By Debo Onifade
There are many young Nigerians within the country and in the diaspora, who genuinely think that revolution in Nigeria is the only solution to our problems.
If their definition of revolution is related to the revolutions that ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979, or Libyan Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, they are making a great mistake to think such revolution can bring about a regime change in Nigeria let alone solve our problems.
I understand why many people have lost hope in Nigerian politics and express skepticism whenever I discuss how good people can learn politics to win elections in Nigeria. But this COVID-19 lockdown period gives Nigerians a very good opportunity to unite against our oppressors and stay together after the crisis is over so that we can collaboratively start liberating our country from 2023.
What happened in Egypt after revolution ousted former President Hosni Mubarak? The major groups that staged revolution couldn’t organize themselves politically and lost elections to the Muslim Brotherhood sponsored parties. Egypt regressed, another revolution happened, military took over and today Egypt is back to status-quo (pre-revolution) – ‘a police state’ run by ex-generals. Do the ordinary Iranians feel better today than they were before the 1979 revolution? To the best of my knowledge, I don’t think so. In fact, many of them miss the freedom they had pre-revolution. Is Libya today safer than it was under Gaddafi? The obvious answer is no.
People around the world say that the Tunisian revolution was the only successful Arab spring revolution because the country has been able to sustain democracy nine years after the revolution. But are Tunisians significantly happier today than they were pre-revolution? Probably not.
The people that pushed for revolution were not able to organize themselves politically in huge numbers to win elections and lead the country. Voter turn-out in May 2018 was at an all-time low since 2011 (turnout in Tunis municipality was about twenty-five percent), reflecting public weariness after years of being disappointed by several governments and multiple parties.
What about the most recent revolution in Africa that ousted strongman Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir in 2019? The only reason this ouster succeeded was that the military agreed to support the civilian-led revolution on the condition that both the military and civilians will share power until elections are held. I salute the civilian-led revolutionaries for making this compromise to get rid of Omar al-Bashir, but I hope they will organize themselves politically well to ensure they are able to win the next elections in order to gain the much-needed political power.
Revolution was also attempted in Bahrain, Morocco and Syria, but the governments held on to power. In the case of Syria, it led to a major civil war that has lasted till today. In Africa, revolutions has been attempted several times in the past, often leading to bloodshed and very little success.
I recently published a political book about Nigeria (with foreword by Femi Falana SAN) to explain how Nigeria can be truly liberated without bloodshed, and I’m using this medium to reiterate my position that Nigeria can indeed be rescued without an Arab spring type revolution. The book “LIBERATING NIGERIA: A GUIDE TO WINNING ELECTIONS AND REVIVING OUR COUNTRY” addresses Nigerian politics, policies and youth participation, as well as several other topics that I will not have the opportunity to discuss in this writing.
My objective in this article is to respectfully explain to the young Nigerians touting revolution to perish this idea and focus on the only way to transform Nigeria – organizing ourselves politically to win elections. Democracy is a very imperfect system of government, but unfortunately man has not been able to create any better system. In Nigeria, we have tried monarchy (before colonization), military (under British rule and after independence) and democracy (at different times).
For those of us that have witnessed two or three of these types of government, majority will clearly agree that democracy remains our best option. However, despite being widely regarded as the best system of government that man has invented so far, I concede that democracy is very expensive, feeds a lot on corruption and rarely allows the best people to come into power. We just need to find a way to get more decent people into power and put pressure on them to reform governance and our institutions.
The first challenge Nigerians face whenever revolution is discussed or planned is our heterogeneity. If people in Lagos (our commercial capital) agree to lead protests and cripple the state, can the same be replicated in Nigeria’s administrative capital – Abuja where the way of life and culture is extremely different from Lagos? Different religions and ethnic groups will be suspicious of one another in the planning process and questions like – “is this a north vs south protest”, “is this a Christian vs Islam protest”, and “who will become leader if we succeed” will be asked.
The last time Nigeria had what was close to a revolution was early 2012 when Tunde Bakare led Save Nigeria Group (SNG) and other partner groups to protest the sudden removal of subsidy from petrol. Femi Falana, Femi Kuti, King Wasiu Ayinde Mashal, Baba Suwe, Yinka Odumakin, Shehu Sani, as well as several other well-meaning Nigerians were involved.
Government argued that some people were stealing the subsidy funds but the activists argued that removing subsidy will increase transport costs and cause general inflation across the country. Bakare and the groups demanded that government officials should reduce their allowances and punish people stealing subsidy funds before inflicting suffering on common Nigerians. The groups never sought regime change but demanded for sweeping reforms that will radically reduce corruption in Nigeria.
On the other hand, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and other labour groups also went on strike, demanding for reversal of the subsidy removal. While the protests were very loud on traditional and social media, the labour strike definitely hurt the government and the Nigerian economy the most. This quickly brought government to the negotiation table. Labour also didn’t ask for regime change, but unlike the SNG that seized the protest opportunity to demand for reforms, labour focused mostly on the subsidy negotiation.
SNG never trusted labour because of the general belief that labour leaders could be easily bribed by government and the fact that they had many demands that labour wasn’t keen about. In fact, some labour leaders said in interviews that their core loyalty was to their union members who voted them into power, and not necessarily the Nigerian people outside their union membership. With such utterances, it was clear that labour would call off the strike as soon as their leaders were able to broker a deal with the government on the subsidy issue.
As expected, labour reached a compromise with the government and suspended their strike. As soon as the strikes ended, Tunde Bakare declared that SNG was not bound by the labour compromise and sought greater reform from the government. But the protests quickly died down because Nigerians were already getting weary and ready to get back to work. Many of the vocal Nigerians on social media didn’t show up for the subsequent protests and as soon as the federal government massively increased police presence, some of the people that hitherto showed up stayed back at home.
Abuja was largely peaceful and the whole protest seemed like a Lagos protest that wasn’t big enough to force the federal government to sit down for talks. The fact that Nigeria’s commercial capital is different from our administrative capital is a huge impediment for revolution protests. Abuja certainly doesn’t have the number of radical people that can potentially protest in millions. And it is implausible to transport millions of people (protesters) from Lagos to Abuja without a tip-off and government clamp-down.
Nigeria had several revolutionary protests after the annulment of the Jun 12, 1993 elections and the core objective was to force the government in power to accept the election results and install M.K.O. Abiola (the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 elections) as Nigeria’s president. We never achieved this objective but, we were able to force regime change from Ibrahim Babangida to Ernest Shonekan, and from Ernest Shonekan to late Sani Abacha. After Abacha became head of state in 1993 and reneged on his alleged promise to install Abiola, protests continued intermittently across the country until 1998.
Though the revolutionary protests in the Abacha days never led to a regime change, the protests hurt the government significantly because the labour unions were collaborating well with the activists led by Gani Fawehinnmi, Femi Falana, Olisa Agbakoba, Mike Ozekhome, Shehu Sani, among others.
The students and politicians were also involved, and they all worked together with the activists and labour unions. The labour strikes, especially by the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) hurt the military government the most because it bit hard all around the country. The protests and propaganda happened mostly in the South West but there was significant support from the north such that nobody could label the protests as “south vs north”.
In the religious arena, aside Tunde Bakare and a few Catholic priests who continued to blast the military regimes, the church was largely silent and not involved in the protests. I also don’t recall any major efforts from the Islamic community. So I could respectfully say that the Church and Islam were praying for the country, but were not directly involved in the public revolt against Abacha.
Overall, between 1993 and 1998, Nigeria was never able to stage any revolution comparable with the Arab spring. There were lots of pressure on the government but there were no sustained mass protests that successfully shut down government the way it happened during Arab spring.
We were not able to bring Abacha to his knees, but as God will have his way, he suddenly died in 1998 and the rest is history. Whether Abacha’s demise was facilitated by the Nigerian military or some foreign powers, nobody can tell. But it was like God answered the prayers of Nigerians since our protests couldn’t force the man out.
Since 1998, Nigeria has had several terrible federal, state and local government leaders, and people have continued to talk about revolution. But we have never had anything close to the strength and collaboration we had between 1993 and 1998. In fact, before 1993, multiple military officials had contemplated or attempted some kind of revolution, but failed.
If the military despite their ammunition never got close to succeeding in revolution, and our best efforts before 1998 didn’t bring Abiola to power, we should not continue to deceive ourselves that revolution can happen in Nigeria of today.
Student unions across Nigeria were very vibrant from the 1970s to early 2000s, but they have been largely docile in the last ten to fifteen years. Yorubas and Ibos will find it very hard to collaborate to plan a sustained revolution because of inherent rivalry and distrust. What will motivate the Fulanis and Hausas to support revolution when they have a perceived advantage in federal government affairs?
The Yorubas today remain great at fighting oppression through the media (writing, speaking and analyzing), but don’t have the resilience to plan a revolution. Many Ibos make a lot of noise about revolution, but their leaders will not support a sustained revolution because of their wealth and connections across Northern and South-West Nigeria. The only groups that I think could make serious efforts and get its people on board for revolution are the South-South and Middle Belt (Christian North) because they are two groups that have experienced perhaps the deepest pains in recent decades.
The Christian North has endured decades of killings by Fulani settlers and herdsmen, and they have very deep anger that could sustain a bitter revolution. They are strong people but cannot succeed in any revolution attempt without support from other regions. The South-South people have suffered environmental and infrastructural devastations due to huge corruption and maltreatment from their leaders and several federal government regimes, in collaboration with some of the international oil companies.
They can sabotage oil production and bring Nigeria down to its knees financially, but they don’t have what it takes to independently bring about a revolution in Nigeria.
Following Muhammadu Buhari’s pre-election “dog and baboon will be soaked in blood” threats and unnecessary use of the word revolution by his spokesman in 2011, there were protests across a few states after Buhari lost the elections that led to bloodshed. But the protests didn’t even get to Abuja, not to talk of the south. So it was sad and unnecessary bloodshed that had nothing to do with revolution.
And when former presidential candidate and renowned activist, Omoyele Sowore called for #RevolutionNow in 2019, how many people showed up? Maybe hundreds? Government was certainly wrong to have arrested him, but the protest was never going to bring about any revolution in Nigeria anyway. Most of the noise was coming from social media and Nigerians in the diaspora.
On social media today, there are still many young people (including a few popular activists) talking about socialist revolution, and I just smile because they don’t even know what they’re talking about. What is the result of socialist revolution in Latin America and Asia? Are the citizens in those countries happy with their leaders today? Absolutely not. It is unwise to keep pushing an agenda that currently has no good reference point.
I don’t support revolution because it usually brings about bloodshed and it almost never results in the change that its proponents desire. It just creates an opportunity for another set of oppressors to gain power. But in addition to this point, I also strongly believe Nigerians don’t have the capacity to carry out the type of revolution they often talk about.
If I have convinced some of you that revolution is a mere fantasy that won’t happen in Nigeria, then we must start focusing on politics. We can begin Nigeria’s transformation process by renewing or revolutionizing our minds and collaborating to learn the required politics in order to win elections. The only successful revolution will come through the ballot box (democratic elections). If we start channelling our energy towards learning political actions that can revive Nigeria, our chances of winning elections from 2023 will increase.
Total votes in the 2019 presidential elections were less than thirty million. If we assume fake or rigged votes of about five million, we may be talking about twenty-five million genuine votes in total, out of an estimated voting population of over one hundred million people.
Like we experienced between 1993 and 1998, if we victims across all six zones in Nigeria can bury our differences and collaborate to form a socio-political group, partnering with activists, students, labour and religious institutions, we can influence over twenty million votes from first-time voters and old voters within a few years.
This is the reason I created the online Nigerian political forum – Liberating Nigeria, where people can register as participants or members, interact about politics and read political news. I don’t have a political ambition – all I want to do is to bring Nigerians together from all regions, religions and backgrounds, on a single platform, starting from the educated internet users (and social media people) that normally don’t vote because they believe their votes don’t count.
My vision is to politically enlighten, organize and influence twenty million first-time voters by 2027. We want to have five million registered members before 2023 and twenty million by 2027. We will enlighten our members about politics, policies and ideologies. We will influence our members to register, vote, defend their votes and vie for office. And we will actively support the emergence of a unified people’s movement that will ultimately defeat the old order.
I did a random sample in February 2020 in Lagos and Ogun states, asking these two simple questions – “did you vote in the last two elections – 2019 and 2015” and “if no, why”. Eighteen out of twenty said they didn’t vote. Fifteen out of these eighteen said they didn’t vote because of their belief that elections will always be rigged and their votes won’t count. They believed queuing in the sun on election day for an election that will end up being rigged is a waste of time and energy.
The rest three out of the eighteen said they tried very hard to get PVC but didn’t succeed. Two out of the twenty responders said they voted with the hope that their votes will count despite any rigging that may take place.
In Lagos alone, I roughly estimate that there are at least one million educated internet users that could have voted in the 2019 elections but chose to stay at home for various reasons. This group must start voting from 2023 and realize that their votes can counter rigging to deliver victory to good candidates. Total number of votes in 2019 Lagos gubernatorial election was just about one million. Imagine if we had another one million votes from these educated internet users that typically stay at home, some of the elections will have been more competitive.
The more people turn out to vote, the less chances that politicians will succeed at rigging. Also, since a good number of the estimated one million people that I have referred to above are people that will not sell their votes, their voting on election day will increase winning chances of new-breed politicians. “Power belongs to the people” is a useless point if people don’t vote. Our vote is our most potent weapon against oppression.
Social media noise and arguments that are not backed by voting action is a complete waste of time and energy. Ranting about a revolution that will never happen is also a joke. Let’s deploy that energy to start voting from 2023.
Apart from voting, the other point I like to address before completing this article is political collaboration and leadership. Young people must be willing to submit themselves to authority in order to collaborate effectively. If twenty young people are interested in becoming Nigeria’s president or a state governor in 2023, they should be able to come together under the guidance of a respected leader to agree on a consensus candidate rather than weaken their chances with twenty aspirants.
In 2019, the old people found a way of rightly limiting themselves to two major candidates despite the fact that many of them had ambitions. The young people have to learn from that.
Between 1993 and 1998, we had a de facto leader like Gani Fawehinmi leading efforts by several activist groups that included other strong characters like Femi Falana, Beko Ransome Kuti, Femi Aborishade and Olisa Agbakoba. When the NLC was docile, Frank Kokori (the then Secretary-General of NUPENG) became the leader and face of labour movement. Other young labour leaders deferred to him.
In the political space, we had Anthony Enahoro that was head of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and great politicians deferred to him. There were proper chains of command through which decisions were made and members complied.
Obafemi Awolowo was a strong leader that selected most of the political candidates that represented his party. He was not a perfect leader but the fact that there was a chain of command really helped him achieve a lot.
In my book “LIBERATING NIGERIA: A GUIDE TO WINNING ELECTIONS AND REVIVING OUR COUNTRY”, I suggested leaders like Emeka Anyaoku (who is non-political and perhaps ideal), Tunde Bakare (a bit political, but highly respected even by his opponents), Audu Ogbeh (one of the most experienced living politicians in Nigeria that is widely respected across the country), and Senator Shehu Sani (someone with experience as an activist and politician) as examples of credible leaders that younger people should seek guidance from.
Whoever we choose must be a highly credible leader that the people are willing to obey. For example, if such leader suggests that A is the best candidate among the twenty candidates at this time, all other candidates should agree to work with A.
Finally, collaborations should not be limited to educated internet users. We must seek collaboration with labour, religious leaders, students, almajiri groups, market women, National Union of Road Transport Workers, among others. We must also be ready to work with older people and traditional politicians that share our vision of a new Nigeria.
Nigeria will surely prosper again!