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objectivity and sentiment

By Bisi Lawrence
President Goodluck  Ebele Jonathan is free to contest the presidential election next year. The Peoples Democratic Party, his party, announced the decision in tandem with the affirmation that its “zoning” policy remains intact.

Since that policy would have routinely thrown President Jonathan out of the race, it would appear that it is being deliberately waived on this occasion as a special favour to the president. He does not hail from the zone – that is, the North – which is making a claim for the presidential spot as its prerogative at this juncture.

One cannot but wonder how serious the party is because, on the face of it and without the explicit rider  that it is a  special concession, it  takes on the form of doublespeak.

The Constitution empowers every eligible citizen to vote and be voted for in a national election, and the offered explanation that Jonathan may contest the election against  the principle of  the  PDP  zoning system only begs the question.

The issue has been a thorny one, and more clarification would not have been amiss. But the fact that the party seems to have been remiss on that score may have sprung from the hubristic tendencies of a political party that is fully relaxed in the overbearing confidence that the country is in its hands.

On the other hand, it may be a clever way of clearing the way for the president himself to step down gracefully for some acclaimed “patriotic” reason. And that would indeed have a portion of patriotism in it.

And so, while all indications may appear to point to a natural desire for the president to contest, that may be no more than on a general assumption. The gentleman is yet to favour us with a definite pronouncement on his decision, though we are being assured that it will come “at the appropriate time.” What time can be more appropriate than now?

The election is so near one could almost smell it – that is, according to the schedule that has been going round.

Even if that schedule has now been subjected to a stringent  review, because of the delay in the clarification of constitutional implications accompanied by the habitual, or traditional, tardiness in response to financial necessities, (to the obvious discomfiture of  INEC executives who have boldly, wisely, indicated as much) the presidential election should hold in the first half of next year.

What then is causing the “hold-up” on the route of Jonathan’s way to a timely declaration of  his intent to contest, or  not to contest? The imperatives of  husting operations demand considerable time.

Already, the former Vice-President, Atiku  Abubakar, has been going around and declaring his interest. He intends to stand on the ticket of  his erstwhile party, the PDP, but is finding it not as easy to renew his membership as it was to dump it. The issue impinges on the point at which he may be re-admitted into the party, and he is doing his utmost  to have his way.

But he is encountering a dour  opposition, which  may  demand some effort to unravel, from Governor Murtala Nyako of  Adamawa.

Former President Ibrahim Babangida is over and beyond that kind of hurdle. He also has now announced his candidacy officially, and the former level of  the din against his desire to return as a civilian president seems to have become somewhat stalled.

Not surprisingly though, because it would have been near-impossible to maintain that tempo of sheer animosity which mostly substituted  prejudice  for  moral judgment, and mistook  sentiment for objectivity.

Of course, if I may be permitted to repeat myself, the Constitution empowers every eligible citizen to vote and be voted for in a national election. I personally can’t help feeling that IBB still appears to have more to deliver in service to this nation, by way of experience, statecraft, and sense of direction.

When he was described as the cause, a while ago, this page attracted some resentment.

But it was  a conclusion arrived at from a candid standpoint. I mentioned at that time that, in a season of clamorous demands for a fair and free election, we may do worse than totally disregard someone who was able to achieve it. But swift as an arrow came the rejoinder that he also annulled it.

He has explained that it involved much more than a personal decision, but has accepted his responsibility as a worthwhile leader would.

Drop that consideration for a moment; but has it impacted on your consciousness – if I may so put it that the issue about which all the other parties, apart from the PDP, are now belabouring themselves -and about which they are grouping and re-grouping themselves – was what the two-party system introduced by Babangida  had already resolved before it was discontinued?

We cannot entirely forget the past. That is not what we are saying here. “The past is prologue,” says Shakespeare. “Study the past.” But progressive thinking informs us that politics is about the future.

And so we find that, ironically, IBB is in fact, the first man to actually abrogate the opportunity for a one-party system … which, by the way, is not the same thing with founding a “mega-party” that practically approximates what it proposes to destroy.

Prejudice and moral judgment

You might have heard about the furore over the proposal to build a mosque near the site of the national disaster in the United States, now known from the date of its occurrence as “9/11”. It occurred on the Ninth of  November, 2001.

In broad daylight, two planes deliberately crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Building in Manhattan, New York. The upper floors of the buildings toppled to the ground with a mass of  humanity. Fire sprouted up and engulfed the entire area. It was horrendous.

The AI-Queda, a Middle East organization headed by Osama bin Laden, claimed responsibility for the dastardly act, and America went to war in revenge. That war is still raging in Afghanistan. The area of the destroyed twin-towers has been left undeveloped – a wide expanse of naked real estate known as”Ground Zero.”

Though I am proudly Nigerian, I do share the grief of  the bereaved Americans who lost their dear ones in 9/11. The video footage of the airplanes as they crashed into the buildings was shown over and over again on television, as that tale of  woe was recounted time and again for weeks in the news.

I could only bear it for a little while. After that, I would quickly turn to another channel, or switch the set off entirely. As it happened, I had actually witnessed the event on the television as it occurred, and at first mistaken it for the clip of  a fiction drama.

Only minutes later did its reality hit me, and I screamed in horror.
Thousands of souls had perished on that day, removed from earthly existence in all their innocence, and leaving other thousands of relatives joined by a whole nation, in deep mourning. The wounds have not yet healed. It may not for another decade. To forgive will  definitely take longer – maybe never.

AI Queda identifies itself as an Islamic organization, fighting for an Islamic cause. But not all Muslims agree with its methods of fighting for the cause. Such people, especially in the United States, would be expected to sympathize, and share  a  sense  of  loss with the bereaved.

A monument is being considered to be built in honour of  the victims, but several people would rather leave the open expanse of ground, bare and untouched, as a memorial fitting enough for the grief of 9/11.

Now, would you believe that some people are proposing to build a  mosque almost  within  a stone’s throw of “Ground Zero”? Yes, a mosque. Naturally, the proposal raised an outburst of emotions. “How insensitive!” a distraught  nation-wide public asked.

“Are the Muslims trying to raise their own monument to the success of inordinate terrorism? Several people felt it should never have occurred to anyone to attempt a venture like that which, to them, was so contemptible, to say the least.

All this is happening against the background of an election year in which all politicians, high and low, are very careful about what they say. An unguarded statement may be followed by dire consequences, like the loss of political gains. And so it was no surprise that President  Barak Obama seemed to hesitate to take any position on the matter.

But eventually, he did… and I was shocked. So, of course were many of his countrymen. His popularity ratings took a steep dive at a period when even many other politicians depended on his support to promote their own fortunes. Obama obviously was aware of all that when he said what he said.

President Barak Obama blandly asserted that every American had the right to freedom of  worship, and also the right to erect a structure on private land. Period. He earned a spontaneous outburst of applause from the audience at the occasion where he spoke, but left many people across America aghast with what was widely assessed to be an unguarded statement – to put it mildly.

But how could he? I wondered. The issue was not the right to the freedom of worship of anyone at all, but the wisdom to put up a structure  that  would be offensive to many because of the site’s recent history. But Barak Obama boldly embraced the larger picture which frames the rights guaranteed  by  the American Constitution for everyone of its citizens.

And, surprise, surprise, no one less than the Mayor of  New York shared  his view. But, even more surprise, surprise, several members of  the opposition party, including a former member of President Bush’s cabinet, concurred. “Yes,” they declared, “the President is right.”’How could they   align themselves with the President?”, I said to myself.

However, it later came back to me. The resentment over the siting of the proposed Mosque in Manhattan was fuelled by sentiment and propelled by prejudice. It does not affect the right of any citizen under the law. It has broken no statute.

The proposed location has only hurt other people’s feelings, an unpleasant thing to do – but that is probably what characterizes those people. What typify America are the over-riding principles of her nationhood.

And if we, as a people, must progress and leave an abiding  heritage for  posterity to cherish and uphold, we  can  no longer afford to replace moral judgment with sentiment, and present prejudice as a substitute for objectivity.
Time out.


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