Sowore: Society, Sanity, Safety, and Stability
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH OMOYELE SOWORE, PART 3
In recent years, unfolding events in Nigeria have clearly shown that, in all ramifications, the country has swerved away from the trajectory of peace that was meant to be the facilitator of its exponential growth. Nigeria is immersed in intra-country conflicts with different agents of destruction claiming the perpetration of violence for the displacement of extant peace needed for the sustainability of economic and political expansion. Hardly does a day go without overwhelming instances of security breaches and challenges that usually lead to random killings, kidnapping, banditry, terrorism, depending on the mood of the evil perpetrators and ultimately resulting in the loss of lives in tons and metrics.
But as fearful as these events are, they are not detachable from the political gerrymandering as many of the incidences of attacks reveal political schematics that are believed to influence elections and then economic power in the country. As a result, while the need for political calculations is critical, at what point does moral values help to tame the overambitious political lords in the country who orchestrate violence due to their intention to control the political and economic prosperity of the country? In the recent Toyin Falola Interview Series with Omoyele Sowore, some illuminating things were revealed about Nigeria.
Asked about the possibility of reconciliation between the aggressive social extravagance in display by the wealthy Nigerian individuals who in recent times gave the country a vivid spectacle of opulence in social celebrations and the growing insecurities plaguing the nation, Sowore provided a stimulating view that gave an intellectual sensation to the issues making rounds in the country. We should be informed that featuring in these social events are the Obi Cubana’s burial ceremony of his departed lovely mother, the grandstanding wedding ceremony of the Nigerian First Son, Yusuf Buhari, with his affluent bride; the birthday party of Bobrisky, a famous transgender man in the country, among others.
To have a chaotic national environment at the level that it exists in Nigeria, yet have humongous parties accompanying this dysfunctional system, is something that should interest and stimulate an observer of the country’s snail-pace development. People throw parties in the country to the extent that non-residents in Nigeria will begin to doubt if it is true that the chaos in the country is of sufficient magnitude enough to destroy the country. The spectacle of opulence and riches displayed in these social gatherings is why Nigeria is dubbed a country with the happiest people on the planet.
However, it seems Sowore has a beautiful perspective on that. According to him, Nigeria is a country full of fascinating internal contradictions, some of which can be explained using the sociology of the country’s political anatomy. For one, Nigeria and Nigerians are known to be good examples of social groups who use social activities to maintain their sanity. In its basic definition, social fun helps keep the people’s sanity so that it does not frail and fail in the presence of competing disasters that engulf the country.
Whether consumed by the display of opulence by the ruling class or the economic trailblazers in the country, the bulk of the citizens unwind their overburdened minds with shows and parties that give them memorable experiences. Whether they participate in it or not, whether the sources of the funds used to organize the parties are legitimately gotten or not, Nigerians consider these moral questions secondary when it comes to social gatherings and events that foster communal bonding. This culture has permeated their social existence so much that even during electioneering when campaign promises and manifestos are supposed to be flying and taking rounds, Nigerians have converted that into an opportunity to organize social events.
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According to Sowore, beneath the throwing up of parties and the organization of social events are overburdened minds nearing depression and disappointment. They have resorted to using these social events, either by participating in them or watching the video recordings of these events, as sedative contents that help to distract them from, if not help them forget entirely, the expanding depression-inviting engagements and activities of their ruling and political class. This is what psychologists call a “defense mechanism”. Nigerians have carefully devised ways by which they can forget the overwhelming experiences they are subjected to by the class meant to ensure their economic and security safety and stability in the first place. In another language, such actions are called “coping mechanisms”.
It would be easy for an outsider to immediately ascribe happiness to a people who refuse to fall into depression despite the various pains and anguish they are taken through by the government of their country. While outsiders would formulate their opinions based on the outward demonstrations that the people show, the people themselves use the experience for different purposes, part of which was to maintain their sanity. Also, being happy in the face of terrorism is not something to disconnect from the people’s religious beliefs, as religion has taught them to give thanks in every circumstance, no matter how crude. For a people without a social safety net, no political dividends, no governmental support system, and the absence of opportunities to transform their conditions into something worth considering, if they can struggle individually and achieve maximum success at the end, they would be keenly interested in throwing parties to ease their tension and to celebrate themselves, their bravery, perseverance, dedication, and focus.
In another instance, however, the display of intimidating wealth and its encouragement in Nigeria has the underlying purpose of distracting the people. The Nigerian economic class understands how very important it is to distract the people once in a while to take their minds off the truckload of evils and injustices that are done to them from time to time. Therefore, when creating their social affairs, they ensure that it becomes big enough to temporarily distract the people from what matters. Of course, this argument is tenable on many grounds. For one, President Muhammadu Buhari enjoyed public patronage in his pre-ascension period for being someone with outstanding austerity measures and an individual who would be frugal with public wealth. The show of wealth at the wedding ceremony of the son of a man whom Nigerian citizens felt was financially prudent demonstrates that he also believes that the people have to be distracted occasionally.
All the above led to the question of revolution, as Professor Moses Ochonu, one of Sowore’s interviewers, brought it to the discussion ground. This question is necessary for different reasons. Despite the myriad of interests that run along the lines of ethnicity and political identity in the country, questions about the need for a revolution in Nigeria or whether it is the solution to the Nigerian problem become contextually reinforcing because they instigate a more intellectually inspired conversation about the country and are also crucial to finding lasting solutions to the problems in the country. Swiftly and purposefully, Sowore grabbed the question as though he was not interested in it, settling on the surface of the communication ground where it was raised. He responded that years of keen observation and participation in the democratic and military culture of the country have revealed to him why the country cannot be steered back into the right trajectory with ceremonial interventions that come occasionally, ceramic innovations that sauntered their way into the Nigerian political or administrative systems, or the superficial programs that the power hunters initiate to give a false impression that they are genuinely interested in the development of the country. Instead, there needs to be a revolutionary-like set of actions and actors that will shake the country back into its deserved position.
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For a country that is perpetually stuck in the net of capitalist leaders whose primary interest about it is strictly the extraction of its economic resources for personal gains, Sowore continued, the inability to stage a revolutionary action would yield no positive or desirable results. From personal experiences, Sowore has gathered that the country is not only run by the powerful elites whose fixation about the amassment of the country’s resources is nearly hallucinatory, but they are also a group of organized criminals who have nothing close to the patriotic spirit needed to fire the country into its appropriate position in the committee of countries.
Because these people cut across different ethnic backgrounds, political groups and parties, and diverse economic enclaves, the commonality of their interests makes it appear like they are intricately interested in the sporadic and exponential growth of the country. Meanwhile, they are only concerned about expanding their financial networks to continue to live rent-free in the minds of innocent and defenseless Nigerians and preserve those juicy opportunities and positions for their generations yet unborn. This culture has made it possible for the transference of wealth from generation to generation in Nigeria. Scientifically and even realistically, the only way to forestall this continuity is through revolution, Sowore fired.
Our guest answered intellectually and experientially about the possibility of revolution in a multi-layered, pluralistic, and heterogeneous country like Nigeria. Sowore argues that the obsessive dream he has about a revolution in Nigeria under the heading of #RevolutionNow, for which he is popular in recent times, is rooted in verifiable research where it is established that only six per cent of the population is what is needed for the staging of revolutionary actions. He submitted that if six per cent of the population of a country, group, or gathering is convinced that their situation is dreadful, they are numerically strong enough to kick-start activities that would potentially push them into a new beginning, a new dawn.
However, it should be emphasized that this group that belongs to the tiny minority must be well-convinced about the struggle because that would be their visa to the commitment to their course of actions. In other words, they would not be irrevocably committed to that revolutionary action on the occasion that they do not see the reason for their position. This means that they must have been adequately informed about the struggles of revolution that they would commit themselves to, the results it would bring, and the very different ways by which they can enter into a new beginning.
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Contrary to this sentiment and orientation, Sowore argued that revolutions take more time than what a feeble mind can imagine or condone. Revolutions begin by changing the orientation of the people that have been wrongly conditioned by their leaders’ long history of misrule. This is necessary because the first ground of revolutionary actions is in the mind of the people. Although in the Nigerian, and maybe African situations, people have wild expectations towards all revolutionary actions, and interestingly, they want these expectations managed and fulfilled. This means that they are appropriately and convincingly educated about the course of action they are about to embark on before being gradually mobilized for serious emancipation actions.
For Sowore, a revolution is like planting a seed that agriculturally needs sufficient time to germinate, grow, bear fruits, and then be ripe for harvesting. Whereas the result of revolutions cannot be doubted when it is successful, it requires more than the surface commitment that people see in everyday situations. In some very extreme circumstances, revolutionaries sacrifice their freedom, comfort, and even lives to pass across a solid message because they would not only have convinced their disciples about the necessity of their actions, but they would also have told them why there should be a radical change.
As intellectuals sense problems kilometers ahead before many others, it did not take Professor Moses Ochonu a long time to discern Sowore’s message, although he had his concerns. He wrapped these concerns in another thought-provoking question when he asked Sowore who would be the targets in his proposed revolution and what the revolution would look like. It is important to note that the situation of the Nigerian political system is different in habit and focus from the popular revolutions staged in history. First, Nigeria is a heterogeneous country that also has diverse religious groups and interests. These identities are very easy for the people to retire into them when national concerns are debated just because they are concerned about keeping their interests intact. Second, this diversity gives opportunities for sold-out ones to mastermind the downfall of actions by betraying the course of freedom that revolutions promise.
Of course, Sowore did not appear to be unprepared for a question like this. Almost in a similar swift manner, he responded that the primary targets of all revolutionary actions are the oppressive class, the political groups that perpetually frustrate the trying and thriving masses with agonizing policies in disposition and outlook. However, the determination of the oppressive class in this context goes in line with those identified by Karl Marx, who happened to be a strong voice in revolutionary philosophy. The oppressors begin from the political class, the excessively capitalist icons, religious leaders who sabotage radical development and changes because they are close to the political class, and everyone who is involved either actively or passively in the oppression of the common people. This is necessary mainly because the people would have received a different orientation that would open their eyes to the myriad of evils perpetrated by the neocolonialists and motivate them to take up new ideological convictions that are critically different from their old ways. In this time, they would see oppression for oppression and not some celestial conspiracy to hold them persistently under the carpet.
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Meanwhile, the psychosocial consequence of such a shift in thinking is that people would lose interest in things they used to admire obsessively. People would be able to detect lies and political shenanigans immediately and would elect against the oppressors whenever they consider taking the route of oppression. In essence, the results of all revolutionary actions are predictable because they would install a new social and political order, among many other things. Even when the positions of revolutionaries appear to show a lofty outcome when carried out diligently, there is the clause of diverse ethnicities that potentially stands in the way of all prospective radical movements. However, Nigerians gradually agree that while revolutionary actions and achievements can appear too distant, something can be done to achieve almost similar effects in the country.
And this is where the conversation around regionalism and restructuring finds its place. It is believed that the tense atmosphere of the country can be doused when the country is organized along regional lines so that the activities of each region would be managed internally, and it would drastically reduce the burden of responsibilities that appear to be choking the government at the center. When the country is restructured, all the growing insecurities and economic desertification will experience acceleration improvement as strategies to be used would be contextually suitable and not inherently conflictual. Regional autonomy, devolution of power, resource control, among others, are byproducts of the restructuring agenda, and when it is granted, it will give the country the deserved respite. To be candid and fair to Sowore, the arguments in support of restructuring, even when they appear to be superfluous and overwhelming, need to be carefully studied before being railroaded into the people’s minds.
Different people who call for restructuring have irreconcilable ideas of what the nature of restructuring should be. Some are pointedly pursuing the agenda because it satisfies their desire and fulfills their fantasy. Supporting restructuring, according to Sowore, is not something difficult, especially when one has a clear picture of what the concept is and how it can be achieved. However, the problem lies in the understanding that if the people are not well convinced about the ameliorative project of restructuring, it would be difficult to direct them into following a project for which they have little or no knowledge. He further argued that his reservation about restructuring as an alternative solution to the problem facing the country is informed by the very belief that some of the individuals who are responsible for the grounding of Nigerian political or economic affairs are at the forefront of the campaign for restructuring, which further justifies some people’s suspicion about the movement. In essence, people pushing for different movements may find it difficult to buy into the restructuring agenda.
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At this point, Sowore is hinting that every interventionist ideology in Nigeria usually has its weaknesses because interests are always conflicting when they reach the climax of their agenda. Revolutionary actions are different because they deal with the sensitization of the people and then mobilize them for actions that would bring about their emancipation and liberation from the shackles of financial and economic deprivations from years of oppression. People’s skepticism about restructuring comes from the understanding that they are well divided along ethnolinguistic lines, and this is a weakness that is easily exploited by the ruling class whenever they see that people are carried away or engrossed in engagements that appear like better alternatives on the surface.
Keeping the country’s sanity without losing its identity requires more than the concoction of ideologies whose values would evaporate in no time when they get to the heat of the struggles. Obviously, Sowore wants what is best for his country, and the personal sacrifices he has made to ensure this are enough evidence of his seriousness and commitment.
(This is the first report on the interview with Omoyele Sowore on September 5, 2021. For part of the transcript, YouTube: https://youtu.be/EoB7kTep0i0 Facebook:
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Toyin Falola Interviews Holds Conversation With Kunle Afolayan
Touching Base With Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
By Toyin Falola
Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is a well-versed law professor, international relations activist, and commentator. It was delightful to have her join us, alongside Miriam Oke, Chido Onumah, and Jibrin Hussaini, at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, where we discussed Nigeria’s 2023 elections.
If anything, the primaries being organised in the nation’s two most influential parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress, are pointers to what should be expected of the 2023 Nigerian elections. As is customary, the primaries have been rife with electoral malpractices, vote-buying, and unscrupulous voting figures, and there is a shocking video posted on Twitter by Bashir Ahmad, former Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, who lost his bid to secure the ticket of the APC to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives primaries in his home state of Kano. The video shows how supposed delegates are handed pre-ticked ballot boxes and are asked to put them in the ballot box without even batting an eyelid at the malpractice.
The ball is being set in motion. Atiku Abubakar is the People’s Democratic Party flag bearer for the presidential seat. The All Progressives Congress has recently screened its presidential hopefuls and will soon appoint its flagbearer. Peter Obi, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party to the Labour Party and has since been elected as the party’s flagbearer for the presidential seat, is a seeming third wheel in the routine two-dominant-party multi-party system practised in the country. The stage is set. Or is it?
This piece is not much of a sequel to the one on Chido Onumah’s perspectives on the 2023 elections because Dr Akiyode-Afolabi had her unique views on the questions asked. Nonetheless, it will follow a similar pattern, where we will examine points touched on by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi during the interview.
Electoral Violence and Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
Sad as it may seem, electoral violence is an immemorial issue rocking the Nigerian state. Throughout all its republics, Nigeria has witnessed killings and maiming during election periods — whether at the polling booths on election day or among political rivals setting targets on each other’s backs. Nigeria’s electoral process is peculiar, involving the recruitment of violent electoral mercenaries, often branded as party thugs. These thugs sign off their loyalty to a political party and wreak havoc on the party’s behalf — from ballot snatching to intimidating voters to bow to their party’s will.
In the Nigerian political scene, these party thugs sit with political kings. They are deemed crucial to the electoral process and candidates’ success. The recruitment and payment of these party thugs consume huge financial resources. However, political leaders and public officeholders fail to consider the expected uselessness of the party thugs within the governance period of three to four years that separate pre-election and election years. Having tasted ill-gotten wealth that far surpasses what they could have earned honestly, and without any honest and paying job, these party thugs resort to all sorts of vice to pay their bills and keep themselves in shape. Thus, it is not uncommon to find that party thugs become robbers, kidnappers, bandits, and street-terrorising thugs who incessantly cut holes through the state’s peace, security, and quiet.
In most cases, we would rather relate the incessant kidnappings and unrest to unknown gunmen or herdsmen-bandits rather than the true perpetrators of the evil — anarchical party thugs with weapons they were equipped with during the election period. Thus, the rivalry for power and politicians’ insatiable desire for control, regardless of the extent they go to get it, could be strongly linked to the violent crises that have rocked the country for a while now.
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For Dr Akiyode-Afolabi, violent political mercenaries in Nigeria and the political aspirants and parties who are their enablers act out of an abundant enjoyment of sheer impunity — the knowledge that they can do and undo, wreak whatever havoc they want to, without bearing the consequences. Although several of the perpetrators of this electoral violence are known, nothing is done to bring them to justice, further reinforcing the need to carry out their vice during the next election. Over the years, electoral violence has become a norm in Nigeria, and nothing is being done to curb the menace, especially in punishing the perpetrators. Thus, the electorate have joined the camp of political aspirants and political thugs who see electoral violence as part of the electioneering process in Nigeria. For members of the electorate who have difficulty processing electoral violence as a part of the electioneering process, the option of apathy kicks to the surface — especially among women and the youth who earnestly believe politics in Nigeria is a dirty game, and electoral violence is inevitable. Thus, it is not surprising that Nigeria has had a low voter turnout over the years.
The case of electoral violence and the state’s reaction to it is like several other policies in Nigeria. While the Electoral Act was proactively drafted to cover electoral violence and how to punish offenders and culprits, there has not been any action to make that part of the Act functional. It is akin to the numerous nation-improving policies whose existence has never gone beyond the paper. If we were to dig to the roots of why the aspect of the Nigerian Electoral Act that punishes electoral violence has not been enforced, we would be quick to find out that the average Nigerian politician is either directly or indirectly complicit. Thus, those at the helm and those willing to take over from them are all involved, making them reluctant to enforce the punishment for electoral violence, that is, if they consider punishing the crime at all.
Nigeria’s Three-faced Need and the Importance of a Long-term Agenda
The need for a long-term agenda should not be misconstrued as supporting the cabalistic unending Northern presidency agenda or any other agenda that does not mean well for Nigeria as a nation. Rather, it represents Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s thoughts on what is truly needed to get Nigeria out of its current quagmire. The international relations activist considers the 2023 elections in Nigeria a big issue for the country, particularly because there are more people interested in the presidential position than we have had in quite a while. Nonetheless, most of these aspirants are people who have either held a political position or currently hold one. They are people we know so well. Given their deeds while in office, it will be difficult to convince any right-thinking Nigerian that there is hope for the country if any of the candidates being paraded were elected as president.
The double tragedy that is Buhari’s eight years in office has seen the country go from bad to worse. The country’s debts keep piling up, with no way of repaying them year after year. The people are impoverished, and the currency continually suffers a blow of worthlessness and devaluation, inflation, and the unemployment rate keeps rising. To make matters worse are the rife killings, banditry, and the near state of anarchy that the country has been thrown into. Has any of the numerous candidates aspiring for the presidential seat shown they are the visionary yet pragmatic leaders that can help Nigeria realise a remarkable positive change?
Careful consideration of the likeliest players at the 2023 polls, vis-à-vis the criterion above, would show that Nigeria is not prepared for an election. Dr Akiyode-Afolabi proposed a three-aspect strategy to help us discover a new Nigeria. These are aspects that cannot be fully realised within a four-year term. Thus, there is the need for Nigerian politicians, regardless of their differences—although there are no marked differences in Nigerian politics—to consider government as a continuum and treat it as such. This will help ensure that even if power falls to the opposition camp, the remarkable and change-focused plans that have been kicked into action by the previous government will continue to be nurtured by the new government. This is the only way we can fully realise the three-dimensional solution proposed by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi.
Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s first proposed dimension is the need for an empowered political class. The Nigerian political field is riddled with whimsical people who are of the anything-goes breed as long as they get elected to office. That is why serial defection is nothing to them, and they can shamelessly befriend a foe today and betray a friend tomorrow. They are overly selfish lot who constantly put personal needs and gains before national needs and expected gains. The Nigerian political class needs to be empowered enough to engage the electorate in an ideological and issue-based manner. A look at the pre-campaign clamouring in the camps of the presidential aspirants will show that they think so little of Nigerians that they believe not much is needed in the way of plans and strategies to convince the people. It is also why Nyensom Wike, who lost his party’s presidential ticket, deemed it fit to incessantly chant, “give me power… power!” To him, that was enough to get him the ticket to become Nigeria’s next president.
The coming months will show us lamentable political campaigns with no depth, so shallow that every reasonable Nigerian would be too ashamed to identify with a country where such gimmicks pass as enough campaign to convince the people to vote for someone. There is a need to empower citizens and help kick structures in place to organise Nigerians and help them truly understand what they want. Nigeria has so much suffered from poor governance that asking the average electorate what they expect from the aspirants — what they look forward to hearing that could convince them to vote for an aspirant — would most likely render them stammering.
In Nigeria, constitutional reformation is of great necessity. The Nigerian Constitution has outlived its essence. What use is a constitution if it does not amply meet the state’s needs nor adequately answer its citizens’ burning questions? The systems of the constitution no longer effectively serve us as a nation, which is why there have been agitations and clamouring for secession, restructuring, regionalisation, and central policing, among other issues raised. In the end, until Nigeria intentionally kicks these three dimensions into action, and until there are successive tenures that consider the government as a continuum and reach a knowing agreement to nurture and not impede the realisation of the three-dimensional issue, a new and positive Nigeria will be anything but reality.
- *** This is the third and final report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.
For the transcript, see:
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