By Rotimi Fasan
HAPPY New Year Nigeria! It is my hope and prayer that this year will be the best we have so far known under the Muhammadu Buhari regime.
And whether those in power right now planned it to be so or not, may the year also be one of the best in the history of this country. May those in charge not take the country to a point where reversal from the brink would be impossible. The times are desperate and Nigerians can do without further aggravation of their condition.
Recent happenings in our country should remind us that Nigeria belongs not only to the temporary occupiers of power, who in addition to some of them appropriating our commonwealth to themselves also wear patriotism like a personal emblem. They are not the only people who can or should speak on behalf of this country, which was perhaps why one them openly told the rest of us that whatever requests President Buhari brings before Nigerians, in the form of their elected representatives, does not require scrutiny and should not be questioned.
For him and his ilk, such complete and irresponsibly craven surrender to power, should not worry us for as long as Buhari is in charge. Eternal vigilance, history tells those willing to learn, is the price of liberty. But Ahmed Lawan, the man who presides at the Nigerian Senate and his House of Reps counterpart, Femi Gbajabiamila, would rather have us all go to sleep.
No, we cannot go to sleep just yet. There is yet so much to do. This country belongs to us all and we have a duty to fight for and claim our part in its growth. We ought to start the year with elements of optimism, but not the blind or blinding type that could lull us into a false sense of safety.
Rather, it is the cautious optimism that allows us to ask questions rather than accept partial explanations directed at serving the interest of those purveying those explanations. Which is why we should not forget too soon.
It is why we should remind ourselves as we set out this year that we must not let our guard down. We must not be tired of demanding the best for Nigeria. The best from those currently saddled with the task of steering the leadership of this country.
We must be protective of our liberty, especially from our leaders and not accept our rights being sold to us a favour. Like with what happened when the doors of Nigeria’s secret police were slightly opened to let go some of the captives being held there.
The Christmas eve release of Omoyele Sowore, convener of the #Revolution Now initiative and a former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, proves one thing if nothing else: that we must be alert to demand our rights. That the only way to end the antics of a bully is to stand up to them.
The bully here is the Muhammadu Buhari regime that came into office proclaiming respect for rule of law and basic principles of governance but has gradually transformed into a despotic apparatus of state violence, spreading fear like a diseased air. Here is a government that is too sensitive to the views of those opposed to its ways. But it is only by standing up to impunity disguised either as national security or patriotism that others elsewhere can and will join us to end it. There is nothing wrong in a government holding to a position that is dear to it on serious issues of state policy. There is no question that politics is all about interest where each contending force must fight for the propagation and protection of its own interest.
But since politics doesn’t necessarily have to be a zero-sum game, there is everything wrong about the ways of a government that holds firmly to its position while going out of its way to silence those bold enough to stand aside to champion a position not popular with it. It is not everyone that speaks in a democracy.
No, it is not everyone who has a view that is bold or, indeed, care enough to put their views out there. Which is to say that there will always be a vocal few who, genuinely or otherwise, will speak in the name of the majority. There is no guarantee that the vocal few will not step out of line, do or say things that might put them at odds with the authorities. The duty of a responsible government is to ensure that in responding to the action of the vocal section of the population, it does not go overboard. Or behave in a manner that demonstrates without any question that it is intolerant of opposing views.
Once a government starts behaving in that manner, once they are enabled to trample on the rights of the people by the utterances of those who ought to maintain close watch over their activities but have chosen to forgo that task, then the room is created for a dictatorship.
This is where we are presently in this country with the Buhari regime that has claimed for itself a position of infallibility. Nigerians, this year must resolve to support this government in a manner becoming of true patriots, not under a contrived climate of consensus where no questions are asked and all is considered good.
The Buhari regime, no less than the rest of Nigerians, must realise that its true supporters are not necessarily those Nigerians who are content to defend government position, however outrageous, and will go all out to take out those not ready to accept that this government’s way is the only way. Ibrahim Babangida did that when he told Nigerians there was no alternative to SAP.
Yet, after his government fell it became clear to even his supporters that what they sold to Nigerians was only their own version of reality which, legitimate as it was, was not the only plausible version of reality. That realisation only followed after many years of wandering in the wilderness of governance.
There is always an alternative. Governance is not about dogma. It is about debate, about questions being asked and the possibility that answers can be obtained. It is not about foreclosing the room for differing views. Otherwise, there would be rancour and discord and a government or leader whose only response to opposing voices is to ignore or label them as the voices of hate cannot expect history to be friendly to them.
Even as they expect the verdict of history to be fair to them let them search their conscience very well as history can be very fair while being very harsh. These are not mutually exclusive positions.