By Dele Sobowale
“Politicians are their own grave-diggers.”—Will Rogers, 1879-1935.
The late American humorist never had Nigerian politicians in mind when he made that prescient remark about politicians. But, it would appear as if most Nigerian politicians are hell-bent on proving him right. And, in my almost sixty four years of observing them closely, it would appear that the cast of characters at the top of the political pyramid keeps getting worse with each election. That observation leads to one frightening question: is the black man not created for democracy to thrive on our continent?
Before you unsheathe your dagger and come for my heart, please look around. When late British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, addressed the apartheid South African Parliament, on February 3, 1960, he proclaimed that “the wind of change is blowing throughout the [African] continent. Whether we like it or not, the growth of political consciousness is a political fact.” A little over half a century, fifty-eight years to be exact, after that declaration, we Africans can ask ourselves if the predicted “political consciousness had taken hold on the continent.
The betrayal of the people started early. Virtually all the African leaders who were in the fore-front of the struggle for independence, shouting “democracy, equality, justice, brotherhood ended up as dictators or sit-down tyrants – Nkrumah, Kenyata, Banda, Toure, Jawara, Kaunda, Obote, Mugabe, Mengistu,Tubman etc etc. Almost invariably they have had to be removed by military coups or death. When the people are divinely delivered from the devilish autocrats, another son of the devil takes over – Arap Moi, Museveni, Campaore, Jameh, Taylor etc. No other continent has had that sordid history depitcting a people who are mentally allergic to the freedoms and benefits democracy brings. Everywhere, every monster finds people willing to help him subjugate the people; and everywhere docile Africans are ever ready to submit to the heartless slave masters ruling them for long periods. That explains why Cameroun and Uganda are still in bondage and why it took so long for Zimbabwe to get rid of an old man who was exhibiting the imbecilities of advanced age.
Usually they come as emancipators of their people from oppression – real and imagined. They end up visiting worse atrocities on their people than the colonialists ever did. In all instances, the regime and its long tenure are built on tissues of barefaced and shameless lies generously spread around by the leaders of the political party. Kwame Nkruman was a perfect example. The falsehood which sustained his grip on power was broadcast by people like Krobo Edusei. Never mind that he later dealt with them, just as our own Abacha almost slaughtered Generals Diya, Adisa, Olanrewaju and co. There is never a dearth of people eager to spread whoppers to remain in the corridors of power.
“When faith is lost, when honour dies, the man is dead”, said John Whittier, 1807-1892. The American writer was making a statement at a time when honour counted for much in society. Since then, integrity, like most decent human attributes, has been devalued like the Naira. In the 1800s, it was the low class individuals who traded self-esteem for “filthy lucre”. Those were the days when “a good name is better than silver or gold.” Good citizens were exempted from avarice. Not any more. Then, there were certain groups of people whose character was assumed to be above reproach. Their word, given in testimony, was better than gold. Among them were professors.
Given the sanctity of truth on university campuses, professors were regarded as people speaking absolute truths; or as close to the truth as they could get to it. They never, ever “professed” rumours – especially professors of law and SANs. Granted, the law has never been a profession which actively promoted truth telling. But, there was always a ground floor below which nobody decent descended bending truth – or they might end up in the septic tank. Professors of law are held to an even higher standard because they teach some leaders of tomorrow.
Real law, as opposed to the jungle variety, is always based on evidence. The axiom can be summarized as “who asserts must prove”. The rules of evidence are based absolutely on that principle. Nobody, apparently until now, can pass through the Nigerian Law School or any other law school for that matter without mastering that little bit.
“What does corrupting time not diminish? Our grandparents brought forth [ethically] feebler heirs; we are further degenerate, and soon will beget progeny more wicked.” (Horace, 65-8 BC).
The first Nigerian to be called to the Bar was one Shapara Williams; later came people like Barrister Payne in the late 1880s. Poor Alhaji Williams must be rolling in his grave, at Abari cemetary now; because in Nigeria today, one hundred and thirty one years after he did us proud by breasting the tape to be first, a Nigerian professor of Law is going about peddling rumours with scant regard for the rules of evidence. What happened to professional ethics? Are those supposed to be thrown out the window just to win an argument and defame people whose names are deliberately omitted to avoid the penalties associated with slander?
“Wherever God erects a house of praise/The Devil always builds a chapel there/And twill be found upon close examination/The latter has the largest congregation.” (Daniel Defoe, 1661-1780).
Good old Defoe, the author of one of the most delightful classics – ROBINSON CRUSOE – discovered over two hundred and thirty years ago what some of us less observant fools still don’t know. When a fellow is called a Pastor, you should ask if he worships in God’s church or in the Devil’s chapel. As it turned out in Nigeria, some of our most celebrated Pastors have been bowing their knees to Satan. The Holy Bible admonishes us not to bear false witness. St Paul warned us to investigate thoroughly before opening our mouths to testify. But, one of the most famous Pastors of one of the largest marketing companies, called churches, recently opened his mouth in front of multitudes and proceeded to accuse some Fellow Nigerians of stealing and sharing $3 billion in just a few days in 2015.
You would have thought that a “man of God” would have solid evidence to back up his allegations. A patriotic Nigerian would have called the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to blow whistle. Instead of wild allegations, a responsible preacher of sermons would have told his audience – the entire world that is – who did it; how much each got and insisted on their prosecution. “Pastor” did none of these. He avoided all the steps that accorded with decency, good citizenship and self-respect.