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Democracy and closed Nigerian spaces

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
I think that deep down, those who rule Nigerian would rather they had on their hands the peace of the graveyard, where rulers do as they pleased and citizens are subjects.

When President Jonathan, the other day, said he was the most-criticized president in the world, lurking behind the assertion was the wish that things were different.

But the truth is that most of the actions and statements of our men (and women) of power indicate that they do not even understand the central kernel of leading a democratic society.

We must remind our powerful rulers, that at the heart of the engagement they have with us as CITIZENS of a democratizing country (not yet a democracy!), is what Locke called a >Social Contract=, and Nigeria=s 1999 Constitution=s Section 15 (5), boldly asserted that AThe state shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power@. The massive levels of corruption associated with the government of the day, from the fuel subsidy scandal to the one related to pensions, indicate clearly, that this very important demand of the constitution is obeyed only in its breach!

A ruling elite which is mired in the level of corruption and incompetence as we deal with in our country today, will certainly find the scrutiny of the media particularly unwelcome. Yet, the media cannot do anything contrary to its obligations as enshrined in Section 22 of the Constitution: Athe press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objective (contained in chapter II of the Constitution) and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.

If this is the constitutional position, how then might we interpret Information Minister, LabaranMaku’s warning to the Guild Editors, two weeks in Uyo, that Nigerians should not take President Goodluck Jonathan’s patience (no pun intended!) for weakness? Maku said it was erroneous to assume that because the president has displayed the capacity to tolerate many things, including criticisms and media attacks, then he was weak and incapable of taking decisions.

Again, the implicit assumption here was that somehow, the president was merely doing us all a favour Ato tolerate many things, including criticisms and media attacks.

What LabaranMaku wants is the closed space inhabited by slaves and subjects, but those who inhabit the real world of democracy are citizens, who must necessarily have responsibilities and duties as well as rights. If those who rule want subjects, they chose a wrong time to be born, because the era of rulers and their subjects died a long time ago, and the fact that those longings for a dead era come to the minds of people like LabaranMaku, a former radical student activist and journalist, reveals the dead weight of consciousness, even when the material basis has long disappeared.

But there cannot be a greater love for closed spaces than the one displayed by Attorney General MuhammedAdoke, in response to renewed calls to examine the On-shore/Off-shore dichotomy. At a recent judicial event, Adoke warned against >overheating of the polity=, with such a debate, saying it was >dangerous=; and furthermore, it had been ruled upon by the Supreme Court.

The presidency had earlier described the debate as mischievous and a closed case. The lovers of closed spaces included the Delta State governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, who issued threats of re-commencement of activities by the so-called militants of the Niger Delta if such a re-visit was ever contemplated! It was a point he very much expatiated upon, when I asked him a question, apropos of the issue, during the recent Nigerian Guild of Editors Conference, in Uyo. He went on and on about Athe boys@ in the creeks and the fact that they still had their guns.

It is not possible that we can all agree about every topic of social policy in society; least of all one as fractured as Nigeria. But it is important to learn to listen to the other side, without the bitterness, insult and threats which many groups prefer as response to views that conflict with theirs or which rock their sureties and prejudices. There can never be closed spaces barred from discussion in a democratic society. And in my view, what makes democracy a higher level of societal organization than barbarism is that citizens can canvass often different and conflicting ideas, in order, at the end of the day, to find the consensus to build society. Closed spaces might be fashionable and the order of the day in religious doctrine, but it has no place in the construction of a democratic society. It was the Chinese who called for a thousand flowers to bloom and that is precisely what we need to allow, in all the contentious issues of nation building in our country.

Imperialism and the Islamic world in ferment

The demonstrations against the blasphemous film, made by a fringe character in the United States, have continued to spread around the Muslim world. The tragic loss of lives in the past couple of weeks, since the film went viral on the internet,  the lives of the innocent, has been highlighted by the killing of the American Ambassador in Libya. It was poignant that the Ambassador had been an active supporter of the rightwing, conservative religious groups that were the central forces which imperialism used to topple Muammar Khadaffi.

Despite its many weaknesses, Ghaddafi’s regime was nationalistic and Ghadaffi supported many anti-imperialist projects around the world, including his well-recognised contributions against apartheid in South Africa. But he had to go; imperialism needed the control of Libya=s oilfields which was increasingly falling intoa Chinese sphere of interest. With his fall, the satrapy installed in Tripoli is beginning to hand over Libyan oil to the Western firms.

But far more sinister is the unleashing of the reactionary forces of regionalism, tribal rivalry and backward religious groups in the country.

They are threatening to take Libya back to the Stone Ages: they are destroying tombs of Sufi scholars; they are burning books and want to impose their views of Islam on Libya, as they are trying to do in Tunisia and Egypt and the same reactionary forces are exporting fighters to Syria, under the aegis of the imperialist powers, and the active connivance of the medieval ruling clique in Saudi Arabia. It is laughable that one of the most backward regimes in the world, the Saudi ruling regime which does not even allow women to drive cars, is ostensibly exporting democracy to Syria; the same regime which sent in tanks into Bahrain, to suppress a democratic uprising!

The issues are clear: the imperial interests include the control of the oil resources and the protection of the strategic military superiority that the Zionist state of Israel has over the Arab and Muslim world. It is precisely the reason why Iran is under the radar; its scientific and technical capacity must be destroyed anyhow.

The methods include the targeted assassination of Iranian scientists as was done in Iraq; there are plans being openly discussed, that Zionist Israel will attack Iranian nuclear research sites, even when Israel is the ONLY state in the Middle East with over 200 nuclear warheads. Yet no one dares to mention them; just as any criticism of the Zionist state is increasingly described as anti-Semitic and therefore dismissed!

One of the points of anger in the Muslim world is the fact that the West continues to plead free speech as reason it cannot stop those who ridicule the faith of Islam; yet the same Western world punishes denial of the Holocaust and homophobic crimes. The double standards implicit in this position baffles and angers millions of Muslims around the world.

It is also in the same context of the interests of imperialism, that I recall that they were able to cobble together civil society and human right groups, in April 2011 or so, to denounce Ghadaffi’s alleged atrocities to prepare the ground for the NATO airstrikes which killed hundreds of innocent Libyan civilians with the use of depleted uranium warheads.

Some of the signatories of the justification for the imperial attack of Libya included leading Nigerian human rights activists=. Those who collect dollars from imperialism, end up supporting some of the most criminal activities of these powers.

They pocket dollars but are culpable in imperialist crimes! But it is clear that whatever method is used to legitimize pro-imperialist uprisings and delegitimize others, people will continue to struggle to change their lives, no matter the amount of manipulations effected by imperialism; from Washington, London or Paris!

NIGERIA: Cut adrift by floods

The imageries have been terrifying, from North to South. Whole communities under water; roads that have been washed away; floating and bloated corpses; stranded travellers; diversion of traffic to badly maintained roads and a country effectively cut into two, by the force of nature.

The floods are of a biblical proportion and farmlands, homesteads and other economic ventures have been left in ruins.

But it was not as if we have not been forewarned! NIMET consistently said this was going to be a very wet years and consequences were likely to be dire.  Nobody seemed to have taken heed; life went on as usual. So when the waters came, the nation was least prepared and millions of our compatriots have had to suffer.

But we are tied directly to nature because we are of nature; therefore, knowledge is imperative to understand the forces of nature and to make the understanding work for us as human bings and a society. This calls for the inculcation of the scientific method in our understanding of phenomena. Clearly, the changing patterns of global weather will continue to impact on whatever we do in our individual and collective lives.

It is therefore more important than hitherto, to be prepared to handle emergencies directly related to global warming and the consequence. What modernity does is to equip individuals and societies with the discipline and knowledge as well as organization to respond to adversity; unfortunately, these are some of the greatest problems which face Nigerian society.

We are not disciplined; we have abandoned search for knowledge for religion and superstition. They eventually catch up with society. If the tragic events of the past few weeks help us to do things better, we would have snatched victory from adversity; but the question to ask is whether we are really willing to do so.


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