What I find most unhealthy about Nigeria’s democratic trajectory is the disposition of the electorate. While it seems that the average Nigerian is now more interested in exercising his electoral franchise, the very critical ingredient of free choice is under attack.
The Governor of Anambra State, Prof Charles Soludo, issued a statement earlier this week titled, “History beckons and I will not be silent.” The article was in response to widespread criticism of his comments about the investment the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi, made on behalf of the state during his tenure as governor.
Although I find Soludo’s intervention a waste of energy and time (he could have devoted that to solving the many problems of his state), I concede that it was within his right as a Nigerian to defend himself. But the governor did not just defend himself; he spoke about the meaning of free space in a democracy.
Soludo made a point about the dangers of mob actions in a democracy. Supporters of the LP presidential candidate were livid about what the governor told Channels Television about one of Obi’s decisions as governor of Anambra State. These supporters have become legendary at deploying their social media assets against anyone opposed to his candidacy. So, in this statement, Soludo wrote that the “exhibition of desperation, intolerance, and attempt to bully everyone who expresses the slightest of dissent is reprehensible.”
Here, he is right. But the point should be made that Obi’s supporters are not alone in this increasing failure to respect the right of others to association.
This last week, I watched supporters of Obi, and those of the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Senator Bola Tinubu, came at each other relentlessly. From what I saw, some of the responses by Obi’s supporters were inspired by taunts from people on the other side.
Immediately after Soludo spoke about the current near-insignificant worth of the investments the former governor made on behalf of the state, the APC supporters picked up the soundbite and started to taunt their opponents. Those ones paid back in kind and before long, the Nigerian blogosphere a beehive of violent verbal attacks.
Both parties seem to have fire. This is possibly because some of those with an unquestioning commitment to Obi’s candidacy are chips off the 2015 and 2019 social media blocks of the APC. Most of these people would be those who, possibly disappointed with the APC, found hope in Obi and are prepared to stick with him all the way. Obi’s supporters also appear to be younger and more vociferous as we saw during the revolutionary #EndSARS protests of 2020. Aside from that, supporters of these two groups are intolerant of critical opinion and caustic and unsparing in reciprocation.
Yet, it is obvious that none of the candidates controls the directions of these supporters. In the case of Obi, for instance, a piece of advice he once gave his supporters to allow him to offer direct responses to his opponents got on the wrong side of one supporter. He promptly warned Obi to back off or incur the wrath of his supporters! The dog was becoming intolerant of the hunter’s regulatory whistle. These supporters are, therefore, free-spirited agents whose interest is apparently getting the best for the country, and that is their right.
People have a right to their dreams of what Nigeria should be and who can take the country there. But if it is in the interest of Nigeria, there must be some point of convergence, a deliberate effort to respect the other opinion, and a line of decency that must not be crossed, even if unspoken. This is the mark of visionary patriots who want what is best for their country.
For instance, supporters of Tinubu, Obi, Atiku and others must own up to mistakes that these people have made in the past. They should have explanations for those mistakes and allow Nigerians the opportunity to ask questions and get clarifications from the candidates. Shouting down those who seek answers is not only tyrannical but also counterproductive to national interests.
Pretty much in the same way that some people have started to attribute divinity to clerics, supporters of politicians imply that their candidates are superhuman if they suggest that they haven’t made mistakes or cannot be questioned. Invariably, such supporters are more interested in their candidate’s victory than in national development.
And here lies the tragedy! This was the same way things were in 2014. Disappointed and intolerant of the Goodluck Jonathan administration at that time, many Nigerians shut down questions about the competencies of their candidates and their capacities to deliver.
Worse than that is the supporters’ denial of some of the failures of this administration, even in obvious areas. Two weeks ago, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, confessed that he had failed in his seven-year charge at the education ministry. This is something for ordinary people who support the party, so whose interest do they represent?
Despite this failure, the minister has not resigned, and characteristically, the President has looked on. Nigerians who have opposed this nonchalant attitude to governance over the past few years have been shut down by those who, possibly without knowing it, love politicians more than the country. Fanatical, unquestioning supporters are leading Nigeria into this trap again, even though there has never been a more critical period in the history of the country.
The fury of intolerance by centripetal and centrifugal forces can only destroy our democratic growth and stultify national development. The arrogance of our political elite and massive moral and material deficiencies exhibited by power holders require eternal vigilance on the part of citizens rather than throwing rational considerations off the table in the name of supporting candidates.
What Nigerians must know is that politicians are all the same, mostly driven by interests that are at variance with those of the common man. Therefore, the people must be involved in the running of their country. This involvement does not end with electing someone who seems to be good. The truth is that there are no irreversibly good politicians. With time and association, the interests and focus of politicians change. It is only the alertness of the people, signified by constant questions and an insistence on compelling elected leaders to fulfil their promises that save nations. Politics is too serious a business to be left to politicians, as Charles de Gaulle once said.
In this season of elections, therefore, the ultimate duty of everyone interested in national growth is to keep political actors in their cage by confronting ignorance with knowledge. Supporters of presidential aspirants must face the fact that their choices have direct effects on the future and direction of our national life. And allow Nigeria to weigh their options. No matter how much we try, politicians will always be politicians, no deodorant you put on them will stick but the development of the country remains in the hands of Nigerians. And such transformation is rare in situations where we live to worship political leaders. The future lies in the hands of the Nigerian people.
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