Nigeria: Civil Protest Is Lawful, Revolution Isn't!

Photo: Vanguard
Omoyele Sowore, an activist and publisher of Sahara Reporters, was the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, AAC, in the last general election.
9 August 2019
column

The arrest and subsequent arraignment of Mr Omoyele Sowore has become controversial. While some believe it is high handedness on the part of government, others believe it is a timely response by government to nip whatever it could lead to.

Those who believe Sowore is being hounded unduly argue that civil protest is not only lawful and harmless, but also guaranteed by the constitution,

But those who argue that the choice of word of the planned action of Sowore is too heavy and dire to be ignored point out that civil protest and revolution are just not the same thing. They are not synonyms.

So, the question is: which one did Sowore mean: protest or revolution?

As a seasoned activist and publisher, does Sowore not know the difference between both words? Is it a case of semantic mix-up?

Beside the content and methodology of both actions differing, their ends also differ.

While the end of a protest may be among other things, be aimed at expressing the grievances of the citizenry over a sitting government's policies and programmes,with a view to refraining from the cause of the protest, the end of a revolution is to bring down a sitting government and replace same with another, because of what is perceived as unpopular actions and programmes of the sitting government.

Now while the former is legal and permissive, the latter is not.

No government worth its salt will hear of a coming revolution and not do anything to either nip it in the bud or even crush the forces behind it, where it can.

I have heard lawyers, some of them senior advocates, argue that the word "revolution" attached to the protest march does not imply insurrection. Really?Some other have argued that Sowore should have just been ignored as he was merely seeking global attention. I scarcely can believe this.

Yet, some others have argued that the likes of Sowore, late Gani Fawehinmi, late Beko Ransome Kuti, Olisa Agbakoba and other leaders of Civil Society were the leading vanguards of the democracy that we have today, which President Mohammadu Buhari is benefitting from, therefore, he does not deserve to be hacked down by the same democracy he has always fought for. That is misleading sentiment.

Sowore is not only an educated adult, he is indeed, a burnished human rights activist. He was a renowned Students Union leader, having headed the Students Union of University of Lagos, in the 90's. His record of leading campus protests (if not riots) is fresh and remarkable. He is conversant with civil society activism and warfare.

What's more, he was a presidential candidate of African Action Congress (AAC) in the February elections. How else informed can somebody be!

As the publisher of Sahara Reporters, an online newspaper that is well prized in the journalism profession, Sowore cannot be taken to be unmindful of his choice of words.

For those who argue that Sowore is being tackled with a sledge hammer, I ask them: If Sowore had won the last election and became sworn in as the president of the federal republic of Nigeria, and he hears someone is planning a revolution, he would ignore same and go taking his hot coffee, feeling cool? Come on, let's be sincere!

If you discount all else, how do we interpret the boast of Sowore that by Monday ,August 5 (the day scheduled for the #RevolutionNow" march) , many institutions of government including the Department of State Security -DSS, would cease to exist? What did he mean by that? Was it mere verbal boasting? Did he have any instrument of warfare to deploy in the pursuit of this plan?

According to Peter Nnochi Afunanya, the Spokesman of the DSS, no responsible government can fold its hands in the face of such threat, stressing that Soworecrossed the line of permissive protest.

It must be added however that the police were simply crude and brutish in the way and manner it clamped down on the protesters, having seen the character of the protest itself, as lacking in weaponry or violence, last Monday.

It will not be the first time Nigeria will be witnessing protests. Protests are legitimate instruments in a democracy.

They are practically a wake up call to those in the seat of power. The military government hated and frowned at it. Democratically-electedgovernments should not.

The BringBackOur Girls (BBOG) group, for instance, has held countless protests to demand the release of the abducted Chibok girls. Nobody has arrested them or held them incommunicado as a result. Recently, there have been protests against the growing insecurity in Nigeria. It was not crushed.

But neither military nor democratically-elected governments will brood a revolution in whatever guise or form.

On January 12, 2010, Pastor Tunde Bakare led a protest tagged Enough Is Enough rally under the platform of Save Nigeria Group, to protest the state of affairs in the nation, including the case of the "missing president" Late President Umaru Yar'Adua was sick and taken abroad for treatment without proper transmission of power to the then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan.

Two years later, there was the Occupy Nigeria protest of February 2012, protesting the increase in price of petrol. Not too long ago, there was the 2Face-led protest captioned Our mumudon do, championed by Charly Boy. Effective as these protests were, nobody toyed with the term "revolution".

Agreed, all the demands by Sowore's #RevolutionNow are legitimate expectations for good governance, but the tag of revolution attached to it fouls up the motive. The method has contaminated the content. It is more or less, a delicious meal delivered in a dirty dish.

Indeed, all is not well with the Nigerian federation. Beside the economy that is yet wobbling and making life choky and harsh, the more worrisome issue of insecurity is quite disenabling. The killings and kidnappings in the cities and highways are perplexing, to say the least. Government is not seen to be visibly tackling the menace, and Nigerians are becoming helpless. And hapless too.

Perhaps, one lesson that can be drawn from the "revolution" that never was, is for government to sit up indeed, and decisively and visibly tackle the issues that beset Nigerians. Mr President is the presiding Captain. He cannot sit back and watch the ship of State flounder.

That there is a protest itself, means something is wrong somewhere. That should cause government to do a review and reset its priorities. It is not enough to claim that there is government in place, when the benefits thereof are as scarce as virgins in maternity wards.

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