Two elements which are becoming increasingly prominent in the global world order during the decay of neoliberalism are, first, the role of the police – highlighted by their involvement in some high-profile labour disputes and generalized social control – and second, the generalized revolt, which frequently challenges or shatters conventional compartmentalization of labour and other movements as well as transforming the means and forms of dispute.
Baba Aye is the co-convenor of the Coalition for Revolution, a leading member of the Socialist Workers and Youth League, and a trade unionist in Nigeria. In Part 1 of this article about the uprising in Nigeria, he explains how the revolt unfolded and begins a political economy of the police. Part 2 concludes on an outline of the trade union movement in the revolt. Originally published in Global Labour Column.
The consolidation of what were anti-robbery units in different police commands into a national elite corps in 1992 cannot be separated from the structural adjustment programme unfurled in the mid-1980s.
Retrenchments were the order of the day and youth unemployment started becoming chronic. The social order itself cannot be separated from technological development. The crime rate which had begun a steep climb up in the 1990s added the distinct 419 flavour of online scams.
SARS started targeting not just armed robbers, but as well internet scammers. And gradually, with SARS itself becoming somewhat of a scam (prospective operatives of the squad within the police where known to have to pay huge sums to their superiors to be deployed for training and then enrollment in the elites corps), not just online scammers but any youth with flashy iPhones or laptops became potential targets – and not just targets to be apprehended and made to face the law if evidence confirmed their being scammers. No, they were to be targets for the SARS operatives to steal from and kill.
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In a 2009 report, Amnesty International showed that “extrajudicial executions, other unlawful killings and enforced disappearances in Nigeria are not random.” It is “those who cannot afford to pay” bribes that “are at risk of being shot or tortured to death by the police” (Amnesty, 2009). So, quite often the real scammers and armed robbers get away free – except for when they do not “settle,” or when police are playing at smoke and mirrors of seeming to be fighting crime. As Amnesty International shows in another report dedicated specifically to SARS in 2016, “confessions” are secured with some of the most excruciating forms of torture.
SARS mirrors the utter and irredeemable vileness and viciousness of neoliberalism capitalism in a neo-patrimonial capitalist order. This has been in the face of young people who face its odious rampage the most. But doing away with it under any guise whatsoever would require pulling out the root, the order from which this weed stems. An instinctive grasp of this can be seen in the evolution of the demands of the #EndSARS movement.
Pulling out the root; what next?
Major General Muhammadu Buhari spoke as president of the federation to the 200 million inhabitants of the country on 22 October. It was a lackluster speech with a hidden threat. He did not say a word about the massacre while he had a lot to say about break down of law and order, including concern over the desecration of a king’s palace by “hoodlums.”
The ashes were still hot in at least two dozen public and private buildings torched by irate youth. These included the Nigeria Port Authority, the elite Kings College, dozens of buses at the Bus Rapid Transport terminal, at least six local government councils, the newspaper and television station owned by one of the leaders of the All Progressive Congress and the family house of the Lagos state governor.
Some of the networks within the informal coordination of the formally leaderless movement have called it a day for now. The feminist coalition, for example, which raised more than two hundred thousand dollars within two weeks for the campaign (including via bitcoin when the government shut off traditional banking means) had this to say: “The Feminist Coalition condemns every form of violence and believes that no Nigerian life is worth losing to senseless violence. We are young Nigerians with hopes, dreams and aspirations for our country. This means we need to stay alive to pursue our dreams to build the future…….We are merchants of hope. Our priority is always the welfare and safety of the Nigerian youth. Following the President’s address, we hereby encourage all young Nigerians to stay safe, stay home, and observe the mandated curfew in your state.”
Ethnic-nationalist forces have gone into overdrive with circulation of ethnicised narratives, mainly through WhatsApp platforms, contending for the soul of the embers of this moment. On the other hand, rallies are being planned for the next week by Nigerians in different parts of the world to keep stoked the embers of the movement’s resistance.
The jury is still out on how this particular moment will pan out. But whichever way it goes, the genie is out of the bottle. Nigeria will not be the same again. In the period leading to the next general elections in 2023, we are likely to witness momentous battles which will draw inspiration from these past few weeks.
Circumstances writ large
The act of pulling out the roots of a social order entails the art of organising. Making history, including organising on the scale we have had with the movement, emerges from circumstances writ large and immediately precedent to the moment, within an overarching global context.
It is not wholly accidental that while there had been several SARS killings before 3 October, and whereas there have been protests against a number of these, none comes anywhere near the scale of the 2020 #EndSARS rebellion. There are several reasons for this. The blogosphere is seen by many as probably one of these. It definitely is, but this does not explain why there has not been any such rebellion since the January 2012 “Occupy Nigeria”revolt, where twitter was also very much used even if not on this scale.
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There are three key reasons which are important to take note of as we enter the near future: first, the global conjuncture, with massive fightbacks across the world from last year. Second, the rise of the #RevolutionNow movement last year which saw google searches in Nigeria for the word “revolution” cross the five million mark on 5 August 2019.
Third is the place of organised labour, in a contradictory sense.
The #EndSARS campaigners were adroit in the use of online platforms to inspire action on the ground and build the coherence of a narrative for these actions despite the inchoate nature of the movement. The bulk of the left, outside the Coalition for Revolution (CORE), which initiated the #RevolutionNow movement, was caught off guard in this moment. And the liberal forces which played central roles, mainly via the internet and as celebrities on the ground, are likely to cohere around a new party with eyes set more towards the general elections.
A major social force missing in the equation of the movement was organised labour. It had called a general strike for 28 September to protest the increasing cost of living, which it called off unceremoniously at the eleventh hour. But as the impact of job losses and increases in fuel pump price, electricity tariffs and basic staples hit rank and file workers, it might prove ever more difficult for it to keep away from the arena of struggle.
A general strike aligned with the massive level of rebellion which the #EndSARS movement has been could very well see the regime crumble before the general elections. But in the immediate instance, it must be made to pay for the crime of no fewer than 56 people killed in cold blood during the revolt. Trade unions, civil society organizations and governments must call for justice for those who have been murdered for doing no more than exercising the constitutional right to dissent. Bloodbath must never be the answer to peaceful revolts in Nigeria or anywhere in the world.
[For international news and analysis from working-class, oppressed peoples, and socialist points of view, read No Borders News.]