Where are the original fighters for democracy?

Martins Oloja
This is not the time to read from the book of lamentation about the safety of democracy in Nigeria. We have been told that democratization in Nigeria is still some work in progress. Really, from the insensitive attitude of the federal law makers who are breaking the laws, notably the law on monetization of benefits by buying cars they have collected money for, it is clear that all is not well with our brand of democracy.

And if the governing Party cannot put its political acts together to deal with stigma of the President of the Senate carrying the awesomeness of the Gavel to the Dock daily in a corruption charge, then how safe is democracy in Nigeria that James Laxar says “globalization has effectively paralysed to an alarming extent”. But today is not for democratic diagnosis. Today, let’s ask for the whereabouts of the civil rights movements, the civil society organizations, (CSOs) including the non-governmental individuals (NGIs) that fought the military ruthlessly to deliver this 17 year old democracy to us in 1999.

On Thursday 18 February 2016, I sat in the auditorium of the Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja when Mr Dare Babarinsa publicly presented his new remarkable book, The Nigerian Century. And there in front sat Mr. Nosa Igiebor, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Tell newsmagazine, the two masters of ceremonies did not even know to the extent of linking him to Mr Babarinsa, a co-founder of Tell. Mr Igiebor was among some dignitaries that were not recognized by the MCs in good time before they left. Some of the comperes these days know only politically exposed people. None could link Igiebor to the struggles for democracy in Nigeria.

As I sat behind him listening and watching events, the other picture that flashed through my mind was that of Mr. Bayo Onanuga, another icon of this democracy that could have sat there too without proper recognition. There are so many heroes of this same fragile democracy that even young reporters do not know anymore. How many of us remember again that Tell and The News had to resort to guerilla journalism in a fierce battle with the military authorities before and after June 12, 1993? How many representative democrats can recognize Comrades Bayo and Nosa for their epochal contributions to democratization in Nigeria? There are many more journalists and indeed civil society activists, non-governmental organizations and individuals that were part of the struggle for democracy, especially from General Ibrahim Babangida’s through General Sani Abacha’s to General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s despotic regimes.

Can anyone remember Comrade Chima Ubani of blessed memory? There are some prominent ones such as Gani Fawehinmi, Femi Falana, Shehu Sani and some NADECO Chieftains but there are more significant contributors and sacrificial lambs such as Baguada Kaltho who paid the supreme sacrifice. There are other heroes and heroines of this civil rule called democracy (apologies to Uncle Bola Ige) but this is not just about heroism. It is about its decline at the moment. I mean why is the nation so bereft of solid input from the civil society organizations to issues in democracy these days.

I am quite concerned that there is too much quiet about the many concerns that are assailing this democracy and the civil society organizations including the media are not on top of the situation. May be the situation is on top of all of us! There are now more columnists than reporters of the gory details of the Fulani herdsmen’s atrocities. Journalism is remarkable only when the people, especially elders, experts, rights activists, CSOs, youth movements mobilize to get the front pages daily for a long time. That was how we got this democracy. The most significant body in this civil society movement has always been the students union. Even before independence, student activists from tertiary institutions have always been the arrowheads of civil society actions. But now, the student unions in Nigeria have become part of the campaign against the people.

They now have their headquarters in the nation’s capital, Abuja where they regularly assist even troubled and corrupt government agencies to defend their positions. It is a tragedy. The civil society organizations have always been strategic to getting the critical mass of protesters and agitators for the right thing to be done.

Now we have a national legislature that works hard to touch the treasury with all their ‘legislooting’ strength. We have had sordid revelations about how men of yesterday have been looting our treasury. We have had details of the horrendous Panama papers. The 2016 budget (appropriation) bill cannot be signed into law because of reported impurities in the document. There is a permanent national energy crisis (fuel scarcity and power outage); there is inexplicable cash crunch in 27 out of 36 states of the federation, as the governments of the states cannot pay salaries anymore. The newspapers have written their editorials on these issues and yet nothing has happened. Even the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been insufferably silent.

Come to think of it, the mother of all professional organizations, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and even the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC are all ireticent. They are all passive. What of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC)? What happened to the Ohanaeze? What of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF)? It is inscrutable why all these civil society, professional and socio-cultural groups have gone silent in the face of so many unspeakable issues in Nigeria? Even the governors’ forums in all the six geopolitical zones have gone silent. What is going on here? How would the newspapers get a groundswell of views that are critical if these news sources don’t issue even statements on these serious national issues that affect communities and people generally?

It will be recalled that even in the heat of the General Abacha’s
tyranny and plans to metamorphose from military head of state to civilian president around 1996/7, there was a coalition of bold Pan-Nigerian elders called G-18, (from G-5) later G-34. The influential group was led by Dr Alex Ewueme and membership included Professor Jerry Gana, the late Abubakar Rimi, Alhaji Sule Lamido, Chief Don Etiebet, Alabo Graham Douglas, Jim Chief Nwobodo, the late Chief Bola Ige, Chief Richard Akinjide, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, the late Chief Solomon Lar, Alhaji Lawal Kaita, etc.

This group braved all odds and submitted a letter to the then Head of State, General Abacha inside Aso Villa, asking him to forget the idea of contesting election. They also made the letter available to the press. The way the NADECO operatives organized themselves was remarkable and facts were always available early enough to the news media. This was a country when men were men. So, is the ‘stomach infrastructure’ or the god of the belly responsible for the subdued way we are? Why our young men just noisy on the social media platforms? Where are they not organizing themselves beyond occasional placard carrying to the gates of the National Assembly?

Specifically, what has happened to the NBA? Is there any serious internal affairs challenge? Where is Ganiyu Adams of the OOdua People’s Congress? Do the Fulani herdsmen have to kill a whole village or Chief Olu Falae before the Afenifeere or OPC can be active in demanding responsibility from even their representatives in the state and federal legislatures? Why are people not asking questions on daily basis? I am really concerned that our elders of the land are not reading the import of Albert Einstein’s message in 1879, that: The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.
And to the young ones who want to live by bread alone, as the old banana trees are dying, won’t you wonder about the suckers that will grow or you don’t want banana at all in your time? And so is a Nigerian world at such a time like this without Gani Fawehinmi a world of anomie and political correctness?

These sophisticated herdsmen & their weapons.

The herdsmen’s inscrutable incursion has become a weightier matter of urgent national importance. It is time to ask some critical questions about the “army of the night” (Babarinsa 2016): Who really equipped them? Who taught them how to shoot? Are they the owners of the cattle they rear? Where were the wasters trained to destroy? Some friends have added some questions: whose trucks are used to dump them all over the place? Who own the cows? It is hoped that the intelligence and security agencies will not allow answers to these questions to blow for too long in the wind.

Inside Stuff Grammar School:
Outright Vs Outrightly:

Using the word “outright” right is also seen as another problem for us in this part of the English-speaking world. Note that the word is used as a qualifier and a modifier. But it is not good English to add “ly” to it (outrightly) as a modifier (adverb). Examples:

(i) It is an outright loss. The one in this sentence is a qualifier.
(ii) There is an outright sale of the car. Examples as an adverb (modifier). Completely or entirely or without restraint or at once or instantly:

(i)Tell me outright what is bothering you
(ii) Please pay so that you can own the house outright

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

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  • Uchamma

    Great questions that agitate the mind. Everybody, it seems is hiding from the whip of the new sheriff in town. But we were warned that the sheriff will never change, so we ought to have braced up to the challenge. Until we regain our voices, (especially those who invested in the emergence of the sheriff) and admit that they never envisaged the drift and demand a change very early in the day, we will all walk into the smouldering cauldron.

  • KWOY

    You do not know? The last election exposed civil society activism as essentially a sectional instrument for fighting sectional interest. You probably lived under the illusion that June 12 was a cause for democracy? But the roof was also brought down in the run up to the last election with an equal amount of noise when there were no political prisoners, no secret assassinations, & no hounding of journalists & invasion of press houses. This was why that election exposed them. & out of shame, voices have gone silent. Thenation newspaper for e.g has blocked out column for comments bcos it does not have the face to face the public.. From time to time, & from here to there you still find tepid criticisms of the old administration in a tepid attempt to give the impression that it was fought for reasons less than mundane – in order to justify itself, & as a face saving tactics. Social/Civil society activism has died, at least temporarily. This is part of the change. A lot will go wrong from hence & yet a voice will not be raised. Conferences (Sovereign & non-sovereign), restructuring, true federalism & resource control will for a long time remain rested since they also fought to kill these… Democracy has indeed changed a lot. It helped for e.g (with Obasanjo’s Conference) to show that resource control was just a temporary quarrel (with the other party in the G2 status) over annulled elections.. Indeed, if Bola Ige was killed by any other person OBJ himself (one of their own), we would still be celebrating the 13th anniversary of his assassination till today – with colloquiums…. This is the answer to your question!

  • eyobaba

    All this is big grammar, the so called opposition has migrated to apc, so no need for dissent any longer. To put it mildly they have gone to were their hearts is. We are finished for now.

  • EDB

    Hmm…this is serious! I could remember when Dr Nelson Mandela was released from prison in the year 1990, a lot of our home-grown artiste suddenly ran out of theme and completely disappeared from the scene. Could it be that history is repeating itself in the case of our social crusaders?

    Your piece Mr Martins, should serve as a clarion call toward setting ablaze the faculties of our civil groups. It is a wake up call toward fearless constructive criticism of the current state of the nation in our march toward the promised land.

    Some have already been entangled, exacerbated by the issues of stomach infrastructure, that one can hardly hear any dissentient out there. We should not loose sight of where we are heading to, our present location in relation to our dream destination, why we set out and what we set out to achieve in the first instance.