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Reality versus ‘alternative facts’ (1)

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By Douglas Anele

When one of President Donald J. Trump’s top advisers invented the tantalising but deliciously deceptive expression ‘alternative facts,’ it was an indication that the idea of truth as a regulative principle of human reason and its engagement with reality is being manipulated once again to hoodwink people with touch-and-go mentality who seldom activate their critical acumen.

This is because the motivation for bringing up the concept in the first place is the spirited attempt to justify the bizarre argument that two contradictory versions of the same event can be true simultaneously, thereby negating one of the fundamental axioms of logic, otherwise known as the law of non-contradiction, which stipulates that contradictories can neither be true nor false at the same time. In response, some commentators have pointed out, correctly in my view, that the doctrine of ‘alternative facts’ is incoherent, that it is a euphemism for fiction being presented or masqueraded as fact.

With respect to what actually led to the invocation of that notion, namely, whether it was Trump or his predecessor Barack Obama that attracted a bigger crowd at the presidential inauguration, aerial photographs showed that the crowd at Obama’s inauguration ceremonies is bigger than Trump’s; but Donald Trump and his lieutenants would rather have us believe the ‘alternative fact’ that his crowd is larger.

From the foregoing, the recourse to alternative fact is an attempt to substitute fiction for fact or falsehood for truth, especially if the latter is for some reason inconvenient or unacceptable to the person making the substation.

Now, the ontological correlate of the law of non-contradiction is based on the law of identity, which asserts that a thing is identical with itself, that the phenomena which constitute reality are really what they are although they might be perceived and interpreted in different ways. Even so, in our interactions with the world, we tend to presume that there is only one true version of every event or occurrence, despite variations in how they are reported and difficulties in ascertaining the truth particularly if the situation is complex or if the event in question has deep and wide-ranging repercussions for a sizeable number of people.

Take the case of the health status of President Muhammadu Buhari, which has been a topical issue in the media for some time now. Clearly, it is either the President is both physically and mentally fit to continue in office or he is not. Government officials have been trying to convince Nigerians that Buhari is still fit to lead by posting photographs of him with leaders of the National Assembly and some prominent members of his party in different newspapers.

In addition, last week Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, released a statement that President Trump had a cordial discussion with his boss. To Buharimaniacs, the photographs and official claims that our President has spoken to a handful of people proves that he is “in good shape”; but to skeptics it would have been more convincing and reassuring if the President’s media managers had arranged for Buhari himself to address Nigerians through Skype, Face Time or any of the social media platforms so that they can see and hear directly from him and, consequently, form a more reliable idea of his health condition.

As it is, the whole thing seems deliberately stage-managed in order to project an alternative fact regarding President Buhari’s actual situation. Perhaps, the President is really not in the best mental and physical shape to shoulder the herculean task of leading Nigeria at this time, which implies that the most reasonable option for him is to resign. Buharimaniacs who excoriate anyone that recommends resignation for the President if he cannot continue to lead because of his health and insist that he must finish his term of office because he is the only one that can save the country are probably suffering from messianic delusion.

There has never been a divinely ordained messiah anywhere in the world. What happens is that, throughout history certain men after undergoing intense subjective experiences arrogate to themselves the title of messiah or allow themselves to be persuaded that they have been divinely chosen to rescue their communities from impending calamity.

However, since there are no indispensable human beings, all messianic claims are ultimately futile. Therefore, no matter the incredible qualities possessed by the so-called messiahs or those that the German philosopher G.W. Hegel called world historical individuals, the community outlasts them, and there is no guarantee that any positive societal change they might have inaugurated would not be reversed as the wheel of time rolls inexorably forward. Indeed, on many occasions several self-styled messiahs have brought disaster upon themselves and their communities.

Last Sunday, I argued that African leaders generally suffer from sit-tight neurosis – they would rather die in office than resign because of old age, ill health or public rejection arising from poor performance. Oftentimes these megalomaniacs argue the “alternative fact” that their tenacious grip on power is borne out of patriotic feelings, whereas the motivating factor is craving for power, primitive accumulation and dispensing of political patronages based on filial, ethnic, and religious affiliations.

In my view, President Buhari bears the ultimate responsibility of deciding what to do if he considers his current job too demanding for his health and age, as he frankly admitted in South Africa shortly after his election about two years ago. In that regard, while in London beyond the reach of the constant stream of favour seekers most of whom he might really not want to see, the President can engage in honest critical self examination and ignore sycophants parading the “alternative fact” of his indispensability and the disaster that would befall the country if he leaves office before May 29, 2019.

I hope Buhari returns to the country soon, reinvigorated both mentally and physically to face the daunting challenges of his office. Presently Nigerians are suffering as usual whereas those they elected to serve live as if Nigeria belongs to them alone. Perhaps the President is trying his best; but given the escalating hardship nationwide, his best is not good enough.

Repeated promises of a better tomorrow cannot feed the hungry, heal the sick, provide jobs for the unemployed or retrenched workers and save the poor from penury; it can never be a substitute for clear headed pragmatic policies which must be implemented by the most technically and morally qualified Nigerians irrespective of their ethnic origin or religion. On his return, President Buhari needs to quickly overhaul his government and thoroughly seek out Nigerians who can help him alleviate the sufferings of our people expeditiously.

Meanwhile, some perceptive Nigerians have identified discouraging contradictions in the promises and actual conduct of the President. Of those, the one that is immediately relevant to our discussion is his penchant for going abroad for medical attention. Remember, as a presidential candidate Buhari promised to introduce positive change in leadership.

Realistically, no reasonable person expects him to transform Nigeria overnight; yet there are some personal choices he could have made since he became President which would  signal that he is serious about positive attitudinal modification in leadership, about introducing a new leadership model for others to emulate. My friend, Obi Nwakanma, captured the contradiction I have in mind succinctly when he noted the hypocrisy in the President’s pledge to end medical tourism abroad by top echelons of the ruling elite and his visits to London for treatment despite the billions of naira voted for Aso Rock clinic.

To some people, this glaring contradiction does not matter at all because Buhari is involved – for these buharimaniacs, to demand full disclosure on his health is unconstitutional! Now, Buhari as a presidential candidate went round the country canvassing for votes and those obsessed with his privacy did not talk about it then. Having become President, whether they like it or not he has given up most of his claims to privacy, including that of his health status, especially considering the fact that his medical bills would be paid from public funds. The issue is not just a constitutional matter; it has a moral dimension also.

To be continued. 


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