MY friend, Babajide Adeniyi-Jones, an accomplished US-based photographer and journalist, recently wrote this thought-provoking article, titled ARTFUL DECEPTION, GRAB AND RUN. I think that Nigerians who don’t have access to the American platform (Medium) on which it was first published should also get a chance to read it:
Donald Trump added to his litany of history making events on August 3, 2023. On that afternoon he surrendered himself for arraignment in Washington DC on charges of trying to steal the 2020 presidential election. The indictment detailed the multiple strategies he is said to have employed to try to achieve this; they included his actions that instigated the January 6, 2021 (J6th) storming of the Federal Capitol Building, an act described in the prosecution charges as an ‘unprecedented assault on democracy’.
I went down to the federal courthouse to see the customary performance protests between opposing extremes on the political spectrum. The first amusing little charade that caught my eye involved seven, middle aged, Black men in brand new white teeshirts emblazoned with the slogan ‘BLACKS FOR TRUMP-2020-GODS2.COM’. They were facing off against a tall, middle aged, White guy who was yelling at them, “You’ve been paid, I’m committed,” while the malevolent seven screamed back at him, “You are the devil!”.
I stood and watched this ludicrous high decibel call and response for a full five minutes until suddenly one of the Blacks for Trump team said to his crew, “C’mon, let’s get out of here, we can’t spend all afternoon arguing with this devil!.” Then they crossed the road to continue with their demonstration. The protest group was relatively small but with an outsized flair for the theatrical. There was a man in confederate battle uniform spouting anti-government rhetoric from a makeshift pedestal, a cyclist in a Trump mask dressed in prison stripes. There was a Viking, replete with antlers and a handful of unintelligible signs protesting Blacks, Jews, Nazis, oil fracking, circumcision and other plagues that he felt beset his beloved country.
Ordinarily dressed people of all hues made up the numbers, some brandishing ‘Free J6th patriots’ posters and an equal number of others with ‘Lock him up’ signs. I spent about two hours traversing this motley gathering, photographing the incongruous juxtaposition of the bizarre imagery. The genius and tragedy of contemporary political contestation finds expression in this imagery. The genius of co-opting an inspired idea and shrinking it to an empty slogan; and the tragedy of stripping words and phrases of their meaning by reducing them to competing propaganda taglines.
I do not mean to imply an equivalence between those who demand consequences for criminal behaviour and those who claim that it was patriotic duty but surely ‘Lock Him Up’ should not be a rallying cry for those calling for justice. Unless of course this is indeed all just a game. A game in which the tools used in the competition for hearts and minds do not need to be authentic, a game of smoke and mirrors.
It feels as if we are hermetically sealed in silos of our primal affiliations and cannot even agree that rigging an election is fundamentally wrong; be it by way of storming the capital, unexplained ‘glitches’ or MC Oluomo’s election eve threats in Lagos.
If the current regime in Nigeria cares about its subjects having faith in the Independent National Electoral Commission, through which they draw their legitimacy, then it must at some time in the future explain, to a standard beyond reasonable doubt, the uploading glitch in the presidential poll. Though I suspect if that were to happen, we will find ourselves wrestling to arrive at consensus about exactly what “reasonable” is; and some will no doubt resort to judicial gymnastics in an effort to explain their position.
Far be it from me to ascribe bad faith to the judiciary but neither can I assume that probity is a given in the temples of justice in Washington DC or Abuja. A history of political inducement, expedience and influence has sullied the aura of integrity that was a given in the, not so far off, era of justices like Thurgood Marshall and Egbert Udo Udoma.
I am not looking back at the judiciary through rose-coloured glasses, I know that there have been corrupt judges in the past; but today some United States Supreme Court justices give such childlike explanations in defence of their questionable conduct and the Chief Justice is reluctant to accept the most basic of codes of judicial ethics for his brother and sister jurists.
Judges are drawn from and operate within a society that has rapidly changing values, I only single them out because the power they wield demands a particularly high standard of probity. A standard adhered to by some to be sure but betrayed by several others. So as we stand precariously balanced on the precipice between a basic understanding of decent behaviour and the abyss of grabbing, snatching and running off with power, how do we proceed?
I assume that those who engaged with the political process for the first time and bumped up against an ugly reality are discouraged because it really is daunting. On the other hand, they could choose to decide that the bloody nose they received was just the first rung on their ladder of experience, or perhaps the second; ‘End Sars’ was the first. For those who can imagine it, this ugly reality is not the only choice. Choosing a different path, however, puts a heavy responsibility on those who offer themselves to lead.
A party that wishes to lead must be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. While they meticulously craft their Supreme Court appeal, surely they should be internally redefining who and what they are as a party. By now they could be reorganising their internal structure based on a clearly articulated governing philosophy. That done, they should reach out into the country to swell their ranks with new members who they entice with the ethos of a party built on egalitarian principles.
Now is the time to educate and enlighten, build a party based on a commitment to service for the greater good. If the Supreme Court appeal is lost, then only the really committed are likely to relish the prospect of four years of building and sensitising the electorate. They are the ones the party needs and there are a lot of good people out there. The leaders will have to walk their talk with no assurance of the outcome, only a commitment to doing the real work of building and earning the peoples support from which political power emanates, not snatching and running or artful deception.
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