By Matthew Hassan Kukah
In a paper I delivered last week, I created levels of differentiation between Democracy and Dictatorship, especially dictatorships of the military variant as we have had in Nigeria. My idea was to place our fledging Democracy in the proper context. I have always been keen on trying to make Nigerians realise that there is a need to be modest in our claims to be in a Democracy. I have argued consistently that as of now, we are still very far away from the goal posts of what could be called a Democratic society.
In my view, the environment does not as yet look anything like a Democratic environment because the actors are largely strangers to the ethos of Democracy and what is more, too many of them are tied to the old order, not to talk of the fact that our military Presidents suggest that we are still in the thrall of militarism.
In the said paper, I did point out that whereas Democracy thrives on debate, consensus building, negotiation, persuasion, argumentation, rule of law, process, and inclusion, the military thrives in a coup culture, secrecy, betrayal, violence, exclusion, and lack of transparency. I have severally warned against triumphalism and mistaking the charade called elections as Democracy. As we know, since our return to Democracy or even independence, the military has continued to rule by proxy if forced to stand aside or been fully on the saddle. I have illustrated severally that there are many among us who have arrived at the Democracy’s altar by parachuted by money bags, cliques, and cults, rather than face the difficult task of laboring in the trenches, campaigning, talking to the people and genuinely seeking their votes. We surely cannot mistake renting of crowds and the galaxy of multi-colored attires, stampeding our people into forced stadia as campaigns no matter what claims anyone might make given that the only communication with the voters is the humiliating bribe sessions that follow.
Like the false feathers of Icarus, every day, the drama of the fraud called Democracy is re-enacted as the masks occasionally fall off and we see the real face of fascism that hides behind it all. When they sense that we want to test their mandate through closely monitored elections, they promise that we will receive either coffins or body bags in return. Every day, the evidence is before us and it has been so for a long time, namely, that in the mind of those whom we have entrusted our future too, Democracy is merely a heuristic device to perpetuate their grip on power. The recent outrage displayed by the Minister of/ for Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed over public reaction to the Social Media Bill, is illustrative of the point I am making, namely, that not all who call themselves Democrats appreciate the enormous burden that goes with the claim. The Minister has used some rather harsh and divisive words that suggest some contempt for the voices and views of those whose labours and sacrifices have brought him to where he is today as a Minister.
His language is disrespectful and appalling, illustrative highhandedness not becoming of a public officer who is ostensibly supposed to be a servant of the people. The language is as intolerant as it is alienating. The Minister says that no amount of threat, blackmail etc will dissuade the government from going ahead with social media. Is this the language of Democracy? Is this the language of people who understand or have really imbibed and internalized the spirit and fine principles of Democracy? In conscience, is Mr. Lai Mohammed saying this as a lawyer or one who subscribes to Democratic values? If we must do your will or face the wrath, then, this suggests two things: First, we must obey you and the government because we are subservient to you and the government. We must be answerable to you not the other way round. We must because if we don’t, we can be penalized by imprisonment for daring to question its wisdom or seek to have an input in a law that concerns us. When did we surrender these rights and to whom and under what conditions. I have known Lai Mohammed for some time. My first contact with him was when he called me and introduced himself and then proceeded to request if I could deliver the 1st Bola Tinubu 50thBirthday Lecture. I obliged. Since then, I have gotten to know him in the course of our encounters here and there. The person speaking doesn’t sound like the Lai Mohammed I know. He sounds like someone who is not doing a job he is convinced about. Perhaps he is a lawyer, but not a Democrat because, in an ideal situation, the former should reinforce the latter. In which case, his experience as a lawyer should help him pull from the edge of the moral abyss and illegality on which this Bill hangs. To be sure, on these facts alone, President Buhari has been far more honest than those who claim to be his followers. I have heard the President on at least four occasions in which I was present, speak about the fact that Democracy is definitely not his strong jacket. It is clearly an irritant, a nuisance which he is compelled to live with. He has summed up his views thus; When I was a military man, I arrested all the thieves and put them in protective custody. I asked them to go and prove their innocence. Now, I have been told that even though I can see the thieves, I cannot arrest them. I must take them to court and prove that they are guilty.
Even if I do not agree with President Buhari, I admire the fact that he has had the honesty to explain his constraints and also he continues to illustrate that his conversion to Democracy was not like Paul on the road to Damascus. Not being a Catholic his conversion to Democracy did not come with a confession of his sins (of staging a coup), promise not to do that again and then ask for absolution and accept the required penance! Mr. Mohammed has climbed a moral high horse, claiming that he is motivated by higher and noble values of protecting the rest of us from a hovering scarecrow of evil which the government has created. This is a low-level fence erected to hide the construction of a wall of tyranny and fascism. All tyrants and fascists started with the noblest of intentions, composing panegyric lullabies in praise of patriotism. But, as we know, patriotism is often the refuge of scoundrels. Sooner than later, they will start the hunt. This is what the American author referred to as Scoundrel Time!
To be sure, there is no one including myself who is not aware of the dangers posed by social media. However, should the government wish to address this matter legally and openly, it should not leave itself open to accusations of a rather sinister, duplicitous motive. Why is the government afraid of a debate? It is desirable that we address social media by way of education, open debate and transfer of knowledge. When did social media become sinister in the eyes of the government? Is it after the same people used it that they now realise that it was good for them then, but bad for the rest of us now?
Law making is a serious business and it demands high moral standards of honesty. Patriotism is not a commodity of exchange. I have lived long in this country, been engaged long enough to know that the degree of patriotism of office holders is often in direct proportion to the opportunities that they have. Patriotism cannot be defined by the wearing of pendants. Today’s Buhariphilia will become tomorrow’s Buhariphobia when they lose office.
Finally, we must all concede that technology is here to stay. Since our leaders have left us in a semi-primitive world, it is little wonder that they fear what they do not know. I do not know if these people know where the world is heading. True, technology and those who drive it will focus on power and more power. They may not be concerned with our collective happiness.
This Bill is dead on arrival because it is a rotten yogurt being sold after its expiration date.