The story of a revolution can be strange. Sometimes it can start because of pepper like the Yoruba Wars that changed the face of the tribe, even some say Nigeria, forever. Bread can provoke it as in the rumble of the French Revolution that capsized the history of Europe and even civilisation.
Or the killing of a mere duke as in the Sarajevo potentate. It sparked the First World War that altered the course of the 20th century. Or even because of the svelte vanity of a belle known in myth as Helen of Troy. For her puff of passion, men growled in randy waves and set off a revolutionary conflict. The Poet Homer memorialised it into an epic of the Greek world in The Illiad.
Nor is the meaning of revolution so easy to understand. When a mere coup happens, or when a king dies, some say it is enough to pass that definitional muster. Yet on fewer occasions in history do actors in a revolution know they are fermenting a fundamental change. They tend, as historian David Thomson noted, to pursue a narrow goal, maybe to bring down the price of bread as in the French turbulence. But they end up winning the big prize, which is a change of system.
When they start, the players expect to attain a goal, in their lifetime they achieve a second, but history proves they have accomplished a third. Such is the facile virtue of human life. So when Omoyele Sowore blustered about a revolution, did he really know what he meant? Did the DSS really go to school and studied the ages of revolution? It is one of the clichés of the world. But we know it when we see it.
The Sowore case was a comedy before the DSS made it a farce. It was like Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in which a servant permitted himself the grandiose self-belief that he could marry the countess. In her case, the countess locked up Malvolio for delusion of grandeur, not a threat to her chambers. In our case, the DSS locked up Sowore, making the Shakespeare’s play to cry for a sequel. Sowore had a mere 33,000 votes compared to Buhari’s millions. So, how come the mighty is afraid of the scanty? It is one of the ironies.
Another irony is that the DSS is supposed to know if Sowore had the capacity to foment a revolution. Was he armed? Where is the evidence? They arrested him first, and then sought evidence to justify it. We can recall the case of Aikhomu when IBB arrested a certain business mogul. The then IBB deputy announced that the government was going to jail Umana. His press aide Nduka Irabor pointed out he had to be prosecuted first. Aikhomu, acting as though he had acquired new wisdom, quipped: “Yes, we will try him and then jail him.” He did not know he had become at once the prosecutor and judge. In a military era, what did we expect? But in a democracy, that chapter is haunting our DSS.
Did it occur to them that a man who could not pull an ant’s percentage of Buhari’s voters could not stir the country, a man who is even in crisis in his own party over how he spent election funds? A man who was also suspended by his party for playing monkey with its money? He may be innocent, but the charge hangs over him. So he could not mobilise the party that gave him that small following. When threatens to overthrow a leviathan on a video announcement?
Again, what was special about Sowore’s? Yes, he uttered reckless words, but they were empty. In democracies, we are stronger when we allow free speech than when we muzzle it. Free speech, especially of the reckless sort, tends to amount to nothing because of the greater resilience of democracy. He has his say, but we all go our ways.
Did we not witness a few years ago the world-wide Occupy movement, triggered in the United States. Did they occupy anywhere other than the geographic spaces of their protests? Did we not have it here? Did we not see Oby Ezekwesili in her protests? Did she threaten the system? Did Buhari himself not lead protests in his quests to be president? Did he not utter the blood and baboon rhetoric? Did it overthrow the system?
The DSS cast a vote of no confidence in itself by arresting and lionising the online publisher. It showed that it had no facts to work on. The sort of lack of intelligence has been exhibited in the Boko Haram, in the surge of banditry, in the kidnaps, et al. Rather than focus on where it has failed mightily, it is working up itself and the nation into a meaningless frenzy over a fringe revolutionary. Even when the protests were to happen, it became the news of police impunity rather than the protesters who were probably too few to raise any dust.
Revolution Now slogan was sweet but impotent. It has made Sowore into a sort of counterfeit Che, with the sense of messianic impatience. He is tapping into a malaise in the land, with hunger, fear and despair tearing apart many homes today. He seems to be making himself into the urgency that John F. Kennedy uttered: “If not us, who? If not now, when.” Hence his “Now.” But revolutions are not a matter of logic. It does not happen because the people are in deep distress, or because it seems ripe. As Lenin noted we can have a revolutionary situation without a revolution. Marx thought his revolution would happen in England or Germany, but Russia held the torch. Nigeria has been ripe for revolution since I was a school boy. It seems riper now, but it guarantees nothing. Revolutionaries must address our joint pains and know how to bring us jointly to treat them.
The irony is that revolutions tend to happen when the people see that things are getting better. In our case, they are getting worse. As Tocqueville explained, “in a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.”
It can be in the people’s minds, but it may just be a wish. John Adams said the American Revolution was “in the minds and hearts of the people.” They were fortunate. We are not yet. When Lenin was in Switzerland, he had many self-doubts and enemies within the revolutionary circuit. Nobel laureate Alexandre Solzhenitsyn, no friend of Marxists, novelised Lenin’s lonely moments in his book, Lenin in Zurich. Some of the men Lenin did not like he described as revolutionary cretins.
We may have a lot of cretinism today in the civil rights and revolutionary society in Nigeria. A few of course are genuine. We should not treat them by locking up, but by addressing the concerns of democracy. And just as Fred Hampton wrote, “You can jail a revolutionary, but you can’t jail a revolution.” Ask Mandela in his grave.
He performed well at the screening, answering questions with ease and intelligence about his performance as commissioner in the NCC.
He is also a journalist of long standing who played a role for The News magazine in the rough-and-tumble NADECO days.
A polyglot, he speaks Hausa like a native. We expect him to do well as an ambassador of journalism, to show that journalists are “write na do” and talk na do.”
B.O. turns 80
Prof Benjamin Olatunji Oloruntimehin, FNAL, former president of Historical Society of Nigeria and former President of The Nigerian Academy of Letters, the historian of excellence and writer of engaging prose, just turn 80. He was also one of the best teachers I had in my life.
A certain classmate from the East wore a chief’s cap to the class, and he asked why he wore such a cap in Ife, and wondered if he could wear it at home. He also remarked about the reigning Pope, and commended him wryly, saying if we had a few more vocal men like that, the world would be in trouble.
That was before an attempt on his life. He often asked students to digest the subject before writing, likening them to medieval monks who did nothing but copy notes. “Grab the taproot first,” he cautioned.
Our classmates, including now deputy police commissioner Austin Odion and Osagiator Ojo, often recall his insights into the term indirect rule.
The language, he explained, was intended to mitigate the colonialist’s guilt by saying they ruled through local agencies, whereas they gave all the instructions.
Some of us called him Segu Tukulor Empire, a reference to one of his masterpieces.