As one of the members of the Students’ Union Executive back in the University, we had a “Machiavellian President” who happened to be a real ‘pain in the neck’ to all the members of the Executive and the Students’ Union. This unscrupulous President had a penchant for taking unilateral decisions, so also was he often found guilty of committing several financial infractions. During this period, we were frequently enmeshed in struggles aimed at checkmating his excesses without achieving much success mainly due to his Machiavellian tactics. Meanwhile, amongst us was a certain fellow whom we had always presumed to be a ‘hard nut to crack’. This fellow always expresses vociferous criticisms against the President which on several occasions led to a fracas. For the sake of brevity, the devious President, later on, placated this fellow with a juicy contract and, thereafter, this ‘once upon a time’ major critic of the President began singing an entirely different song.
The preceding narrative provides a clear picture of the classical nature of the “activism sector” in Nigeria. By ‘activism sector’ in this context, this writer refers to all efforts by individuals, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), institutions, opposition parties, among others to promote, impede, direct, re-shape or intervene in social, political, environmental or economic reforms with the aspiration to enforce changes in the society towards a perceived greater good. These actions are usually expressed through the electronic and print media and in some circumstances through civil and legal actions; they often take the form of criticisms and protests in Nigeria.
After the return to democracy in Nigeria twenty-one years ago, the inalienable right to freedom of expression nay speech, which was hitherto restricted by successive military regimes that ruled the country, was fully ushered in. Ever since then, the electronic and print media have witnessed an undulation of activism. It has become a common practice for individuals, NGOs, institutions, opposition parties, among others to criticize or protest against their perceived inactions or wrong-doings of the government. The rise in these activism movements was occasioned by the myriad of loopholes and shortcomings in the civil leadership of the country. Yes indeed, constructive criticisms and protests -the two major kinds of activism- are very essential ingredients in any democratic process as they entail giving valid and reasonable opinions about the actions of others usually involving both positive and negative remarks in a friendly manner rather than unfriendly manner; and actions expressing disapproval of something respectively. Most civilized nations have ridden on the back of these ingredients to attain great feats. Through constructive criticisms and protests, the leaders in civilized nations are forced to sit-up, fine-tune those policies and actions which are the subject of public outcry and objection, and abrogate the ones which, in their opinion and for the sake of public interest, are undesirable. Given this fact, critics, protesters and activists are often seen as the de-facto fourth arm of government due to the crucial roles they play.
Juxtaposing activism or rather constructive criticisms and protests in the democratic process of Nigeria and other civilized nations, one will notice two major distinctive features.
First, while constructive criticisms and protests are welcomed and embraced as essential ingredients for the attainment of good governance in the civilized nations, in Nigeria, on the other hand, a significant number of critics, protesters and activists are not motivated by noble motives, but rather by financial and material gains, political sabotage and self-aggrandizement. To lend credence to this assertion, few instances will be cited in the subsequent five paragraphs.
Back in the year 2012 when the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan decided to do away with fuel subsidy regime in Nigeria citing wastage and subsidy fraud as reasons for the decision, the whole nation was locked-down with protests, online activism, civil resistance, and strike actions chiefly orchestrated by the opposition parties. Few years afterwards, these same opposition parties, after conspiring and grabbing power from the ruling party through political sabotage, went ahead to end the fuel subsidy regime. What an irony!
Going further, it has become a widely held norm in the Nigerian political circle that the easiest way to stand out and get recognized by the government of the day is by vehemently criticizing that government. Accordingly, such a person would most likely be summoned and placated with financial inducement or juicy appointment or contract or any combination of the three or the trio. In a widely used local parlance, such a person is said to “have been settled” or ‘’have grabbed his own share of the National Cake’’; and as the saying goes: ‘’When ones mouth is filled with delicious cake, he or she hardly talks’’.
On the verge of forwarding this article for publication, the attention of this writer was drawn to a Punch Newspaper publication of July 15, 2020, where the Imo State Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Cyprian Akaolisa, has directed the various panels constituted by the state government to probe the eight-year tenure of Ex-Governor Rochas Okorocha to stop their proceedings, a move which several pundits perceived as an effort to frustrate the probe. It would be recalled that while this same Attorney General was in the opposition, he vehemently criticized Ex-Governor Okorocha on social media for plundering the wealth of Imo State, vowing to bring to book all his wrongdoings when given the opportunity; being the present Chief Prosecutor of Imo State one would have expected an accelerated hearing of the probe, but the reverse seems to be the case.
Some notable media henchmen to the past and present Presidents of Nigeria had been, prior to their appointments, leading public affairs commentators and critics of bad government policies and actions. However, no sooner had they assumed duties as media henchmen than they became sycophants and praise-singers or “political hallelujah boys” (using the words of Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere) in the corridors of power even when it is very obvious that situations across the country have not improved. This leaves one to start contemplating the reasons behind this unexpected transfiguration.
More so, Social Media platforms have over and over again provided evidence of “paid-protests” where people are mobilized and induced with cash to protest against certain phenomena. In one of the video footages displayed on “Nairaland” social media platform lately, some protesters were captured quarrelling over unpaid protest allowances. Sadly enough, a good number of political activists and good governance advocates have been caught in these webs of impropriety and rascality which have created a very negative impact on the nation’s political and socio-economic development.
The second distinctive feature stems from the first. Having seen that the main aim, in most cases, of embarking on the trade of criticism by political and good governance activists in Nigeria is for pecuniary and selfish motives, little wonder why most of such ventures are by and large unfriendly, negative and bereaved of valid opinions and constructiveness. This writer often frowns when critics fail to proffer objective remedial measures that could salvage the subject being criticized or when opposition parties fail to recommend critical measures that could move the government and the nation forward. Emphatically, this second feature is quite common among opposition Politicians in Nigeria and this leaves a critical thinker with the shuddering impression that the ultimate goal of opposition politics in Nigeria is to pull down the ruling party. Elsewhere in civilized nations, governance is everyone’s collective responsibility regardless of political affiliation or ideologies. That’s why in some democracies, the ruling party often appoints outstanding individuals from the opposition into the government. For instance, it would be recalled that during President Barrack Obama’s administration as a Democrat, four Republicans served in his cabinet: Robert McDonald served as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, while Ray Lahood served as Secretary of Transport. Surprisingly, even the critical Defense Ministry was also managed by two Republican namely Gates and Chuck Hagel.
At this juncture, it is pertinent to note that if Nigeria desires to achieve sustainable good governance as well as political, social and economic development, there is an urgent need to have a paradigm shift in the form of activism practised. Activists, critics, protesters, good governance advocates among others should be guided by sound moral values and principles and not by their own greed and selfish personal interests. They should take a cue from legendary Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) and Nelson Mandela – all of blessed memory – just to mention a few. To refresh the reader’s memory, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) is indisputably one of the greatest social critic, and human and civil rights activist of all time in Nigeria. In a bid to uphold the rule of law, the hopes and desires of the poor and oppressed, Chief Gani strongly campaigned against the successive military dictatorship in Nigeria between 1969 and 1996 and as a result of which he was arrested and incarcerated quite a lot of times in various police cell and prisons across the country. No wonder his supporters often referred him as: “The veritable conscience of the nation; the champion of the interests and causes of the masses; the people’s president; and the scourge of sphygmomanometer with which the blood pressure of dictators is gauged”. Remarkably, to protest against several years of maladministration since Nigeria’s independence, in 2008 Chief Gani turned down an invitation by the Nigerian Government to confer on him Order of the Federal Republic (OFR)-one of the highest honours that can be conferred on a citizen by the government of Nigeria. Nelson Mandela, on the other hand, is widely considered as a symbol of democracy and social justice due to his unwavering anti-apartheid stance and crusade against white minority rule in South Africa. Consequently, he was imprisoned from 1962 to 1990, a total of twenty-seven years. While in prison, the South African Prime Minister and later President, P.W. Botha, offered him a release from prison if he unconditionally dropped his anti-apartheid struggle and campaign against white minority rule in South Africa; Mandela totally rejected the offer. For this and many other reasons, he is held in deep respect around the world and the UNI Global Union referred him as the world’s number one citizen.
In conclusion, it would be totally unfair and out of place to end this article without acknowledging the fact that there are still few contemporary activists out there doing a pretty job; however only posterity shall judge and reveal their real motives and intentions for embarking on such adventure.
Duruibe Stanley Chigozie is a writer, researcher, entrepreneur and an economic and financial analyst. He can be reached via text message only on: +234-7051987012.