By: Deji Yesufu
(This article was first published 19th December, 2019 on mouthpiece.com.ng. It is published again in honor of all who died at Lekki Toll Gate protesting injustice in the land on 20/10/2020)
No people in the world ever did achieve their freedom by goody-goody talk and moral suasion: it being an immutable law that all revolution that will succeed must begin in blood, whatever may answer afterwards – Mark Twain
It was a slightly chilly morning one day in 1991 when my parents entered the office of an American immigration officer. They had come to discuss the possibility of having their four boys go live in the United States of America. Mother had been in the USA since 1988 when she went to do a Master’s degree program in photography. By the time she concluded her program in 1990, she was unwilling to return to Nigeria. Back then, Nigeria was actually not a country to return to because the “Maradona”, General Ibrahim Babangida, was still not sure whether or not he would be handing over power to a civilian government. Coupled with the fact that Babangida had just recovered from the bloodiest coup the Nigerian state had ever witnessed—the Gideon Orkar coup, the uncertainty was too great. So, while Babangida played ping-pong with the future of the country, the economy was nose diving.
Mother would not return to such a country. My siblings and I lived with our father in Northern Nigeria. Dad had visited mother for a prolonged period from 1989 to 1991 and that visit had resulted in another baby sister, Doyin – a young woman I have never met even up till this moment that I am writing this. Our younger sister, Wumi, eventually got the favour of the American Immigration and joined mother and father in 1991. My three brothers and I were left behind in this hell of a country called Nigeria. It was in a desperate move to relocate us from Nigeria that my parents had visited the US immigration officer.
After the initial greetings, my dad went straight to the crux of the matter: “How can the boys join us in America?” The situation was dicey. The youngest boy at that time was nine while the oldest was fifteen, but we were not offered the immigrant status that Wumi enjoyed. Mother was desperate.
“What can you do for us,” she asked plaintively.
The immigration officer looked at her and smiled. “Madam, your children will be fine, even if they have to live the rest of their lives in Nigeria.”
“But I don’t want them to live in that country…,” Mother protested.
Dad was silent.
“But you say they are four boys?”
“Boys have a greater tenacity for survival than many of us parent credit them with.”
“It appears you did not get our point: we want our children out of that country.”
“Is Nigeria at war presently?”
“No. Why did you ask?”
“Because even if that country was at war, your boys will survive. In fact, it is boys their age that are known to fight in battles when countries go to war.”
“My children will not be fighting anybody’s war.”
With that statement from my mother, the meeting was about over. Daddy told my brothers and me that story one day after he returned from the USA. Does this story have any relevance to Sowore’s stupid revolution?
In August 2019, Omoyele Sowore and a host of other youths decided to embark on a nationwide protest which they titled “Revolution Now”. Days before the protest began, Sowore made some utterances, the video recording of which was widely shared on social media. He stated that these were not going to be mere protests; he and his fellows were committed to making the nation ungovernable through their street protests. They were seen making graffiti on the walls of public buildings. A day to the commencement of the protest, Sowore was picked up by men of the Department of State Security (DSS). He was in detention for 125 days. After a judge had threatened the DSS with contempt of court, Sowore was released last week Thursday only to be rearrested the following morning. There was outrage from many Nigerians because the DSS sought to arrest him right inside the courtroom.
The social media went agog. Many people who cared little about the activist’s words in the past felt that the action of the DSS was a desecration of Nigeria’s democracy. A security outfit under the Presidency had invaded another arm of government, the judiciary. In one of the debates that I got into while discussing this matter on social media, a lady described the revolution that Sowore was leading as a “stupid” revolution. I knew immediately that whenever I would express my opinion on Sowore’s arrest, I would have to title the article “Sowore’s Stupid Revolution”.
The natural inclination is for most people to forget things and that is why history is an extremely vital aspect of our lives today. We have a lot to learn from history. Nigeria is not a divinely instituted state. The whole geographical contraption that is called Nigeria was put together by the British who also instituted the system of government we run today. The Nigerian people have chosen to remain within this geographical context only because we believe that our staying together is better than our shattering up in pieces. If we would, however, stay together, certain minimums must be in place. One of such is good governance.
Omoyele Sowore and his cohorts, like other Nigerians, have rights within the constitution of the country. They have chosen to exercise those rights to make their views known to all. Sowore left his base in the United States of America and ran a political campaign to be President in 2018. He started sensitizing the Nigerian people of his willingness to run for President a whole six months before political campaigns began. He put his all into the effort. When the nation went to the polls and the votes cast for him and his party were counted, they amounted to a meagre 30,000 plus. Sowore felt that he had been robbed. He felt that the same system that robbed him had also been robbing other Nigerians of their rights to the basic necessities of life. Sowore’s protest, or revolution like he calls it, is NOT stupid. Sowore has only put into action what many of us have in mind.
We should remind ourselves that democracy was not always the system of government in this country. We once had military rule. In fact, at some point in our national life, the military had ruled this country for no less than 75% of our years as an independent state. It was the Nigerian people who fought, tooth and nail, to return the military to the barracks. The likes of Omoyele Sowore led the campaign then. If democracy, as we have it, is not delivering on its promises, it is the same Nigerians that must call for a change. The means to change will come in many names. Sowore has only chosen to call his campaign a revolution. And seeing the manner with which the state is clamping down on a legitimate protest, I wonder whether all of us shouldn’t be joining in this protest.
It has been almost thirty years since my parents visited that immigration office in the United States of America. The four boys my mother sought to find refuge for in America are still in Nigeria battling to survive. Mother died in 2006. Daddy turned seventy July this year. My sisters are all grown up and married, living with their families in the US. My brothers and I are all in our forties now and we have still not gone to America. We have been waging a war of survival here in Nigeria and yet our story is just one of millions in Nigeria; in fact, we would consider ourselves privileged. We are not yet where we hope to be though. If we would get there, it is certain that we would have to make certain sacrifices that young men and women make in order to better their lot in their countries of birth. This is what Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikwe did in the 1940/50s. This is what Beko Ransome-Kuti and Femi Falana did in the 1990s. This is what Omoyele Sowore and all young men in this country must do today. It is young men, with strength, that fight wars for the betterment of their nation. Again, the context of the fight would take many names. Sowore has chosen to call his “Revolution Now” and this revolution is not stupid.