By Jerome-Mario Utomi
Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill-will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection-Martin Luther King Jnr.
A significant portion of this piece has its root in a brief and informal meeting held with my friends on Sunday the 8th December 2019, in Lagos, to deliberate on issues of mutual importance. Though informal in context, necessary courtesy was observed, the conversation progressed as envisaged and we were able to within the first few minutes underline some of the basic concerns that brought us together. However, after this early in-road, an interesting sidelight was elicited-the relevance of the World Human Rights Day celebrated every year on the 10th of December. This particular episode was led by three of our friends that I will for the sake of this piece refer/address as-Ken, Scott and Muck.
Opinion got divided as we found ourselves discussing an entirely different topic constructed around the protracted roller-coaster relationship between the Nigerian Department of Security Services (DSS) and Omoyele Sowore, a Nigerian human rights activist, pro-democracy campaigner, former presidential candidate, and founder of an online news agency Sahara Reporters, who was arrested by the DSS on August 3, 2019. Sowore was arrested for alleged treason after calling for a protest tagged Revolution-Now. And was recently rearrested within the Federal High Court, Abuja, premises under a controversial circumstance.
Accordingly, from this short but relevant digression emerged three opposing views.
Specifically, in his submission, Ken accused the present administration of becoming reputed for arrogating to itself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives and act free of check of the judiciary; relegates the fundamental human rights of Nigerians and politicizes security; daily abuse the rule of law-the bedrock of democracy. For whenever power is unchecked and unaccountable, it almost inevitably leads to mistakes and abuses. And in the absence of rigorous accountability, incompetence flourishes, dishonesty is encouraged and rewarded. And submitted that the time is ripe for Nigerians to start questioning the so-called political answers/decisions as well as seek answers to the yet to be answered political questions in the country.
On his part, Scott, who appeared more as a leftist all through the conversation covertly admitted that the need for the executive to obey the rule of law has become overwhelmingly high as it makes us stronger by ensuring that decisions will be tested, studied, reviewed and examined by the process of a government that is designed to improve them. He, however, noted that in all this, security must be prioritised.
But the response of the third, Muck, is in my estimation most instructive as it accurately captured the discord.
He was not only humane and well-informed about the current happenings in our political space and beyond, but his responses offered a considerably reduced blame on the executive. Rather, the blame of the strategic interplays, conflicts and considerable uncertainties of the past weeks were heaped on the curious silence of erstwhile human rights advocates-turned public officeholders. This is not the moment to mention them but their list is endless and cut across all strata and arms of government.
He argued that the choice of silence by rights advocates-turned public office holders in the face of the illegality that took place at the Federal High Court, Abuja Division, was a function of how vital they considered their former constituency-the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and the Nigerian masses.
Noting that such wicked abandonment of the people that once depended on them demonstrates a group who are ignorant of the fact that one can intelligently criticize a government he/she is part of; by placing such criticism in ways that are ‘valid, but, prevent others from deciding for themselves whether the claim to validity is correct; By not including the data that others could use to decide for themselves whether the illustration was valid; And, by placing their conclusion in such that disguises their logical implications’.
Asserting that a proof that they were never interested in them may not in sincerity be true activists but a bunch of opportunists who used identification with, and campaign for open/civil society as a vehicle to achieve their hidden political ambitions.
To further, buttress this point, he drew our attention to the fact that political ambition is a desire to gain and retains political power through electoral means. This ambition, he added, is characterized as both nascent and expressive, with the former signifying a person’s initial interest in candidacy and the later denoting whether or not an individual actually chooses to run for office, he concluded.
In my views, these positions may not be lacking in merit looking at the political postulation by Harold Laswell where he among other things stated that some personalities are power-seekers, searching out the power institutions of society to devote themselves to the capture and use of government.
Notably, one striking implication of this fundamental narrative is that people like Sowore who engage in actions such as this is not necessarily the creators of violence. What is happening is merely an important phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace. What he (Sowore) is doing is bringing to surface the hidden tension that is already alive to where it can be seen and treated. Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up. But must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicine of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
For one thing, the conversation did explicitly expose the underlying ‘civil but cold’ relationship between Nigerians and their leaders at all levels. As well as trumped-up hidden tensions to where they can be treated while rendering as untrue, the assertion by Femi Adesina, presidential spokesman, on Channels Television programme, Sunrise Daily, that millions of Nigerians are not bothered about the rearrest of Omoyele Sowore, convener of Revolution Now on
Undoubtedly, this same challenge of government incapacities could be spotted in other sociopolitical challenges which the nation currently grapples with-the fell standard of education, lack of modern infrastructures, epileptic power supply among others, have naturally characterized us as a nation in crisis- and a kind of predicament that a combined team of security operatives cannot quell.
The truth is that Nigerians and youths, in particular, have over time been treated with contempt, ignored and visited with series of erratic attention from their nation and they are beginning to feel angry.
This claim is not without some examples.
On October 1, 1998, on page 38, of the Guardian Newspapers, some group of bright and well informed Nigerians among other similar efforts in the past to move the country forward presented a road map to the great society of the future.
The issues discussed by the road map centred on transparency and accountability, poverty alleviation and sustainable development, globalization and restructuring of the oil sector as well as human capital developments.
Two decades after that proposal, the challenges listed are still alive and active on our shores as successive administrations neither deemed it necessary to look into nor considered adoption and implementation of such a road map or those that came after.
What about the 2014 confab report?
Nigerians with critical interest have called for the adoption of the report as a template to solving our national problems as the holistic implementation of that report is germane to the survival of the Nigerian which is right now in its most fragile state since the end of the civil war, but such calls have severally been rebuffed- even by people that once supported the call before finding themselves in government.
Remember, when citizens of a country express their opinion and feelings over an extended period of time without evoking a meaningful response, they naturally begin to feel angry. And if the flow of communication provides little opportunity for citizens to express themselves meaningfully, they naturally, begin to feel frustration and powerlessness’
Working under this stalemated condition, the question is; how is the nation going to reverse this situation? And fundamentally address the suspicion on each side (government and the people)?
Achieving meaningful progress that will change this narrative in my views may be difficult. But it is not only our patriotic duty; it is our moral duty at the most fundamental level to fight for both mind restructuring and political reconfiguration of the country. This is a revolution that we must all support- and doing it without hampering the rights and opportunities of coming generations should be our utmost goal.
To get started, rather than lose ground, Nigerians should remember that a nation succeeds or fails by the way they challenge the unknown and cope with fears. And requires a prolonged effort to affect a challenge, and change the backward nature of the nation.
Besides showing our people the right direction and nurturing their potentials for innovation, creativity, self-confidence, determination and leadership, the government must cease the initiative and address the following sectors- education, health, power and infrastructure. These sectors must be given priority.
And Mr President needs to find those nations that have met the problems we currently, face, find out how they tackled it, and how successful they had been.
Jerome-Mario writes from Lagos, Nigeria; via; firstname.lastname@example.org