5. 16. 2023

Nigeria’s Revolution Now

Omole Ibukun

On August 5, 2020, after a long trip from another state in Nigeria and as the COVID-19 lockdown eased for a bit, I walked into the Ikeja under-bridge in Lagos state, which was supposed to be the venue of
an annual Day of Rage protest. This protest, instituted a year earlier by the #RevolutionNow movement led by Omoyele Sowore, aimed at challenging inequality and corruption in Nigeria’s politics. Omoyele Sowore is the publisher of a whistleblowing news platform called Sahara Reporters, and he was a presidential candidate in the 2019 general election in Nigeria, in which President Muhammadu Buhari achieved a controversial second-term win

By the time I arrived at the protest at Ikeja under-bridge, the police were already using tear gas, and chasing and arresting protesters. While I’d crossed state borders to attend this protest, I hadn’t taken a central role in it, because at the time I shared the attitude of Nigeria’s traditional left organizations towards the emergence of the #RevolutionNow movement. The traditional left had criticized the movement for its lack of a clear socialist vision, a shortcoming that also characterized Omoyele Sowore’s 2019 presidential campaign. But after that 2019 election, the movement adopted a more radical political stance, starting with a name change – from #TakeItBack Movement to #RevolutionNow Movement – and culminating, recently, in Omoyele Sowore’s adoption of a socialist manifesto for his 2023 presidential election campaign. 

These developments have shifted consciousness in the country in a leftward direction. Traditional left organizations, not only in Nigeria but around the world, need to learn how this needed shift was achieved.


Decentralizing to expand grassroots reach

The #RevolutionNow movement developed a mode of organization that represents an alternative to the over-centralization common on the left. The movement relied on a decentralized network of local activists and organizers who were connected not by formal meetings, but rather by attending solidarity actions protesting the imprisonment of dissidents and police brutality. While the country’s traditional left organizations rely primarily on formal meetings to raise the consciousness of their members, the #RevolutionNow movement prioritized social media tactics, using such platforms to share educational materials and organize collective political actions. By these means, the #RevolutionNow movement created coalitions among a wide range of groups. These coalitions became networks of solidarity and political education, where important debates about the strategies and goals of political action took place.

While Nigeria’s traditional left organizations have tended to centralize leadership, a tendency that could also be seen in some of the leaders of the #RevolutionNow movement, the movement’s decentralized character allowed it to reach out to many communities, organizing and mobilizing at the grassroots level. Decentralized outreach can engage more people than would be reachable through a more centralized organizing structure, helping to identify leaders across communities. And the significant numbers of people mobilized can help push even the most strongly centralist leaders towards democratic decentralization. This approach to grassroots outreach and mobilization, conducted both in-person and through media, can serve as a useful example for the global left.


Navigating the complexities of generational politics

Nigeria and other developing countries today have a burgeoning young population. Given this demographic reality – where there is a reduction in the young population in the so-called developed world, while young populations numerically predominate in the so-called developing countries – left organizations in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa, for instance, often have a sharper focus on youth issues than their equivalents in the Global North. 

Yet we should recognize that ageism is a critical challenge in both of those contexts. In the so-called developed countries, ageism means older people who aren’t rich are often treated as undesirable economic burdens on society, a view that serves the agenda of capitalist privatizers who wish to ensure that responsibility for taking care of older or disabled people no longer rests on the government but on the poor masses. In Nigeria and the rest of Africa, the situation is different but also shaped by ageist oppression, as traditional gerontocracy represses young people in a bid to uphold authoritarian forms of rule.

Young people were the driving force of the #RevolutionNow movement. The movement harnessed their energy, courage, and creativity, mobilizing them to confront issues that affect especially but not exclusively youth, such as high unemployment, the high cost of tuition in schools, police brutality, and institutionalized homophobia. One important expression of this phenomenon was the #EndSARS youth revolt against police brutality that shook Nigeria in 2020. Traditional left organizations must invite the youth who are the future to engage with historical materialist understandings of the past, emphasizing the ways that shifting relations of material production have shaped struggles for power in class societies.


Forging new unities

Perhaps the most important lesson from the #RevolutionNow movement in Nigeria is that it prioritized uniting activists from civil society, student groups, and labour unions in the field of struggle against oppression. The movement recognized the interlocking nature of oppressions and tried to show up at every front of the struggle against systemic injustice. The movement addressed issues of environmental justice, African liberation, queer liberation, and workers’ rights, among other matters. It sought unity through solidarity, not through a narrowness of focus.

To fully exercise collective power, it is important that layers of a social movement share a goal, a common denominator for unity. Achieving this unity is an ongoing practical process, sustained by collective action on many different issues of oppression and injustice.

As a new period of struggle opens up globally, with anti-war movements and anti-privatization movements taking centre stage, it is important to apply these lessons. We must speak of the #RevolutionNow movement and others like it, learning from their experiences to prepare for a revolutionary dawn.

Omole Ibukun is an investigative journalist with an online development news platform based in Abuja, Nigeria, and a development communications consultant. An activist for free speech and media rights since his days of student activism at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, he identifies as an anarcho-socialist, ideologically. Twitter: @OmoleIbukun10