Malcolm X’s “By All Means Necessary” or Martin Luther King’s “Non-Violence Means” – The Dilemma for Activists – Kayode Ogundamisi
The recurring Dilemma across the world amongst oppressed people on the strategy for resistance, I will call it the Malcolm X (Before his pilgrimage to Mecca) BY ALL MEANS NECESSARY option and the Martin Luther King NON-VIOLENCE MEANS option. I was a student of both schools of thoughts.
As fresh student activists in the university of Jos, we had a firebrand inspiring activist named Basil Chianson. Basil, Chima Okereke, Ibrahim Sheu and Ismaila had been expelled for their ‘radical’ activism by the authorities. Their expulsion gave birth to my radicalism.
When we wrote letters requesting improved welfare conditions for students, especially those in the then neglected Abuja hostel. UNIJOS authorises never bugged. I was part of a delegate that attended meetings with then UNIJOS VC Professor Para Mallum. You got promises and nothing.
UNIJOS authorities never made changes, we changed tactics, got radicalised, adopted ‘popular struggle’, it wasn’t until after we chased the VC Para Malum, made him jump over the fence before authorities improved student’s welfare. The Governor Mr Tapgun invited us to a meeting.
Suddenly we discovered Malcolm X (Before his pilgrimage to Mecca) BY ALL MEANS NECESSARY strategy gave us more results than several letters to the authorities, the student’s population became more radicalised, from then, we gave authorities ULTIMATUMS. Never room for dialogue.
Mass, popular action worked, forced UNIJOS to unban the union, we elected our first Woman SUG President Ene Obi. Ene was elected on a radical platform but more of the Martin Luther King NON-VIOLENCE MEANS school of thought, its either we picked Ene or end up with reactionaries.
Our radical movement was always in conflict with President Ene Obi, she was our candidate who is now President but she would insist on dialogue first. Ene got one result after the other, she improved student’s welfare, she will only concede to radical protests as the last option.
There was something about Ene Obi that I admired but I was deep-rooted in the radical wing that when a fresh election was conducted and we got elected as officials of the SUG we were returned it to its radical roots, anyone who suggested dialogue was labelled a “reactionary”.
As a radical SUG, we still achieved as much or even more than Ene Obi but paid a lot of prices, 2 expulsions from the University, multiple detentions including a trumped-up charge before a military tribunal, an accusation of plotting to destabilise the military govt and torture.
We would not have graduated but for the doggedness of Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Femi Falana who fought different expulsions in court and stood as our lawyer’s pro bono in the multiple criminal charges. I wrote my final year project in Jos prison and graduated with my colleagues.
Some of our colleagues in other Universities were not as lucky, Bamidele Aturu was expelled, spent many years trying to return to school, UNIFE (now OAU) expelled Adeola Soeton and several others, not sure if they ever graduated. Some died never to see a return to civilian govt.
During the pro-democracy struggle, I chose to be active in the underground role, if the movement gave ultimatums to the military, someone had to do the dirty job of putting actions to those ultimata, some were lucky to be the media face of the movement, ‘radical actions.’
The media faces of the movements who combined ‘radicalism’ with ‘dialogue’ are today’s Governors, Senators, Political appointees. Majority of those who did the Malcolm X radical jobs are either in their grave or remain AGITATORS till date. Who remembers Bagauda Kaltho’s family?
With benefit of hindsight, let me advise young activists, your waves of anger are not misplaced, be mindful that Malcolm X BY ALL MEANS NECESSARY option and Martin Luther King NON-VIOLENCE MEANS are not mutually exclusive, know when to apply the principle of self-preservation.
If you are black activists in the West. Disrupt, empower and avoid having a CHEAP criminal conviction, FIGHT! but be smart about it, if you are in Nigeria any veteran telling you being expelled is a badge of honour does not mean well for you. BUILD a movement. Preserve yourself.
The best strategy I will recommend to any Nigerian activist is the strategy of Chief Gani Fawehinmi, he empowered himself intellectually, economically and thus NEVER RECEIVED A DIME from FOREIGN OR LOCAL DONORS to make such impact on our legal and system and political landscape.
You may not be Gani, but try as much as possible to be economically independent to fight, no job should be too demeaning, I left Uni in 92. Never been out of employment, from security guard to hotel chambermaid, if it LEGALLY feeds my family and makes me retain my VOICE. I do it.
If you are reliant on PROMINENT NIGERIAN ACTIVISTS you see on TV. Most get supports (GRANTS) in millions of dollars from foreign donors to do what they love doing, that is fighting for the common man, they are able to live comfortably doing that. Remember self-preservation?
If you are protesting and you loot, you become a criminal, if you set fire on a building, you become an arsonist, if you collect grant from a foreign donor and you divert it or register your family and friends as BOG to cover up, you are as bad as the bad people in government.
Finally, be as smart as you can when you make life-changing choices. Think 20 years in advance before you make any major decision. There are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests. People evolve, don’t be afraid to change your mind or position.
By the way, to any ‘radical activist in Nigeria’ I will recommend you read the autobiography of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X, his journey reads like mine, his relationship with Elijah Muhammad almost reflects the relationship I had with Dr Frederick Fasehun.