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Reflecting On Our January Uprising: Results And Prospects By Jaye Gaskia

March 8, 2012

In lieu of an introduction: This will not be the anticipated long exploratory and analytical contemplation about our recent collective experience in general, and the January Uprising in particular; one that is expected to shine some light on theory and practice of our unfolding Revolution. Nevertheless, this will be, however short, a cursory attempt to understand the significance and lessons of that Uprising, and its place in the unfolding Global Revolutionary Crisis.

In lieu of an introduction: This will not be the anticipated long exploratory and analytical contemplation about our recent collective experience in general, and the January Uprising in particular; one that is expected to shine some light on theory and practice of our unfolding Revolution. Nevertheless, this will be, however short, a cursory attempt to understand the significance and lessons of that Uprising, and its place in the unfolding Global Revolutionary Crisis.

The defining characteristic of the present moment in world history are; the Global and comprehensive crises of capitalism on the one hand; and the Global and intensifying Resistance of the Victims of that crises on the other hand!

The first has led the Global Ruling Classes and their allies not being able to continue to rule in the Old Way (implementation of austerity and belt tightening measures across the globe; cuts in social spending – removal of subsidies; massive layoffs of workers; collapse of transnational corporations and whole country economies and their consequent bailouts; brought forward/early but inconclusive elections, and resultant hung parliaments and resort to coalition governments etc): While the second has arisen from the oppressed, exploited and ruled classes being no longer willing to be ruled in the Old Way (hence the massive waves of strikes in response to the financial and economic crises across the globe; the Arab spring; the Global Occupy Movement; the general strikes across Europe – UK, Greece, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany etc; the growing protest movement in Chile, India etc; The January Uprising in Nigeria; The February Uprising in Senegal; and along with all these, the toppling of governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Yemen, and ongoing civil war in Syria, etc). [This entire section is an elaboration based on Lenin’s conditions for Revolution].

The resultant effect of the combination of these two sets of conditions have been the ongoing and unfolding Global Revolutionary Crisis, of which the January Uprising in Nigeria [and the act that triggered it – the January 1st announcement of the hike in fuel prices] is an integral part.

Both the Nigerian ruling class which adopted the mantra of subsidy removal as the corner stone of its economic policy; and the Nigerian citizens, the oppressed and over exploited working majority, who responded in anger and unleashed the January Uprising were acting within this global context, within this global social dynamic, within this global overt class struggle, and within this global historic confrontation between the elite privileged and indulged ruling class on the one hand; and the exploited, disdainfully dismissed oppressed ruled working classes on the other hand.

However, it is important and significant to point out that whereas a revolutionary crisis does exist globally as well as in our country; it is not automatic or historically fated that the outcome will be a victorious revolution. There are in fact three possible broad outcomes; A revolutionary victory, leading to the taking of steps to begin the revolutionary social self emancipation of the oppressed and exploited classes, and the revolutionary social transformation of the society; A second possible outcome, is the victory of the counter revolution – either by conservative [those who intend to main the essence and appearance of the status quo intact] or by reformist [those who recognize the urgent necessity to change the appearance of the system in response to the demands and anger of the revolution, but who are intent on retaining the essence of the system intact] wings of the ruling class; And finally there is also a third possible outcome – the mutual exhaustion of the opposing classes in struggle, that is of both the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces; and the elevation into power of a third force, arising from the middle classes, wedded to the ruling upper class, and attempting to arbitrate between the contending classes while granting reforms, intensifying repression, and retaining the essential character of the old order [Fascism was such an outcome, the various police state dictatorships under military jackboots, are some other variants of this outcome].

It is in this sense that it is true that every revolutionary situation is also conversely, that is at one and the same time, a counter-revolutionary situation; because revolutionary victory is by no means automatic and inevitable.

If anyone still doubts the revolutionary implications of the January Uprising, then we should take a deeper look at interpreting the actions and inactions of the major social forces who were locked into this historic, and quite overt class confrontation, which had moved from the realm of the mere daily and routine class struggle, to the realm of the more intense class warfare in the space of days.

The January Uprising was triggered in the immediate sense, by the instant debilitating impact of the January 1st announcement hiking fuel price by the unprecedented 118%. The effect on living conditions was immediate and generalized touching both the lower and middle classes adversely. Trotsky it was who once said that to a slap on the cheek, human beings react differently; but to being hit by a sledge hammer, human beings will react in the same way. This was what the impact of the January 1st announcement led to: generalized anger and a willingness and yet unconscious determination to fight back.

It was this seismic shift in popular consciousness which the regime and the fractions of the ruling class cohering around it failed to understand, factor into their calculations or eventually recognize when it hit them in the face! They were unable to understand this seismic shift, manifested in this generalized anger and action because from the very beginning their analysis of the situation refracted through the bighted spectrum of the comfort of the ruling and privileged elite, had prevented them from ever contemplating that such an action would have such a grave impact on the poor, let alone the middle class! Those elevated to the position of running our economy could not and did not understand the very nature of that economy; the centrality of the availability and affordability of petrol to the stability of the conditions of existence of the ordinary citizens in particular, and the stability of the economy and polity in general! Haven never had to pay for petrol from their own pockets over the last decade and a half, they could not understand the impact of their policy of hiking fuel prices on the majority of the citizenry who have to pay for the product from their meager earnings, and who also do not have access to looted state funds!

But confronted with the anger which erupted into organised mass protests almost immediately, and particularly from the 3rd of January; and which became significantly enhanced with the conscious entrance of organised labour through the two labour federations from the 9th of January; the regime became overwhelmed by the scale, scope, and also [let it be said] implications [immense potential] of the Uprising.

It was in this sense that the regime began to put pressure on the leadership of the uprising, and began to strategically deploy psychological warfare on the leadership. One approach was to continue to hammer on what it called the deteriorating security situation; the hijack of the protests by hoodlums [impoverished youths created as a result of the policies of the ruling elite, which have exiled a sizeable portion of the population to live on the fringes of society]; including the allegation that the general strike and mass protest was providing a platform for their political opponents in the opposition to undertake what the regime called  a regime change agenda. And every now and then, throughout the Uprising, and in the course of the engagements between the government side and the leadership of the uprising, the specter of bringing in the army to restore order was always brought into the fray. The leadership would also be reminded that the army is not trained to control crowds but to suppress the enemy!
It was because the regime was aware of the revolutionary implications and potential consequence of the January Uprising that it raised the boogie of deteriorating security situation [whose security? The peoples’ security? Or the regime’s security? Throughout the Uprising there was no single threat from Boko Haram etc!]; the boogie of a regime change agenda by the political celebrities; and the subtle threat of bringing in the army to crush the resistance, which it termed restoring order.

But why was the political opposition slow to organise its own protests under its own banner, but quick to seek to take advantage of the popular protest and literally graft itself to the revolutionary podiums provided by the uprising? Why was it quick to sensationally associate itself with and project the limited regime change agenda? Because it felt that an Uprising was taking place, outside of its control, capable of overturning the status quo, and sidelining it, relegating it to a foot note in the historical process. So for two reasons, it had to seek to intervene in the process and be seen to be intervening on the side of the popular masses. So it had to graft itself to the podiums everywhere across the country, and sought to take control of the process. It was helped in this process by a media steeped in sensationalism, and who unwittingly became a tool in the hands of the political opposition, and began to ascribe the movement and the protests to the leadership of the opposition. But let it be said very clearly; the opposition parties played the most deceitful roll in the uprising. We know the ruling party had an official position backing the regime’s policy; but the opposition parties which made public declarations against the policy and in support of the popular protests; had their leading representatives on the joint government delegation which engaged with the joint labour-civil society delegation; which with one voice and one voice piled pressure on the protest leadership to call off the strike and mass actions, and which were part and parcel of the psychological warfare strategy deployed against the joint labour-civil society delegation/leadership.

But why did the joint labour civil society leadership also act in the manner that they acted throughout the Uprising?

From the very beginning there was a common awareness, even if not to the same degree and level, of the potential of the crisis to deepen and raise more fundamental questions about control of state power.
Although there was no common agreement on how this possibility might be handled. The labour leadership was limited by the structure and horizons of the trade union movement; the historic role of the trade union is to mediate between employer and employee, and the historic role of the leadership of this trade union therefore is to organise and undertake this mediation. So from the very beginning, unless it broke with tradition and convention, unless it is compelled by a force from outside of the union movement, it would structurally limit itself to negotiation and mediation. It was in this sense that this labour leadership found itself in a bind, when compelled by its alliance with pro-labour civil society and citizens organisations [primarily organised into the United Action For Democracy (UAD) & Joint Action Front (JAF); it was given the mandate of total reversal to 65 naira – that is to say a mandate not to negotiate any new price, but only to negotiate a return to the status quo before January 1st and the conditions under which proper all embracing dialogue, consultation and negotiation would take place. [By all embracing it is meant, a discussion that includes tackling all the issues in the petroleum sector – corruption, state of refineries, determining actual daily consumption, etc].

Noticing that the labour leadership felt uncomfortable being in this bind, and was therefore more susceptible to pressure and psychological warfare; the joint delegation of the regime [including leadership of the NASS, Representatives (7) of the Nigeria Governor’s Forum, and Representatives of the Federal Executive Council of the Federation] began to implement an agenda of subtly introducing a wedge into the Labour-Civil society alliance, disparaging civil society as being unrepresentative, beholden to foreign interest and local political interests etc.

The impact of this was the effective [temporarily in historical terms – because our alliance is a conscious and obligatory solidarity, not an act of charity] ‘parting of ways’ between the labour [NLC & TUC] & Civil Society [UAD & JAF] components of the Labour-Civil Society Coalition [LASCO] which became apparent in the late evening of Sun 15th January into the early hours of Monday 16th January 2012. This division which was already visible in the composition of the delegation that met with the presidency and the joint government team during this hours, became even more evident when the separate components of the alliance addressed separate press conferences on the 16th of January 2012 – Labour, at labour house at 1pm; and Civil society at CDD office at 2.30pm. At the 1pm press conference, the labour leadership announced the unilateral call off of the general strike, after earlier unilaterally announcing in a press statement the unilateral call off of the mass actions and street protests! At the 2.30pm press conference and in subsequent separate press statements [by UAD  & JAF], the civil society component of the alliance announced their rejection of the newly imposed price regime in the January 16th address by the president, and the unilateral call off of the actions by the labour leadership.

Why did this happen? Both the labour [NLC & TUC] and civil society [UAD & JAF] had come to an understanding of the deepening character of the crisis, anticipated by the civil society leadership from the beginning; but each drew separate conclusions from this understanding. For the labour leadership, it was time to retreat, to safe guard the unions from repression which was imminent and had already been placed on the agenda; and which was going to be unleashed from the 16th of January if there was no resolution by the 15th of January. For the civil society [UAD & JAF], this was the time to intensify the actions, to up the ante, by for example beginning the shutdown of oil operations and the actual more or less permanent occupation of strategic places across the country. We had no doubt that if the deepened general strike and mass protests entered the second week across the country, that the regime will be faced with the choice of either throwing caution to the wind and beginning a brutal repression as in Syria or Libya before it; or will cave in and return to status quo ante. After-all we had offered the regime a 90 day window of opportunity after a return to status quo ante within which a genuine dialogue process aimed at addressing all the issues in the sector would take place.

So in very concrete terms all the parties to the conflict encapsulated by the January Uprising were aware of its revolutionary implications and potentials, and were guided in their responses by these awareness and the various class interests that they sought to protect in the crisis.

There can be no doubt now that the January Uprising was unprecedented in the history of our country, both in its scale – active mass protests & general strike (occupying of the streets and work stoppage); in its scope – happening simultaneously across the country (in virtually every state of the federation and across well over 50 cities and towns); but also as well as in its impact on popular and pan Nigerian consciousness – the retreat of primordial identities (muslims & Christians praying and marching together – 1st undertaken in Kano even in the pre January 9th days; people from different parts of the country and from all works of life marching together across the country).

The most significant expression in language of this new Pan Nigerian Consciousness and Unity, was the concept and symbolism of OCCUPY! Every city where action took place described itself as Occupy; some new groups emerged and actually adopted the name Occupy Nigeria [which was expressed as either Occupy Nigeria City-State Chapter e.g Occupy Nigeria Abuja chapter; or as Occupy – name of the city/state, e.g Occupy Port Harourt & Occupy Kogi. In one of the most visible expression of this new emergent reality; all media coverage was filled with stories of Occupy activities; and security agents also admiring the new Occupy spirit of Nigerians as in the expression by some security agents: ‘Nigerians are just Occupying everywhere’.

One other clear manifestation of the spirit of the new times, which demonstrates the nature of the seismic shift in popular consciousness and the real opportunities for change and transformation were incidences on the street when members of the police force actually either joined/participated in marches or very clearly cooperated with protesters during the protests; or when security guards at the gates of the National Assembly [NASS] or the gates of the villa, whisper to the joint labour-civil society delegation not to compromise and to protect the interests of ordinary Nigerians!

More significantly however was the actual build up of the street protests and mass actions in the course of the uprising! Each new day, a new city or town would join; and each new day the population actively participating in the protests would double or increase significantly! Lagos and Kano attracted active participants in the millions; and Abuja attracted unprecedented population of active participants in the region of half a million by Thursday 12th & Friday 13th of January 2012.

The slogans on the street were also changing and with it came more political demands! The regime and its supporters had thought and even boasted that the protest would not take place; and when it actually began, that it would not last more than 2 or 3 days! This was responsible for the flurry of activities including the House of Representative resolution procured during an unprecedented session of that house (– on a Sunday and with members recalled from holiday!) on January 8th on the eve of the general strike and nationwide mass actions! It was also responsible for the panic mode of the regime after Wednesday 11th January, when the federal government and the governor’s forum through the instrumentality of the leadership of the Senate took over the negotiations and engagements, with the active supervision of the presidency. From that moment on it was clear that the regime wanted a resolution within that week!

The firs flurry of activities spearheaded by the House of Representatives was to prevent the general strike and the nationwide mass action taking off; the second flurry of activities under the presidency and anchored by the Senate leadership was to terminate the general strike and nationwide mass actions as soon as possible, and to prevent it entering a second week.

In this everyone seemed to be agreed that entering a second week without some resolution would deepen the crisis to a degree where its outcome could no longer be safely predicted. On the streets in response to the disbelief of the regime in the sustainability of the mass street protests by the masses; such slogans as: ‘They said we shall be tired after 3 days; but if they do not meet our demands, we shall be tired of them after 5 days’! The import of this on a sitting government could not have been overlooked!

Driving this popular anger unleashed was the deleterious and instantly debilitating impact of the January 1st announcement on the overwhelming majority of the citizens. It was this anger, which neither the regime nor the ruling class fractions cohering around it could understand; that also drove the deepening of positions on the streets as the intransigence and insensitivity of the regime became even more manifest.

Two sets of social forces in broad generational terms, came together to make the Uprising: The first were youths, and their new formations, inspired by the Arab spring, threatened by the impact of the global financial and economic crisis, and unencumbered by the tempering experience of previous defeats, since they had not been parts of those earlier upheavals, and had therefore not directly tasted in the defeats even if they had been inspired by tales of those experiences.

The second were the veterans of the past upheavals, experienced, having a clearer understanding of the situation and its potential, but hampered by excessive caution, a product of past defeats and repression.

But the coming together of these two generational activist forces, over the previous period of organising, mobilising, and awareness raising in several forums and through several media, including active and political use of the new social media; produced a combustible mix which was set alight by the impact of the January 1st Announcement!

Of course neither of these generational activist formations acted outside of class; rather they acted more or less consciously within parameters defined by the class struggle; and played more or less class conscious roles in the making of the Uprising from the beginning of active awareness raising in about July-August 2011, to the tentative and preparatory direct mass class actions undertaken in a number of cities between October and December 2011 [Benin, Ibadan, Lagos, Osogbo, Ilesha, etc].


What does it mean to Occupy? And quite a number of seasoned and experienced activists had either dismissed or questioned the strategy of Occupy in the period leading up to the January Uprising.

To Occupy is to project a counter power to that of the ruling class, to that of the status quo; or any of its institutions being targeted. So it presents a range of counter power projections from say the management of a corporation/business; through the symbolic power of whole sectors of the economy (for example Wall street symbolizing the financial sector]; through the political power of a part of the state and or its territory [say against a City council etc]; to the political power of the state/country – through the initiation of the Dual Power Situation [as with the Occupation of Tahir Square, Benghazi etc] and the victorious supplanting of the existing state power by the popular organ of power which had been at the core of the initiated Dual Power Situation.

Therefore to proclaim an aim To Occupy Nigeria; and proceed to organise mass actions executed as Occupying parts of the territories of Nigeria as part of Occupy Nigeria; is to at the very least declare an unconscious intent to radically transform the nature of the polity and the social order. It is a call to revolution, a prelude to revolution.
To want to Occupy Nigeria; is to seek actively or passively, consciously or semi consciously the Revolutionary Social Transformation of the Socio-economic Order in the Country; it is to desire a rupture with the past and present so radical and abrupt as to constitute a Revolutionary remaking or reconstitution of the entity.

This is what the ruling class understood by our actions in the January Uprising, but which consciousness was and is still not yet equally clear to all the social elements, social forces and individuals who participated in the January Uprising.

And against the backdrop of the continuing rot in the system, the continued business as usual processes as if nothing happened in January; this is what needs to happen to Take Back Our Country From the alliance of Treasury Looters and Cabals in Business and the Economy. It is this sense that we need to find ways of deepening our revolution; prepare for the next uprising [which will soon enough be forced on us again]; and Continue Our Revolution until victory!

In lieu of a conclusion; what can we learn from our January Uprising? What must me take from this uprising to inform our participation in the next uprising in such a way as to assure a different, and revolutionary outcome from this time around?

1.    We need to build a nationwide and Pan Nigerian political platform that will consciously challenge this thieving, looting and decadent ruling class for state power. And a platform built upon the networks and harvests of activists and activist formations which played active roles in the January Uprising.

2.    This political platform must retain the alliance with organised labour, but must be autonomous and strong enough to actually be a check on the waverings of the labour leadership, and act without the labour leadership while taking the mass of working people organised in the trade unions with along with it.

3.    The Social Media can and have played a quite significant role in the mobilisation of popular consciousness and in raising awareness; but it cannot substitute for real live organisations, and concrete real live organising activities. In this sense it can only supplement the organisation. It can play effectively play the role of a collective Organiser, Educator, Mobiliser for a conscious political platform.

If we do not take concrete steps to build this political platform, we leave any uprising that again occurs open to being hijacked by dissident sections of the ruling class, or what is saying the same thing; we risk letting these opportunist elements, who have a stake in retaining the essence of the status quo, become the beneficiaries of the uprising; as they became in the aftermath of our anti military struggle and the Uprising triggered by the June Twelve Crisis!

By Jaye Gaskia
National Convener
United Action For Democracy [UAD]
March 2012.

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