During the dark and heady days of Occupy Nigeria in January of 2012, a roadblock was mounted by some community citizen protesters at Pako, a minor junction that connected the traffic from the Yaba, Somolu and Bariga axis. As was my irregular practice in those days, I would first stop to provide some moral support to the Pako barricaders, and join in stoking the angry bonfires before commencing the trek to the main protest grounds at Ojota.
On one of such days, I arrived at the junction to discover a dispute in progress. A local cabdriver, coming from Bariga, was attempting to cross the barricade into Akoka with his kabukabu. His intention was, however, thwarted by the irate protesters who insisted on his turning back towards his originating point. Their argument pivoted on the premise that the driver was knowledgeable about the general strike before he set out on the road. The driver, a man of good physique, verbally gave them as much as he got.
I watched the argument with mild amusement. The behavior of the protesters was, however, not irrational. By some undefined criteria involving the use of common sense and their best of judgment, the protesters allowed some vehicles with legitimate business to pass while they turned back others. The driver succeeded in arguing his case and he was allowed to pass. He then drove his car into the road where I stood, and from which I had been observing the proceedings.
Having safely gone through the barricade, the driver got out of the vehicle and walked back to meet the protesters, brimming with a fair amount of righteous indignation. In summary, his admonishment was that he had no problem with the Occupy Nigeria protest, but he had a problem with the road barricades. He started to berate the protesters for their physical activity and urged that they disbanded and left the streets. At this point, I walked up to him and challenged him. It was one thing to stand aside from protest, I said to him, after all every person had his own quota for tolerating nonsense; but it was another thing to start discouraging those who did speak out in protest. The man stared at my fragile frame from his great height for a few seconds, no doubt considering a finely angled slap. Then he turned aside, went to his car and drove off. An uncritical citizen.
That incident as well as several others made me consider the nature of those citizens who are neither interested in social reform nor care about its incidences. The non-critics. Who are these people? What disillusions them?
The Resigned Majority
In Nigeria, these are the people who have given up on their right to demand good governance and the expectation of social good. They believed they have seen protests come and go and that all of it is an unending cycle in which the individual has to best make his way within the social construct. Accordingly, they consider social crusades as a pointless waste of time. Mostly made up of the late ‘50s to early ‘70s generation, they have lived most of their lives under the brutal administration of military regimes, the devastating effects of civil war and the horror of a post-oil boom economy. To them, democracy is an end in itself. The disappearance of the military rule is considered as relief enough. They expect nothing more from democracy as a concept.
Their position evokes some understanding: if you have lived in a world where an uneducated soldier could freely and publicly whip a Professor, the mere fact that the soldiers are back in the barracks becomes a final achievement. With the death of Abacha and the transition to civilian rule in the late ‘90s, these non-critics thanked heavens for a military free Nigeria and left the civilian government to do as it pleased on the philosophy that a bad democracy was better than a benevolent military. If you were to call these category of non-critics out to protest or to advocate social reform, they will simply pity your ignorance. The problem, however, is that such people think only of themselves and their present comfort—not the future welfare of their children. These are the bulk of non-critics who epitomize the concept of the happy, suffering and smiling, cowardly Nigerian, who would rather keep adjusting the wall boundary than fight back for what he and his children rightly deserve.
The Live-and-Let-Live Folks
Closely aligned to the Resigned Majority are the “Live-and-Let-Live” Folks whose stand on government policy is always tolerance. They have no age bracket and a number of youths fall into this category. Their philosophy comes, not from any experience with government brutality, but from an innate belief that government service is a job that can never really get done right—and that “trying” is good enough. Some of these people are of the opinion that excellence can never really be achieved by human endeavour, and only some divine intervention can make things right. It is a fair bet that you will find a number of religious leaders within this group.
Accordingly, public officers should be treated like the bright but wayward child of an indulgent parent—hand him some sweets when he does well, and shout at him when he doesn’t, and nothing else. These non-critics believe that, occupying the same shoes, they would probably have acted the same way as the public officer. Naturally they are prone to disagreeing with people who preach that a reformation is possible. Human nature is necessarily fallible, and since government is comprised of humans, one should not expect too much from government—either in functionality or morality.
But this is where they miss the point: in the process of time, the indulged child begins to realize that the “shouting” lacks real teeth and that he can get away with as much misbehavior as he fancies. Once the opportunity for discipline is lost, the child grows impossible to control. With a child, this analogy is remedial—the forces of life can impress discipline into the child without much ado. With a government, the situation can only worsen—until an unappeasable violent force finally controls the excesses of government.
The Comparison Brigade
What I call the Comparison Brigade refers to the apologists of incumbent government who, ordinarily critical on social issues, become defensive of an incumbent government and would then gauge any criticsm of a current government by the failures of previous governments. Usual with these “incumbent” non-critics are phrases like: “What did Obasanjo achieve in 8 years?” “Did Yar’Adua provide 4,400 megawatts?” and so on. They tend generally to look backward and consider criticism of government as an indictment either on the ethnicity of the public officer or on his capacity to achieve what other governments did not achieve. While their facts, of which they have many, are valid, they are generally fallacious to the arguments involve—as they do not help in reaching valid conclusions. These are the non-critics that prevent progress on the assumption that a call for progress is an automatic degradation of the incumbent public officer—who is usually from their tribe.
Their name speaks for them. They are indifferent to manifesto or philosophy, belief or ideology. They are only interested in self-sustenance and their ranking within the corridors of power. These non-critics are out to fill their pockets from the coffers of any government in power. Accordingly, they will praise, idolize and genuflect towards any public officer who is in a position to satiate their lust for money. Their loyalty is, however, fleeting; and if they criticize a previous government, their criticism is suspect, for they would eagerly cut the throat of the public officers they worshipped yesterday if it would somehow benefit them today. These people are despicable, and generally, nothing can change their nature.
One of the poignant lessons I’ve learnt as a social crusader is that not everyone sees social issues from the same point of view, which is fair. However, some social issues are as evident as a fact proven in court, and it is only people in the categories set out above do not see it as evident. It is more disheartening that there are Nigerians who, not being critical, would further malign the social reformer who has taken time off his schedule to analyze the way forward without prospect of personal gain.
Of course, a number of supposed social critics are merely interested in advancing themselves to positions of power, which, when obtained, they turn 180 degree, and show their backs to the very philosophies they previously advanced—these are not the persons whose support I advocate. I refer, instead, to the work of those disinterested persons who set out as watchdogs for their societies and expect nothing in return. It is time for Nigerians to start to learn how to criticize the misdeeds of their governments, and support those who see it as their duty to do so. It is not until this sense of responsibility has been awakened that the maxim “The voice of the people is the voice of God” will start to make practical sense.
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