Sunday, January 8, 2012
By Biko Agozino
‘Education, and education and education through conscientisation! Our people need to be aware of the power they have as citizens; their inalienable rights as people; the fact that the power enjoyed by the rulers should actually flow from the people. They should stop glamourising and beatifying the bad rulers that make life and living impossible for them and their children. Honestly, there is too much power-worship in this country, a habit I see as part of the Baba ki e pe (Boss, may you live long) syndrome. Just look at it: in Nigeria, the political ruler (and virtually anyone in a position of authority) is treated and venerated, like on with royal and/or priestly/divine powers, appeased with abject genuflections and lavish prostrations. Their birthday ‘felicitations’ take up substantial spaces in the newspapers; their oriki (praisename) is loud, lurid, and ludicrously extravagant...So, in a way, it is Nigerian people that tell their rulers: rule us forever; rule us the way you choose; rule us the way that pleases your whims. Surely, this is one of the terribly negative parts of our traditional culture that is blatantly antithetical to the idea of democracy. For, the pervasive vestiges of divine kingship which tend to colour our concept of political power actually dis-empowers the people by erecting their rulers into some kind of sacred, unquestionable Kabiyesi alaye lorun (the unquestionable on who has dominion over heaven and earth). From this apparent verbal hyperbole emerges a state of mind, a political habit, and followership style that makes democracy impossible by belittling the people while inflating the essence of their rulers. All over the world, we know that tyranny never flourishes without the people’s abasement.’ – Niyi Osundare.
Thanks to Niyi Osundare for his usually perceptive finger on the pulse of the nation. What he has identified is a major trouble with Nigeria that even Chinua Achebe overlooked in his classic on the theme – the trouble of authoritarianism. Yet, it is not true that the follow-follow mentality found in monarchical traditions in Nigeria is representative of all Nigerian cultures. We still have Nigerians who proudly say that they know no king and would try to hold anyone in authority accountable. By some kind of coincidence, they happen to be the very ones who are being attacked and massacred in the highly monarchical northern part of the country.
Authoritarianism is the biggest weakness that President Jonathan suffers from. He seems to think that an authoritarian leader is what Nigeria needs because Nigerians love to play the boss from the office to the market, the place of worship, the traffic and to the home. They brutalize their own spouses, children, employees, congregants, neighbours and even strangers because that is how the government treats them. Any Nigerian who preaches peace and non-violence today would be dismissed as weak and stupid because force is the lingua franca of the nation.
The very first act of power play that President Jonathan demonstrated once he finally took over as acting president under Yaradua was to lock out ministers who were late to a federal executive council meeting. Although Nigerian cheered this bossy move, it smacked of a village headmaster flogging pupils for lateness without asking if the ministers had anything worthwhile to contribute to the meeting or if they had any excusable reason for being tardy.
The second executive order from Jonathan was to ground all ministers from going home on holiday during the festive season, until they had worked out a solution to the electricity problem in the country. Again Nigerians cheered this authoritarian populism. But Rilwanu Lukman ignored the order and travelled abroad for a scheduled OPEC meeting without being fired or reprimanded. Travel or no travel, the electricity problem remains unsolved. The third major exhibition of this bigmanism by Jonathan was when he banned the national football teams from international competitions for two years without consulting to be advised that such childish tantrums after embarrassing losses would not be tolerated by FIFA. He had to back down and he did.
Now President Jonathan is getting power drunk absolutely as the executive presidency corrupts him further. He has slapped an unjust taxation on Nigerians without the due process of having the wuluwulu subsidy debated and approved by the legislature but this time he under-estimated the defiance of the long suffering people of Nigeria when it comes to what Gani Fawehinmi called executive lawlessness. He simply announced the withdrawal of a non-existent subsidy and thereby hiked up the prices of services and commodities for impoverished Nigerians.
Luckily for Nigerians, organized labour is ready this time to do battle not just for wages but for the suffering masses. The response of an authoritarian person like Jonathan is equally predictable – he tried to order the workers around by getting an injunction from a kangaroo court to say that the protest slated to intensify on Monday, January 9 2012, is not authorized by the boss. The workers called his bluff and told him that this is not a trade dispute within the jurisdiction of an industrial court that has a tendency to always rule on behalf of the bosses. Bravo to the working people of Nigeria.
This militancy by the workers should serve as a warning to any would-be coup plotters that Nigerians will not stomach another cynical ‘Fellow Nigerians’ broadcast. Instead the protesters should start gathering signatures for the recall of President Jonathan and for the holding of a recall election for all unrepresentative politicians. All legislators and all governors who support this sadistic policy of fleecing the impoverished should also be recalled. Those ministers who threatened to resign if the boss changed his mind and backed away from the abysmal policy should get their wish once their Oga is recalled and defeated democratically.
If Jonathan wishes to meet the legitimate demand of the workers by unleashing a kill-and-go police force on the unarmed civilians, let him be aware that once he is forced from office, he will be tried for murder like Mubarak in Egypt. Besides, authority killing simply sends the wrong message to the citizens that killing one another was a legitimate way to express grievances.
Niyi Osundare is right in pointing out that the reason why authoritarianism is killing our people is because of ignorance and illiteracy. Part of the reason why Ghana has a more democratic culture than Nigeria is because of the National School Movement that Nkrumah established across the country when the colonial administration suspended teachers and students who supported nationalist struggles. The mass protest that is on-going against the wicked policies of the Jonathan administration should include educational programs for teaching basic literacy and political, economic, legal and human rights literacy to the masses even during the street protests.
Finally, the Nigerian Government should immediately take steps to end the terrorization of Nigerian citizens in any part of the country. This cannot be done without addressing what Chinua Achebe identified as the Igbo problem. We cannot go on pretending that the genocide committed against the Igbo would not affect the psyche of the people by cheapening human life. The federal government should therefore set aside at least ten trillion naira as reparations and with unreserved apologies to be given to the Igbo of Nigeria for the past and continuing pogroms that are visited upon them. There should also be a law, as in Germany, to make the denial of the Igbo genocide a crime.
The cosmopolitan Igbo who are the vanguard of nationalism in Nigeria today by the risks they take in venturing to the remotest parts of the country should reciprocate in kind once they receive reparations by sponsoring scholarships and football trophies for schools to compete for in their places of residence. Fleeing back to Igboland is never going to be a lasting solution because the next day, they would return to the places of slaughter in search of opportunities to provide thankless services to their fellow citizens if they do not start killing each other over crumbs in Igboland. Instead of allowing themselves to be isolated and marginalized in Igboland, they should continue to fan out across the whole of Africa with a strategy to invest in goodwill among the people wherever they settle in Africa. That will not prevent murderous envy and jealousy but it may contribute to the further democratization of the whole continent for the benefit of all especially if they are empowered with a well-deserved reparations fund by the government.