Baba Aye describes the birth of an impressive new movement in Nigeria. He sees the #RevolutionNow campaign as a spark around which national structures are being built. The blogpost draws lessons from earlier popular struggle in the country and argues that the new movement is fanning the embers of revolts, as part of the revolutionary struggles sweeping across the world.
By Baba Aye
On 5 August, the #RevolutionNow campaign was unfurled with protests in 14 cities and towns across the country. Most of these involved just a handful of people, with the largest having barely a hundred protesters. But this was because the state rolled out its full arsenal of coercion. Armed to the teeth, men (and a few women) of the secret police, elite squads of the police, the army and air force took over the venues designated for demonstrations across 23 states of the federation.
In an era where mass anti-systemic demonstrations have not been witnessed for seven years, it took determination for action to have been taken by those who dared. Truncheons, gun butts, jackboots and bullets drew blood from protesters. Fifty-seven people were arrested and detained. These included some journalists. Two days before the demonstration, Omoyele Sowore, National Chair of the African Action Congress (AAC), the central party in the Coalition for Revolution (CORE) – along with the Take It Back movement which is the flip side of the same coin with AAC – was arrested in an attempt of the government to truncate mobilisation.
He has subsequently been charged for treason. The federal government has made the process for him to secure bail as tedious as possible, and this only after loud outcry against his continued incarceration after an arrest that was more of an abduction in the dead of the night. Arraigned along with him is Olawale ‘Mandate’ Bakare who turned 22 years in prison. Another CORE activist is being tried in the coastal city of Calabar.
Despite this, TIB/AAC/CORE members remain unfazed. They have organised a series of protests and mass awareness programmes over the last few months and continue to meet, including within wards of several states of the federation, building new layers of activists.
This blogpost puts #RevolutionNow in historic perspective. Contextualising it as a spark, around which a national organisation is being built, the post further draws lessons from earlier popular struggle in the country.
Take It Back/African Action Congress: re-calibrating politics
The Take It Back (TIB) movement was launched at the beginning of 2018. It was the campaign platform of Omoyele Sowore, for president in the general elections that were scheduled for the first quarter of 2019. It was made clear from the onset that this would be a campaign with a difference. TIB declared itself as a fighting platform, interested in much more than just the votes of the electorate. It aimed to help the ‘inconsequential masses’ to take back their destiny, rights and future, which the ruling class had squandered.
TIB’s radical-reformist politics came with a liberal programme which included support for public private partnerships. Many on the left were quick to point out, the discrepancy of the aim of taking back the better life for the poor masses and any concession to privatisation in the movement’s programme. But behind this contradiction lay the different forces that came together to establish the movement.
These included the right-wing of former moderate-reformists students’ union leaders who are now part of professional middle-class. There was also the expelled National Secretary of the party who subsequently formed a faction, Dr Leonard Nzenwa. A centre, comprising some more radical politics than the right wing for sure, and which comprised the bulk of the early personnel of the movement. And on the left, which was the more radical end of the radical-reformist tendency of the movement. None better personified this than the Convener, Omoyele Sowore.
The greatest influence on policy formulation at the time was in the hands of the centre and the right-wing. As the party’s membership grew, being increasingly swelled by working-class youth and students, its politics developed considerably while Marxists, who dwell only on the purity of programme, kept away from the flourishing renewal of popular politics which TIB/AAC brought to bear on the 2019 general elections.
By April 2018, TIB already had over 10,000 listed members. Public meetings it organised were so crowded that people were forced to stand by windows outside the room to take part. What is more, unlike the normal case with political parties in the country in recent decades, these were not paid attendees. On the contrary, they were ready to and did contribute money to further mass mobilisation. There was the general mood of ‘enough is enough’ and a feeling in the air that yes, we can take back our fate from the traditional politicians.
However, Take It Back could not be the platform for electoral contestation. It had to be part of an officially registered party. After several discussions with a number of left-leaning parties (particularly the National Conscience Party) failed, TIB took its fate in its hands and registered the AAC. It received its certificate of registration on 15 August last year and the campaign moved on to another level.
Within four months, the membership of the party had gone beyond 20,000 people. Whilst the bulk of these were in Nigeria, a sizeable number were Nigerians residing in different countries across the world. These supporters organised several fundraising activities as well as contributed to propagating the party through the internet.
In what is definitely a record for any left-leaning party, almost half a million US$ was raised as contributions for the party in the course of its campaigns and these monies were transparently accounted for on social media. This shows how an inspiring presentation of a radical programme could to a reasonable extent address the recurring problems of financial resources. Working class people and youth are sick and tired of the present situation of things, but connecting with their feeling of anger requires sincerity and creativity.
Coalition for Revolution, #RevolutionNow and the socialist left
The Coalition for Revolution (CORE) started as a coalition of the Alliance for the Masses Political Alternative (AMPA) and the TIB. The Alliance was essentially one between the Socialist Workers and Youth League (SWL) and the Socialist Vanguard Tendency. Both groups had worked closely together as a socialist bloc within the NCP and understood the need for independence of socialists within a united front.
AMPA expanded as a loose alliance. The Federation of Informal Workers Organisation of Nigeria (FIWON), the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights and the National Conscience Party swelled its ranks. In addition, TIB/AAC moved further and further to the left, leading several communities in struggle for electricity rights, against demolition and to challenge police brutality. It was also central to giving support to workers at the Lagos State Polytechnic embroiled in fightback against a draconian registrar. The need for what effectively was a two-layered coalition, was superseded.
In July, CORE issued its 5-core demands for Revolution Now, thus:
- An economy that works for the masses. No to an economy which throws 90 million people into poverty, while just five people own N11 trillion!
- An effective and democratic end to insecurity. Poverty, discrimination, repression by government and manipulation of ethnic differences by the rich elite are the roots of perpetual insecurity – we must end all these!
- An end to systemic corruption and for total system change. The bosses’ system is inherently corrupt. We must overthrow them and build a new society based on solidarity and democracy from below!
- The immediate implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage. Workers deserve living wages. All salary arrears must be immediately paid. Politicians must be placed on civil service salary scale. Even the N30,000 is not adequate, negotiations for upward review by 2021 must start now!
- Free and quality education for all. Education is a right and not a privilege. Massive investments must be made to develop public schools’ infrastructure. Curriculum must be reviewed to promote critical thinking. Independent student unionism must be respected!
Towards pressing home its demands, CORE announced 5 August as commencement of #DaysOfRage. On that day, whilst the state tried its best to suffocate the #RevolutionNow campaign at birth, over five million Nigerians searched the word ‘revolution’ on the internet. In some of the areas where pockets of demonstrations took place, persons that were afraid to join, because of the state’s siege supported the action in several ways.
Some sent water, and other refreshments and some stood up with the protesters against the state. Probably the most graphic example is that of Sariyu Akanmu, a woman in her seventies. She was hawking her wares when she heard the message of revolution being confronted by the bayonets of security personnel. She joined the side of struggle and was beaten up by shameless policemen.
In the aftermath of 5 August, there have been debates on the Nigerian Left about the significance of the ‘Revolution Now!’ campaign. Some mocked the whole campaign of the 5 Augustand ridiculed the limited numbers that eventually protested. Others describe the whole idea of #RevolutionNow as exuberance on the part of some youthful comrades, while others dismiss it for supposedly not being driven by Marxist organisation or aiming at a clearly defined socialist revolution.
The aim here is not to address these criticisms, most of which I regard as being baseless. What we can say is that those groups and activists that have conducted work within the working-class have welcomed #RevolutionNow. With CORE at its centre, they are coalescing into a ‘broad left’ platform.
There are lessons to be drawn from an earlier phase of long-lasting struggle in the recent history of Nigeria, which speak to CORE’s role at this historic moment.
Learning from campaigning for democracy
Between flag independence on 1 October 1960 and the end of the 20st century, the civilian wing of the ruling class was in power for less than ten years. The first and second republics collapsed in the wake of elections in 1966 and 1983 respectively. A transition programme draped in the garb of a third republic ended in a fiasco when the military annulled the presidential elections held on 12 June 1993.
The military government reaped a whirlwind, with the annulment. For six years revolutionary pressures stirred by the pro-democratic movement was in contention with reaction personified as Sani Abacha, a thieving dictator.
Well before the ‘June 12’ elections and subsequent struggles around it, the socialist left and liberal democrats had separately or in temporary alliances, taken on different juntas of the military dictatorship. In 1991, the Campaign for Democracy (CD) was formed as a united front which brought together reformist and revolutionary groups. CD decried the transition programme for what it was and called for a boycott of the elections.
Despite bringing the left together, CD lacked any real influence on the masses up to that point in time. Indeed, at least twice before June 12, it had declared that it would convoke a Sovereign National Conference, the last of these being barely six months before the annulled elections. It is instructive that, apart from not being able convoke any conference sovereign or not, CD never had the capacity to organise a national demonstration before June 12.
Yet the fact that it was nurtured as a coalition with a national spread made it invaluable for seizing the steam of mass anger at the annulment of the elections and transform itself into a mass movement in the opening moments of the June 12 struggle. #RevolutionNow is not only a spark. The concerted organisation across several states, and several cities across the world including London, New York, Geneva, Toronto, Berlin, Rome, Johannesburg and Madrid demonstrate that the scaffolding of TIB/AAC/CORE is raising up the house of popular struggle.
The dialectical approach of Marxism is one of totality, in brief it is impossible to fully understand the particular without grasping its relations with the whole. Thus, it is impossible to fully understand national political phenomena without grasping the international context which it is both part of and shaped by. Indeed, when we cast our minds back to our recent history, this seems clearer.
For example, the call for a Sovereign National Conference and pro-democratic struggle spread across many countries in the early 1990s. It captured the spirit of anti-military/one-party dictatorships in a world where the collapse of the Soviet Empire appeared to justify a so-called ‘end of history’ with socialism consigned to the dustbin of that history (Matters were not helped in some African countries where the call was most strident were state-capitalist dictators had passed their regimes off as being ‘Marxist-Leninist’).
Similarly, and more recently, the 2012 January uprising in Nigeria, was dubbed ‘Occupy Nigeria’ precisely because it was part of a moment of revolt, which the imagery of the 99% occupying everything the 1% had held dear including Wall Street – the high throne of global capitalism.
As some of the critics of #RevolutionNow point out (being correct only in part) ignition points of revolutions are spontaneous. However, apart from the fact that spontaneity is never absolute, it is not after such spontaneity that a nationwide structure for taking the revolutionary moment can be built. Nor will it be built simply on the shoulders of a handful of Marxists.
With #RevolutionNow activists – including many coming into political struggle for the first time – are fanning the embers of simmering revolts, as part of the revolutionary awakening sweeping across the world – in Sudan, Algeria, Catalonia, Chile, Lebanon, Haiti, Hong Kong and Iraq. Our day shall come!
Baba Aye is a member of the Socialist Workers & Youth League (SWL) and Co-Convener of the Coalition for Revolution (CORE).