My brother, kekwanu? I don’t know if it is politically correct to congratulate you on your release from detention. But now that you are out, it is proper to take into consideration that “peaceful protest – slow and steady – will always win the race to create change” in the ways that the Igbo nation is being perceived and treated by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
People have questioned and debated the effectiveness of this tactics: Is peaceful protest the best way to make your voice heard? Or is there a time when a smaller violence is the right response in the face of an even more violent injustice? Are the tenets of non-violence holding back change that could happen with a more aggressive fight?
These questions were asked-and acted upon-in the 1960’s during the height of the civil right movement. They are asked all around the world every time a protest movement or armed faction has aimed at toppling a government from its perch.
But only in the last few years have researchers started to answer these questions by looking at the data. And it turns out the data says something hopeful. In the face of even the worst oppression, violence is not the answer. Peaceful movements are simply more effective.
I want you to consider how much non-violent movements have shaped societies in the 20th and 21st centuries, from the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1980s to the Arab Spring and Gandhi’s movement in 1919 to the coup that killed Murtala Muhammed in 1966. You will discover that non-violent campaigns were successful against government repression more than twice the success rate of their violent counterparts. Not only that, you will find that the success rate of violent insurgencies has actually been declining in recent decades, and that non-violent resistance campaigns have a stronger tendencies to lead to a democratic government and lasting peace later on.
You are championing a course at a propitious time that the nation is basking on the euphoria of a “change” of government. As the Arab spring democracy movement has swept through Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the wave of strong non-violent movement has become the only way, whether it’s fighting for political rights in Hong Kong, an end to police brutality in Ferguson in the US, against corruption in Mexico, or the fall of a dictator in Burkina Faso.
We have never, in history, seen such a mass mobilisation like we are seeing in the last one or two decades. Imagine what would happen if this potent people-powered method is applied to the Biafran campaign. Some of our Igbo brothers are misunderstanding non-violence as a passive form of resistance. I have heard some say it is not a powerful tool of confrontation against oppression and marginalisation. Non-violence is actually a tool that is more effective because it attracts a critical mass of participation. Two of the most celebrated non-violence heroes, Gandhi and Mandela, are viewed as saints today, even as “they were filling up the prisons” then. Don’t misunderstand me, non-violent can also be aggressive, brave, and strategic.
It has been proved several times over that no government can survive if just five per cent of the population rose up against it. Though it’s not clear exactly how many Egyptians protested in the February 2011 uprising that led to President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall, but imagine if every Igbo man and woman took to the street on a peaceful match demanding for the sovereign state of Biafra or a fair treatment and development of the eastern region by the Federal Government of Nigeria. Or have you forgotten the Igbo proverb that says “when so many people pee on the same spot it will foam”.
One more thing to note is that an uprising becomes about 50 per cent more likely to fail if it turns to violence. It seems to be the case that once protesters pick up guns, it legitimises the state’s use of overwhelming violence in response. In other words, security forces are much more likely to open fire and individual police or soldiers are much more likely to follow that order if the opposition is shooting at them. That’s a human reaction, since people don’t like to be shot at, but it also matters for the government’s internal politics. The more violent the uprising, the more likely that it will internally unify the regime.
Keep in mind that the state almost always has the military force at its disposal to crush just about any uprising. An uprising is half as likely to succeed if the military intervenes directly and that this far less likely to happen if the uprising remains non-violent.
Using violence also tends to reduce public support for an uprising. This is simply because a violent uprising is more physically demanding and dangerous and thus scares off participants and sympathisers. A violent uprising can end up polarising people in support of the government, whereas a government crackdown against a non-violent uprising will often reduce public support for the regime.
Any violent resistance movements, even if they do succeed, can create a lot of long-term problems. We should learn from some of our neighbouring countries, that countries with non-violent uprisings are way more likely to emerge with democratic institutions. They are also less likely to “relapse” into civil war. After all, a non-violent movement is often inherently democratic, a sort of expression of mass public opinion outside of the ballot box. A violent movement, on the other hand, no matter what its driving ideals, is all about legitimising power through force; it’s not hard to see how its victorious participants would end up keeping power primarily through violence. Nwannem biko, thread wisely. Igbo kwenu.