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Politics and moral courage: Distinguishing heroes from the villains of our history

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By Tabia Princewill

I AM afraid the true significance of June 12 and the decision to honour MKO is lost on most young people. One of the greatest resulting tragedies of military rule in Nigeria is the gradual destruction of our educational system.

We have produced an entire generation of people who neither know Nigeria’s history nor do they have the tools to interrogate the outright lies and distortion they are fed on a daily basis.

For this reason, it is all too easy to manipulate Nigerians on the basis of religion and ethnicity, so easy to make people defend their oppressors and attack those who dare to ask them to see the world differently.

The official version of any event in Nigeria is an elitist contraption which masks the grand conspiracy by the military, the elite, the judiciary, the political and business class (they are one and the same) to continue to manipulate events to their benefit, actively participating in the impoverishment of the rest of society.

Return to democracy

In Nigeria, there is no universal understanding of who has done wrong or of what “wrong” is for that matter. Moral courage is in short supply and the temptation to make excuses, to justify crime and injustice is all too prevalent.

After all, those who benefitted the most from the return to democracy have never thought to label certain actions in our recent past as either treasonous or prejudicial to the creation of a democracy which is pro-people and exists to serve the interests of the many rather than the few.

Very few of us, especially when we attain leadership positions, have the principles or strength of character to act against injustice or to bring to court those whom evidence shows have betrayed public trust.

If President Buhari, in his first term, allowed himself to be intimidated or browbeaten by people who claimed the heavens would fall if he immediately went after the real villains of our history rather than just their accomplices (even though the latter claimed to have followed orders from very high up), will he be able to convince Nigerians that in his second term he will have not just the courage but the strategic ability to finish what he started?

Will he be cast, like his predecessors amongst those who didn’t try hard enough or those who frankly didn’t care or will he carve out a place in history by liberating a submissive people who don’t always know what they should be fighting for?

In a country where truth and justice have been turned upside down for so long even the most committed to redressing these wrongs can’t always be sure they’ll have the people’s support. The idea of “crime” itself, or law-breaking, corruption and official misconduct is hazy in a country where everyone belongs to somebody and never acts in the name of the majority but goes in to politics with the intention to benefit only a few.

We believe that “tribal hatred” is our natural state because some people have taught us this is the only way to be, forgetting a very long history, even in pre-colonial times, of migration and inter-relation. In fact, very few of us know that the idea of an “indigene” is a colonial construct.

Even the so called ethnic groups we all refer to today as a marker of our identities were also crystalized under colonisation: the notion of “state of origin”, or “indigene”, the idea of stopping someone from acceding to any position based on their gender or origin would seem quite foreign to our ancestors who migrated and took on new identities or group memberships based on new relationships and attachments.

Relationships and attachments

In short, Nigerians, like most Africans, are the victims of a double lie, the first is the lie told by colonisation, about the inferiority of the African past and the necessity to correct it using only foreign concepts and then the lie told by an exploitative class who took over from the colonial masters and used their playbook to continue to manipulate and divide the masses.

We are constantly told that fighting corruption is “victimising” the accused, that asking questions is infringing certain powerful people’s rights and therefore “undermining democracy”.

In Nigeria, only powerful people have rights or are allowed to call themselves “victims” despite all they gain from our dysfunctional system. Perhaps, it is human nature to love and worship power and to hate the victims of our corrupt social order because they are precisely that, victims who remind us of our own defencelessness.

So, we make looters and thugs our heroes, thinking their might and stolen funds will sustain or protect us from the injustice others suffer. We can’t rebuild our society without interrogating our history and establishing the truth: how and because of whose action or (inaction) did things go wrong? We need convictions for corruption so we can stop hiding behind the word “alleged” attached to “looter” and stop making excuses for bad behaviour or pretending it doesn’t exist.

Recognising and distinguishing heroes from villains is the moral challenge we must pursue.




THE former President alleges there is a plot by the Buhari administration to frame him and detain him for an unspecified crime to which the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, responded only the guilty are afraid. Interestingly, Governor Fayose of Ekiti seemed to share this sentiment as he asked Obasanjo to prove his innocence by submitting himself to a probe.

He warned the former President about making his personal problem a “Yoruba issue”.  That is indeed the usual playbook Nigerian politicians use to confuse the public and to gain support, as opposed to answering important questions.

Our leaders always prefer to cry “victimisation” on ethno-religious grounds than to provide real answers to any question, backed with evidence and facts. It is up to Nigerians to make sure each question receives a logical answer outside of the victimisation rhetoric.

President Buhari started a process; Nigerians are yet to make the anti-corruption fight their own. We fail to realise a government can only be as bold as its public support on an issue.

If politicians knew Nigerians wouldn’t relent, couldn’t be swayed or convinced to move on, to forget all the revelations and allegations, then Presidents, now and in the future, would be forced to prosecute and we would get to a stage where certain behaviours are universally accepted as criminal, if not treasonous. We need to stop personalising justice and get answers, through proper investigations and convictions, no matter the nature of the persons involved.

Governor Fayose went on to say about Obasanjo “he set up EFCC why is he afraid of probe? Let him tell Nigerians how he made his money. People can recollect the level he was before he became President and how he left office.”


Femi Falana (SAN)

NNPC wrong to reject my FOI request for accountability—Falana

COMMENTING on the Offa robbery and the need to remove all sentiment from the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases, the acclaimed lawyer and activist said: “you are looking for the vehicle with which a bank was robbed and you find it in the state house.

“That is the level of impunity in our country. Let us separate criminality from politics. Wherever a criminal is identified the law must have its way; the full weight of the law must be brought on the person.

“Otherwise you may be a victim tomorrow if we don’t eliminate criminality in this society”. It is precisely because most people envisage a future where they will be in a position to commit a crime, steal money, launder funds (and get away with it) that very few people in the public eye are able or willing to stand for what is right.

In a system that allows crime to fester, in a country that celebrates fraud and criminality, it is no surprise that everyone believes they should try their luck as so many others before them have gotten away with illegality.

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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