As the ‘Revolution Now’ arrived, the presidential spokesperson and the exhausted left talked trash

-By Abdul Mahmud

So the Revolution Now finally arrived. Trust the political class and its representatives in government who, fearing the threat it posed to the privileges appropriated on the backs of the suffering masses, took it seriously. Every conceivable step, including scampering to the high ground of power to mobilize the apparatuses of state violence against conscientious citizens who were tired of their condition – the Nigerian condition – and barracking them against the human walls formed everywhere by armed men and women whose living conditions – in their barracks – still remain as telling as the dreadful conditions of the Birkenau concentration camp of Auschwitz.

None in the political class was assured of safety. Fearing that their highwalled homes, topped by barbwires and secured by armed police officers who ought to be on policing duties in the streets, were not enough to provide some reasonable protection, they returned to the old way and scampered up the hills of fear for the higher ground – say Chappal Waddi – Nigeria’s highest point – if you make sense of the point I make –  of power, scenic and alluring, all dictators hang on to, screaming, “say no to revolution, say no to revolution, say no to revolution”, like Yuuki, the young boy in the old Japanese story, “Yuuki and the Tsunami- legend stories for the kids” who torched the rice stacks as the sea raced toward his village, screaming, “fire, fire, everyone, run to the mountain. Quick”.

Lest I am misunderstood, a distinction must be made between the parochial spirit that compels bad guys to warn each other of harm and the altruism that confers benefits on others than oneself. A political class that feels no guilt about its self-interest cannot be said to be altruistic. Here, the altruism of Yuuki exposes the handicap the political class bears in its parochial ethics.

Isn’t it strange that in confronting the challenge of the Revolution Now, Sowore and activists of the Coalition for Revolution (CORE), the political class and its governing section took refuge in naked power? For me, no, and more, there is a certain sense in which resort to naked power highlights a recurring behaviour many are now too familiar with; a behaviour that has become much of a burden heavy on the soul of the prostrate nation. The idea that certain bad behaviour can be repeated ad infitimum that it becomes a cycle that cycles forever is worrying.

Let me provide an example here. Concerned about the state of the nation, Sowore and his comrades in CORE called for national protests they tagged “days of rage or “Revolution Now”. The government, rather than respond to the specific demands of the patriots in a rational and responsible way, chose to be irrational and irresponsible. In the dead of night woebegoners were mobilized to seize the streets and snatch patriots from their sleeping quarters. Omoyele Sowore was snatched from his hotel in Lagos and Olawale Adebayo from the streets of Osun. Both patriots are currently detained in the underground cells of the State Security Service in Abuja.

Action, not empty talk; honour, not humiliation

Many who had thought that the change mantra of this government would yield actionable steps on new ways of doing things must settle, at least for now, for the return to the bad behaviour of the past. As it was in the past, so it is in the present: when a government deploys words that offer no action-oriented approach on how it addresses the pressing problems of the day, the metaphors that lie at the hearts of these words betray the “good intention” of government in relation to the way it behaves, feels and acts.

Here is one example of such betrayal from the past: for many years the erstwhile military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida, claimed that his generation had sacrificed their yesterday, so the children of his time could have their tomorrows; but when yesterday’s children of anger threatened to take to the streets to demand for actionable steps to make real his claim, his megaphone, Chief Alex Akinleye deployed the Igbo proverb – a child that dances to Surugede should know that Surugede is the song of the spirit – that not only threatened yesterday’s children of anger but also acknowledged the enormous powers of his principal.

The Ondo High Chief achieved his purpose in deploying such a proverb accompanied by the metaphor of humiliation by casting his principal in the mirror image of an all-powerful spirit and creating fear in the hearts of yesterday’s children of anger, who were well and truly betrayed and humiliated when they were arrested and clamped into prisons across the length and breadth of our country, without trial.

That was the past, so I return to the present. When words that label patriots, erode every sense of decency and dignity, are deployed without regard for reason, there is a problem – a problem that depicts cruelty and humiliation. “A good society is a decent society, and a society that is decent is one whose institutions don’t humiliate people”, Avisha Margalit, quoting Federic Schick, suggested in his book, ‘The Decent Society’. Consider this from Shehu Garba, the presidential spokesperson: “They – apparently refering to Wole Soyinka and Femi Falana – are calling President Buhari and comparing him to autocratic leaders. This is an unpardonable blackmail”.

Blackmail, Oga Shehu? Words can convey many meanings; and often times when expressed with the intention to humiliate they evoke cruelty and a sense of disrespect. Note, when the presidential spokesperson labels a Nobel Prize Winner as a blackmailer, he holds himself out as the bearer of the moral beacon and casts the Nobel laureate as a sinner whose sins are unpardonable. 

Talking trash: a critique and a caution

If Shehu Garba’s poor metaphor is pardonable, words that have emerged from a section of the left movement leaves much to be desired. Take this, a sarcastic response from a member of the movement in apparent reference to the call for Revolution Now: “a teenager after having sex for the first would think he invented it”. If anyone is concerned about the comparison between sex and revolution, please, don’t be concerned- such comparison can only be made by people who deploy tired metaphors to perpetuate stereotypes.

One striking thing about exhausted leftists is hypocrisy. In ‘The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius’, George Orwell’s famously described the hypocritical English as not liking war, who “do not retain among their historical memories the name of a single military victory”, but “the most stirring battle-poem in English is about a brigade of calvary which charged in the wrong direction”. This Orwellian description fits our exhausted leftists more. Sadly, unlike the English who still have their memories printed in trooping the colour of the Queen’s Horse Guards Parade, our leftists have no heroics represented in their poetry or vanguards that have charged in struggles, even in the wrong direction.

Like the Orwellian English people, a section of the left displays anti-revolutionary tendencies, though it pretends and behaves as if revolutionary change can only happen when the objectives conditions are ripe. One point, which serves as a critique and a caution is this: a section of the exhausted left movement that cannot organise itself will oppose anything that exposes its inertia and lack of organisational work for change. It should be served this caution: talking trash, just to humiliate those who speak truth to power, merely exposes the left generally to ridicule. An ideological left that isn’t ready to play the role reserved for it by history will be judged harshly by the same history that insists that its task is to ensure that the propertied classes are driven from their ruling positions and until the proletariat conquers state power and advances sufficiently ahead, to paraphrase Marx.

So the Revolution Now finally arrived. Step aside, Sowore and the people are coming! 

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