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The rise and rise of political extremism

By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo

Thugs came to the Senate. And took the mace. That sums it up. Fani Kayode wants the Arch Bishop of Canterbury tied to a stake, quartered and butchered. The Arch Bishop’s offense is that he supports  President Buhari.

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari 

Moderation has become weakness.  Tolerance is timidity. The middle ground has become the place of cowards. The political terrain is brimming with extremists. Everyone has become  fanatical about his political preference. Extremism should exist.

It should be part of the rich context of any political culture. So we must have  some anarchists. They keep us in check. But extremism should occupy only the fringes. When it takes centre stage it upsets rationality. It chases rationality to the periphery and replaces it with emotionality.

When extremism sits in the middle, political discourses cease to be enlightening intellectual engagements. Honesty is sacrificed. Political discourses become either sessions in mutual masturbation or exhausting shouting matches. Go through any discussion on IPOB and Biafra. You would find the total absence of a middle ground.  Igbos who do not agree with the IPOB are branded ‘Efulefus,’ lost ones, traitors.

Extremism has taken centre stage in our national politics. No one is spared. Bishops, senators , public intellectuals, Okada riders, newspaper editors.  Everyone is afflicted. Everyone is tone deaf. Subtlety is lost. Any attempt at reasoned nuance is dismissed by a significant  section as sophistry. On any  political issue, there are two gladiatorial  camps.  They come to it with their hearts only.  The political field is filled with sensationalists and hyperbolism.

The Senate, even the Senate cannot accommodate contrary opinions. It will suspend any senator who holds any opinion that contradicts the Senate leadership. The Senate is not bothered by a senator’s fiduciary duty to his constituency. He simply cannot contradict the Senate President and his whims. Any senator who thinks the Senate President is unfit to lead becomes a saboteur. And could be  hauled before an ethics and privileges committee for bringing the Senate to disrepute.

Those who think Buhari has done poorly don’t want him to run for re election.  His party wants him. So why is the opposition throwing tantrums? They should be happy they have got a weak opponent fielded by a deluded and out-of-touch  party.  They are renowned democrats. Why have Buhari critics chosen naked hostility?

Farooq Kperogi is a sound critic of the government. And criticisms are very useful. But now he  wants us to write something down. He is sure that Buhari and his men would seek a third term after 2019. If Buhari had made such a statement Kperogi would have ridiculed Buhari’s belief in superstitions. Scaremongering hinders freedom of choice.

*Fani-Kayode

I have found  myself in churches where bishops do not hesitate to run down governments. And I welcome the heightened vigilantism. If the church were wide awake, the country wouldn’t be far behind Malaysia. What is however frightening is the inclination of priests towards extremism. When priests in a section of the country openly suggest that a certain political party belongs to another religion then they have immersed themselves in more than patriotic vigilantism. Priests exist to discover and defend the truth. Why are they now engaged in political popularity contests? Why are they  frolicking with demagoguery?

Consider the BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) Campaign. The founders of that campaign deserve national honors. They had shown purposefulness and tenacity. But  lately they have left the middle ground and gone into  fanatical opposition of the ruling government. When the Dapchi girls were returned some of the leaders of the BBOG couldn’t contrive smiles.

They had become so opposed to the government that they have even forgotten why the BBOG was created. The BBOG was supposed to be a partner of government, primarily concerned with the return of the  abducted  Chibok girls,and of course the Dapchi girls, perhaps at all costs. But their new found red-card mentality wouldn’t let them celebrate the quick release of abducted girls.

They said they would investigate the release of the girls. The red-card mentality apparently left them with an appetite for the very  despicable  conspiracy theories that made Chibok partly irredeemable. The BBOG should have left conspiracy theorizing to cynical wing of the opposition.

It is good to hold every ruling government to account, but it could be  counter productive to take out rationality from the scene.  The opposition needs to win minds.  Social critics need audience. But once rationality is substituted with emotions, credibility founders.  The whole essence of social criticisms is defeated if  objectivity struggles with bias. Once virulent and toxic partisanship is established arguments  cannot be won.

Arguments are won when minds are  reformed.  The reign of extremism drives people to take refuge in their camps because when the cross the divide they become traitors and fools. The middle ground  is despised, totally deserted. You would  always expect some activity  at the extremes.  But you can’t have traditional rulers and priests flirting with extremism and expect enduring  peace. Governors must check their tempers and their outbursts. Retired military leaders must speak the truth, but must not inflate tensions or incite the public.

In Nigeria politics has never been  driven by ideology.  Sectional solidarity, tribalism, religious affiliation  and  political gangsterism  have  governed our politics since 1960. So what has arrived here is not the battle between ultra right and ultra left. It is not a battle between those who want more personal  freedoms and those who want the borders shut to immigrants. If we had a bloom of fanatics who differed on ideas we wouldn’t be worried. What we have always had in Nigeria are  conflicts  and lingering  precariousness instigated  by ethnic and religious passions. That is why we must be worried about recent developments.

A robust opposition can be mounted against Buhari without bitterness. A habitual tendency to give the worst possible interpretations to the president’s words and actions can rouse the rabble but cannot foster a good democratic culture. It is sometimes necessary to oppose the government virulently.  Governments rarely get the message of critics until they are with  spikes. But we must not take to hostility and nihilism. We must not lend legitimacy to bigotry. If we stand by objectivity and render praise and rebuke as due, we will  retain credibility and deny charlatans  space.

If the opposition and social critics want to reach Buhari supporters,  they must drop animosity and sensationalism.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.