African Action Congress was registered as a political party by the Independent National Electoral Commission exactly two years ago. From its radical roots it set itself apart as a partisan platform of the struggle for the popular masses within and beyond the electoral sphere of politics. It has flourished unapologetically into a party for revolution.
AAC’s immediate fount and its scaffold till date is the Take It Back (TIB) movement. It has inspired tens of thousands of young working-class and professional/middle-class people, across the length and breadth of the country and indeed globally, within the Nigerian diaspora. This movement’s alliance with revolutionary socialist groups gave birth to the Coalition for Revolution (CORE) and the launch of its #RevolutionNow campaign.
As we mark the second anniversary of the party with stubborn resolve to forge ahead, onward forward to revolutionary triumph and system change, it is important to take stock and look forward with clear eyes.
TIB & AAC; Origins of a movement and birth of the party
“(wo)men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”
– Karl Marx, 1852, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
The Take It Back movement emerged at the beginning of 2018 in a contradictory context of radical politics in Nigeria. The world, as I pointed out whilst looking at the soil from which TIB/AAC germinated in an earlier article, had changed since the Great Recession of 2007-2009. The status quo’s hegemony or apparent legitimacy was fractured. Mass movements spread across the world bursting out as revolts and in the Middle East and North Africa region as revolutions which threw hitherto invincible dictators into the trashcan of history.
The “Occupy Nigeria” 2012 January Uprising was part of that moment of global rising. But the tragedy of the radical movement is that, unlike the situation in many other countries, this did not translate into organisation to take the fire forward for deepening popular struggle in an anti-systemic manner. Four years after “Occupy Nigeria”, you could still put all self-avowed revolutionaries in the country into a molue and still have to pe ‘ro s’oko (call in passengers to fill empty seats).
This partly accounted for an equally bankrupt party of the 1%ers emerging as the apostle of “change” to steal power from PDP which had held the reins of government for sixteen years and felt it would for forty four more years. APC’s victory in 2015 spoke more to the failure of a credible revolutionary party’s emergence from the flames of the 2012 January Uprising than to the resilience of a fortified bourgeois opposition at the time.
The seething mass anger which burst out in 2012 continued to bubble below the surface like a dormant volcano. And the reality of the “change” party being nothing but one of “all promises cancelled” dawned on people within a few years of APC taking over the reins of government. These combined to kindle the interest of a broader swathe of force and persons in the 2019 elections than in any earlier one this century. These included not a few (self-avowed revolutionaries and middle-class careerists alike) that take mobilisation to win power only as seriously as they take watching tom and jerry on television. There were also quite a few who really did seriously think that they were taking power seriously.
None took the tasks at hand half as seriously as the TIB platform for a Sowore presidential candidacy. Between March 2018 and the elections in February 2019, the TIB movement and the AAC party which it birthed in August 2018 organised not less than 500 political events across virtually every state in the federation as well as 15 countries spread over all the regions of the world.
Most of these had packed halls, with many people having to stand up or peer in from the window, due to space constraints. And unlike the rented crowds that the big (and of course bourgeois) parties, which alone could also amass followings of any significance, these were Nigerians who rather paid their ways to the activities and were happy to support what they saw as a serious alternative project.
The core message of the movement was clear, we need much more fundamental change than any of the parties involved in serious politics thus far could offer. And we are not going to get that on our knees. We will fight and win our liberation on the streets as much, if not more than, through the ballot.
Mass mobilisation, including with the use of new information and communication technology went hand in hand with the establishment of movement/party structures. Inspired Nigerians of all walks of life at home and in the diaspora saw and became part of a movement which offered much more than they had dared hope for, even as much as they yearned for it.
They chipped in their bits to sustain the hurricane. The party raised N157,884,938 as donations – most of these as tens of thousands of naira or less from tens of thousands of people. Never since the period of parties like the Action Group (AG) and Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) had any political party raised such kind of money from “inconsequential” Nigerians.
It is noteworthy, particularly for the mischievous ones like Adams Oshiomhole who try to reduce #RevolutionNow to a post-election afterthought, to point out that even during the electoral campaign AAC did not reduce its politics to one of simply canvassing for votes. The party was on the streets organising demonstrations for press freedom, extension of voter registration and against demolitions of informal settlements.
The class of oppressors and their state were conscious of the problem that AAC constituted to them and they took action to suppress the party. As early as December 2018, five of its activists were arrested whilst pasting campaign posters in Lagos. They were charged on trumped up allegations of defacing other parties’ posters, even though this was demonstrably false. The state was sending out a clear message – we will not tolerate revolutionaries and their party.
By the end of 2018, TIB formed a coalition with the Alliance for the Masses Political Alternative (AMPA), which was a Bloc of Socialist Workers & Youth League (SWL) and Socialist Vanguard Tendency (SVT). The two groups had worked together inside the National Conscience Party (NCP) for a few years as the NCP Socialist Forum (NSF).
TIB had favoured the NCP amongst a myriad of parties it held discussions with on which to float its electoral bid. The treacherous collapse of the NCP bureaucracy into an alliance with PDP put paid to this possibility. Taking a principled stand, the two groups constituting the NSF pulled out of that party to form AMPA, which later brought on several other groups. The TIB-AMPA Coalition would later become known as the Coalition for Revolution (CORE).
After the elections, TIB/AAC-AMPA played a critical role in building resistance to crazy power bills and epileptic power supply in working-class communities like Mushin, Ijora-Badiya and Orile-Iganmu. Its activists, as part of the Coalition for Revolution where also at the barricades in solidarity with rank and file workers during struggles such as those of the LASPOTECH staff.
As radicalisation of the party deepened in the immediate post-election period, the right-wing of the party played its hand of Esau for the Jacob of the state. The illegitimate splinter group that emerged under Leonard Ezenwa, the AAC national secretary before his suspension was proclaimed to be representative of the party in a questionable court ruling in July. But even as the legal battle rages on, the facts on the ground have made it tedious, if not outrightly impossible, for the state to stick to the fairy tale of an Ezenwa-led AAC.
The actuality of #RevolutionNow
“The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.”
– Che Guevara (1965)
CORE’s launch of the #RevolutionNow campaign on 5 August 2019 was a milestone in the development of AAC and the history of Nigeria. It went beyond the 1948 Zikist Movement’s “A Call for Revolution” which was a lecture, to demanding “Revolution Now!” on the streets. On the set day, a record number of 5 million people in the country searched the word “revolution” online. The movement thus placed revolution as a popular question on the minds of much more Nigerians than left groupuscules preaching to the choir had done in decades.
State repression was swift and brutal. The party chair, Omoyele Sowore was arrested on the eve of the nationwide protest and all venues scheduled for rallies in every state of the federation was taken over by combined teams of the army, anti-riot police, state security service (secret police) as well as even naval officers and NSCDC personnel. And in several states they took to flexing their muscles with patrols through the major roads and possible sites of mass gatherings.
This brazen show of strength did not stop the movement. Demonstrations held in 14 of the 23 states where protests were planned to hold. #RevolutionNow activists also took action in Berlin, Geneva, Johannesburg, London, New York and Toronto.
The largest of the demonstrations was in Lagos. About 150 activists had a faceoff with the police in front of the national stadium Surulere, where the flag-off rally for the revolutionary campaign was meant to take place. At the end of the day 57 activists were arrested in six different cities across five states, many of them were badly beaten up.
This hour marked not just the deepening of AAC’s radical politics. It was equally a watershed in its transformation into the driving force of a mass-based revolutionary movement. As with all such moments, there was confusion even within the ranks of the left as to what was happening. Not a few condemned such, in their view, rash declaration of revolution – as if revolutions were singular events and not processes which include affirmation around mobilisation.
To some, it would have made sense for the 5 August 2019 nationwide #DayOfRage to simply have been described as a “protest”, to avoid prematurely falling foul of the state. Obviously, such ideas, incidentally from comrades on the left, were backwards compared to those of Maureen Onyetenu a Federal High Court judge. On 4 May 2020, she ruled that the nationwide #RevolutionNow action was well within the realms of even bourgeois democratic rights irrespective of what it was called. She further declared the state’s disruption of the protest as “illegal, oppressive, undemocratic and unconstitutional”.
The detention of Sowore for almost five months and absurd theatrics of the state security service in flouting rulings and respect for the courts, including invasion of the federal high court’s premises at Abuja to re-arrest Sowore also showed the state for the means of suppression that it is. The bail condition of restricting him to Abuja is partly the ruling class’ face saving taking of a pound of flesh as well as a desperate attempt to try take the winds from the sails of the emergent revolutionary movement.
Despite the COVID-19 lockdown, TIB/AAC continued with revolutionary agitation on all important political issues of the day, with adroit use of social media. As soon as the confinement restrictions were lifted in June, TIB/AAC and its allies constituting the CORE continued organising on the ground. This included a series of demonstrations in five cities against police brutality and the rising incidence of rape and femicide in June. The protesters also declared their solidarity with the global #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd movement.
Branches of the AAC in localities were police killed poor citizens like that in Oworonshoki were 16-year old Tina Ezekwe was killed in May promptly organised community-based protests. Political education for party cadres was also introduced in this period, in the Lagos state chapter A few branches in the state chapter are now running the first of a series of “education for revolution” block of programmes.
The party is also back on the electoral trail with its radical agenda for the polls. It conducted well organised primaries to produce candidates for the forthcoming gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo states, in June and July respectively.
SWL initiated a process for democratising and consolidating the structures of CORE in May, which lasted seven weeks. TIB and virtually all affiliated organisations but one supported these genuine aims. And for the first time in its almost two-year history, an inclusive and democratically elected leadership of the coalition emerged.
The new CORE leadership had barely one month to prepare for the commemoration of the launch of the #RevolutionNow campaign with the #August5thProtest. Despite a myriad of challenges, the nationwide #RevolutionNow protest ten days ago, was a success. In fifteen states including some like Niger and Yobe where there was no action last year, activists took to the streets. Whilst most of these were not large, the movement’s showing in Abuja and Lagos, the two main cities, outstripped last year’s demonstrations.
More than 60 people demonstrated at the Unity Fountain Abuja, where just about a dozen people could gather for action at the National Human Rights Commission last year. A busload of activists living in one of the satellite towns of the federal capital territory had earlier been turned back by one of the many checkpoints at points of entry into the city centre, all aimed at scuttling any demonstration in Abuja.
In Lagos, between 400 and 600 protesters took over the Ikeja roundabout as against barely 150 persons in front of the national stadium a year earlier. Twice the police dispersed them and twice they regrouped, with outstandingly popular support from traders, commuters, and residents in the computer village area around Ikeja roundabout where they rallied. A contingent of 22 other #RevolutionNow activists who arrived late where those who unfortunately could not have the cover of the mass to shield them.
While it was not as intense as last year’s, the state machinery of coercion was no less mean with its dragnet. 107 persons were arrested in different parts of the country for participating in the demonstrations. These included 42 at Abuja, 22 in Lagos, 7 in Osun, 5 in Abeokuta and the AAC Kano Chair in Kano city, who was released just a few days back. Working assiduously with the Revolutionary Lawyers Forum (RLF) and the Radical Mandate Agenda for the Nigeria Bar Association (RAMIMBA), the party and the CORE leadership ensured the release of all the arrested comrades.
Building the party – what is to be done?
“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it”
– Frantz Fanon, 1961, The Wretched of the Earth
As we pointed out initially, the soil in which TIB/AAC emerged as a radical platform in 2018 was that of a worldwide crisis of the capitalist system which began with the Great Depression of 2007-2009. A proper grasp of what is to be done now, must also commence with an understanding of the current global context. The intensification of AAC politics into one of revolutionary democracy was watered with the 2019 rains of “a worldwide wave of protest, the most extensive since the start of the decade”.
The COVID-19 pandemic has driven home the reality of the ungovernability of the world on the profit before people basis of capitalism, even more sharply. And the worst is yet to come. As the capitalist world lurches into what could very well be its worst social-economic crisis ever, the bosses will attempt to make the mass of poor people bear the brunt of the failure of their exploitative system.
Working-class people and youth will have no choice but to fight back. Sparks of discontent will set off moments of spontaneous mass movements on the streets, workplaces, and communities. But these massquakes will dissipate like hot steam and the bosses will still have their way, if there is no mass-based revolutionary organisation, that like a steam engine, can turn the steam of mass anger into motion of lasting struggle for system change.
Few parties in Nigeria’s history, and definitely none in the 21st century, could be said to have put forward revolutionary politics of any form as an alternative on the scale that AAC has done and in just two years. This is no mean feat, warts, and all. But there is still so much to do in building the party, movement, and coalition for revolution.
Some of the steps that have been taken in a few branches and chapters have to be generalised. Probably the top priority in this regard is a systematic and intensive approach to cadre education. As we learn from Che Guevara, “the first duty of a revolutionary is to be educated”.
The education he means of course, is not that you acquire in the four walls of school, but rather that of; why society is how it is, what alternatives could be constructed from concrete reality to change how society is, and how we go about struggle to bring to birth the better society we desire. This education is one which is gotten no doubt from the largest university in the world, which is the school of life.
But the dominant ideas which serve as the lens through which the direct lessons from life are perceived are shaped by the interests of the dominant classes of oppressors in any society. What immediately appears to us as “common sense”, even the most radical of such, tend to be inadequate for the thinking we need to overthrow the oppressive system we find ourselves in.
To forge the “good sense” which alone can help us grasp the tasks and strategy for what is to be done as revolutionaries requires education which deepens our theoretical understanding. That is precisely why Vladimir Lenin said, “without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement”. The time is now ripe to consider establishing a living party school and research centre, which harnesses and enriches decentralised education for revolution programmes in all branches.
The party must build its capacity for producing, distributing and facilitating the study of revolutionary literature. Pamphlets, leaflets and books must be part of the mental staple food of party cadres. The fantastic use of social media, and other audio-visual means also has to be taken to a new level, one for deeper cadre and mass political education.
We must also learn from the strengths (as well as weaknesses) of historical and contemporary revolutionary party-building projects. Drawing from some of these and contextualising them concretely, the party has to develop intervention programmes that have meaning to working-class people and youth in their daily lives.
For example, AAC cadres across the country could set aside a day every quarter of the year for “environmental sanitation” exercises. Free tutorial/coaching for children of poor working-class people could be organised. This could include e-learning through webinars, with children from poor working-class homes who might not be able to afford data being provided airtime to do join. Physical contact sessions must however be prioritised as much as possible.
Free breakfast programmes could be developed, as the Black Panthers did. These and similar programmes are not to be conducted in the supposedly non-political manner that NGOs would render services. Our politics must run as the thread that ties these expressions of alternative power as much as service delivery together and link the party’s social provision intervention with its more partisan political mobilisation for revolution work.
The party programme and our class orientation are two vital issues which have to be clearly addressed at this point.
The AAC manifesto as adopted at the 2018 party convention reflected a shotgun marriage arrangement with the party’s right-wing at the time. As we pointed out in the January-February 2019 edition of Socialist Worker:
The movement of #TIB is moving more and more to the left. There are internal struggles with a party rightwing in AAC ready to uphold the status quo of capitalism, merely with some “decency”, so to speak. But what the movement as a whole seeks is the revolutionary upturn of the exploitative system and as it gets more engaged in mass work, this orientation deepens.
Events thus far have confirmed this analysis. An overhaul of the AAC manifesto to reflect its politics of struggle for social system change is now imperative. This must be a programme which addresses the social, economic, political and ecological problems of the day with a view to bring about fundamental transformative change which breaks away from the logic of growth and development that has pauperised the immense majority of the population and put the earth in the perilous state of climate crisis. We need to formulate a revolutionary programme for a party of revolution.
The orientation of AAC to working-class people has never been in doubt. The party membership includes young professionals; middle-class change-seeking Nigerians, who are fed up with the disaster life has become for all but the 1% of super-rich people in the country. It also includes students as well as working-class people, who constitute a significant proportion in the ranks of the party.
Revolutionary political parties can lead revolutions, but revolutions are never waged and won by any one party. Revolutions are massive anti-systemic uprisings of the mass of working-class people. AAC has to strengthen its ties with all strata of workers, artisans, poor farmers etc. We must be the tribune of all exploited and oppressed sections of the population.
AAC activists in several states have joined workers on strike at the barricades, supported and fought besides the people in poor working-class communities for electricity rights and against police brutality and organised political education programmes for workers in both the formal and informal sector. Such activities must become generalised as a norm of our revolutionary politics across all states of the federation.
Organisation for revolution requires unification-in-action of as many social forces, parties and other groups committed to struggle with the aim of bringing down the oppressive system of exploitation that is the status quo, as possible. This entails building united fronts. CORE is the united front for revolution now.
TIB is a founding bloc of the coalition. Building CORE with other affiliates of the coalition must be a key priority for AAC’s revolutionary activists. This will involve constituting CORE in all states where we have TIB structures along with other affiliates’ chapters and expanding the coalition’s affiliation base to include all organisations who like the party, stand for revolutionary transformation today.
Finally, as I have stressed time and again, the unfolding revolutionary movement which TIB/AAC/CORE sharply manifests in Nigeria, is an integral wave in the global tsunami of popular risings against exploiters and their oppressive system. Internationalism must thus be woven into the fabric of our struggle.
While the primary devil we confront is at home our battle is against all the powers and principalities of the hellish exploitation of the masses. An injury to one is an injury to all. As the global Black Lives Matter uprising shows us, we must stand against exploitation and oppression everywhere, including demands against nonsense at home as well in doing this. And we must continue to call on our sisters, brothers, comrades, and revolutionary organisations across the world to stand with us as we fight our battles for #RevolutionNow.
The mission of our generation, rising from the obscurity of neoliberalism, is global revolution – to build a better and more just world. We must not betray it. Working-class people united and determined cannot be defeated – we must fulfil the mission of #RevolutionNow.
15 August 2020
by Baba Aye
(being a paper presented for the 2nd year anniversary webinar of the AAC – an abridged version published in the Socialist Worker August-September 2020)