The Feasibility of a Revolution: The Future of Nigeria is Clouded in Uncertainty

The Feasibility of a Revolution: The Future of Nigeria is Clouded in Uncertainty

On 1st October, 1960, Nigeria was granted independence by her colonial master, Great Britain. This was the time when civil rule was established in the country. However, that there were high hopes that the nation, at independence, and with civil rule and a population larger than that of the rest of Western and Equatorial Africa put together, would prove a modern experiment in Africa. Alas! This hope was dashed in 1966 following the military coup d’état of January, which led to the suspension of the Nigerian made constitution, disbandment of political parties and truncation of civil rule in the first republic. The military junta outlined corruption, poverty, political instability among others as reasons for intervening in politics. This implies that the felt the need for a fundamental change in the social structure of the country.

It is worrisome that these attempts to change the social structures of the country never ended in a rapid fundamental change in the social order of the country (revolution) but rather reformist type of change. Amidst the consciousness for a change in Nigeria, we ask why it is not forthcoming. Could it be that the factors that precipitated revolution in other continent is not in existence in Africa? If we should corroborate the view of V. I. Lenin that “revolutions are the festivals of the oppressed and the exploited………as creators of a new social order”, we still need to answer the question of whether the oppressed and the exploited are not in Nigeria or Africa. The work therefore seeks to investigate the possibility of an African revolution.

Conceptual Clarification

Samuel P. Huntington in his work “Political Order in Changing Societies” defines a revolution as: “A rapid fundamental and violent domestic change in the dominant values and myths of a society, in its political institutions, social structure, leadership and governmental activities and policies (Huntington, 1968)”. V. I. Lenin in his two tactics of Social Democracy in the democratic Revolution provides a complementary perspective, asserting that: “Revolutions are the festivals of the oppressed and the exploited. At no other time (than revolutionary periods) are the masses of the people in a position to come forward so actively as creators of a new social order.”

Both Huntington and Lenin have identified the distinctive features of social revolution, as Huntington reveals, social revolutions are rapid, fundamental and violent transformation of socio-economic and political institution. Lenin reminds us that social revolutions are accompanied by, and in part accomplished through class upheavals from below.

From the foregoing we can deduced that revolution implies the ultimate expression of the belief that is within the power of man to control and to change his environment and that he has not only the ability but the right to do so. It is this combination of thoroughgoing structural transformations and massive class upheavals that differentiates social revolutions from coups, rebellions, insurrections, revolts and even national independence movements. Huntington (1968) distinguishes among these other concepts thus:

A coup d’état changes only leadership and perhaps policies; a rebellion or insurrection may change policies, leadership and political institutions, but not social structure and values; a war of independence is a struggle of one (indigenous) community against rule by an alien community and does not necessarily involve changes in social structure of either community.

Underscoring the inevitable nature of this transformation and it characteristics, Hannah Arendt asserts that “….only where changes occurs in the sense of a new beginning, where violence is used to constitute an altogether different form of government, to bring about the formation of a new body politics…. Can we speak of revolution” (Arendt, 1963). 

Causal Factors of Revolution and The Possibility of A Nigerian Revolution

Political theorists have attempted to explain the fundamental factors that invoke revolutionary pressure. Among the factors is that: 


  • Misery breed revolution:  one commonsensical viewpoint about revolution is that “misery breeds revolution”, that when oppression and exploitation becomes unbearable, the masses will revolt against their oppressor. In the case of Nigeria in particular and Africa at large, the ruling class (the oppressor) is always bent at ensuring that they are not organized. Goldstone (1986) has aptly pointed out that “the downtrodden may be so divided and powerless that they may be unable to organize an effective revolt or they may simply hope for a better life in the hereafter. Oppression and misery have been widespread in history, revolutions have been rare.” This is so because members of the elite are united in preserving their advantages over the masses irrespective of their difference of tribe and religion. The ordinary Nigerians do not have the capacity to unite because they are burdened by poverty. The elite class has taken away from the masses their dignity, their self esteem, their pride and self worth, so that they cannot even organize”.
  • Unmanageable state difficulties: It is held that when a state faces “unmanageable accumulation of difficulties” (financial bankruptcy, famine, inter-elite conflict, war etc), the state collapses, opening the floodgate revolution. Financial breakdown whereby the state can no longer provide services yet the people pay taxes, yet provide services for themselves breeds revolution. In Nigeria the reverse has been the case, the country has and is currently experiencing state financial difficulties, yet no revolution. This is because the greater part of the citizenry are poor and as such lack the consciousness necessary for a revolution. The revolutions in France, Russia and Mexico began with severe state crisis.
  • Radical Ideas Breeds Revolution: it is held that revolutions arise when new, radical ideas shake people out of their cocoonery and accustomed lives. However, this is lacking in Nigeria. There is no revolutionary ideology that has been nationally accepted by the various nationalities and ethnic groupings in Nigeria. This hinders the possibilities of a revolution in Nigeria. One of the causes of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia was that there was an ideology, a new revolutionary movement that believed a worker-run government should replace czarist rule. The Bolsheviks had an ideology enmeshed in their slogan “peace, Bread, Land” and All power to the Soviets”
  • A Brilliant Leader:  for there to be revolution, there must be a visionary leader who is an embodiment of the revolutionary ideology. It must be noted that this leader must be from the bourgeoisie class and ready to commit “class Suicide”. A brilliant leader-a professional revolutionary with an iron will, ruthless, brilliant speaker, a good planner with one aim to overthrow the government is needed for the achievement of a successful revolution. However, it is worrisome that Nigeria has not produce such a visionary revolutionary to lead the Nigeria-African revolution. Chinua Achebe has corroborated this view when he stated that the problem with Nigeria is leadership. The Bolshevik revolution saw the like of V. I. Lenin, Chinese Revolution had Mao Tse Ton to lead, the Cuban revolution had such a visionary leader as Fidel Castro.

Problem Of Nation Building

Nigeria is a country where people support parties and candidates just because they are from their part of the country or their ethnic affinity. Issues that would generate revolution must be national in outlook accepted by the majority and conjure willingness towards action by the majority. Unfortunately this has not been the case. This may explain why all the moves by various pro-democracy groups to rebel against the military failed because the military leadership before 1999 was essentially Northern Nigeria in origin while the pro democracy groups were predominantly Southern in origin. On the other hand pro-democracy moves were against the military. But although many northerners also hated military rule joining pro-democracy movement would amount to shooting themselves in the foot. Therefore, the North did nothing, never supported any rallies in the north, while the majority of rallies were in the west particularly Lagos and the southern parts of Nigeria. The momentum generated was therefore not forceful enough to engender any major changes.

Other factors that have hindered the eruption of revolution in Nigeria (although the grounds are fertile for it), including the fact of Docility and lethargy among the population resulting from years of military dictatorship. From 1966 to 1999, several groups within the Nigerian army have forcefully seized state power and maintained same by brutal force until another move powerful overthrew the former. It means that for thirty-three years except for a brief spell in 1979, the Nigeria army has ruled supreme over the people. Their method was dictatorial and brutal. Several instances of opposition smashed by force abound, including jail sentences by military decrees kidnapping and murder of opposition and other vile and inhuman treatment of all that dared to raise a voice of opposition.

The resultant effect of these years of brutality was the mental and physical retreat of ordinary Nigerians from all acts that can be termed rebellions. In effect Nigerians are now used to tolerating all act of oppression and brutality with utmost submission. The fear of disappearing overnight have forced Nigerians to accept without resistance the acts of misrule, corruption and other vices perpetrated by the politically powerful. It is known that people of North Africa have gone on national rampage because the price of bread was slightly increased. But unlike North Africa, Nigerians can tolerate anything. Prices of food stuff and even petroleum products have gone up in price by over one hundred and fifty percent, yet Nigerians have continued to accept the burden with little resistance.

Recently, there have been signs of movement away from passivity, as was exemplified during fuel hike strike by Nigeria Labour Union in 2011. Also the crisis generated by the attempt to implementation of RUGA settlement is the most recent case. In the case of the fuel hike strike in 2011, for three days it appeared that Nigeria was going to be destroyed. But the Government read the handwriting on the wall correctly, and accepted the demands not to increase fuel prices and thus doused the inferno that was about to consume Nigeria. The government of president Buhari also suspended the implementation of RUGA settlement to douse the inferno the program was generating.  

This notwithstanding the fact that social forces will bark-up and easily bark-down is the mark of enduring lethargy. Nigerians are so afraid of the unknown that they do everything in order not to take risks. This does not mean that opposition is nonexistent, it only points to the limited organization of opposition. The fact remains that because of the exploitation, the ruling class has succeeded in wiping out the middle class who naturally would have been the brain of any revolution. Since, Nigerians now have to worry more about existential matters, revolutionary spirit has completely evaporated. The abuse that any group of people suffer is usually equal to their capacity to cushion the impact. So far, Nigeria and Nigerians seems to possess limitless capacity to absorb misrule and other political vices meted to them by their leaders, and this kept revolution at bay. The “mood” of Nigerians can best be described as subservient.

Summary and Conclusion

All said and done, the conditions for revolution are alive and well in Nigeria. It will not be easy to make predictions about possibilities of a revolution. But we can safely say that since the conditions are already determined, the Government must be careful not to ignite these by any acts of omission or commission. On the other hand, it may be foolhardy to assume that because of overriding factors inhibiting revolution that it will not occur. As we all know there are serious difficulties associated with predicting human activities.

The bottom line therefore is that Nigeria is unstable and can witness sudden revolution if correct combination of these factors rise to the fore namely: increasing Government refusal to listen to agitations, particularly from labour unions; ethnic militias and other vocal agitators, continued rise in the levels of unemployment; government’s unwillingness or inability to stamp corruption out of government business and in Nigeria generally, continued insincerity on the part of Government with regards to free and fair elections, refusal to embrace the full tenets of federalism in dealing with states in the federation, and finally, without fear or favour allow a national conference for Nigerians from all walks of life to meet and decide how they want to be ruled and indeed if they wish to remain as one country. All options must be on the table and the wishes of the majority must be upheld. Where nothing is done in line with the above, the prevailing peace will only remain temporary. The wishful thinking of one united, indivisible Nigeria will only remain an “utopia founded on myopia” (Soyinka, 2011).

On the other hand, the position that whereas, a revolution has not occurred, despite prevailing conditions, that it will not occur will be very difficult to defend. It is my belief that if nothing is done; sooner or later the unfortunate eventuality will come to pass. No matter the false sense of stability and unity demonstrated by Government and its supporters, the truth remains that Nigeria’s future is clouded in uncertainty.

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