Locking Up Political Dissidents In Nigeria: Punishing The Right To Offend
The arrest of political dissidents is particularly painful. In a democratic society, the response to disagreeing with you or saying anything painfully insulting to you must not be arrest and imprisonment. Surely if you can have a say in improving or ruining a man’s life, the least you can afford him is the right to hurt your feelings. It is not even a fair trade, but in a deeply unfair society, a man takes whatever he can get.
The Nigerian political class have been the major factor in ruining this country and the dream it once held, and as a special bonus, they do not want you to complain about it.
George Bernard Shaw said “All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions.
Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.” The amazing reaction of the Nigerian ruling class to shut down conversation and argument against them is a crippling one. Like children, they have a lot of things they are sensitive to, things that offend them. We cannot afford to have any sympathy for anyone who finds offense in anything that challenges him or his actions. Any man that finds insult in things that challenge his stance or image is not an educated person, education breeds tolerance. An enlightened person should tolerate difference in ideas, variety is part of life, it is not something to fear, and it is something to look at with curiosity.
Throughout human history, it is those that step out of the line that have improved society. The conformist would not temper with anything, they keep it as it is. It is those that challenge the system, the long held beliefs and those that question the present way of doing things that dragged us out of the darkness of ignorance into bliss, progress and growth. Leadership and people of authority must look at those who question their methods as bridges to progress rather than enemies.
Dissidents disrupt the present way of doing things. A philosopher was once said that people should by all means marry, if they find a good wife, they will be happy. If one gets a bad wife, one will be a philosopher. The philosopher credited with that statement is the great Greek philosopher, Socrates. As funny as it sounds, this statement is deeply philosophical and speaks to many issues. The challenges of life can either make us happy or in our pain, we will be able to find wisdom. This concept of finding the good in what challenges us seems to be missing in the ways of some of Nigeria’s leaders.
I understand that not every dissident act should be tolerated. For example, I find Sowore and his actions particularly repulsive. I think to try to start a revolution after participating and utterly failing at the polls is preposterous. Do one or the other. It is demagoguery at best. Then there are the bigots and the tribal jingoist like the Nnamdi Kanus and the less popular Yoruba anarchist that ordered the eviction of Fulani from his state. These are people that bring dangerous narratives into play that could harm other people and instill discord. However, these people would hardly receive the kind of support and influence they have today had circumstances been better. Hard times bring the worst of people. Even though these people cannot be absolved of their own evil acts, it is the perpetual injustice by Nigeria’s ruling class which subjugated people that is giving them the platform to spread their hate.
Politicians and public servants must understand that there is a price tag on the sort of career they chose. It is not for the faint hearted. Nobody forced anyone into seeking public office, it is a choice. If you feel you cannot handle criticisms; constructive or otherwise, you can simply look into being a clown or the circus, these people usually make people smile and are generally loved. However, if you choose to seek an elected office or be selected to run a government department that has a say in shaping the lives of people, you must bucked down, wear a thick skin and expect to be accountable to those whose fate you shape with your choices.
You cannot get wet from the word “water”. If someone says anything bad or untrue about you, counter it with the truth and move on. They are just words. They hurt only to the extent of how you feel about them. The same medium that person used is also available to you, use it. You must resist the urge to abuse power by using our public institutions to settle your personal qualms. Our security agencies are not pawns to be used by those who lord over us. Your actions are forever undermining these institutions and weakening the state.
The rate at which people are paying for speaking truth to power in this country is disgraceful. Surely our (mis)leaders do not think they are divine and above criticism. You do not to want to be opposed through spoken or written words, you are against street protests and you despise those who take to social media to air their grievances. Amazing! Amazing!! Amazing approach to life!!! It is like tying a man to a pole and beating him with a bat, if the man decides to protest his treatment, you simply declare him an enemy. How dare he protest his treatment? Much better to let insecurity, poverty, lack of infrastructure and lots of other injustices cripple him. That is the type of citizenry they appreciate. While life gets harder and harder, while the citizenry wallow in abject poverty, these lords of ours are swimming in wealth and living such extravagant life, but dare we speak! Dare we question! Lest they shackle the challenger to keep others in line.
Mallam Naini Musa
Mallam Naini Musa is a writer and social critic.