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Conflict and electoral violence: Consequences of a society warped by greed

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By Tabia Princewill

 

INSECURITY is perhaps the byword of the 21st century. Social anxiety, economic insecurity due to the vagaries of the market, ultimately manifest as ethnoreligious conflict and national fragmentation once every unit in society sees itself in competition with the others for scarce resources.

Without a social safety net to provide a universal sense of security due to the accessibility of basic needs such as education, healthcare or housing, gaining access to the state treasury becomes the only real means of survival. A broad sense of insecurity thus follows when the concentration of wealth in a country with little political care or interest in redistributive policies is allowed to take root: creating a fairer society is ideal Nigerian politicians pay lip service to without much devotion to its actualization.

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Sharing the national cake

In times of plenty, when “sharing the national cake” besides being an almost self-confessed goal or activity, was easier due to the availability of oil rents and resources, the game was not less violent per se, simply, everyone knew both the rules and the players, we all recognized (and tacitly accepted) the predetermined, unjust outcomes, pausing to grumble every once in a while when certain interests were sidelined. This is a broad picture of Nigeria since our return to democracy, where the stakes seem to get higher and higher in a country where politics provides the greatest form of economic opportunity and wellbeing.

Therefore, access to government house is jealously guarded, violent elections are expected, predicted by local and international observers, and even encouraged by some party stalwarts and many states, particularly in the South-South, were believed to be the exclusive preserve of one party. Today, Nigeria has made some progress, more than many who are comfortable with negative narratives, are ready to recognize or accept.

Before 2015 no one would believe it was possible to unseat an incumbent in an election and who would have thought, before 2019 that states could so easily shift back and forth between two parties, the APC and the PDP based on the performance of their governors? The Nigerian political space is more dynamic than ever, a paradox because this should support profound structural change: but the political elite is by and large composed of neither radicals nor risk takers and we should all worry about what will happen when those in power have finally squandered all the goodwill of the ordinary people, the “man on the street” who is fed the same promises time and time again during every election cycle. We may just have witnessed the strangest campaign season yet, during which Senator Dino Melaye apparently declared himself to be “taller, finer than Yahaya Bello” (Kogi state governor-elect in the just concluded, keenly contested gubernatorial election) and better in the other room.

Given Governor Bello’s lacklustre performance which prompted Governor El-Rufai, while campaigning for his counterpart in Kogi, to “beg” the people to forgive him, one must again, wonder what could happen if and when the electorate loses patience with the antics and failings of capricious leaders on both sides of the political spectrum.

Foreign observers wonder about our society: how is it that we often seem to be holding on by a thread, teetering on the edge yet we always seem to recover our balance, somehow, to “keep on keeping on” as it were.

We call it the grace of God but perhaps it is more sinister. Too many of us are compromised. Some might even say it is virtually impossible to survive in this country, to succeed and make something of oneself without giving up something and compromising ones’ beliefs.

Most of us are just waiting for our turn. Our grouse isn’t so much about corruption or injustice, rather, we resent being left out of the free-for-all. Even revolutionaries, in such a context, have skeletons in their closets. Nigeria, like most modern societies, is warped by greed. The question is, who will bell the cat?

Hate Speech

THE Senate has distanced itself from the proposal made by Senator Abdullahi to create a “hate speech commission bill” with reported provisions for the death penalty for hate speech.

While the death penalty is extreme, one should be curious enough to find out what obtains in other nations before writing off the minister of information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed’s proposal to amend the National Broadcasting Commission’s regulations to include a N5 million fine for broadcast stations that air “hate speech and inciting comments”.

Following World War II, in a bid to tackle xenophobia and anti-semitic propaganda many European countries criminalized hate speech, that is, derogatory remarks on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or nationality. Ironically, if one were to replace “Fulani herdsmen” with “Jews” many Nigerian broadcasters would be surprised to find their productions would not be acceptable for airing in a number of countries due to the stigmatization of entire ethnic groups for political reasons.

In the United Kingdom, the Public Order Act (POA) of 1986 states “a person who uses threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, abusive, or insulting, is guilty of an offence if: a) he intends to thereby stir up racial hatred, or; b) having regard to all the circumstances racial hatred is likely to be stirred up thereby.” Section 5 of the POA criminalizes the use of abusive words or arguments “within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm, or distress thereby.”

In France, the press freedom law was amended in 1972 to say that freedom of speech does not include the right to call to violence, discrimination, or to create racist and bigoted forms of speech masquerading as media reports. Interestingly, European countries are studying social media regulation because of the impunity on the internet whereby anyone can say anything and hide under the cover of anonymity. This isn’t in a bid to curtail freedom but rather in the interest of protecting citizens from bigotry.

Civil society organizations who worry about the impact of such legislation in Nigeria should advocate to be part of the conversation rather than pretend there are no excesses in the media which promote enmity between Nigerian ethnoreligious groups all for the benefit of individual politicians and parties.

Noise pollution

THE Lagos State Government recently closed down eight places of worship for breaking environmental pollution laws. Some were quick to call such an act “ungodly”.

However, the General Manager of the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, Dr Dolapo Fasawe, said: “in as much as the state government is positively disposed to the peaceful conduct of citizens’ chosen religions, it does not condone infringements on the rights of other residents in the name of religious activities”.

Residential areas are supposed to be havens of peace and quiet where people can retire to after a hard day’s work. Today, nearly every building has loudspeakers making one announcement or the other, playing extremely loud music at all hours of the day or night with terrible consequences for the health and wellbeing of the public. There are very few areas which are purely residential, first of all.

How do commercial establishments, religious organizations, etc. get permits to conduct their activities in supposedly residential areas? There should be a public awareness campaign to explain to people that while they are free to worship as they please they cannot impose themselves on others through noisemaking at all hours.

South-East Development Commission

SENATOR Oduah sponsored a bill to create the South-East Development Commission, SEDC. Commentators found this curious given the recent probe into the failings of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, with its many abandoned, uncompleted projects.

What has been the success rate of the NDDC since it was created 19 years ago and does this justify the creation of another regional agency?

Rather than multiple such agencies, state governors must be held accountable for the funds at their disposal. President Muhammadu Buhari recently called for a forensic audit of the NDDC, with good reason.

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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