By Lekan Sote
Aisha Yesufu expressed concern that Nigerians, who usually complain about failure of governance in Nigeria, failed to show up for a scheduled protest march on Independence Day. The film footage showing some protesters were scanty, almost vacant.
Some of those who managed to come to protest admitted that their number was probably not too impressive. You could see that the images on the footages were up close, probably resulting from an attempt by the cameramen to cut off the vacant space behind the sparse number of protesters, to create the impression of a huge turnout.
An obviously disappointed Aisha complained, “We call ourselves the most populous country in Nigeria… But when it comes to protests, we are the least populous country. We have cowards as citizens. People are afraid to die…
“Nigerians make demands (meaning they routinely ask for financial assistance) from fellow citizens, but they don’t demand from the government (mostly made up of) people looting them, packing their things (meaning their commonwealth) away.”
TV footage showed a number of protesters in Lagos, asking in a Yoruba chant, if what currently obtains in Nigeria, where citizens are ravaged by hunger, is a democracy. They probably confused the concept of democracy with existentialist issues of the “stomach infrastructure.”
A comedian suggests Nigerians are tired of carrying placards at protests without getting anything at the end of the day. Some workers have admitted privately that they would not have joined the strike against hike in electricity and petrol prices if the labour unions had not called it off earlier in the week.
The comedian admonishes the youths to take their fate in their hands, and actively participate in politics, so they can make positive change in governance and the fortunes of the polity, rather than continue to vote for old generation politicians.
Former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, who is also former Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, seems to agree with this comedian who obviously understands a thing about the power of active participation in politics.
He says, “I don’t think that the people (lying politicians, opportunistic labour leaders and charlatan civil society agitators), who say they are fighting for the Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba, are really not interested. When they get (into government) at the end of the day, it’s about them and their families.”
He adds, “The first thing to recognise is that we must get away from this sense that holding political office is what makes you a representative of the people.” He obviously thinks concepts like federal character put a lie to the posturing of public service in the interest of the people.
In spite of Aisha’s complaints, it appears a good number of protesters came out, so that the Lagos State Police Command was compelled to arrest as many as 30 protesters for “unlawful assembly and conduct likely to cause a breach of public peace” on Independence Day.
To further confirm that some Nigerian citizens did conduct themselves in manner that appeared like protests, Police Inspector Adudu Innocent thought he should hit The PUNCH photojournalist, Kayode Jaiyeola, with a stick.
And Lagos State Police Commissioner, Hakeem Odumosu, weighed in, ordering the detention and orderly room trial of Innocent. Odumosu also personally took Jaiyeola for treatment at the Lagos Cottage Hospital at Area F, GRA, Ikeja. The next day, October 2, police arraigned the protesters reported to be mainly members of the #RevolutionNow group led by Omoyele Sowore, civil rights activist and publisher of online SAHARAREPORTERS, in court.
To be sure, Section 40 of the Nigerian Constitution, which gives citizens the right to peaceful assembly and association, provides that “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely, and associate with other persons, and in particular, he may form or belong to any… association for the protection of his interests.”
With this empowerment of citizens by the Constitution, Nigerians really have no need for turncoat trade unionists, and opportunistic civil society activists, in order to exercise their rights to protests.
As a matter of fact, protests should be organic, natural, not forced or contrived. They must emanate from the indignation of the people, even if more savvy organisers would be needed to articulate their grievances.
Karl Marx, probably the most radical and pro-masses political theorist admitted that it would take the organisational capabilities of the middle-class, for the lumpen proletarians to achieve their dreams to free themselves from the yoke of the bourgeoisie.
It took Vladimir Lenin, a lawyer, and son of a modestly prosperous physics and maths professor, and the radical, left wing Bolshevik intellectual–revolutionaries, to organise the 1917 October Revolution in Russia.
Before that, Maximilian Robespiere, another lawyer, and the Jacobins took the initiative, leading the plebeians to the storming of the Bastille in 1789. The Jacobins, a political club, referred to as Friends of the Constitution, was another band of intellectual-revolutionaries who plotted the downfall of the French monarchy, and its replacement by republicanism.
Mass movement is evident in the protests against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on the streets of the capital city, Minsk. After her husband, Sergei, who stood against Lukashenko, was arrested on May 29, 2020, Svetlana Tikhanovsky continued the fight on his behalf.
Apart from being president since 1994, the presidential election Lukashenko reportedly won in 2020, was marred by widespread electoral malpractices and rigging. That got up the dander of many Belarusians.
As you could see, the street protests continued, even after Maria Kolesnikova, comely ally of Svetlana, was abducted from the streets of Minsk, by masked men believed to be of the state secret police. They demanded the right to choose their leaders.
The Yoruba travelled that route after the Western Nigerian Election was rigged in 1965. The only regret is that they went to the extreme “Operation Wetie,” which led to deaths, destruction of properties and the eventual incursion of the military into Nigeria’s political arena.
Also, in 1993, after the criminal annulment of the presidential election won by Bashorun MKO Abiola, Nigerians took to the streets, to demand the reversal of that pronouncement, and the return of the military to the barracks. The military got the message and left.
State actors must appreciate that the indignation of the people is the fodder that feeds the resolve of leaders. Democracy is hinged on choice, derived from the concept of individualism, in turn, derived from the Age of Enlightenment that spread over most of Old World Europe, and the New World of the America’s, in the 18th century.
Anyone who agrees with American Supreme Court Judge Louis Brandeis that the office of the citizen is the highest in any country will also agree with French political theorist Montesquieu that the sovereignty of a nation resides in the will of the citizens.
But if the citizens cavalierly outsource their protests to jobber equivalents of what some derogatorily describe as “prayer contractors,” who fast and pray on people’s behalf for a fee, they will remain victims of the conspiracy between the state and the “middlemen.” Governments only take those who boldly mass up to demand their rights seriously.
Section 39(1) of Nigeria’s constitution provides that “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression…” as long as he does not breach public order and rights of others.
– Twitter @lekansote1