In 23 cities across the country, as well as in Berlin, Geneva, Johannesburg, London, New York and Toronto, young working-class people heeded the call of the Coalition for Revolution (CORE) to join the movement for #RevolutionNow and rage against the anti-people regime led by President Muhammadu Buhari. In Nigeria, they met all the venues of the first “Day of Rage” taken over by combined forces of anti-riot police (MOPOL), Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), soldiers, air force personnel, the Department of State Services (DSS) and paramilitary forces like the NSCDC.
They were armed to the teeth, in what is probably the starkest display of the state’s totalised machinery of coercion and terror in decades. And in some of the cities, they even moved around in convoys, flexing the muscles they have not been able to use to end the rabid spate of insecurity across the length and breadth of the country.
Despite this infamous show of brutish strength, the #RevolutionNow activists demonstrated in 14 of the cities, away from the earlier scheduled venues. These include; Lagos, Abeokuta, Osogbo, Ibadan, Calabar, Ondo/Ore, Benin, Abuja, Makurdi, Akwa-Ibom. Security operatives still swooped on the protesters in most of these locations, dispersing them with teargas and clubs. In some others, they tracked down the revolutionary activists after the event.
The epicentre of confrontation, as with popular struggles still the anti-colonial movement was Lagos, where about a hundred and twenty persons marched to the National Stadium. Protesters from other areas in the city were to join them for the #DayOfRage rally. But security personnel located in strategic points all over the state stopped the buses bringing them from several Local Government Areas.
Eventually there was a standoff between the #RevolutionNow activists already converged in front of the National Stadium and the combined body of terrorists-in-uniforms. The activists were attacked, and brutalised. Teargas and even lethal force were deployed by the security forces. As the Coalition for Revolution (CORE) informed in a statement signed by Seni Ajai, one of its Co-Conveners:
A protester in Lagos was shot in the leg, while 32 were brutalized, beaten and injured by a combination of armed-to-the-teeth Police, DSS, SARS officers, Soldiers and thugs. A total of 55 Nigerians (30 in Ogun, 9 in Lagos, 2 in Ore, 2 in Calabar, 4 in Oshogbo, 3 in Ibadan, 5 in Benue) have been arrested as at the last count. As of the moment, we are yet to confirm the number of indiscriminate arrests in several other cities as the Police started arresting sympathizers and passers-by in a gestapo manner.
#RevolutionNow activists are however undaunted, including members of the SWL arrested in Lagos, Abeokuta, Osogbo and Ondo/Ore. Indeed, the enthusiasm of the thousands of young women and men who have marched under the CORE banner to struggle for revolutionary transformation of our society is infectious. Many of them, like the Cuban revolutionaries of the 26 July Movement in the 1950s are ready to fight until victory or death. As they point out, “those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable” according to a former president of the United States of North America.
However, it is very important for us to have an understanding which is informed by a rich sense of history and revolutionary theory, and which grasps the entirety of the current situation in its totality. As we pointed out earlier in the day:
We are under no illusion that the struggle ahead will be easy or over in a day. Those that have benefited from exploiting us and the natural resources in the land will not simply accept to implement these demands after a day of protest. They will use every trick in the book to try divide us. They will do their very best to repress us.
The coming into being of revolutionary mass movements; learning from our past
The significance of today in the struggle for system change can be understood by looking backwards at some highlights of where we are coming from as working people and youths in Nigeria.
In March 1998, the United Action for Democracy (UAD) which had been formed less tha a year earlier organised a ‘’five-million-man march” at Yaba, Lagos. This was to counter the “two-million-man march” of the government backed and financed Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA) in Abuja. Just like today, security personnel took over the protest venue and brutalised several of the activists that dared turn up.
That rally has entered the annals of struggle in Nigeria as a critical point and the finest hour of the UAD. It inspired the reawakening of struggle against Abacha and his tyranny, after years of reaction’s ascendancy. Quite significantly though, not only was the protest only in Lagos, the number of people it brought together was far less than the number of protesters at the National Stadium today (which could have even been much more but for interception of several busloads of protesters).
To better appreciate the point we are making, we even go further before the UAD to CD, which provided leadership to the first phase of struggle during the June 12 democratic revolution.
The Campaign for Democracy (CD) was formed in November 1991. By mid-1993 it was at the helm of the revolutionary upsurge ignited when the June 12 election was annulled. But none of the demonstrations it organised in the year and a half before June 12 was half as widespread as today’s Day of Rage. They were always more or less Lagos-based and bringing together just dozens of left activists at the best.
With this background, and not yet grasping the extent of volcanic eruption coming, it never imagined that it could provide leadership for the movement of the masses in their millions, even after the 23 June annulment by Babangida, despite the fact that it aspired to do so.
A clear expression of this fact was at an informal meeting held at the Imaria Street headquarters of the coalition on 3 July after comrades returned from mass leafleteering for the first in a series of demonstrations to fightback against the IBB, scheduled for 5 July. This author happened to be there as well as about half a dozen comrades of which I can remember Dr Osagie Obayuwana, from the Mainland.
Beko Ransome-Kuti, the Chair of CD expressed the view that it would be a great success for us to have a crowd of five thousand people at the demonstration. Some of us who had been on the field for days were much more optimistic. We projected not less than ten thousand people!
Two days later, the very earth on which we stood shook. From MKO Abiola Crescent, through Toyin Street, to Allen Avenue, spilling over to Awolowo Way and on to Agege Road, there were waves and waves and waves of an ocean of heads in what was clearly a festival of the oppressed. The more conservative estimate of how many people were on the streets for that demonstration was 800,000. This was by the government-owned Daily Times.
The police, including MOPOL and soldiers had been stationed all over Lagos before dawn. But the sheer number of people on the streets overwhelmed them. Police helicopters were flying around with ruffled wings, “dem no fit do nothing”, as Fela would say. When the people rise in their numbers, they paralyse the state’s teeth of coercion. The extent to which they freeze the state’s fist and make revolution is however greatly determined by organisation. That CD could provide leadership at that point in time was because its activists did not despise its far smaller beginnings than that of CORE, today.
Knocking on the door of history…. “just ‘testing the microphone’”
On the face of it, the success of this August 5th is nothing near that of the Julian 5th of 1993. The point at which we are in the arc of struggle are quite different. We merely knocked on the doors of history today. We will march till we storm the very heavens. The AAC/TiB European Front aptly captured the significance of today in their response to “the asinine commentary made by Presidential Spokesman Garba Shehu that RevolutionNow has failed” when they said: “we are just ‘testing the microphone’”.
The following weeks and months are pregnant. As Bayo Aderibigbe noted in the AAC/TiB European Front’s statement, “there is no fence to sit on at this revolutionary period”. “Workers, unemployed and underemployed youths, students, market women, members of the Civil society and journalists” must brace up for our collective struggle to win our liberation ourselves.
Like Martin Luther King Jnr; somewhere we have read of the freedom of assembly, only to face a drowning state clutching a straw of guns, as if its armies, MOPOL, SARS etc can stop an idea whose time has come. Somewhere we have read of the freedom of speech, only for a bankrupt secret police to come like a thief in the night to abduct Omoyele Sowore, Chair of the AAC and Convener of the Take It Back movement, like terrorists in the dead of the night.
Somewhere we have read of the freedom of press, only to witness press freedom endangered by a rapacious neo-fascist regime, only for journalists to be arrested in at least four locations during the #DaysOfRage including for posting their support for #RevolutionNow on Facebook.
But, also like the Reverend fighter for civil rights, we have also been to the mountaintop and can see the horizon of a promised land of freedom won by us, for us – we the poor masses and youth. And we also see the rocky road ahead to get there.
We know there will be difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter to us now, because we know that, as we dare to struggle, we dare to win. We are not going to let their mad dogs turn us around. We are not going to be broken by the walls of their prisons or the teeth of their coercion.
And like Walter Rodney, we know that their act of brazen repression on 5 August will not delay their day of judgment, because the genie of #RevolutionNow has come out of the bottle. It will have its moments and with these, we will go forth and where needed backwards like the ram. Through it all, we will persevere, for one thing is sure, we will not turn back until we take back what is ours, until we win our self-emancipation.
Venceremos! We Will Win!
by Baba Aye