When on October 10, 2008 the American citizens were on the fast track to their national elections with the world waiting in anticipation of who would spring a surprise and take over from the George W. Bush administration as the 44th United States President, in a rally at Lakeville, Minnesota, the then-Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain came to a direct confrontation and probably one of the clashes that would continue to gain global traction with some of his supporters.
In the town-hall meeting, a woman; apparently a staunch apologist of McCain’s presidential ambition, had told the Arizona senator she had trust issues with his arch-rival and then Democratic presidential candidate, Mr. Barack Obama and his potential presidency. The woman had emphatically told McCain, “I can’t trust Obama. I read about him, and he is not, um, he’s an Arab.”
As the world watched the unfolding drama, McCain grabbed the microphone from her before thousands of other supporters, cutting the Minnesota woman off from further speech as he shook his head in disagreement with his horde of fanatic followers. “No, ma’am” he said in disappointment. “He [Obama] is a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about,” McCain called their bluff. A middle aged man had earlier spoken on behalf of other supporters expressing their worries about an Obama presidency. “Frankly we are scared of an Obama presidency,” he told McCain. One would have expected him to reinforce his agitation and stir up suspicions against his main rival. He refused. “First of all, I wanna be president of United States and obviously, I do not want Senator Obama to be, but I have to tell you, he’s a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of United States,” McCain audaciously cut in. That day’s outing muted the strident racial conspiracies against Obama and other candidates vying against the Republican party. McCain understood that democracy is encapsulated in freedom of speech and information and the right of other qualified citizens to pursue political ambitions and hold political opinions without fear of any threat from others.
The recent experiences in the Nigeria political space have witnessed a mob of gangsters peddling fake news and misinformation, hurling invectives, hate speech and vitriolic assassination of characters of dissenting opinions. This is a radical departure from political civility and what democracy stands for. While many are agitating for America’s model of democracy which John McCain embodied, the same set of people are averse to divergent opinions that sharply contradicted their argument. They constitute the court, appoint themselves judges and brazenly descend into the arena of justice; passing a mob judgment and executing same. This is them taking Nigeria back to the junta days of despotism and intolerance, yet they’re advocating a new Nigeria driven by dictatorial mentality.
Obviously, democracy is enfolded in fundamental freedom of others to air their views, hold political opinions, support their choice candidates, however unpopular others may think of such decision. It’s a matter of fundamental rights enshrined not only in the country’s legal code but something that’s phenomenally natural and inalienable that transcends the embodiment of our constitution or written laws. A new Nigeria is only possible when people’s liberty is recognized as fundamental even when such is offensive to our creed or in disagreement to our projection. The Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti once ridiculed people with this bigoted, narrow-minded and allergic mentality when he underscored their understanding of fundamental human rights and how they should be protected. As Fela rightly insisted, these people boisterously parading themselves as holier-than-thou are in no way fit to preach how to live our life since they’re the harbingers of Nigeria problems. It’s within the people’s ambit to express themselves and raise concerns about disturbing issues, and it’s also the right of others to reply to these issues, however, in the most civilized manner acceptable by all rational standards. A balance of equity must be struck in-between freedom of expression and right to reply in our society.
It’s instructive to appreciate that freedom of speech cannot be separated from the right to hold divergent political opinions without threats, cyber-stalking, cyber-bullying and assault. The celebrated author of 1984 and the Animal Farm, George Orwell, expounding on the trite establishment of freedom, insisted that if liberty means anything at all, it should be the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. However, like the Oslo translator, Jess Scott would write, hypocrites get offended by the truth. The truth, no doubt, hurts people with anomic mentality whose incurable maladies are resultant of self-deception and decoy from temporary escape from the world of reality to utopic, extreme boulevard of illusion. A way of helping them from this escape should be our primary concern today.
Those pontificating, rather haughtily on the altar of self-righteous political movement and sainthood should thread with caution against the dangerous precedent they’re presently laying. It’s a landmine that would, in no distance time, haunt them. Nigeria political space is replete with traumatizing history repeating itself. Instance would be adduced subsequently. When Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations provides that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”, and further bolstered by section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, the contemplation of today’s frenzied, belligerent, predatory and untamed carnival of aggression by some online urchins was a perfect target.
In every ideal democratic political system which Nigeria is priding itself, individuals should be allowed to make their choices with a reasonable interrogation of aspiring political officeholders without fear of intimidation. The striking opposite, however, is the case today with the advent of some few but violent gang that named themselves “Obidients” or followers of Mr. Peter Obi, the Labour Party’s presidential candidate for the 2023 general elections. This set of social media delinquents have engaged in vitriolic, resentful diatribes launching both verbal assaults and threatening grievous bodily injuries on people with different political opinions. Sharply contrasting the America’s Republican McCain is the Nigeria’s Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Gregory Obi who has been glossing over the hurling acerbic vilification of Nigerians by his violent fanatic supporters. Obi has shown by his character that he is in full support of violence against the opposition, especially Nigerians with a different ideology on how best to rescue the country. Make no mistake, I’ve no begrudging issues against Mr. Obi or his ambition. He’s a good man.
Every political discourse should attract intellectual pathway and proffer alternative means to achieving fundamental issues bothering our nation. Delivering and raining curses, or threatening fire and brimstone is the most primitive and barbaric approach to ideological pursuit. Issues should be treated objectively and based on merit rather than descending on individuals. In ad hominem and ad baculum discourses, people tend to commit the blunder of blackmailing dissenters by way of force and untamed civility. The world has moved beyond this anachronistic behavior to an era where ideas rule. Rational engagement should be encouraged. Peter Obi and other candidates that have subtly incited their supporters must own up and apologize to Nigerians with immediate effect.
In 2015 the political space was literally awash with a cult of gangsters called the Buharists who were as vicious in thought and in acts as today’s savage infinitesimal “Obidients”. They were extreme in political orientation and close-minded in assumption. Dissenters were taught lessons and ruthlessly bashed from corners. Eyebrows against their extremism were resistibly met with a consign of mantras: corruption is fighting back; change is imminent; a new dawn is possible; a new Nigeria is on the way, etcetera. The APC promised a safe haven for Nigerians in 2015 just like Mr. Obi and his Labour Party are presently belabouring themselves. The APC promised it had the magic wand to a new Nigeria which would replace the old Nigeria. They even promised a new people in the new Nigeria. In the book of Apocalypse 21: they quoted; “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband…”
According to them, Buhari was the long foretold messiah to come. He was packaged by the media, and to worsen issues, the British-Iranian journalist and television host at the Cable News Network (CNN), Christiane Amanpour, in the wake of the election, invited Mr. Buhari where he was further laundered as unblemished in character and in principle. He won. Be the judge. Hellfire! Where are the Buharists today? Disillusioned. There goes again the same CNN extending invitation to Mr. Obi through the backdoor to sell him to Nigerians as another messiah after the first one it sold to Nigerians proved dystopic. Nigerians are wiser today and must reject their lies and gullibility.
Recognizing the place of freedoms of expression, information and assembly should serve as our major navigatory compass to attaining a healthy political environment and a viable democratic order. A free society depends on the free exchange of ideas which must not be stampeded. The true pillar of democracy does not lie in intolerance or extremism, it lies on the ballot. Let the noises be converted into electoral strength which is doubtful most of these cultivated anomic vendors barking on the media possess the instrumentality of effecting electoral victory via voter’s card. On the elections day, in as much as my polling unit is concerned, it’ll be delivered with ease to my candidates. We’re grassroots mobilizers and we’re all out to deliver a fatal blow to political deception in Nigeria. All thanks to the BIVAS! Stop the political terror and engage in issues and ideas.
Prince Ejeh Josh, a lawyer and strategist, writes from Presidential Road, Enugu.