In conversation with indefatigable Nigerian human rights defender — Abdulahi Bilah

Africans rising

In conversation with indefatigable Nigerian human rights defender — Abdulahi Bilah

Everyone has a right to safe working conditions, a liveable wage, and government that uses your taxes to provide the social amenities we need to survive and thrive. But in a broken system, how can citizens take power over their destinies? 



Abdulahi Bilah is a human rights activist and part of the Movement for a Socialist Alternative (MSA). Photo: Supplied.

Workers’ rights cover a large array of human rights and fundamental social objectives that reflect how every person should be treated in society. The idea that these rights are debatable is to imagine that we exist separately from one another- something that capitalism has taught us among other damaging and systemic realities it has created. No one should have to struggle for respectable work, adequate food, health care, education, and other universal rights. We speak to Abdulahi Bilah (AB) about his journey to liberate Nigeria’s working class.

TIA: While we know you and your work, how would you describe both to our readers?

AB: I am a human rights activist and part of the Movement for a Socialist Alternative (MSA) which is always calling all on workers’ unity. The organisation believes that the only way that workers can free themselves from the evil of capitalism is to organise and dislodge the capitalist ruling elite, and of course, enthrone a workers-led government. A government that is owned and controlled by the working class themselves because they are the producers of all of this wealth that the members of the billionaires, global members of the ruling elites all over the world are feasting on. I share that belief and the conviction that the root cause of backwardness, inequality, and lack of development all over the world is capitalism, and only the overthrow of the entire system and not just replacing one class of the ruling elites will fix these issues.

TIA: Those are very strong ethos. What else is your work founded on?


AB: I am also an advocate of women’s rights. We help women to build their capacity to challenge unequal power relations that exclude them and others from participating in decision-making. These I believe will lead to social justice for all.

TIA: Tell us about your mobilisation work and creating the kind of power-shifting movement you’ve described.

AB: Firstly, we (MSA) write a lot. We identify issues and challenges that workers confront in working places such as delayed payments. Most of them stay in slums and ghettos. We reach out to them, we tell them that the power is in their hands, and workers have the right to form a political party. We sensitise them about how the current ruling elite, especially in my country Nigeria, has proven over and over that they are incapable of harnessing all of the huge human and material resources that are in this country. We tell them that if instead these resources are properly poured into the right sector of the economy and democratically placed under the control of workers, no Nigerian wherever they are will go to bed hungry.

We highlight the lack of proper management and how the solution is for workers to organise. It is only when the workers are unanimously organised and speak through to power and decide to take this government from the hands of those who have been proven incapable of running the country, that our lives could be better. We hold discourse, build their capacity and help them push a worker’s forward agenda.

TIA: It must be a large undertaking. What partnerships has MSA formed to push the needle? 


AB: Some time ago we got an invitation to join a forum by Africans Rising when they visited Nigeria. I was impressed with the work that they are doing. It appealed to me, as an individual who is calling for African unity, and as an individual who wants Africa to completely break away from the shackles of colonialism. It was a movement that could help us connect with other comrades doing great work around the continent. Our relationship and collaboration with them grew from there.

TIA: In that case, you must have been a part of the first African Liberation Week. What was your experience?

AB: Of course! We held our own events here in Nigeria (events were continent-wise) it was an amazing ride. As I said earlier, I write to multiple groups. I educated them about the African Liberation Week and why it was tactfully themed Borderless Africa– the need for integration, for Africans to roam and trade freely around the continent.

Members of Movement for a Socialist Alternative (MSA) in Abuja in October, 2022. Photo: Habeebah Twitter @JimohAbibat10 Oct 2, 2022.

Many of us take the current visa restrictions personally; why do I need to follow all of these stringent criteria before visiting an African country?

Before Africa was partitioned, we were all united, we were one voice, and the continent has had to reckon with this division for decades. Some borders are culturally transparent so why should I need to pass through all of these rigorous processes and taxes before I can be able to cross into Niger for example. There’s also the issue of illegal immigrants. Recall the recurring issue of xenophobic attacks in South Africa, and recent restrictions in Sudan where due to the war some Africans, we’re not allowed to cross into other African countries. Why do these restrictions and biases exist even in times of serious situations like war?

Many of us take the current visa restrictions personally; why do I need to follow all of these stringent criteria before visiting an African country?

Because the issue is personal I reached out to various categories of young people, the Activista Nigeria of which I was a member, the Girls Get Equal Nigeria, the National Association of Nigerian Students, the National Youth Council of Nigeria, and several other huge groups. We came together and had a pre-African Liberation Week celebration symposium and committed to being Marshalls for the cause.


TIA: Marshalls for the cause?

AB: Yes, until we actualise a borderless Africa it should be part and parcel of us, of our everyday life. We should constantly call on all relevant stakeholders, call on individuals, organisations, NGOs, and INGOs in Nigeria to plug into the Borderless Africa movement, put down their signatures, sign the petition, and take the campaign further- a people united can never be defeated.

Because of this passion, we managed to mobilise a large number. The ALW rally was supposed to be for just 50 people but at the end of the day, we had about 115 people who joined us, they came because they identify with us. Movements are only successful when they don’t centre the convening persons or organisations but instead, bring the people together in solidarity.

In the future, ALW can look at the issue of leadership and preparing young people for leadership. Qualified individuals that are proven to be trustworthy in their little capacities can serve the masses of working people and begin to cultivate intercontinental solidarity. We need to carefully look into the leadership situation that perpetuates the gross human rights abuses in African countries.

TIA: Given the remarkable success in attendance, have you had to deal with the apathy that is sweeping through the continent’s youth? 


AB: In 2020, there was a very huge mass movement in Nigeria, against SARS, a section of the Nigerian police force that has committed human rights abuse, illegal detention, harassment, exploitation, and all of the names you could give to it. The movement started with just a few people, just a few people. Somebody tweeted about them and it became a full-blown movement because people were already aware of the evil that these SARS are doing. Then it became a mass movement that unified people irrespective of the language, where they are living or born, and the food they eat or do not eat. It unified all of them and the country was in total shutdown for days. The government was scared for the first time since the 2012 protests that shook the country.

Port Harcourt, Nigeria – October 20, 2020: A protester wielding a placard with “END SARS NOW” on it in the city of Port Harcourt in solidarity and as a sign for the #Endsars protests in Nigeria. Photo: Emmanuel Ikwuegbu/ Free to use under the Unsplash License

Even though the country moved into the COVID period, it maintained its momentum. The government had to bow to pressure and make changes. Because the public was fully aware, this movement showed that apathy exists simply because people are not informed.

I’ll also make an example with Activista Nigeria. Activista are just a group of young people working in various communities and spaces as volunteers advocating and campaigning around issues. It started with just a few people but when members began to go into communities, to identify issues, to collect data, they also started empowering the people, “See, you can speak to power no matter whose ox is gored. You can write to the relevant authority that is supposed to do this all because of the freedom of the information right. You can do this, you can be involved in this.” Now, it is a movement that started with just five people have spread close to 26 states and has a multitude of different centres across the states.

These are not divine problems that we are facing, these are social problems, man-made problems

Showing again, that information is very important, getting people informed is very important, and getting leaders of different organisations involved is important. These are not divine problems that we are facing, these are social problems, man-made problems. If we speak out, if we come together, if we unite, if we organise, we are going to dislodge all of the responsible people.

TIA: What are some of the things you’re working on, that will show up in your next phase?

AB: We are working on a charter of demands to present to the administration on issues affecting young people around education, health, and sexual and reproductive health. I want young people to get more involved in the work we do, especially marginalised groups.


Also connecting with like-minds because a tree does not make a forest. Just like the people unleashing these attacks on us are united, it is also important that we work in unity. We must also unite and confront all of these issues one after the other, bringing all of our experiences on board, all of our competencies on board, and of course, all of our areas of expertise on board to ensure that we see that which we want to achieve.

About Abdulahi Bilah

Bilah is the Founder and National Coordinator of The Nigeria Youth Forum for Peace and Good Governance initiative (NFPGGI) a youth-based organisation with the core mandate of advocacy and promotion of democratic ideals centred on good governance, peace-building, and effective representation. He is an Educationist, Egalitarian, Marxist, and advocate for good governance and all levels. He is also a Staff of the Movement for a Socialist Alternative (MSA) an affiliate with the International Socialist Alternative (ISA).

About Movement for a Socialist Alternative (MSA)

The MSA is a revolutionary organisation committed to the ideas of Marxism as put forward by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky, and at the same time lays claims to the entire struggle of the working masses worldwide, both past and present, drawing inspiration from this rich history of class struggle to seek an end to neoliberal policies of privatisation deregulation, of the power sector, poor funding of the health sector, unemployment, homelessness, illiteracy, the economic recession which continues to be a lot of the working masses under this capitalism and its system of exploitation and deprivation.


MSA orients its work toward trade unions, workplaces, students, and community struggles, we show solidarity with working people’s struggles, raising the need to agitate for improved working and living conditions guided by the best methods to put the interest of the working Masses they represent foremost to win concession. We also call on trade Unions, workers and the Masses to build an independent political alternative to wrestle power.

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