ColumnsShola Oshunkeye

Sowore and the Revolution of the Hungry, By Shola Oshunkeye

Shola Oshunkeye
Shola Oshunkeye

I pray President Muhammadu Buhari will bow to public pressure and terminate the captivity of Omoyele Sowore, publisher of Sahara Reporters, and former presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, AAC. If that prayer fails, and the order granted the Department of State Services, DSS, by the Federal High Court, in Abuja, Thursday, is not successfully challenged in a law court, then, the #RevolutionNow convener may be with the secret police for a while. I pray not.

But should that happen, two things will result. One, Omoyele Sowore will continue to enjoy his rock star status till he is released. Since the DSS swooped on him on Saturday, August 3, he has entered the consciousness of Nigerians. No news bulletin is complete without his face in prime time television. His popularity has so soared that those who didn’t know him prior to last Saturday’s encounter with the DSS now call him by first name. Well, that is on a lighter side.

Seriously speaking, if the DSS continues to hold Sowore, or try him for treason or terrorism, it may trigger a huge perception problem for the Buhari Administration. It may project the administration as trying to stifle constitutional liberties, especially the freedom to dissent against policies of state considered not favourable to the greatest number of the people. It may also cast a slur on whatever efforts the administration has made or is making to deepen representative government and strengthen the pillars of democracy in Nigeria.

Before the DSS herded Sowore into detention, he had been mobilising for his #RevolutionNow protests scheduled for Monday, August 5. Among others, he said the agitation would demand better life for Nigerians, free tuition for university students, uninterrupted power supply and free pre-paid metres for every home, etc. But the DSS did a pre-emptive strike and took him in. The service also dashed to court to procure an ex-parte order to hold the activist-turned-publisher for 90 days.

But vacationing Justice Taiwo Taiwo granted the service permission to hold him for 45 days. The 90 days prescribed in the Anti-terrorism Act was discretionary, she said. The order took effect from Thursday, August 8. How all these would end depends heavily on how things play out in court. Interestingly, Femi Falana, Sowore’s lawyer, has counselled the federal government not to press charges against the activist. The case won’t fly, he posited.

In the past few days, Sowore has topped discussions on every media platform as public analysts, journalists, lawyers, activists, indeed Nigerians across all social strata, analyse the merits and demerits of his #RevolutionNow; as well as his detention. Not a few commentators have berated the administration for misconstruing the man’s idea of using his movement to draw attention to the palliatives government must implement to ameliorate the suffering of citizens. Some summed up everything and concluded that government was using a sledge hammer to kill a mosquito.

Influenza-causing photos

Without justifying Sowore’s detention, I think I understand the sense in which the administration responded the way it did. Granting its connotation, and given the way Arab Spring unfurled in 2011, few governments would sit pretty and not catch cold at the mention of the word ‘revolution’. The word might have evoked some memories and conjured some strange feelings in Nigeria’s sanctum of power; hence its response.

Picture of the 2011 revolution in North Africa, for instance. The revolution was inspired by a 26-year-old fruit vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, who resorted to self-immolation to protest police corruption and ill treatment in Tunisia. Bouazizi’s horrifying death triggered the Tunisian Revolution. Its effects spread like wild fire in harmattan to Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, where either the regime was toppled or major uprisings, or civil wars, or insurgencies occurred.

Another picture that may irritate Aso Rock is that of Sudan between January and April 2019. The country quaked under months of protests led by a 22-year-old woman, Alaa Salah, over rising cost of bread and cut in subsidies. The protests escalated and brought an end to the 30-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir.

I’m not a clairvoyant. Therefore, I’m unable to classify Sowore’s #RevolutionNow. But I’m not sure it would be the type that erupts when a government is weak and convulsing, and the system suffers chronic epilepsy; giving some ambitious fellows the opportunity to strike.

However, what is beyond doubt is the fact that we are already in a revolution. We’ve been in it long before Sowore came up with his idea. It has been staring us in the face like a cancerous thumb for years. But we ignored it. It is the revolution of the hungry. And it didn’t start with the Buhari Administration.

Extreme poverty as revolution trigger

Since 1999, successive governments provided the raw materials for the revolution of the poor in Nigeria; a conflict by the ‘have not’ against the super rich, even the noveau riche.  Through warped policies, they produced, and incrementally nurtured a huge population of extremely poor Nigerians; Nigerians who neither see hope nor tangible substance in their existence. Many of them are so poor they prefer death to their lives of misery. Through mindless plundering of the nation’s riches, through incompetence, official corruption, half-baked policies, and deadly politics, successive governments have made poverty the closet companion of most Nigerians.

I was one of those that scoffed at the United Nations-inspired project, The World Poverty Clock, when, in June 2018, it announced that Nigeria had overtaken India as the world’s capital of poverty. Using 2017 population estimates, the report rated India (1.34billion) as number 2 with 71.5 million people living in extreme poverty. It crowned Nigeria (180 million at the time) as the indisputable champion with 86.9 million extremely poor people. And with Nigeria holding the inglorious title, there was no way the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to end extreme poverty by 2030 would be met, the project submitted.

I jeered at the report because I thought it was an archetypal Western propaganda against my fatherland. But the truth is, poverty walks on all four in our country. People are suffering and are so unsure of what the future has for them in its belly. Many do not know where their next meal would come from. Many survive on one meal per day. And because of the uncertainty dogging their existence, they are constantly on edge. They snap at the least provocation. They vent their anger on you even when you’ve done nothing to merit it. In some places, all you need to do to attract darts, and possible attack, is to dress neatly and ride a clean car. Ah! You must be “one of them”, “bloody looters who got us into this mess.” And they must get their share of the national cake from you, like it or leave it. God help you if you don’t ‘perform’.

If you think I’m exaggerating, drive in areas prone to traffic snarls in Lagos during the late afternoon/evening rush, and see traffic robbers at work. They walk in pairs and carefully select their victims. There are lone wolves too. You are easy target if you are alone in the car. They come knocking your window with the butt of their gun. Eyes rheumy and bloodshot from heavy dose of opioids, they would order you to wind down and rapidly demand your wallet, phones, iPad and any other gadget that catches their fancy. Then, they disappear in a jiffy. While I was with The Sun, I was robbed thrice, in similar fashion, along the Mazamaza-Mile 2 axis. Some of my colleagues had the same nasty experience. We were just thankful we didn’t lose anybody.

To escape the wrath of traffic robbers, one of my friends devised a survival strategy. She keeps a package handy in case the bad boys come calling. That aside, she also gave her drivers a standing instruction that if they are driving and somebody rams his vehicle into their rear, they must not stop. They must keep moving. For her, a near-death encounter she had somewhere in Lagos mainland, a few years back, marked the beginning of wisdom. On that occasion, somebody hit her gleaming black 4Matic jeep at the back and the driver jumped down to assess the damage. He just walked straight into four gun-toting men who calmly told him to join his boss at the back seat. Then, one of the robbers jumped into the jeep and drove my friend and her driver to somewhere along Badagry Expressway and dropped them into the pitch darkness. Luckily, the car stalled before the criminals got to Seme border. It was retrieved the following day where it was abandoned.

There is no justification for committing crime. I don’t suffer criminals gladly. Nobody should. But the truth is, people would do anything to survive if they are desperate and lack basic necessities of life. It is quite possible that those dangerous elements prowling the roads looking for preys may be otherwise engaged if society provides opportunities for them to realise their ambitions. Indeed, majority of them would be responsible citizens if they had quality education, decent means of livelihood, and conducive space to aim at the moon.

But what has our warped system offered them? Leaders blinded by consuming self-love, as Professor Pat Utomi put it in a recent conversation. Leaders whose entire existence revolves around three words: ‘I’, ‘myself’, and ‘me’. Governors who provide education, jobs, healthcare, roads and housing on the pages of newspapers and television. And when they finish their miserable tenures, there is not much on the ground to justify their eight or four years in office.

Like that governor across the Niger who, not too long ago, used to sing ‘To God be the glory’ in his weekly newspaper and television adverts while promoting phantom projects. He is in the 9th senate. Or that youthful former northern governor who ‘wired’ his entire state and turned the whole place to an ‘ICT model’; by mouth. His successor was close to tears as he conducted journalists round to view an education infrastructure in ruins. It was so dilapidated that pupils were receiving instructions either under trees or on bare floors in classrooms with hanging roofs.

Yet, after pillaging their states, they move to another level of brigandage by retiring to the National Assembly, as ‘distinguished senators’, earning jumbo pay without moving a single motion in four years. They and their colleagues defile the ultimate importance and inviolability of congress through extortion and soliciting bribes from Ministers and Heads of Agencies over whom they have oversight functions.

Despite their humongous salaries and allowances, they still struggle to be paid life pension, like civil servants. While that is in the work, they grab everything and anything that comes their way to give themselves soft landing in case their constituents decide to dump them.

How can we forget some ex-ministers who compete with governors in acquiring choice property in exotic capitals around the world. They grabbed what they didn’t need and stole for generations unborn while bequeathing begging bowls to hapless citizens.

Let the truth be told, the wicked mix of looting and leaders’ profligacy are the primary stimulants for the huge population of the extreme poor in our society. These and other acts of wickedness in high places fuels class war and propels the desperately poor to attack whoever they consider as ‘oppressor’; just to cut their share of the ‘cake’. They are also the reason jobless youth, the poor, the hungry and the angry now express their discontent against the society through kidnappings, armed robbery, yahoo-yahoo and other cyber crimes, cultism and money rituals.

Another bitter truth: in the revolution of the poor, nobody is safe. Everybody is game-the super-rich and the powerful, the pious and the crooked, straight and gay.

There are two ways to neutralise the anger of the hungry and the oppressed. One, every Nigerian must start a positive revolution within their being; in their minds. This revolution of the mind must involve a drastic change in our attitude to life, a resolute determination to work for the common good, and the realisation that there cannot be ‘me’ without ‘others’.

Another way to resolve the seemingly intractable conflict of classes in our society is for President Buhari and his men to make his second term count by making reforms that will make life meaningful and worth living for Nigerians.

That, to me, is the sense in Omoyele Sowore’s #RevolutionNow.

God bless Nigeria.





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