Published On: Thu, Aug 8th, 2019

Random musing on ‘revolution’’ (I)

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Omoyele Sowore

Omoyele Sowore

THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu

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The question is not whether people have a right to carry out a revolution or to bring down the government that they have elected into office. Of course they do, -under certain circumstances. But the questions arise: ‘by whom may a revolution or overthrow of an existing social order be conducted’? And by whom may such action be said to be an aberration or maybe even treasonable? Let’s face it, only to the democratic ‘majority’ which has always the democratic ‘way’, can the right belong to install or to remove governments -or maybe even to overturn the entire democratic system by which the government was brought about; and to replace it with entirely another. Thus revolutionary right is a majoritarian prerogative. Not a privilege that the minority can indulge –or, afford. Yet ambitious minorities are not averse to pushing their luck. The ‘minority’ to which belongs only a ‘say’, neither possesses the right nor the wherewithal to install or to remove their governments; let alone to levy a revolution against a system legitimately under the control of the majority. The democratic minority lacks a justifiable raison detre to overthrow the system on the grounds merely that it is disenchanted with it. Any push by the minority to seize the democratic ‘way’ –which belongs only to the majority- and to force a change of government, infringes on the right of the majority to keep in office the government that it has legitimately installed. If it makes democratic sense that the majority –to which there is a ‘way’- should not, under any circumstances, unleash violence on the minority, shouldn’t it make even better sense that the minority –to which there is only a ‘say’- must not, under any guise, unleash violence on the majority? Yes the minority can voice its disenchantment with the system but it cannot arrogate to itself a ‘way’ to do away with it other than by the means stipulated by the Constitution –namely to wait patiently for the next election, to campaign to sell its ideas, and peradventure to defeat the incumbent and install a new order.
Nor does it matter who a revolution or a coup de tat may be levied against. It may be against dictatorships or even against democratically elected governments. Provided only that it is levied by the spontaneous majoritarian anger of the people, and provided it is successful. It has to be successful –even where it is levied by the majority- to be legitimate. Revolution, whether spontaneous or premeditated, cannot afford by itself to fail or by the government be foiled. Either way it becomes treasonable –and that is even where it is levied by the majority. Conversely where it is successful, even if it is levied by the minority, a revolution becomes a fait accompli -having occasioned a de facto situation by the overthrow of the existing legal order. And so just like coup de tat or secession, a revolution is legitimized only by its success, and thus by necessary implication, criminalized also by its failure. Coupists, secessionists and revolutionaries all over the world and all through history know this to be a fact -that the price of a failed or foiled attempt is the scaffold, or the guillotine. “O Freedom, what liberties are taken in thy name”, were the last words of Madame Roland, a French revolutionary at the guillotine. Che Guevara, the Argentinean-born revolutionary admitted he knew he was risking his skin to prove his platitude. Irish revolutionary, Robert Emmet even at his trial accepted his fate by his repeated “swear by the throne of heaven, before which I must shortly appear”.
The “right to revolt”, said U.S jurist William Orville Douglas “has sources deep in our history.” But only a majority has both the constitutional and the revolutionary powers, to either change a situation it is disenchanted with by following the constitution or to do so extra-constitutionally by availing itself of its revolutionary powers –to bring down everything. In a previous piece titled ‘What To Do With Saraki NASS’, I quoted one of America’s former presidents, Abraham Lincoln at his first inaugural where, in underscoring both the ‘constitutional’ and the ‘revolutionary’ rights of the people in a democracy, he reminded Americans that: “this country, with its institutions, belong to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, OR THEIR REVOLUTIONARY RIGHT TO DISMEMBER OR OVERTHROW IT”. (emphasis mine).
Constitutional provisions abound by which the people, through their elected representatives at parliament, can remove their presidents either by impeachment or by some other laid down constitutional procedures. Plus the people also have a constitutional right to periodic elections at which they can freely and willfully elect, reelect or remove their governments. All these and more are democratic ends which are regulated by the Constitution and which can only be legitimated by adhering strictly to the due process stipulated by the Constitution. But from Lincoln’s inaugural outburst it is clear that there is another species of ‘peoples power’ which is contradistinctive with constitutional power, and which because it is not legitimated by the Constitution, it cannot therefore be in conflict with; -and that is the ‘revolutionary right’ to act even extra constitutionally in resolving any democratic state of affairs. Lincoln was suggesting –and rightly so- that beside the popular ‘constitutional right’ available to the people, whenever they are dissatisfied with their governments or any part thereof, to amend it, there is also an unwritten species of ‘right’ –namely a ‘revolutionary power’-, equally available to them, whenever they so desire, to overturn the whole damn system or any part of it, and in fact in its place to establish entirely another.
The ‘revolutionary power’ of the majority in a constitutional democracy cannot answer to the Constitution since it is an unwritten power that ante-dates and is thus superior to the Constitution. It is pristine and transcendental. The people did not give to themselves their revolutionary power like they did their Constitutional ones. The revolutionary power of majority of the people is a natural right
deriving from natural law itself. This extra-legal -or ‘extra-constitutional’ power- is available to majority of the people when they are moved to ‘collective’, ‘spontaneous’ anger; and by which time it is
strictly their prerogative either to remain bound by the constitutional remedies that they gave to themselves, or to upturn everything that a priori they had willfully and collectively legitimated.
Nor can the Constitution therefore contain the due process by which the revolutionary temperament of a majority of the people should be expressed. The people may choose to sing ‘we shall overcome’ or they may choose to go ‘swinging’ in order to overcome. It is ultra vires the Constitution to purport to set the terms for the expression of the peoples’ revolutionary anger; the same way that scientific man cannot set the terms for the behavior of destructive natural phenomena. At the peak of its destructive or reformative anger, the revolutionary power of the people in a democracy, like the tsunami, can only be allowed the right of ‘way’ that ab initio it possesses.

To be continued

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