The working people rose in their millions in January 2012 to resist the 120% increase in fuel pump price that the PDP government gave us as a New Year “present.” #OccupyNigeria, as this “January Uprising” is also called, marked the beginning of a decade characterized by stiff resistance by the working class and youth.
The October 2020 #EndSARS rebellion of youth against police brutality is the other major highlight of this decade. For almost two weeks, scores of thousands of young Nigerians took to the streets across the country. The Rebellion was drowned in blood on 20.10.20. But its spirit inspires and will continue to inspire millions of youths for years to come.
These two nationwide revolts emerged spontaneously, but they were not accidents of history. They were signposts of deepening resistance over the decade, which has included; significant mass strikes, including defiant rank-and-file workers’ action; increasing informal workers’ opposition to demolition; rank-and-file students renewed fight against neoliberal attacks; reinvigoration of the women’s movement; a new quest for radical political alternatives; the emergence of the African Action Congress as a radical party with a critical mass base, and the #RevolutionNow campaign of the Coalition for Revolution.
These show that we, the exploited and oppressed people, are fighting back as the high and mighty place the burden of the crises of their system on our backs. The general crisis of the system is worsening in all its parts – social, economic, political, and environmental.
We will thus be faced with the need to wage even greater struggles to emancipate ourselves in the coming period. As we move forward, there are important lessons to draw from this decade of resistance.
The international character of the crisis and fightback
The concrete expressions of problems in Nigeria, as with every country, are defined by its peculiar history. But capitalism is an international system of exploitation, which has sucked every country on earth into its rhythm of crisis.
It thus essentially shapes what we consider peculiar problems of a country. The working-class movement learned this at an early stage in its development. International solidarity is thus an essential aspect of our struggle.
#OccupyNigeria was one of the moments of working people’s revolt against the long-drawn capitalist crisis, which commenced with the 2007-2009 Great Recession.
While it was set off by President Jonathan’s fuel pump price hike, it was inspired by what was going on in the world, such as the Arab Spring and the Occupy (Wall Street) movement.
Similarly, #EndSARS was sparked by the reported killing of a young man in Ughelli, Delta state. But it was inspired by the mass wave of anti-police brutality protests across the globe after the Black Lives Matter uprising in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
Global events do not only inspire working people and youths’ rebellions. They are strengthened by international solidarity. Several trade unions, civil society organizations, and socialist tendencies stood up for our tumultuous struggle in 2012 and 2020.
An exciting dimension of internationalization of our struggles started with #OccupyNigeria. Nigerians in the diaspora marched on Nigerian embassies and demonstrated in landmark areas across several cities in all regions of the world.
There was more of this in 2020, during the #EndSARS protests, particularly after the 20 October massacre. The #RevolutionNow movement has also consistently utilized this internationalization tactic, resting on the Take It Back movement (TiB Global).
The world economy continues to lurch from crisis to crisis. The climate crisis draws humankind closer to a catastrophic point of no return. The COVID-19 health emergency, as the WHO has warned, might be the beginning of an age of pandemics. We see in Ukraine a picture of the likelihood of more wars beyond the global “ghettoes” of Africa and the Middle East as inter-imperialist conflicts deepen.
In this context, we are likely to see an intensification of the general crisis of capitalism globally. And it is clear, even to the blind, that the situation in Nigeria is itself that of a keg of gunpowder that is very close to a mega explosion.
We will need to build strong linkages between the internationalization of the voice of revolutionary struggle by Nigerians in the diaspora, and the solidarity from organizations of working people and the revolutionary left of other lands, for the Nigerian revolution.
Between spontaneity and organization
Both #OccupyNigeria and #EndSARS started spontaneously. There have always been mass protests when governments hike fuel pump prices ever since May 1988. And there was mobilization in 2011 by several groups, such as SWL and coalitions such as JAF, calling on working people to resist any hike in fuel pump prices.
But none of these initiated the January 2012 Uprising. The fightback was immediate, commencing on the streets within 24 hours after the sharp price hike.
Similarly, the #EndSARS Rebellion started spontaneously on the streets of Ughelli, days before radical youths commenced organized action on 8 October. Even then, it was not given that the mass mobilization would result in such a huge wave of Rebellion.
#EndSARS protests have been organized almost every year since 2016. These demonstrations against police brutality were after operatives of SARS, or other police units killed people. CORE activists, particularly members of the TiB had been at the fore of organizing many of these since 2019 and in the months leading to the October Rebellion.
But no one could imagine that the 2020 #EndSARS protests would assume such historical dimensions. Though the regime drowned the movement in blood, it continues to inspire millions of people and will be a point of reference for subsequent rebellions.
There is nothing strange about this reality in 2012 and 2020. It is the norm with how revolts, rebellions, and revolutions start. The opening moment is often spontaneous. For example, the Arab Spring began with Mohammed Bouazizi setting himself ablaze in December 2011.
However, we should note that this does not mean that things happen out of the blues. Years of organizing and mobilization help prepare the grounds on which the seeds of spontaneous birth of revolution grow.
The CORE #RevolutionNow campaign, for example, played a central role in watering the ground for the October Rebellion, along with the coalition’s mobilization against police brutality for years.
When the campaign was flagged off in 2019, over 5 million people searched the word “revolution” in the country. And the movement was sustained with demonstrations in half of the states of the federation up to 1 October 2020, on the eve of the Rebellion.
It is, however, the people who fight for and can win their liberation. The role of revolutionary organization is that of catalyst or yeast in the dough which makes it rise.
But it is not only the political work of organizations before the spontaneous eruption of revolt that matters. Without requisite organization, the revolt, rebellion, or revolution easily peters away.
There will always be diverse social forces and groups within the same social force that will collaborate and equally contend for the soul of mass movement in a pre-revolutionary moment and during a revolution.
Revolutionary parties or coalitions will not have automatic leadership of revolutions. Indeed, as we saw with the EndSARS movement, more moderate forces might be thrust to the fore as leading lights behind the veil of a “leaderless” definition of the movement.
However, as the movement grows in strength and confidence, the Rebellion’s demands and spirit become further radicalized. From single-issue demands like “reverse fuel price hike” or “end police brutality,” it moves to call for the end of the regime.
By the last week of #OccupyNigeria, “Jonathan Must Go” had begun to rent the air. And in the days before the #LekkiMassacre, the “Buhari Must Go” slogan had found a loud echo in the #EndSARS mass movement.
There is an exceedingly important lesson that the movement must take forward. Probably the greatest weakness of working-class people and youths in the pre-revolutionary situations of 2012 and 2020 is the lack of building alternative structures of power from below.
A revolution entails taking power from the regime. If we do not take it back as the working people and youth, some other section of the ruling class will take it from the disgraced regime or government.
Resistance committees of the mass movement must be established by the revolutionary mass at the barricades, in our communities, workplaces, and campuses as soon as we can. They should take over the running of services where they can.
And they must refuse to be dissolved, even if the revolutionary wave petters out. They will serve as a nucleus for mobilization for subsequent waves of revolutionary struggle until we win.
Workers and youths, unite and fight!
The working class is the most powerful and consistently revolutionary social force. In 2012, the eight-day general strike turned what were tremors of protests in different parts of the country into a great tsunami earthquake, which shook the state to its roots.
The working class as an organized force was the missing social category in the youth-led Rebellion of 2020. This was not accidental. Barely a week before the EndSARS protests started, the two trade union federations called off a scheduled general strike because they feared its revolutionary potential.
As revolutionary socialists, we must be oriented to the working-class movement, winning its rank-and-file, in particular, to revolutionary politics. Many on the radical left conflate the working-class movement and the trade union bureaucracy.
This is usually with the intent to use the trade union bureaucracy as a pair of crutches in lieu of their incapacity to organize. They do everything possible to woo the national centers, as ASCAB did in 2000, making them automatic co-chairs without any democratic discussion on this within ASCAB itself.
While we must work with the unions (and their bureaucracies) as much as possible, we must not lose sight of the revolution as a struggle for democracy from below. With mass anger of rank-and-file union members and the working people, even the bureaucracy is forced to move or step aside.
Two moments in our history confirm this. In 1945, after calling for the first general strike in the country, the leaders of the trade union center developed cold feet. They tried to call it off but to no avail. Then they decided to resign, every single one of them thinking that this would derail the strike. They failed; the COLA strike lasted 53 days.
In January 2012, during the NLC National Executive Council meeting to discuss the fuel pump price, the NLC leadership proposed to put forward a 14-day ultimatum to the government.
But state council chairs pointed out that if they were to return home without a general strike scheduled for a few days from the meeting, they would be stoned. This was because the unions’ rank-and-file and the mass of working-class people had already swung into action.
The youth are not a class. There are rich and poor youths, children of the wealthy capitalists, and poor working-class people. But youth as a social category brings tremendous energy and perspective to struggle.
Leon Trotsky described them as “the barometer of the revolution.” And Karl Marx highlights that youth have the possibility of flocking to the more radical banners of struggle. The EndSARS Rebellion showed both the strengths and the weaknesses of youth.
As Socialist Workers & Youth League (SWL), we grasp and project the centrality of the working class and the importance of youth in our politics and theory. Despite our limited numbers, we have also been the socialist group most on the front line of both #OccupyNigeria and #EndSARS.
Join us now if you are convinced of the need for a revolutionary struggle to overthrow the bosses and their degenerate system.
We do not see ourselves as the “vanguard” or political leadership in waiting, for the people. As Marxists, we have been quite clear that it is the working-class people that will emancipate themselves. And this requires mass organizations, including the trade unions, radical parties like the African Action Congress, in which we are active, and united fronts, such as the Coalition for Revolution (CORE).
The struggles ahead will be monumental. If we dare to fight, we dare to win. We must argue and consistently so for revolutionary struggle in our workplaces, communities, and campuses. To liberate ourselves and build a better world, we as SWL, raise our fists once again with the battle cry: workers and youth, unite and fight!
by Baba AYE