with Lawrence Olaoye
Democracy, as opposed to dictatorship, accommodates the expression of divergent opinions by the citizens. Since Nigeria returned to participatory democracy in 1999, not a few protests have been organised by the people to express dissent opinions against those of the policy makers.
There have been countless protests organised to force the hands of government to do the bidding of the masses and there will still be more. Activists, even at the risks of their lives, organised protests during the infamous regimes of military juntas and matters raised were resolved. Unending political activism and purposeful protests helped in forcing the military to embrace democracy in 1999 and ever since, it has continue to blossom. So, protests are not alien to democracy in Nigeria.
But the recent nationwide protests coordinated by Omoyele Sowore, the Presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) at the 2019 Presidential election, an activist and publisher of Sahara Reporters, brought a fresh controversy to the propriety of engaging protest as an instrument dor expression of dissent in a democratic society.
Tagged #RevolutionNow, Sowore’s strand of protest drew the ire of those in power. As an activist, calling for such protest may not have attracted much attention from the authorities. Sowore seems to have forgotten that his public perception changed the day he resolved to drop the toga of activism and joined partisan politics. His decision to run for the office of the President on an opposition platform has stripped him of neutrality and whatever he does thereafter will be viewed from the binocular of politics.
It is therefore not surprising that Sowore became a target for the security agencies immediately he declared his #RevolutionNow movement.
This has become even so when the nation seems to be perching on a keg of gunpowder following the anger in the land owing to various challenges of hunger and insecurity.
The dictionary meaning of revolution is “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favour of a new system.” No government will sit down idly and allow anyone unseat it by violent means.
Similar innocuous protests, not really designed as revolutions, occurred in the Arab world not long ago with calamitous consequences.
The 2011 Egyptian revolution (January 25 Revolution) consisted of demonstrations marches, occupations of plazas, non-violent civil resistance, acts of civil disobedience and strikes which eventually saw the end of Hosni Mubarak’s Presidency. The violent conducts of the protesters necessitated application of excessive force by the security agencies to quell the uprising which to the regrettable death of 846 persons with several thousands injured.
The Tunisian revolution equally started like a joke. The Jasmine Revolution, was an intensive 28-day campaign of civil resistance. It included a series of street demonstrations which took place in Tunisia, and led to the ousting of longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. It eventually led to a thorough democratisation of the country and free and democratic elections.
On 19 December 2018, a series of demonstrations broke out in several Sudanese cities, due in part to rising costs of living and deterioration of economic conditions at all levels of society. The protests quickly turned from demands for urgent economic reforms into request for President Omar al-Bashir to step down.
From the foregoing, the swift and brutal reaction against #RevelutionNow from security agencies could be understandable. No government, considering the volatility of the nation’s current socio-political space in the country, can afford to treat a call for revolution with kid gloves.
Though human rights activists have consistently argued that the government applied hammer to kill an ant because they considered Sowore protests and his consequent arrest as inconsequential, the determination of the legality of the government’s action remains the preoccupation of legal minds.
Granted that the #RevolutionNow may not have been conceived to be violent, chances are that such could be hijacked by ubiquitous hoodlums looking or avenues to loot and kill. The precarious security situation may also be exacerbated should the movement not halted in its tracks.
A veteran in organiser of national protests in the country who led a vibrant Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) for several years, served as a state governor and now National Chairman of the ruling APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, picked holes in the #RevolutionNow protest.
Though an interested party in the matter, Oshiomhole raised issues that could not be ignored when he said he failed to understand why the group embarked on the protests in he first place. While restating that he was not averse to protests as he had led several in the past, Oshiomhole pointed out that the Sowore led protests lack specific demands and proposed no actionable solutions to the challenges in the country.
He said “Whoever wants to protest should articulate the particulars of his grievances and make specific demands about the solutions that he wants. So what exactly, as far as you know as members of the fourth estate of the realm, that Sowore, the publisher of Sahara reporters, a presidential candidate, cleared by INEC to bid for power, who had opportunity to ask Nigerians to vote for him, want?”
In the legality of protest, Oshiomhole said “I don’t want to talk about this but I believe Nigerians have a right to protest, I believe people have a right to contest issues, people have the right to disagree. I have often said government doesn’t have the right to dictate to people how to protest, but you must state exactly what you want. I ask you to name any country in the world where somebody stands up and say after the election that I contested and lost, now therefore I want revolution.”
Like a politician is wont to reason, Sowore and his group are attempting to get what they lost from the polls through the back door by causing confusion and seizing power by force. According to him, the reelection of President Muhammadu Buhari by the overwhelming majority of Nigerians at the February Presidential election only goes to validate his performances and whoever feels that he is currently not delivering the goods should wait till 2023 when he would have another opportunity to seek for the votes of the people.
Violent overthrow of legitimate authority has become anachronistic.
Since Nigeria is operating a representative democracy with all globally recognised institutions in place, it would be anarchical for anyone to want to torpedo a publicly elected government by violent means. Days of coup detats are over.
Granted that the people actually wanted the government out of power, there are constitutional ways of achieving that. Instead of calling for violent overthrow of government, the aggrieved persons could lobby the National Assembly to move for the impeachment of the President.
Having contested and lost in the Presidential election, Sowore and his followers in the #RevolutionNow ought to have followed due process to ventilate their grievances by challenging the legitimacy of the President’s authority in the courts. This is exactly what the former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is currently doing. Calling for revolution or civil disobedience and unrest is obviously a step across the red line.
Calling for a revolution at this time in the nation’s political history is tantamount to instigating violence which has the capacity of setting the country ablaze. Already, the Nigeria is currently grappling with economic crises. The government is working assiduously to encourage foreign investors into the country. A mere mention of the word ‘revolution’ is enough to scare away those already making plans to invest in Nigeria.