Is it a crisis of effort or the constant muddle that most social protests in Nigeria seem to find themselves that made it difficult to define what exactly happened to the protest tagged Day of Rage on the 5th of August 2019 by the Coalition For Revolution (CORE)? This question is important for the reason of the fact that as usual, once one of the leaders of the group in the coalition Omoyele Sowore was arrested, the whole effort did tailspin into a mist of interpretation of what a revolution ought to be, and what it ought not to be. A further problematic was even to define whether it was even a revolution or a protest as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and other Human Rights documents. The fact that this protest was even made to derive its validity from the prism of human rights agitation may be a serious worry in itself.
One of the biggest problems in our view with social struggles in Nigeria is the degeneration since the 90s into a state of flux that it tends to undermine the capacity at interpretation of social groups in the context of political struggle in Nigeria. We will give two examples. In the 50s tailing into early 80s in the United States of America, the struggle of African-Americans gave birth to 3 groups that fought for the progress of the black community, but interestingly they never shared a common platform or work plan. The three dominant groups were; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)/Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), The Nation of Islam and The Black Panther Party. There was no dispute among the three groups about their interpretations of the situation of the African-Americans – they all agreed that the African-Americans were ravaged by poverty, suffered from lack of dignity of their persons and deprived of the benefits of their citizenship to the extent that they had no right to universal suffrage. Their interpretation of the causatives of these problems was not the same, and they fought bitterly to defend their positions.
It was such that even at death, Thurgood Marshall and his sidekick, Carl T. Rowan still found time to badmouth Malcolm X regarding him as “a pretentious refined thug”. As far as the NAACP and the SNCC angle were concerned, the Nation of Islam group was just low cast of African Americans preaching separatism and damaging the cause of African Americans at national integration. The Nation of Islam did not take it lying low as it described the NAACP/SNCC as; Uncle Tom’s Negroes laboring to integrate themselves into the machine of the White establishment. Malcolm X referred to them as “house Niggas” who found comfort with their closeness to the white establishment. Again the NAACP/ SNCC group did not find comfort with the activities of the Black Panther Party. Langston Hughes, one of the greatest African American poets was so disconcerted by the activities of the Black Panther Party that he described their members as “urban thugs” struggling to set back the gains of the civil rights movement. The Black Panther Party found affinity with Malcolm X after he left the Nation of Islam, describing them as “cultural nationalist”, and for them, Langston Hughes and the groups he represented were nothing more than cuddling Black bourgeoisies trying to find accommodation within the orbit of American capitalism for purposes of furthering imperial projects. For them, there was no way the African American would be free if his struggle is not conducted within the orbit of a socialist order.
The interesting thing is that no matter how history has tried to favour the NAACP/ SNCC axis, as the champion of the Black cause, what remains is that each group outside the historical account of establishment historians can successfully look back and take credit for the success of the work done within their own strategic philosophy of the root of the African American problem. Yes the NAACP/ SNCC brought a lot of reforms that aided the cause of the African Americans, but John Henrik Clarke was asked to make a comparison between Martin L. King and Malcolm X, and this was what he had to say; “…but perhaps Malcolm’s more so, all the working-class people could feel a Malcolm X. They could hear a Malcolm X, and two weeks later they could whisper back what he said. Verbatim. They could remember the way he put it, and he put it so well. The day after king spoke, they knew he had spoken well, but they couldn’t exactly say what he said. Malcolm X found the language that communicated across the board, from college professor to floor sweeper, all at the same time, without demeaning the intellect of either.” What he had said represented a better understanding of the impact of the struggle of the Nation of Islam, particularly the Malcolm X leadership in furthering the cause of the African American. Secondly, despite the maligning of the Black Panther Party by Langston Hughes and others, what was evident was that if the Black Panther Party was such an indolent group, the American establishment would not have invested the efforts it had invested to crush the movement. The fact was that the Black Panther Party threatened the philosophical foundation of the American establishment. Thirdly, the American health system today which is in its transition of ObamaCare wouldn’t have been if there was no Black Panther Party. This was because, it was the free health policy of the Black Panther Party that opened the eye of an average American to the possibility that the American society can provide free healthcare of some sort. This is not to say that ObamaCare approximated in any way to the health project of the Black Panther Party. The Black Panther Party health project simply put was the affirmation that people can have free health care with regard to the treatment of any ailment.
Why did we cite this American example? After the August 5 protest of 2019, what was noticed was that a mishmash of voices surfaced on the stage with the social media playing the usual role of hysterics, trying to interpret what had happened and what may happen. It was such that the day of rage became an elephant being described by blind people as to what it was. First, it got mired in legalism, making it difficult to understand whether a revolution is a constitutional project, or a project outside the constitution. We do not agree that a revolution properly speaking should take its foundational definition from the prism of the right to freedom of expression, otherwise Fidel Castro would be wrong to argue as he did during the Moncanda trial; “that it is immoral to be law abiding in a state of illegality.”Despite Wole Soyinka’s contention that a tiger does not need to proclaim its tigritude, this project of the day of rage was one, by any means necessary, the tiger ought to proclaim its tigritude and shout it that this was a revolution.
Secondly, as we have seen with the three American groups, each did not hide its identity, and avoided working where necessary with other groups in actualizing it objectives. The beauty of this approach is that it prevents the hunter from hunting with the hares. The advantage of this work culture is that it eliminates opportunism and places each group in the context of their capacity to work and do away with showmanship and exhibitionism which Huey P. Newton of the Black Panther Party warned as; being the greatest cancer in political struggle. It is not difficult to say that every group must fight for what it believes and not smuggle itself into the agenda of other persons. The biggest tragedy of Nigeria’s democratic project is this mishmash of efforts. For example, there is a new flier by CORE, announcing a project of National Discourse, and one of the key persons of this project is Prof. Wole Soyinka. Without trying to interrogate Soyinka’s politics, but let us be fair to ask what is revolutionary about Soyinka’s politics? There is only one way to find out, it is to look at Soyinka’s writings and question whether outside his rebellious outpourings; where is the revolution in his writings? Most of the prominent Latin-American writers we know, like Pablo Neruda, Garcia Marquez, Eduardo Galeano were all members of one left groups or the other in their countries which presupposes that if they were invited to meetings to discuss revolution, it will not be difficult then to appreciate where they were coming from. Why do we all appreciate Ngugi Wa’ Thiong’o as an African writer? It is for the reason of the fact that Ngugi Wa’ Thiong’o has used his writings to further greatly the cause of class and national struggle in Africa. Back home here in Nigeria, you can teach Marxism with Festus Iyayi’s book; “Violence”. Festus Iyayi in his lifetime can lay claim of being a revolutionary, and if he is to resurrect today, nobody would question his right to turn up at a meeting discussing revolution. But to gather the crowd of the unserious and start shouting revolution is an unfortunate ridicule of what a revolution means.
Somebody said somewhere that he would support any protest against government. To say the least, this is infantile desperation. A stretch of this statement would mean that if Adolf Hitler were to emerge in the street of Lagos or Abuja today and shout some anti-government slogan, out of some desperation, it may become valid to side with him. But the lack of wisdom in this is in the African saying that; “because a penis is idle does not mean it should become reckless”. Every political struggle is not just a function of its proclamation, but there is also the question of the character and the characters of the proclamation. To neglect this fact and insist we must fight, because we must fight, in no way enhances the quality of the struggle, but exposes the fight to ridicule.
The problems facing most political parties today in Nigeria that are not dominant like the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are the facts that they are not learning from history of associated problems of modern democracies. Easily identifiable problems are the facts that modern democracies have become heavily monetized all over the world. Secondly, demagogues have taken center stage, and small parties, particularly in Nigeria because of her political demography and complexion, have chosen not to discard the politics of periwinkle philosophy. Beyond this is the fact that most political parties particularly in Nigeria, lacks capacity to have quality members as against quantity of membership. For instance, close to 40,000 Nigerians voted for Sowore at the 2019 Presidential Election. The simple logic then would be that if Sowore’s African Action Congress (AAC) can boast of 10,000 members of the number that voted for it, and they are put in the street with other forces, we can safely then say that they can successfully organize a protest. But at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos the AAC’s members present at that protest were not up to 100. It may be argued that numbers do not matter, but numbers may still matter, depending on the terrain we are operating in and the quality of the numbers. Parties must build their cadres for purposes of political power and defence of their political beliefs.
It is our contention that we must admit the fact that most progressive groups in Nigeria today have extreme weak structures in terms of quality and quantity and the way to go is not to stick to the periwinkle philosophy, but examine how to build a left-center coalition that must agree to run Nigeria on the strength of basic nationalism. For these periwinkles to continue to deceive themselves that they have the capacity to change the current course of history of Nigerian political situation, bearing in mind the dynamics we have mentioned above may be exercise in delusion. Maybe we are fantasizing, but one of the major problems of Nigerian politics is that we all seem to think that with the ego-masseur of the Nigerian social media and mainstream media hype, such masseur and hype amount to potential energy for conversion of any value. We tend to forget that politics is a ground game built around people.
We can also learn from Kenya, where until the small parties swallowed their pride and fused together, the ruling party, the Kenyan African National Union (KANU) kept having a field day. It is not as if they have defeated KANU, but if we are to judge with the last General Election in Kenya, the gap has been greatly narrowed, and that is what happens when a group admits its honest incapacity and work on how to overcome it, instead of embarking on some flippant agitation, simply for the reason of the fact that it is egged on by an idle middle-class and elite opportunists, wailing on social media, but lacking any organizational capacity or spirit at changing their situations.
Onyeisi Chiemeke, is a legal practitioner. He is the author of the book; June 12 Election – Campaign for Democracy and the Implosion of the Nigerian Left. Copyright © Onyeisi Chiemeke, MaroonSquare 2019