Sowore: FGN Drops Charges, Putting the #RevolutionNow Victory in Perspective

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On Thursday 15 February, the Federal Government of Nigeria dropped all charges against Omoyele Sowore, National Chair of the African Action Congress, in a spurious case of treason that lasted five years. This was through a “notice of discontinuance” signed by Olasunkanmi Fagbemi, Attorney General of the Federation, which set aside further pursuit of the kangaroo trial. 

Just the day before, Sowore, who is also the Global Convener of the Take-It-Back movement, had been at the court for the umpteenth time, with an unbowed spirit of defiance. And once again for the umpteenth time, the case had merely been adjoined until April 14. Now it has ended in the dustbin of history, having failed as a tool of the state to break the AAC Chairperson and the revolutionary spirit of the party’s politics. 

A luta continua; the struggle definitely still continues. But the revolutionary side won in this battle of the absurd within the class war, as we continue to fight until we win our total liberation. And it is important for us to put the trajectory and significance of this victory in perspective.

Sowore was arrested in the early hours of 3 August 2019 by the State Security Service (SSS) personnel and whisked away to Abuja. This was meant to truncate the 5 August #DayOfRage launch of the #RevolutionNow campaign. But, despite this, the #RevolutionNow campaign was unfurled with conviction and courage. 

Members of the African Action Congress/Take-It-Back movement (AAC/TIB) and other affiliated organisations of the Coalition for Revolution (CORE) took to the streets in 23 cities spread across the country’s geopolitical zones. #RevolutionNow demonstrations took place in several countries in Africa, Europe, and North America as well. 

That #DayOfRage also helped spur awareness of the revolutionary imperative in mass consciousness once again, as a record number of five million Nigerians searched for “revolution” on Google.

While the arrest did not dampen the revolutionary morale of the members and supporters of the party and the mass action took place despite repression, some sections of the left took a “it serves him right” position. They described the call for #RevolutionNow as an ill-timed “cacophony.” This was while, not only Sowore but also over 56 AAC/TIB/CORE activists, many of whom were also brutalised as they were arrested on 5 August 2019, were still being held by the state. This was in stark contrast, for example, to the position of Amnesty International, a liberal platform that saw the call for revolution now as a democratic right. 

In fact, one of the important political developments of legal reference that came out of the #RevolutionNow campaign and Sowore’s trial was the legal recognition of the right to call for revolution. First, a member of the TIB secured a court judgment that it was within his right (as well as that of everyone who was part of the campaign) as a citizen to call for #RevolutionNow. Second, in 2022, the Federal High Court in Abuja declared the arrest of Sowore over the 2019 #RevolutionNow protest as illegal. This should have immediately signalled an end to the deceitful trial, as those charges stemmed from that arrest. But that was not the case. 

None of these mattered to the state, exposing the limitations of winning and defending our rights by just referring to the law and its courts. 

The secret police (SSS) held Sowore in detention for almost five months. They defied several court orders to release him on bail for months. He was even rearrested in court on 6 December 2019, hours after the secret police grudgingly accepted the order of a judge for him to be released on bail. He was eventually released only on Christmas Eve. This release from detention in the “inside world” as Fela would have put it, was not because of some respect for rights enshrined in their law, or the court orders they had earlier flouted. 

It was due to pressures mounted through mass mobilisation on the ground and advocacy campaigns worldwide by members and supporters of the Take-It-Back movement. They organised several demonstrations in Nigeria (including an #OccupyDSS protest in front of the SSS offices) and several cities across the world demanding the freedom of Sowore, and Olawale “Mandate” Bakare (who was detained with him) from August to December 2019 when they were released from detention. 

However, his release from the SSS custody did not amount to freedom. He was restricted to the Federal Capital Territory thereafter, as the state did all it could to break the AAC using its expelled former National Secretary as knock-kneed faction. In 2022, Muhammadu Buhari’s APC government allowed him to travel outside of Abuja after he became the AAC’s presidential candidate for the 2023 elections, in the wake of the FGN’s failure to break the party. But he was still refused the right to travel out of the country. The state held onto his passport. 

None of these sufficed to break the spirit of Sowore and party activists. On the contrary, even when he was restricted to Abuja, Sowore continued to be a beacon of the struggle for social justice and the party/TIB movement did not stop spearheading resistance against exploitation and oppression. 

As Oby Ezekwesili a former Minister of Education and Yemi Adamolekun of Enough Is Enough remind us, Sowore’s bold call for “a massive nationwide action” which was followed up with mobilisation of people to the police headquarters kick-started the EndSARS rebellion in October 2020. The #EndSARS role of Sowore and the TIB/AAC did not end with the crushing of the rebellion in 2020. The group has been at the fore of efforts to identify and win the release of scores of EndSARS protesters left to rot in jails across the country. 

Take-It-Backers have also been at all protests called by trade unions over the last six years. Even when Sowore could not join the mass protest that accompanied the NLC Strike in Kaduna state in 2021 because he was still restricted to Abuja, Take-It-Backers were there in their numbers. 

The reason why the Nigerian state bared its repressive fangs on Sowore is because of the #RevolutionNow politics of struggle for total liberation which he, and the party he leads, represent. This approach has been able to break the artificial divide between politics as something that is limited to electoralism and activism as a tradition of protest, which has no serious claim to challenging for power. 

A few days after Sowore’s arrest in 2019, Adams Oshiomhole, the former trade union leader turned national chairman of the bourgeois APC, expressed the ruling class’ interest to keep radical forces bogged down in protests that challenge power without seriously fighting for power on one hand and deepening the illusion that power has to be left only to those who controlled the electoral sphere on the other. According to him, Sowore had no moral right to call for revolution haven “bid for power” by contesting for president. He added that the call was because he had lost in that bid.

What he was trying to do was to reduce the realm of politics, i.e., the struggle for power to the sphere of electoralism which the ruling class has structurally rigged in its interest. As Emma Goldman pointed out, if voting alone could change anything, the capitalists would make it illegal. 

As revolutionaries, Sowore and the teeming members of the AAC never for once had the illusion that changing society was all about the ballot. Elections are not unimportant. But what is of utmost importance is enabling the organised self-activity of the working masses and youth. Sowore and the AAC are committed to rallying and organising the exploited masses for their liberation, not just during elections but also afterwards.

The #RevolutionNow campaign is a movement rooted in the struggle for total liberation. The idea it represents is an idea whose time has come and which nothing can stop; not legions of armies or spurious charges in courts. That idea once again takes flesh and blood on the streets today, as Take-It-Backers stand out as the left force within the spreading protests against hunger in the land.

by Baba AYE

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