Old men do not rebel. It is the young that have the energy to revolt. They have nothing to lose. It is in the nature of human beings to rebel if they feel that their social conditions are beyond redemption. I have studied revolutionary theories from Ted Gurr to John Dunn and Vo Nguyen Giap. Revolutions are more potent than nuclear bombs. They can sweep away an empire in hours.
The French Revolution of 1789 was the mother of modern revolutions. It overturned the monarchy and the old feudal order; inspired by Enlightenment thinkers such as Rousseau, Buffon, Voltaire, and Diderot who dreamt of a society based on freedom, equality and fraternity.
The French Revolution was influenced by the American Revolution of 1776 which overthrew British imperialism; the latter inspired by the ideas of John Locke who taught that it is the right of all peoples to rebel against unjust government. The French Revolution was unfortunately a bloody event as was predicted by political thinkers such as Edmund Burke. It led to the Bastille, the Guillotine and the Great Terror. It is a truism that revolutions tend to devour their own children. This is what happened to Robespierre and Danton.
The French Revolution gave birth to the first antislavery revolt in world history, in Haiti, where leaders such as Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines who took their own fate into their own hands. Haiti became an independent nation on 1 January 1804.
The twentieth century opened with the Mexican Revolution of 1910 which overthrew the thirty-year dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz while setting the country on the path of democracy and modernisation.
The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia which led to 70 years of world communism succeeded less on account of the ingenuity of Lenin and Trotsky and more due to bad luck and folly. The international imperialist war had begun in 1914. Hunger and starvation afflicted the peasants. Tsar Nicholas II was a weak and indecisive leader whose reforms came too little, too late. He foolishly allowed a demonic mystic by the name of Grigori Rasputin to infiltrate the monarchy. It was to prove the undoing of the Romanovs.
The Chinese Revolution led by Mao Zedong in 1949 was yet another milestone. Mao redeemed his country from centuries of humiliation by foreign barbarians. His “cultural revolution” campaigns in the sixties, however, were a ghastly misfortune that resulted in the death of an estimated 20 million Chinese. But there is no doubt that Mao was the architect of China as we know it today.
Nigeria’s youth revolt has only begun. The trigger was the death of a young man in Ughelli by the SARS who also commandeered his Lexus Jeep. But the roots of their disenchantment run deeper
A decade after the Chinese, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and their rabble of guerrillas successfully overthrew the corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista in January 1959. Although Fidel was accused of dictatorship, Cuban socialism achieved considerable success in areas such as public health, education, employment and social solidarity. Cuban soldiers also played a key role in the liberation of Southern Africa.
The Eastern European Revolution that began in 1989 brought down the Berlin Wall and led to the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. I was a graduate student in those heady days. I recall being invited to the 60th birthday of the great sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf, at the time Warden of St. Antony’s College. The seeds were sown way back in the seventies in the writings of the Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In 1989, young Pastor Laszlo Tokes went on a hunger strike in the Romanian provincial town of Timisoara, when the authorities clamped down on him. Very soon, thousands of youths joined him. Before long, Romania was in upheaval. The old communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were lined up and shot.
Laszlo Tokes later became a member of the European Parliament. I had the privilege of having lunch with him at a posh Brussels restaurant.
The Arab Spring began in December 2010, with the tragedy of a young unemployed Tunisian, Mohammed Bouazizi. Bouazizi was assaulted by a policewoman because he could not produce a permit for the vegetables he was hawking. After vainly seeking for justice, he decided to commit suicide by pouring petrol and setting himself ablaze. He was badly burnt but did not die immediately. President Ben Ali was forced to visit him in hospital. Alas, he came too late. Bouazizi died on 4 January 2011. All hell broke loose.
I lived in Tunisia and know the country well. The youth rose up peacefully in their millions and no army could stop them. The dictator and his family fled to Saudi Arabia. The Arab Spring spread to Libya, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, Egypt, Mauritania, Kuwait, Oman and Sudan. Old tyrants came crashing down. The Arab world has never been the same ever since.
In August 2019, Sudan was the latest country to experience the upsurge of people’s power. The arrow head of that movement was a 22-year old student of architectural engineering by the name of Alaa Saleh. Alaa caught the world’s imagination by her signature white gown whilst atop the roof of a car, with her finger pointed skyward.
Nigeria’s youth revolt has only begun. The trigger was the death of a young man in Ughelli by the SARS who also commandeered his Lexus Jeep. But the roots of their disenchantment run deeper. The leaders of this revolt are everywhere and nowhere. They have used crowd-funding and electronic bitcoin to raise N25 million. Volunteers have been distributing food and soft drinks. They have composed themselves rather well. But their grievances cannot easily be dismissed. They say they are tired of police brutality, corruption, poverty, unemployment, violence and insecurity. They demand nothing less than a New Nigeria.
Wisdom requires that we engage with them urgently. It would be a grievous mistake to unleash the army on them. We will only be creating martyrs. Nobody can control the outcome.