Yele Sowore and the Renewal of Radical Politics in Nigeria

Yele Sowore and the Renewal of Radical Politics in Nigeria

by Baba Aye

On Friday, September 20, 2019, the federal government of Nigeria filed seven counts of treasonable felony and money laundering against Omoyele (Yele) Sowore, publisher of Sahara Reporters, and National Chair of the African Action Congress/CORE. Four days later, the court granted him bail, with conditions which included his lawyers’ submission of Sowore’s international passport to the court. The conditions were immediately challenged by the radical lawyer, Femi Falana.

But the state refused to release him, only to drag him to a more pliant court where horrendous bail conditions were set, including a bail bond of $280,000; no public speaking, including to the press; and restriction of his movement to Abuja, the federal capital territory. Olawale “Mandate” Adebayo, a 21-year old #RevolutionNow activist who was equally charged with him had his bail bond set at $140,000.

The lifelong activist was arrested on August 3rd by the Department of State Services (DSS, the secret police). This was an attempt to truncate the flag-off of the #RevolutionNow campaign, with the first in a series of “Days of Rage” on August 5th. However, the state did not stop at this.

Its full repressive might was rolled out on August 5th to stop the Day of Rage, called for by the Coalition for Revolution (CORE). Mass action was planned for 23 of the 36 states of the Nigerian federation and in Abuja, the federal capital territory (FCT), as well as across several countries.

In every single state and the FCT, combined teams of the army, air force, anti-riot police (MOPOL), Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and National Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) were deployed to stop any demonstration.

But this show of force could not stop the #RevolutionNow actions, despite curtailing the wind in its sails. Action was taken in cities and towns across 14 states in the country. These were much smaller than planned, as protesters had to play cat and mouse with the armed security personnel. But this did not prevent some 57 persons from being arrested with many more harassed, including Sariyu Akanmu, a 70-year old woman who joined the protest and was brutalized by police in the south-western town of Osogbo.

Demonstrations were also organized across the world as Nigerians protested in front of the country’s embassies and international organizations in Berlin (where they were joined by local radical activists), Geneva, Johannesburg, London, New York and Toronto.


More important than the number of people who were able to demonstrate, the campaign has renewed popular radical politics, putting revolution back on the agenda of public discourse. The #RevolutionNow hashtag trended as number one on the Naija Twittersphere for days and not less than five million people searched for the meaning of the word revolution on August 5th. Since then, the discussions on the need for a revolution in Nigeria have become commonplace, as CORE continues mass mobilization.

In an arguably surprising manner, the emergence of the Revolution Now! movement has split the radical Left movement. Sowore and CORE activists have been described as being ill-prepared and toying with revolution. And there are even some who challenge his credentials as being a leftist – not to talk of having the temerity to, in their view, seize leadership of what should be the birthright of supposedly genuine left elements to provide leadership for the popular masses.

This article aims to set the record straight on Sowore’s antecedence and puts the development of AAC/CORE in perspective. These are very important for envisioning the possible trajectory of emancipatory politics unfolding, as a genie of renewed radicalization of politics breaks out of the bottle of incipient neo-fascism in Nigeria.


Why Is This History Relevant to Today?

It is important to reiterate why this narrative is important to what is happening today. We find an official left that had gone more or less into limbo feeling peeved at some supposedly upstart activist daring to seize the time, and without the unction of their permission. They did not only fail to see that Yele merely represented the idea of struggle generated from the dynamics of its time in history.

Those that would be honest with themselves and true to the spirit of struggle would find their way to the movement representing such an idea whose time has come, even if with reservations. And of those who do not may be consigned to the dustbin of history. 

SR, TIB, AAC & CORE; Organizing vs. Agonizing

Sowore founded Sahara Reporters (SR) in 2006, on the eve of the Global Recession. The New York-based online news agency, which has been described as Africa’s Wikileaks by the Daily Beast, has become the acme of citizen journalism. It has published thousands of articles which include radical opinion pieces and its trademark exposés of corruption in high places, impunity of governments and human rights abuses. Seen as marginal at its infancy, SR has become the go to place for critical information on Nigerian politics for even mainstream national and international media.

The #RevolutionNow movement is thus part and parcel of the Global Rise of the 99%. This rise, even as right-wing populism equally grows, has had ups and downs, remerging after ebbs and seeking to understand not only its own mission as the bearer of social progress but also the wider world.

In Nigeria, the movement was sparked by the contradictions between the continued ostentatious lifestyle of the 1% while the majority of the population sank into poverty and hopelessness. Its first phase was in January 2012, when a sharp hike in fuel prices caused 16 days of national rage. As I wrote at the time, “the January awakening in Nigeria is part of the global movement of working people & youths against the system of capitalism which fosters our exploitation & oppression,” but it came up in the face of a “near collapse of radical alternative politics on any significant scale before the popular dam of rage burst.”

In this context, the main beneficiaries of the mass anger of 2012 were sections of the bosses’ class who had been in opposition to the Peoples Democratic Party. PDP was clearly the dominant party of the bosses when the republic was reinstated in 1999. Some of its leaders declared that it would be at the center of power for 60 years. But the bourgeois oppositionists had presented themselves as friends of the people during the 2012 January Uprising.

Five opposition parties merged along with splinter of the PDP to form the All Progressives Congress (APC) barely a year after the uprising. Not a few Left activists joined them or at the very least gave their supposed social-democratic politics support. It came up with a “Change” mantra as its campaign platform in 2015 and buoyed by mass anger against PDP, it made history by becoming the first party in Nigeria to wrest power from a sitting government (the military had come in twice – 1966 and 1983 – when attempts of the ruling party to cling to power by rigging elections resulted in political crises).   

Meanwhile, on the Left, there were no significant efforts at addressing the problem of organization, not to talk of addressing it in a creative manner took place for six years, until the formation of the Take It Back (TIB) movement. The movement was aimed at organising Sowore’s bid for the presidency in 2019. But it was not a movement based strictly on electoralist politics. It did not shy away from declaring its intent to do away with the old order of politics in the country, with mass action as much as via the ballot. It led or participated in several demonstrations in the pre-election period, including for press freedom, extension of the period for voter registration and for electricity rights.

But to run for the presidency, there was the need for a party platform registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). There were a few Left parties which Sowore engaged in discussions with for this purpose. These were the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) and the National Conscience Party (NCP), which he most favoured for several reasons.

Unfortunately, the right wing of the NCP won over the party to joining a so-called Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) which the PDP formed at the beginning of 2018, supposedly to isolate the APC in the then forthcoming elections. This was the context in which the TIB formed the African Action Congress (AAC).Socialist activists in the NCP at the time, including this author, who had been pivotal in trying to foster TIB as home for the renewal of left politics which the TIB was ushering in at the time, then faced a dilemma. The TIB was itself a radical reformist formation with a right-wing of professional middle-class activists that were keener on winning office than revolutionary change. They were dominant in its bureaucracy. But Sowore with his revolutionary fervour provided a strong pole of attraction for increasingly radicalised young people from working-class background, who faced attacks from the state during the electoral campaigns.

To address the danger that could emerge from liquidating a socialist platform within the AAC, an independent left platform was formed. This was the Alliance for a Masses Political Alternative. It initially comprised the two left groups hitherto active in the NCP i.e. the Socialist Workers and Youth League (SWL) and Socialist Vanguard Tendency (SVT).

This constituted a coalition with the left wing of the TIB. This loose coalition was to be transformed into the CORE as the process of radicalisation deepened on one hand within TIB and AAC, while the movement/party’s right-wing equally got confident enough to show its fangs.  Eventually, in the wake of the February 2019 elections the incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling APC was declared to have won.

CORE’s call for #RevolutionNow in July 2019 was the culmination of the mass mobilisation which had begun with the formation of TIB at the beginning of 2018. Sowore had gone around almost every state in the federation, some of these several times. Meeting rooms were filled up in several places and people had to stand outside the halls. Such phenomenon was unprecedented in 21st century Nigeria. Most people at rallies of the bosses’ parties were paid to be there while the few Left parties were so much on the fringe of real politics that they talked only to themselves or handfuls of persons in small rooms with more than enough space left unfilled.

And the mass mobilisation did not stop with the elections, for a CORE call to just come out of the blue in July. From April, CORE activists organised several mass meetings of hundreds of people in working-class communities and in some there were over 1,000 people in attendance. They led demonstrations against epileptic power supply and the detention of community activists who dared to fight in these neighbourhoods. CORE activists were also at the forefront of the struggle for trade and labour rights of workers, particularly at the Lagos State Polytechnic.

But of course, there is none as blind as those with eyes who choose not to see and the most difficult persons to wake up are those pretending to be asleep. So, in some Left circles the #RevolutionNow project has been reduced to the 5 August #DayofRage, which itself has been declared ill-prepared and adventurous, and so on and so forth.

A closer look at the “forces” projecting these perspectives shows that whilst they might differ in some way or the other, they are united in being persons or groups that have either been wholly inactive (except for statements or articles posted online) or they are those who have been able to gather barely more than a dozen persons into their ranks in over a quarter of a century or more.

A broad Left alliance, involving more serious-minded groups and persons who do not fail to see the wood for the trees, is however coalescing. Its pole of attraction is the #RevolutionNow movement, with its pathbreaking role of renewing real radical politics (i.e. not the incestuous “politics” of left groups talking to themselves or at best to “the people” whom they lack any tangible connection whatsoever in concrete terms with).

In lieu of a conclusion: battling budding neo-fascism

The bogus cases against Omoyele Sowore and other #RevolutionNow activists including Agba Jalingo standing trial by the PDP state government in Cross River state helps put the character of the current regime in perspective more than a dozen abstract theses ever could. By regime here, we do not simply mean (the APC) government at the centre of the federation. We are talking of the mode of exercising state power, by the ruling class.

There is an “unprecedented level of paranoia” on the part of the federal government as Wole Soyinka puts it. But this goes deeper than the Aso Rock presidential villa.

For sure, the APC government, in serving the bosses’ class as a whole has lashed out at even other representatives of that class, from the PDP. With the DSS firmly within its grip, disobeying court orders has become the order of the day, despite the comical proclamation by Mr Tanko Muhammed, the Chief Justice of the Federation, that the judiciary will not tolerate such under his watch.

Even children have not been spared as a six-month infant was illegally detained for 13 days along with four other members of his family, for writing to demand the payment of their father’s gratuity from a state governor. And the case of Agba Jalingo of the Cross River Watch and a leading #RevolutionNow activist for demanding accountability from the PDP governor shows that the ruling class as a whole are beginning to realise that they have murdered sleep. But their response is the hammer of repression.

But Sowore and the #RevoluionNow movement have not only helped working-class people and youth to better interpret what is happening, they also show that we can do something about it and change the tide, if we dare to fight. Sowore captured this evolving reality when he seized the opportunity of being brought to court to address #RevolutionNow activists, pointing out that "The whole charges is around the fact that they're afraid that there's new consciousness in the country, and that Nigerians are now looking at alternatives."

The emergent movement’s activists have no illusion that the period ahead will be tumultuous. But a national movement of revolutionary youth, and working-class people is being formed. There indeed have been attempts to tear this apart from within. The sharpest political example of this is the faction established by the right-wing of the AAC, despite its lack of any roots across the branches. Will the revolutionary forces be able to restore full control of its party or will a new party have to be formed for electoral contest in 2023?

These are some of the questions that will have to be addressed over the next few months and years. But the most important fact is that, whilst electoral politics is not thrown aside as being wholly irrelevant, the #RevolutionNow movement has helped more and more people to realize that politics is not and cannot be considered merely as the right to tick a box every four years.

Politics is about power and our power lies in our numbers and organization. Indeed, we cannot and will never defeat the bosses simply through the ballot. Mere electoral “victory” could put a Left government in office but not in power. That is why we need a revolution. And whilst revolutionary situations could emerge simultaneously, without organization manifesting revolutionary politics, such moments would be gone with the wind in no time or even worse, appropriated by the lines of the APC government who then bare their fangs as the most dangerous representatives of the ruling class.

The renewal of radical politics and organizing nationwide around this must thus be at the heart of actualizing revolutionary change. This struggle is not just about Omoyele Sowore, as even he continually points out. But, with his role thus far in providing leadership for this 2-pronged task, Yele has definitely won an indelible place in the people’s history.   

Baba Aye is a Co-Convener of the Coalition for Revolution (CORE)




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