The arrest and detention of Omoyele Sowore have set off another round of debates for Nigerians. Many believe that he should have been allowed to go on with his protests since dissent and disagreements are integral part of democracy.
The European Union, ever so vigilant, has weighed in, politely advising the Nigerian authorities not to abridge our rights, but also noting, quite advisedly that, every action should be guided by our laws and judicial processes. Millions of other Nigerians also argue that Sowore was within his Constitutional rights to do as it pleased him. After all, we live under a democracy. Others do differ; noting that rights have limits and responsibility.
There are no absolute rights, they contend. A friend sent me a note from Canada where he lives with his family, saying: ‘Sowore should be allowed to protest and reined in if his group breaks the law. Remember, Buhari did the same thing against OBJ and GEJ’.
He went further to write: ‘Show me where in Nigerian law intention is a crime’, an apparent reference to the fact that by merely planning to stage a protest, Sowore had not broken any law. A few others have found humour in the whole thing, joking that Sowere is being taken in to replace Ibrahim Zakzaky, the Shi’ite leader recently given bail to travel for medical treatment. The debates and the jokes will continue in the next few weeks or months, and so I will like to make my intervention.
From his social media posts and meetings with some dubious persons, it seems Sowore was planning a major political and social upheaval; not just the normal street protests that we have seen in this country for years, even during the military.
He had boasted that he was going to remove the president, shut down the DSS (Nigeria’s secret police) and make the country ungovernable. He said that over 20 cities have signed on with him and more were to join. He deployed the reach of the social media (and the social media is a powerful tool in social mobilization) to garner support across the country. Tagged Revolution Now, it would have been very huge and massive protests across the country. It was therefore foolish or naive to expect that the government would sit by and watch such an extensive breakdown of law and order.
Contrary to what many think, Sowore was not stopped by the authorities because he had the power to unseat the president or cause him any personal harm. A nation’s leader is the most protected person in the country. Rather, Sowore was blocked because the riots could have caused untold destruction of lives and property – more than any in recent times. On the appointed day, thousands of people would have poured on to the streets with sticks, cudgels and machetes. Hoodlums would have taken over. With so many Nigerians hungry and angry, discontented and dislocated, and many more displaced from their homes in the war-ravaged North East, Sowore would have had more than enough protesters and hooligans molesting innocent people, looting, burning houses, cars and public property. Soon, inter ethnic killings would have erupted and the police, almost overwhelmed, would have started firing live bullets, having run out of tear gas. Soldiers, already war-weary, would have been called in, perhaps from the war fronts.
Death tolls would mount, especially in huge population centres like Lagos and Ibadan, which are traditionally the hotbeds of social unrests. Rwanda 1994 would be a child’s play, as more dead bodies would litter the streets and neighbourhoods. Neighbourhood gangs would emerge, hacking down people. By now, some people will begin panicky movements back to their hometowns (not for New Yam Festivals as Chukwumerije said in 1994), and their tribal leaders (or warlords, if you like) will announce that “our people should come back home”.
At this point, there would be a flurry of public statements from Ohaneze, Afenifere, Middle Belt Leaders, Arewa Consultative Forum and even Myetti Allah. Yes. Why not? Myetti is now a force to be reckoned with!
At the end, the death toll would hit several hundreds, if not thousands. Sowore himself would have sneaked out of the country, landed in New York where he lives, and turn up at CNN and BBC studios for endless interviews.
The world media would turn attention to Nigeria, and once more, our problems would be analysed along the usual line of ‘Muslim North and Southern Christian’ by the ubiquitous Western analysts. Is this what we want? No. Not now. Not later. I must thank the DSS and other security agencies for stopping Sowore in his tracks and saving the country from needless crises.
Every individual is shaped by his experiences. I saw the civil war as a child. We ran out of our home one early morning in 1968, escaping rampaging troops which burnt down all the houses in the village. Till the war ended, my parents and siblings were refugees, starving and moving from village to village.
As an adult I saw the SAP riots of 1989 in Lagos and the June 12 crisis of 1993 all the way to the death of MKO in 1998. I was almost stabbed to death in Orile, Lagos (I escaped by running into as mosque) during one of those riots. Wole Soyinka, in his epic memoire, You must set forth at dawn, has given us a good account of the killings that happened during the NUPENG and NADECO riots of 1994 and 1995 meant to drive out Abacha. I recommend the book to the Sowores of this world.
I lived in Ibadan when MKO died in detention in 1998. Again, I saw those riots. The deaths, violence, destruction, economic loss and social dislocation that could have come with what Sowore was planning would have been too much for us at this time. I therefore stand shoulder to shoulder with the DSS and the police for nipping his plans in the bud.
Nigeria has a lot of economic and social problems. I accept that the government has been painfully tardy in managing these issues. Sowore and thousands of others are frustrated by our slow steps in tackling our problems. It is so painful for me, a major supporter of this government, to say that there has been no sense of urgency in the manner the administration is approaching our herculean challenges. Why would it take two months to name a cabinet, and three weeks to swear them in after the Senate has confirmed? What luxury of time do we have? But even then, I don’t think that the Sowerian approach was a better route either. I have only one passport – the Nigerian passport.
I am therefore not ready to flee abroad, or be a refugee the second time. Sowore had to be stopped. So what then do we do? We have to rescue our country. The President should put together a small team of ministers and other knowledgeable Nigerians to draw up a long-term National Economic Plan that contains strategies (how to do it) on reviving the economy.
This plan, preferably of 30-year tenure, should detail out what we should do, targets to achieve and how to achieve those targets in the following areas: Agriculture, steel development, manufacturing, crude oil refinery, roads and bridges, railway and education (especially basic education).
The plan would be executed in modules of four years. The first four years begins in January 2020. China, India, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Vietnam were built in 30 years under transformational leaderships. (What do they have in common?) The leaders may change within the three decades, but the plan, dogged determination, commitment, passion and national focus would remain the same till we achieve all our goals.
Etim is a banker and writer