By Muyiwa Adetiba
Omoyele Sowore, an online Publisher and activist, got a reprieve of sorts during the week. His new bail conditions are less herculean than the earlier one and means he can hopefully get some of his freedom back soon. Those who have never had their freedom denied them might not know what this means. I do. It goes with the territory of my job. Next to the air we breathe, personal freedom is one of the many things we take for granted. That is why the judiciary, that third estate of the realm, is so important. It needs to be unfettered so it can unfetter the rest of us. That is why I empathise with anybody who is in confinement because he has not had his day in court. That is why I tend to defend anybody who is still being held after a court of the land has granted him bail. Like Sowore. Like Dansuki who is spending at least three post bail years in confinement. Power is transient and those holding people like Dansuki in spite of their being granted bail must realise that ultimate power belongs to God. Unfortunately, the granting of bail in many political cases means the end of the matter. It shouldn’t be. The case should still run its legal course.
A lot of things have been said about Sowore. Many are not verified. Some are unverifiable. It is possible that he has ulterior motives. It is possible that he latched on to a rising discontent to pursue a personal agenda. We have seen it done in many places. It is possible that he has sponsors who just want to destabilise the country. That is why the case, if there is indeed a case, must be in the open and should run its course. But we must not be too fixated on the case to forget why it resonated with the people who gave it a tacit, if nodding approval. We must not be too focused on the messenger to forget the message.
Many of the things he canvassed and rode on cannot and should not be swept under the carpet. His call for a revolution is pegged on an opaque electoral system which makes seamless changes difficult if not impossible. It is time we changed the electoral system. Canada just had an election. There was no disruption, either to lives or livelihood. It did not cost a fortune. Canada is bigger than Nigeria. Meanwhile, the political system we seem to be perpetuating, which we seem so eager to entrench through an opaque electoral system, is not working. We cannot deny the rising insecurity; the rising poverty; the rising out of school children; the rising youth unemployment; the rising gap between the very rich and the very poor in the land. All of these are direct products of the political system. A system where cronyism and nepotism reign. A system where corruption is feeding fat. But more disconcerting is that it is a system that is not amenable to self-correction and is refusing correction or even adjustment from the outside. Such a system—or its variant—is being challenged as we speak in many parts of the world. Bangladesh, Chile, Lebanon, Pakistan are countries where their people have been pushed to the limits of their economic endurance. Hong Kong and Barcelona are fighting their own political battles. North Africa is yet to recover from the Arab Spring even after many seasons. In fact, spring has turned into a foul winter for many of them and the blizzard is destroying homes and lives. All because their leaders at some point, refused to listen— and yield—to the yearnings of the people.
We need to put our ears to the ground and listen to the tremors before they erupt as earth quakes. Three things seem to be on the front burner. They will need to be addressed one way or another. These are the cost of governance, the manner of governance and the nature of our association. As it is, we spend far too much on recurrent expenditure which directly benefits less than 5% of the population. It is not sustainable. People are going to challenge it sooner than later. Neither is it prudent to borrow money to pay wages. Especially for under-performing workers in government. A surgical reduction on the cost of governance will have to be done. It is too late for palliatives and cosmetics. Stopping overseas travels is a palliative which has not even scratched the surface. While on this, the President has to stay at home more. He has a Foreign Minister. It would be cheaper to send him out because his entourage would be less and hopefully more professional. One of the two chambers of the Legislature will have to go. We simply can no longer afford the two. On the manner of governance, we need a more transparent, more merit based governance. This should include the way we install and change our leaders. Our leaders right now don’t feel accountable to us. That should change. We also need a more inclusive, more representative manner of governance. This system where the politicians keep installing their sons, daughters and wards should cease. It will not birth egalitarianism and will only lead to discord down the line. Thirdly, a measure of fiscal autonomy should lead to more accountability. Let the zones have a greater say in the collection and use of their resources. Let them determine the priorities of their people.
It must be accepted that what is currently happening in Lebanon where people are revolting over an increase in tax can happen here. Increasing the consumption tax of a people who are already overburdened and impoverished can be a tipping point. Especially if it is perceived as a way to maintain the indulgent lifestyles of their leaders. It would be more acceptable I think, if people can see a serious belt tightening around the sizeable pot bellies of the Executive and Legislature. But that has not been the case.
It would do no harm to see Sowore as a John the Baptist of sorts. A fore runner who preached the desirability of change and the peril of the status quo. The Jews did not listen to the biblical John the Baptist and they suffered the consequences. Jonah on the other hand, prophesised doom to the people of Nineveh—in the old Babylon—if they did not change their ways. The people, led by their king, repented, changed their ways and were saved. Let us accept that the current path can only lead to perdition. We need to change our direction. Nigeria has too much going for it to continue being in a rut. More poignantly, our situation will sprout more Sowores.