” to all the heartfelt prayers offered.