Nigeria on Fire : Nigeria’s Darkest Moment, 1985-1998 (V) – Seeking Knowledge And Truth

Ignorance is the death knell of progress,
Makes the rape of justice possible 
And the reign of mediocrity supreme.
Knowledge is the cradle of civilisation
Gives reverence to justice 
Makes the rule of law sovereign.
Thirst for knowledge signals freedom.

Acquiring true knowledge bestows power,
Shines light into crooked heart,
Puts right the wrongs of injustice, 
Stands tall as an equal of any noble,
Strengthens moral principle,
Drives out every fear,
And sets the soul free forever.

(Sam Abbd Israel)

The issue that should concern every Nigerian who has seen the light of freedom is how do you bring these glad tidings to other fellow Nigerians? How do you convey the ideas of liberty, equality and justice to every living Nigerian as the inalienable rights of man? How do you make Nigerians to act on this knowledge in a way that will put into oblivion forever the rape of their persons and their nations by the military and its political collaborators who masqueraded as leaders this past 38 years? The apathy of Nigerians to the effort of genuine democrats and human rights activists is evidence that there is a deep but bridgeable conceptual gulf between the crusaders and fellow Nigerians.

On reflection, it is clear that this gulf has a lot to do with the prevailing religion of ‘Babangidaism’. This religion has single-handedly rewritten the core social values of the Nigerian society. A suffocating cash nexus relationship that grew out of this satanic faith has paralysed all legitimate institutions of intervention and social controls for the protection of those excluded or technically prevented from the altar of Babangida’s offerings. The value premise on which the Nigeria state operates now is not one that can sustain any society no matter how primitive the society is. The way things are at this point in time in Nigeria will find most Nigerians wanting if call upon to make a choice between liberty and Mammon or more specifically between freedom without money and slavery with money. There is no doubt in the mind of anybody familiar with Nigeria what the first choice will be.

The outcome of this simple value and psychological test is an indictment to whatever Nigeria has in place that is called education. It is an education that has failed so far to make its pupils realise and appreciate that the greatest gift every man received from the creator is liberty and that this precious gift has no parallel exchange value that would not reduce the natural quality of man. An education that has failed to bring to the attention of its wards the great universal history of ideas that should have awaken in them the intuitive propensity to seek knowledge for the sake of personal development and not just to get that lucrative job. It is therefore not surprising that a large number of the citizen who claim some letters behind their names as educated men and women still remain blind to the first principle of what exactly constitute a good life.

The Nigeria’s problem could therefore be better understood when it is realised that it is a case of the blind leading the blind. How can we expect a soldier or politician who has no knowledge or understanding of what liberty is to procure democracy for the citizens?

How can a polity that refuses to negotiate the terms and conditions of association with all concerned because it abhors the concept of equality and has no respect for human rights of the citizens establish and protect justice?

What name apart from occupied territory do you call a geographical space captured as it was illegally by a group of marauding gunslingers?

A country with a suspended constitution or without any contracts of association or memorandum of understanding but ruled by a martial decree cannot lay claim to the status of a nation state. It is therefore not surprising that Nigeria as presently constituted has been governed as a personal estate first, of Babangida’s and of late of Abacha’s until death took him away from his inherited stolen stool.

It is shameful that after all the struggles made by the Nigerian nationalist movements in the 1940s and 1950s for independence, the country has since regressed to the principle of Indirect Rule that was earlier instituted by Lord Lugard in the early part of this century.

Or what do you call the pattern of rule adopted by the successive military administration since 1966, where the Emirs, the Obas and the Obis of the land were clandestinely manipulated to purchase hegemony and legality for the military?

What is the name of the game, where the traditional rulers play the ostrich that bury its head in the sand as in the days of the District Officers and Colonial Governors?

What name do we call the partnership between the military rulers and the traditional rulers that know fully well that their (the traditional rulers) privileged position is safe and that their subjects can rot in hell for all they care as long as the traditional rulers play the wink-wink and nod-nod game – see no evil, hear no evil and talk no evil – as they did with the colonialist?

We have seen a resurgence of this kind of relationship between the military rulers and the traditional rulers and this was more pronounced in the time of Babangida.

Looking at the situation of Nigeria reminds one of the conclusions drawn by Sir A. B. Ellis with respect to the African race from his Study of Ewe-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa in 1890. He wrote, “They can imitate, but they cannot invent or even apply. They certainly fail to grasp and to generalise a notion.”8 At first glance it is easy to put down the author, as a white supremacist writer but an objective reflection on the total situations of Africa’s problem today seem to corroborate Sir Ellis observation.

What exactly does the experience of Nigeria say, if after almost a century, Nigeria’s so-called leaders or rulers have to go back in time to exhume the most degrading form of government ever devised by the minds of English rulers and exported by British colonial exploiters as the only befitting political system for the free people of Nigeria?

Or how do we explain the vigorous fight put up by the supporters of Abacha must continue to rule this last five years? The utterances and behaviours of these vacuous men and women of the political class seem to lay in a divine claim to having every right to speak and act for the people even without the smallest courtesy of seeking the people’s consent. And to realise that among these crusaders are learned men and women who have travelled the world, have had a brush with John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, John Stuart Mill, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Paine and other libertarian writers in their college days and yet could make such claims as they did before Abacha’s death took the steam off their oars is mind-boggling.

What are you expected to think? Are this class of Nigerian elites able to grasp concept of anything virtuous and valuable; are they able to apply it; and are they capable of developing any new idea?

It is disheartening to accept the fact that fellow country men and women have failed to partake of the universal ideas and knowledge that have shaken and set the world aglow on the path of progress this past three thousand years. The term third world seems to encapsulate everything about Nigeria and indeed Africa, it is definitely far from the centre of the world – a third grade world.

What makes the difference between the first and the third world has nothing to do with the fundamental nature of the peoples but it is about how each has managed to overcome the vicissitude of nature in their respective environments through the ideas of pockets of geniuses that have graced this planet. According to Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher in Leviathan, “Nature hath made men equal in the faculties of body and mind as that, though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together the difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he.”9

How Nigerian political elite could claim total ignorance of the pool of knowledge that have transformed peoples and nations in the last two hundred years beats one hollow. Rational men cannot but ask, what rights have these political charlatans and prostitutes got to lay claims to leadership status in a constitutional republic when they have no understanding of basic principle of human rights. It is amazing that the political rogues in Nigeria have neither heard of both the American Revolution and of the French Revolution nor of the great Greek philosophers who gave the world valuable ideas on the concept of soul, life, nature, man, government, society, science, democracy, etc.

It is beyond belief that these crooked men and women parading as leaders have never heard of the 15-17th Century European philosophers and the efforts they made to modernise Britain and Europe away from the unjust feudal monarchical absolutist rule of Popes, Kings and Emperors. Nor have they heard of the history of the American democracy, which has become the envy of the world today.

How can these people who behave as if the world started yesterday and who refused to borrow and learn from the history of great peoples and nations that have gone by as well as those of the contemporary age to order their own lay claim to the life of Nigerians to do as they please with in the name of empty political slogan of national unity?

Isn’t it bewildering that at the end of the twentieth century, the so-called leaders who clamour for peace and unity as the only goal of government have refused to negotiate the basis of association with the respective nationalities, which constitute this their empire? They have refused to understand the inherent illegality surrounding a government that is not based on any agreed contract of associations and relations whatsoever.

All collaborators – both internal and external – of these illegal governments have equally refused to appreciate that under such hegemony, no institution is free from corruption. Indeed, no institution of government can be built or nurtured to serve the purpose of safe- guarding the equality, the freedom and the security of everybody except those of a privileged few.

These ‘governments’ throughout their period believed in both the strategic and non-strategic use of fear, high-handedness and share naked force as reasonable political weapons to keep every citizen in line. These ‘governments’ have shown no respect for the intelligence of their subjects, they do not even believe the citizens as a whole have any. They therefore could neither seek nor ask for the people’s consents either on simple policy matters or on fundamental constitutional matters.

It is not uncommon to find that making suggestions or tendering propositions or offering opinions as well as championing the principle of consensus as a means for arriving at national directions and objectives are seen as subversive tendencies. Even at this late stage in the history of mankind, the Nigerian governments are yet to understand that no relationship among equals – friendship, marriage, family, community, society – can take off or survive for long if the contract of association is not well spelt out from the on-set both implicitly and explicitly.

They are yet to accept the reality that formal or informal agreements must be well spelt out. That the memorandum of understanding on how far a relationship can go; on what the purpose of the association is meant to achieve; on whether the relationship is a partnership – senior or junior – or totally a master-servant; on what is mutually exchangeable; on what is common or private property; and on what is to be accepted as joke or an insult, must be clearly articulated.

That for any relationship to work and bear fruit, the tiniest nitty-gritty of every conceivable matters – cultural, social, economic, political – must be addressed squarely or else the relationship will be in a state of perpetual conflict. Even when participants meant no harm by their actions or pronouncements but because they have failed to agree on the meaning of terms and concepts that they run the risk of seeing simple matters being construed as decisive to the continuation or abrogation of the relationship.

So how can the Nigerian human right crusaders and libertarians bring their messages to the doorstep of every person in the polity?

How can they persuade ordinary Nigerians that the path Nigeria has treaded and is still treading will not lead to the promised land flowing with milk and honey?

How can they convince the common people that all the nooks and corners of this vast land is ridden with Babangida’s wolves in human clothing eager to tear them apart if they persisted to remain careless about the most fundamental matters of what constitute a good life?

How can they alert the people that the sharks in their midst have colluded to deny them forever their fundamental human rights as citizens and as human beings created in the image of God?

How can they ring the alarm to warn that waiting on the defence for that divine intervention which every Nigerian pacifist is praying for and refusing to lift a finger even to give moral support to those fearless few who are standing up to the despots with their lives is cowardly and unforgivable?

We shall again look at these questions in the role of civil society in To Your Tents O! Nigerians.

It is all right for Nigerians once again to fall on the queue as advisers to their non-listening oppressors. They ought to have known better by now if they have learnt any lesson this last 38 years that it is simply a waste of valuable time. They need to be told that any advise to be offered at this time should be directed at the people of Nigeria in order to wake them up from their irresponsible slumber. Obafemi Awolowo in Path to Nigerian Freedom published in 1947 had a very unsavoury impression about Nigerians, which even after 50 years has remained unimproved.

He writes, “In public affairs, the Nigerians are unduly apathetic. Whenever they woke up spasmodically to tackle any problem of the day, they betray an alarming thoughtlessness…in the very breath with which they make their demand, they proclaim their own unfitness for their aspirations.” He went on, “It is not a case of inability to think, it is unwillingness to do so, coupled very often with deep seated prejudices.” This agrees very much with Hobbessian theories since every man has the properties for mental operations necessary for thinking and articulation. He finally advised, “In the solution of their future problems Nigerians must do a good deal of active, constructive and sustained thinking.”10

Has anything changed for the better or worse since those words were written? The advice is still very apt and worthy of reflection by all well-meaning people of Nigeria who are still wondering how Ibrahim Babangida could walk free and even of recent walking tall and making statements on national issues after all the unforgivable sins and abuses he and Sani Abacha perpetrated against the people and the nations this last thirteen years.

SAM ABBD ISRAEL

11 OCTOBER 1999

(To be Continued)

NOTES

8. Sir A. B. Ellis The Ewe-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa’ London 1890. p.9. (Quoted from Ndabaningi Sithole, African Nationalism. Oxford. 1959. p.121.)

9. Thomas Hobbes. ‘Leviathan: Or Matter, Form and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclessiaciastical and Civil’. Edited by Nelle Fuller in The Great Books of The Western World. Vol.23. Chicago:   Encyclopeadia Britannical. 1952.

10. Obafemi Awolowo,  Path to Nigerian Freedom. 1947. p.22.

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