Growing political intolerance and the ghost of Nazi Germany
Winners in the Nigerian general elections of 2023 should be celebrating, but they are not, especially in the camp of the President-elect. The expectation was that after his declaration as winner, he would be able to sue for peace and settlement and even persuade opposition parties and candidates from going to court to challenge his declaration as president. That hasn’t worked out. The content of the petition of the Labour party candidate, which calls into question his very eligibility to stand for the elections citing his drug-dealing and a string of perjury allegations has sent shockwaves through the presidents-elect’s camp. It means for the first time, the courts would be obligated to thoroughly scrutinize Tinubu’s murky past, which, until now, he has refused to address. What is more, since his declaration as winner, Nigerians have taken to social media and the internet to freely allude to his criminal past and his ineligibility for high office. Hashtags such as #TinubuTheDrugDealer and #TinubuForPrison have been topping the trend charts in Nigeria and across the world. This is to say nothing about foreign media that are now portraying Nigeria as more or less a criminal enterprise on account of its election of a person with a known criminal/drug-dealing past as president.
Tinubu’s camp appears quite rattled and are now lashing out in expected and dangerous ways. If as a private citizen and presidential aspirant, his camp simply ignored and got the mainstream media to also ignore his alleged criminal past, as president-elect or president, it would be difficult to do so. His garrulous and unhinged publicist, Bayo Ononuga, besides his well-publicized hate speech against a particular ethnic group and his incitement of violence during the elections, has posted a chilling warning against all those posting social media messages about Tinubu’s criminal past. On March 26, he tweeted “All those sons of bitches tweeting the hashtags #TinubuTheDrugDealer #TinubuForPrison, your days are numbered. One day, you will face the wrath of law and God for tweeting malicious falsehood about Nigeria’s President-Elect.”
To be sure, this is dangerous rhetoric and signals a desire on the part of Tinubu’s camp to use the full powers of the office of the president to not only take away the rights of free speech by citizens but also to shut down democracy and deny citizens’ rights to life and freedom of expression as we know it.
We must take this warning seriously. It is an echo of the dangerous level of political intolerance in Germany in the late 1920s and early 1030s that led to the passing of the Enabling Act in Germany on March 23, 1933, which gave the Nazi government of Adolf Hitler awesome powers to pass laws without the input of the Reichstag (the German parliament). The law effectively abolished democracy and gave Hitler complete control over the government, paving the way for Hitler to militarize German society and prepare it for war.
The events leading up to the passing of the enabling act were the high level of political intolerance in Germany at the time where the Nazis basically manipulated German shame and feeling of defeat after World War I, the punitive treaty of Versailles, and the economic crisis of the 1920s to brand all opposition to its rule as treason and seek to eliminate them. It led to the assassination of many political opponents. The enabling act was the final attempt to silence all political opposition. Even before the law was passed, over 100 communist parliamentarians had already been arrested and imprisoned and many others were either in hiding or in exile. Overwhelmed by the Nazi frenzy, other opposition parliamentarians just folded and effectively signed the abolition of not just the German parliament but democracy itself to save themselves from the wrath of the Nazi paramilitary storm-troopers stationed at the entrance of the parliament on that day to further intimidate the opposition.
With the dangerous rhetoric coming from Tinubu’s camp, I see desperation and a willingness to engage in political assassinations and an attempt to basically outlaw all opposition and democracy itself unless the opposition and ordinary citizens cease to talk about Tinubu’s criminal past that they want to be forgotten. They are ready to go to dangerous lengths to achieve this. I predict a chilling and horrifying future under a president Tinubu.
However, we must not forget the lessons of the Enabling Act: political intolerance can have dangerous and far-reaching consequences. When political opponents are silenced, when minority groups are targeted, and when democracy is undermined, the seeds of a dangerous level of tyranny are being sowed.