September 28, 2023
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Sowore, DSS and language of ‘revolution’

At the centre of Department of State Security (DSS’) arrest of Mr. Omowole Sowore at the weekend over the protest #RevolutionNow is the meaning of the noun ‘Revolution.’ Erudite spokesman of DSS, Peter Afunanya, justified the security agency’s ‘preventive measure’ by not just defining ‘revolution,’ but provided extended meaning of the word to include: “… threats of sabotage, threats of subversion, threat of terrorism and, of course, ethnic agitations, separatist agitations, economic sabotage and others.” On the legacy and social media, there is rancorous debate on two issues: the meaning of the word ‘revolution’ and the propriety of Sowore’s arrest and detention by SSS.

This intervention is meant to provide linguistics insight that could illuminate our understanding of the face-off between the State and the Coalition for Revolution (CORE). There are two dictionary definitions of revolution. One is historical and the other is figurative. The Cambridge Dictionary provides the historical definition as “a change in the way a country is governed, usually to a different political system and often using violence or war.” The dictionary accompanied this definition with a typical example, thus “The French Revolution changed France from a monarchy to a republic.

The country seems to be heading towards revolution.” The concept of revolution is tied to the 18th and 19th Century European ideology of ‘propaganda of deed,’ which gave birth to the French Revolution, and later Marxism. It is, therefore, understandable if, to Europeans, revolution is seen as equivalent of terror. In fact, the French Revolution was at a point unashamedly called the Reign of Terror. It is this atmosphere that comes to mind when we agree with the DSS that Sowore and his cohorts were a danger to the Nigerian State.

Looking at the use of the word from a different perspective, it is necessary to invoke the linguistics concept of ‘Felicity Condition.’ The concept is widely discussed in the field of Pragmatics, which deals with the critical study of words, signs and symbols. Felicity Condition simply means, for a statement to be considered as being capable of performing an action, such word or statement must meet certain [contextual] conditions. For instance, if a messenger in an officer threatens to issue a written query to his manager, it is clear that it is an empty threat because he does not have the authority to do so. But if, in reverse, a manager threatens to issue a cleaner a query, we know that threat is genuine; we may begin to plead with the manager to temper justice with mercy because the manager has the authority to query the cleaner.

In line with the above, the natural question is, ‘does Sowore and his cohort have the capacity to violently overthrow Buhari’s government?’ Perhaps, the DSS needs to investigate and provide ample evidence that when CORE threatened #RevolutionNow, they have amassed lethal weapons, militia groups, and other ingredients of insurrection which all combined are capable of displacing Buhari for Aso Rock Presidential Villa. As at now, what the DSS has done successfully is to invoke the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2013. In this Act, the word that is close to the offence Sowore is accused of is “incitement.” In the Act, “incites” and “incitements” are mentioned six times. The one that may be relevant in this case is found in a section that defines the word “support” for a terrorist act. Subsection 2 (a) talks about: “incitement to commit a terrorist act through the internet, or any electronic means or through the use of printed materials or through the dissemination of terrorist information,” as punishable under the act.  However, to successfully invoke this section of the law, the DSS would have to prove the ‘act of terror’ in #RevolutionNow movement.

For those who line up behind Sowore, there is a linguistic escape route for their use of the word ‘revolution.’ It is in what is called figurative language use, and umbrella concept for allusion, metaphor, symbolism, personification, synecdoche, hyperbole (exaggeration), pun, and even simile. If we say, ‘the cleaner has been fired,’ do we mean the cleaner has been cast into fire? If we say ‘the cleaner sermonized his innocence to the manager,’ does that mean the cleaner had become a bishop? Also, if we say ‘the soup transported me to heaven,’ do we mean the soup has become a carrier which has the capacity of tearing through outer space into heaven?

In its second definition of revolution, the Cambridge Dictionary provides its figurative meaning, as different from its literal meaning. It says, “a big change or improvement in the way that something works or looks, or in the way that people do a particular activity:” Among the examples the dictionary writers used to illustrate this figurative use of ‘revolution,’ includes, “This biomedical revolution includes procedures and strategies in therapy, diagnosis, and prevention of diseases.” When the dictionary talks about ‘biomedical revolution,’ it does not mean there was a violent overthrow of the regime in order to diagnose or prevent diseases. Here, revolution is used to describe the remarkable change that biomedical discoveries have brought into the treatment of diseases.

My instinct tells me that Sowore and his elements in CORE used the expression ‘#RevolutionNow’ as a ‘clickbait’ or catch-phrase for the planned protest in order to attract national attention. And this may be an act of indiscretion on their part. However, there is need for a huge paradigm shift in the way this country is governed at the moment. Both online and offline, Nigerians are tramautised by palpable fear as killings in various shades seem to have come to stay. There is evidence that security operatives have come to their wits end. They now leave everything to their natural course, including the killings, expecting a divine intervention to halt the mayhem at some point along the line. Nigerians would be very glad if the DSS can prevent many of the criminal acts tagged on criminal Fulani herders, just the way they have halted #RevolutionNow protest.


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