Sowore: Between Protest and Revolution

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I watched, in utter consternation, a live TV show on Plus TV Africa where the former presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), Mr Omoyele Sowore spoke extensively in defense of his planned revolution across the country. That was precisely on Wednesday, July 31, 2019. Panelists on the show spoke on the steps towards a successful revolution. As a person, I feared that Sowore, together with every person in support of the revolution, was soon going to face some kind of interrogation. It was entirely not surprising therefore when on Saturday, Nigerians woke to the news of his arrest by the Department of State Services (DSS).

Sowore, the face behind a somewhat reputable United States based online Newspaper, SAHARA REPORTERS, has been on the vanguard of human rights notably after he presented himself as a saviour to Nigerians. Unfortunately, he lost the test of popularity in lawfully cast votes as he couldn’t poll significant votes during the presidential election. He has since been involved in one human rights cause or the other, staging reasonable front towards condemning ‘unfavourable policies’ of the present government.

Many groups and individuals have risen to defend the revolutionary leader. They have condemned his arrest by the DSS. Their grounds is that the Nigerian constitution allows for freedom of speech and expression of opinions on issues of governance. They believe the federal government of Nigeria under the President Muhammadu Buhari has not done enough to stem the tide of insecurity across the country. They hold the opinion that anyone who is uncomfortable with any development in the country can make his opinion without having to be intimidated. They therefore demand immediate release of Sowore from detention.

In the same vain, many groups and individuals have equally condemned Sowore on his action. They reason in line with the action of the DSS and the Nigeria Police who see their revolution drum as a treasonable felony. They believe the change of government in Nigeria must be nothing but democratic. This article presents the views in support of Sowore’s action as well as the interpretation of the DSS’s reaction. But before that is done, an explanation is done on the two terms leading the thesis here: ‘protest’ and ‘revolution’.

According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, protest refers to “something said or done that shows disagreement with something”. It is an event at which people gather to show strong disapproval about something. Protest is described as a solemn declaration of opinion and usually of dissent. Protest is the act of objecting or a gesture of disapproval, a complaint or a display of unwillingness to align with an idea. Generally, a protest is usually a civil disobedience and refusal to cooperate with an authority upon an issue of corporate existence. It must ultimately be a peaceful demonstration.

The same Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines the word ‘revolution’ as a “usually violent attempt by many people to end the rule of one government and start a new one”. It is a ‘sudden’, ‘extreme’ or ‘complete change in the way people live or work’. It is a ‘sudden’, ‘radical’ or ‘complete change’. The words, ‘violent’, ‘radical’, ‘sudden’ and ‘extreme or complete change’ are very significant and would stand out as constituting the striking difference between the two words: ‘protest’ and ‘revolution’. These would definitely give direction to this piece.

According to a statement by the Nigeria Police Force through its Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba, “the Police would not stand idly-by and watch any individual or group in the society cause anarchy in the country”. The statement reads: “While acknowledging the rights of Nigerians to embark on protest, the Force wishes to note that such rights should not translate to a violent and forceful change of government, which clearly is the meaning of ‘revolution.’ Needless to state that Nigeria is a democratic republic and has well-defined processes for change of government, exercised periodically during various cycle of elections.

“The Force therefore warns the organisers, sponsors, allies, supporters, associates and sympathisers of the group ‘Global Coalition for Security and Democracy in Nigeria’ to, in their own interest, steer clear of any such planned protest, demonstration, acts of incitement and proposed “revolution”, as the full wrath of the law will be brought to bear on any individual or group engaged or found participating in the planned criminal act.”

Mba called on parents and guardians to impress on their children and wards not to allow themselves to be used by any person or group of persons to cause breach of law and order, as the Police would work with other Law Enforcement Agencies and positive minded Nigerians to protect, defend and secure public peace and space.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that Sowore’s arrest has drawn widespread condemnation, with Nigerians calling for his immediate release. The Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Lagos State Branch, and the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) called for the immediate and unconditional release of Sowore.

In a statement by the chairman of its Lagos branch, Comrade Alex Omotehinse, CDHR reminded President Muhammadu Buhari that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, gave Sowore or any other Nigerian, the right to protest and freedom of expression with right to lawful assembly. “The President must be called to order by the National Assembly and he must know that this is a Democratic government not military government,” the group said. HURIWA stressed that the arrest of Sowore was a culmination of the systematic clampdown and organised brutish attacks, targeting persons and groups with divergent opinion.

In a statement by the national coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, the group accused the DSS of illegally bugging telephones of prominent civil rights leaders, including leaders of HURIWA, adding that the fundamentals of the practice of constitutional democracy are animated by the protection and promotion of the basic constitutional freedoms of speech.

Also condemning his arrest is the former Presidential candidate of the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN), Fela Durotoye, who has called on Nigerians to stand together in demanding the immediate release of the pro-democracy activist. Durotoye said Sowore only lent his voice to “our collective frustration as a people,” noting that every Nigerian has a constitutional right to Freedom of Speech and peaceful protest.

Similarly, the former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Timi Frank, has condemned Sowere’s arrest, while appealing to other comrades not to lose focus. Frank says the country needs such massive protest now more than ever before, because of the killings, kidnapping, banditry, hunger, unemployment, economic disaster and all manners of mismanagement going on.

Frank who issued the statement in Abuja, said the protest was not about the convener but about the survival of Nigeria as a country. The Guardian reports how he called on Tunde Bakare, Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana, Olisa Agbakoba and others, whom he described as ‘fathers of protesters,’ to support Sowere’s idea if they were not also supporting the evil currently going on in the country. He maintains that it is the constitutional right of the citizens to protest when they are dissatisfied with anything in a democratic government. He opines that all over the world, citizens are expressing their disaffections without being arrested by their governments, and reminded President Muhammadu Buhari of how he led protests in 2003 when he was in ANPP and 2014 before he emerged the Nigerian President.

Just to lend his voice to the development, the former Vice President of Nigeria, Mr Atiku Abubakar has also expressed disapproval on the arrest of Sowore. Atiku Abubakar, himself the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the just concluded general election, believes the arrest of Sowore is just one of the cases of manhunt by the present administration. In his words, Sowore is being “kidnapped” by the Nigerian government and must be “unconditionally released”.

Reading through these divergent views by these groups and individuals, however gives room for concern. At the moment, Wole Soyinka and Falana who are the leading human rights personalities are yet to issue official statements on the matter. But, it appears worrisome to see enlightened and well schooled Nigerians coming out to support the action of planned series of revolutions by someone who just lost his presidential election.

Questions are very bulky on why educated Nigerians should join issues with a development of this nature. Agreed, the killings, kidnapping, banditry, hunger, unemployment, economic disaster and all manners of mismanagement and misunderstandings are daily staring on the faces of Nigerians. These malaise are sadly constituting catastrophe to the Nigerian nationhood. The level of freight and tension currently rocking the country is such that should be of concern to a reasonable patriot. But question is, can right thinking persons say that the solution to Nigeria’s problems is revolution?

Without sounding derogatory, is it proper to think that Sowore would have been pleased to stay in office as president to plan revolution against his own government, if he had won the February 23 presidential election? Although some have questioned his honesty to the planned revolution, it is safe to ponder on why the same Sowore had been accused of embezzling the campaign funds raised by his party. Perhaps, he would have been more faithful as a president than he was as a candidate who could not account for the funds in his party.

Again, to understand that protest has no semblance to revolution is another cause for sound reasoning. Sowore is known for his call for revolution. All his actions and plans have readily shown that he wants a change of government. But sadly, his supporters who have issued press statements asking for his release seem to lose focus on the semantic referents of the two words. Sowore says he wants a revolution and the spectators are shouting for his release, saying he has the right to protest. Question is, is there no difference between protest and revolution?

Most disappointing is the fact that Sowore has not made any prospective provision for succession of government. He only wants to overthrow government, but he has no plans towards instituting a functional government. This presents a more challenging discourse on why a destroyer should only think of destruction without thinking of how the country could be reconstructed.

Joseph Atainyang is a journalist and public affairs commentator. Gsm: 07036964637

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