By Donu Kogbara
NEWCOMERS to this country often ask me why most Nigerians are so slavishly willing to endlessly, cheerfully and calmly tolerate bad situations that would trigger off riots or other forms of mass protest in other parts of the world.
I can understand why the individuals who keep asking me this question are so puzzled because I frequently asked myself – and the people around me- the very same question when I first moved here from the UK 11 years ago.
I was utterly mystified, initially, by the fact that so many Nigerians were hardly ever outraged enough by lousy leaders – and the multiple traumas and chronic inconveniences they inflicted on us – to throw major tantrums.
I could never, during the months that followed my arrival on these shores, get my head around the widespread reluctance to actively support fearless rebels (the late great Gani Fawhemini, for example) who took it upon themselves to loudly complain about myriad injustices on behalf of the majority.
I was perpetually perplexed and immensely infuriated, in those very early days, by the breezy nonchalance and philosophical acceptance that my fellow citizens displayed whenever they encountered scenarios I regarded as unbearable or came across highly-placed miscreants whose dismissals I felt we should demand.
A lady academic I befriended responded to my regular rants about various societal dysfunctions – and the populace’s failure to do anything about them – by gently assuring me that “you will soon see why we don’t bother to fight back”.
She was right. As time passed by, I gradually started to see, with crystal clarity, why the average Nigerian shrugs rather than resists. And even though I still go through bouts of brave idealism, I am less feisty than I once was.
The truth that eventually dawned on me is that trying to beat a system that is rotten to the core from top to bottom – and only superficially democratic – usually turns out to be an exhausting and expensive exercise in futility. Fighting back can even be dangerous in a place that is run like a criminal conspiracy.
There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. There are, of course, good men and women within the establishment. But there simply aren’t enough good men and women to make a real difference and defend the rights of the powerless.
In civilized nations – which I will refer to henceforth as “there” – it is no big deal to be anti-government, as long as you are anti-government in a law-abiding manner. Here, thuggery abounds; and dissent can cost you your life or your livelihood…even if it is morally justified and does not involve any illegal activity.
There, if a maid accuses a big man of rape, her claim is taken seriously; and the man will go to jail if he is found guilty. Here, even the most senior of females dare not make a fuss when predatory male VIPs sexually harass them.
There, you can run against influential and wealthy government guys in elections and win, if voters prefer you to them. Here, hated government cronies can rig and buy their way into various top jobs and force themselves on electorates with enthusiastic assistance from institutions that are supposed to be neutral.
There, if damaging allegations are flung at a minister, he or she will be suspended and intensively investigated. Here, ministers keep their jobs, even if they are mired in scandalous rumours that haven’t been adequately refuted.
Culture of impunity
The answer I give when I’m asked why most Nigerians are so passive is a) that the prevailing culture of impunity – and the constant bullying to which we are subjected – have sapped our collective spirit and made us believe that we cannot escape victimhood and b) that it is easier, in a way, to suffer, smile and pray for a brighter future than to make trouble or gloomily wallow in our misfortunes.
Someone once said that freedom is seized, not given. But military coups are not the solution to our predicament. I am not even sure that Almighty God will agree to save us if we continue to be cowards who flatly refuse to save ourselves.
My view, at the end of the day, is that only courage and self-respect will provide us with true liberation…and that no far-reaching changes will take place in this beleaguered land until we develop the guts to take a gambles and boldly challenge members of the ruling oligarchy who are shamelessly looting our oil wealth, cruelly destroying our dreams and mismanaging our precious patrimony.
It’s not just about two politicians!
I KEEP hearing about candidates who have dropped their election tribunal cases because they have allegedly been “settled” by the people who claim to have won.
These people who claim to have won fit into two categories. They either believe that they won but don’t want the hassle of having to prove that they won OR know that they lost and don’t want to take the risk of being exposed.
I totally understand why some “losers” withdraw from election tribunal battles…and wearily accept bribes that will enable them to not only recoup the funds they invested in their campaigns but to live comfortably for a while.
But it’s not just about two politicians who decide to quit fighting each other!
A successful rigger has not just committed a crime against his opponent. He has also committed a crime against the constituency he seeks to represent AND a crime against The State (the fact that The State may be corrupt and part of the rigging scam is neither here nor there. The basic principle still remains).
As far as I’m concerned, a successful rigger should not be let off the hook simply because he “settled” his opponent…because his opponent is not the only person or entity he has cheated. It should even be illegal to accept settlement.
Another thing that really annoys me is that candidates who allegedly lost their elections – and often don’t have much money – can, in many instances, only prove that the so-called winner rigged if they hire forensic experts from abroad.
I guarantee you that some of the changes that decent Nigerians yearn for will happen pretty sharpish if the government pays objective foreign forensic experts to fly in and examine every single contested election result.
It is often said that Nigeria is being run by gangsters. And it’s time for President Goodluck Jonathan – a basically decent man who attracted vast amounts of genuine support during the April polls – to detach himself from the disgraces of the past and show us that he is a different kettle of fish.