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We need to restore a culture of activism in Nigeria

By Tabia Princewill

AS a people, we are generally so quick to blame our leaders for Nigeria’s problems, which amounts to acting as if those we elect are aliens who don’t emanate from the same society we all live in. Every politician is someone’s son, daughter, mother, father or friend and all their behaviours are a result of a certain upbringing which justifies, excuses, rationalizes or encourages bigotry, ethno-religious mistrust or outright hatred, fraud and exploitation.

Our courts and other institutions might be dysfunctional but it is within our families and all of our homes that the real possibilities for national change lie: what if the families of political office holders pressured their sons and daughters to uphold the rule of law and to make a general difference rather than pressuring them to break the law in service of personal interests?

Activists marching to demand constitutional reform in Nigeria

Generalized acceptance

If corruption is our original sin, its corollary is definitely the generalized acceptance and not so subtle incentives we all at different levels provide for crime and embezzlement. But what if we individually (and collectively) advocated for change? What if we bothered to have an opinion outside of defending the accused on the basis of religion or ethnicity?

What if we learned the facts, what if we were conversant with government policies, attended town hall meetings not just to beg our representatives for money but to ask for the implementation of projects and ideas which could sustain entire communities outside of quick to evaporate cash gifts? What if our “celebrities” were at the forefront of such movements, lending their voices to real, lasting change?

Instead, we agitate for quick-fixes: from contract scams and other get rich quick schemes to state creation, we rarely get to the heart of the issues. The military effectively destroyed the activist and intellectual gene within all of us which means we neither ask questions nor attempt to find solutions: we are not self-reliant. In our society, every rung on the social ladder is dependent on a higher echelon, one big man or the other who rarely teaches us how to fish and encourages us to come back for more “freebies” as a means of control.

Ironically, those with a platform, those with a voice are the last to speak out on behalf of those who aren’t so fortunate; they are also the first to tie themselves down, out of greed, to shady benefactors. They comfort themselves and our own easily deceived sensibilities by making a well-publicized donation here and there to silence criticism. We applaud these drop in the ocean actions and never ask when all of us will be rescued rather than the chosen few.

The story of the five-year-old boy, Taju, which went viral a few weeks ago perfectly illustrates our misconceptions about activism as well as the tokenism which social media inherently allows. A video of Taju attempting to speak English was posted online; initially it was treated as comic relief because it was obvious he couldn’t speak English and was more comfortable in Yoruba. This little boy was initially shamed online until people began to realise the tragedy, in today’s global village, of a clearly out of school child who is without basic communication skills.

Taju’s story unfortunately isn’t unique, in fact Nigeria has the highest number of out of school children in the world according to a 2015 UN report. Although it was “nice” and commendable of some Nollywood celebrities to volunteer to send Taju to school (much like BankeMeshida”helped””Jumoke the bread seller”, another social media sensation become a model), their actions remain a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of the problem.

Activism is usually defined as “efforts to promote or direct social,  political, economic, or environmental reform with the desire to make lasting improvements in society”. Very few of our celebrities, despite their professed good intentions are either the face or the head of any organization whose mission statement conforms to the aforementioned definition of activism.

Most Nigerians are all too comfortable with the idea that it is up to someone else to make a real change in our society. We pay tithes but have no idea how that money is spent, beyond luxuries for the church hierarchy. We give when it is convenient and only join a cause once it is fashionable or attains the limelight. Well known faces would rather cozy up to government for their personal gain than peacefully galvanize people to make a difference.

Truth of the matter

The truth of the matter is that we cannot pretend, as Nigerians, that we are not both the problem and the solution to our predicaments. We have accepted poverty as the norm, or in essence, that some will be rich and others devastatingly poor, as the natural order of things. Civic engagement and civil society are practically dead in Nigeria and until we revive a culture of activism, of speaking out against injustice we will not have proven ourselves worthy of the sacrifices made to ensure us the right to live under a democracy. Until our neighbourhoods and communities come together to demand good governance and accountability we will continue to get what we deserve: poor leaders propelled by a system we’ve all shortsightedly endorsed and accepted.

 

Corruption cases

Joshua Dariye

JUSTICE Adebukola Banjoko successfully convicted and sent to prison two former governors: Jolly Nyame, the former governor of Taraba State, and Joshua Dariye, the former governor of Plateau State. The criminal appropriation of the state’s ecological funds were key to the sentencing in both cases. The ecological funds are meant to stem the tide of desertification and land erosion which leads to conflicts between farmers and herdsmen who then compete for arable land.

Do we see now the direct link between corruption and violence? So much could be avoided if money meant for development actually reached its beneficiaries. Many of our politicians have kept their people poor and dependent, therefore, ensuring they have a ready stream of angry killers willing to do their bidding and keep them in power. The 2015 Administration of Criminal Justice Act says judges mustn’t adjourn cases for more than 14 days. Furthermore, courts, according to the same act, must sit daily.

Legal practitioners need to advocate for this as well as name and shame the lawyers, judges and politically exposed clients who frustrate trials rather than bravely defend themselves in court: enough fainting, sudden, inexplicable illnesses and other theatrics to delay justice.

Fixing this country won’t happen just because we elect one leader or another. Pardon the cliché but it really is up to all of us, those in the media and the judiciary especially as both sectors are often employed by politicians to sabotage Nigeria.

 

Herdsmen

THE Acting Director of Defense Information, Brig. Gen. John Agim, said in an interview that the Taraba State government rejected the army’s report in response to General TY Danjuma’s allegations of collusion between the army and the herdsmen.

He said the government refused for the people caught with arms to surrender them and also made the claim that politicians sponsor thugs to carry out killings, harassment and intimidation of the population then later claim “herdsmen” to be the cause of violence. Ironically, the return to democracy saw an increase in localized violence by chieftains who act like warlords in what they consider their fiefdoms.

“Suspects we arrested told us that politicians sent them against another community to carry out attacks,” he said. The public should also remember it was alleged the initial Boko Haram members were political thugs employed during a “turf war” between ANPP and PDP stalwarts until their leader was killed while in police custody and killed extra-juridically, under undisclosed circumstances which set in motion a chain of events that led to the situation today.

The Offa bank robbers also claimed they got their arms from politicians. When will the judiciary make the bigwigs pay for these murders and not just the underlings who carry them out?

Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.


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