WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
Over the years, the continent of Africa and its most populous nation, Nigeria, have been looked down upon as primitive and incapable of what is referred to as basic development by the acclaimed developed nations of the world. In the not-too-distant past, the president of America, Donald Trump took the humiliation further when he referred to our country as a ‘shithole’ nation. That nomenclature wasn’t only an insult, but equally was made to present a claim of the large gap in all forms of national development inclusive of democratic practice in comparison to America.
The perception has been of a continent and nation that is incapable of marshalling real development agenda, design and follow the tenet of democratic processes without open disdain for processes and abuse of rules and rights that are dignified. While this is not far from the reality of what majority of the nations in the continent, when the recurring electoral malpractices across the continent hold sway and bastardisation of democracy is the norm, it is not America, in the light of the reality of what it has become and the exposure of the rot within its democratic system to have the moral standing to denigrate our nation. The events in the U.S. democratic as much as the just concluded elections are eye openers to the fact that the world is not just a global village technologically, but also share common traits that undermine processes and systems.
The U.S. made us believed its system is foolproof and not exposed to ridicule and undue interference, at least not until now that President Trump and his cabinet, together with the population of America on the side of the president, began the narration of election fraud and appearances of illegal and magical votes across swing states and calling for termination of electoral process, and/or recounting of votes in some states. Now, we see Trump in the manner of the same African leaders his country has been demeaning, refusing to accept defeat, asserting fairness in states where he won and shouting fraud in states where he lost claiming American democracy is in danger! We read the stories of mail-in-ballots that were hijacked and burned by supporters of one candidate to prevent them from getting to the election centers; we heard of police discovering and foiling plots to attack centers where votes were being counted in Philadelphia and a number of other centers. We saw armed supporters of a candidate marching on the counting center in Detroit, chanting “stop the vote,” and forcing a temporary shutdown of Arizona’s largest vote counting center, in a bid to guarantee the safety of the counting staff. That was in America and not the shithole Africa.
We have seen that massive support for leaders and contestants who deserve none because of their antecedents of anti-people, anti-unity and anti-peace stances is not limited to our continent. It is universal. That would explain the reason while the candidature of Atiku Abubakar had the mass ‘atikulated’ followership in the 2019 election despite the undefended and unrefuted allegations of corruption labelled against him both at home and abroad. In America, we saw a president who did not only enjoy but equally anchor his campaign strategy on promoting divisiveness, violence, denigration of individuals and institutions (the media, women, minority groups and people of colours), and capped them all by casting aspersion on the sanctity and integrity of the nation’s electoral process and institution; yet, he has a massive blind followership that stand around 69 million.
They made the world to see our continent and our people as the only one that lack respect for electoral process and possess the sit tight syndrome; but we see an American president who did not hide the fact that he has no intention to respect the system or even accept defeat, but openly declare himself winner of the election in the middle of the process while ballots were still being counted. If it were to be in Africa, America would have issued warnings, threatened sanctions and stood tall as the gatekeeper of democracy. We saw clear incidents of electoral malpractices; we have seen and are still seeing the sit-tight tendency of a president who chose not to accept defeat and is ready to inflame the nation, taking it down with him if need be. That is unacceptable, but also an eye opener that the tendency is not limited to Africa; it is universal. If it takes the developed nation 246 years to get to where it is now from independence and still has to grapple with what Trump is doing now, then, they have no locus standing to school African nations who are merely 60 years into independence.
I do hope that henceforth we will recognise that though we are not perfect and are belaboured by a number of irregularities in our systems, but, we must hold our pride and not allow these nations breathe foulness on us any longer like saints that they are not. They have all along presented themselves to us as perfect nations, when they are not so different from us. We have seen the same unwillingness to hand over power, we have seen corruption, and we have seen coded vote buying and voters manipulations. We have seen how they have perfectly hidden these rots in their system from the world.
A couple of times, I have deliberated on the concept of godfatherism, submitting that it is both non-evil and global; it is an error to transform the concept to a negative and undesirable interference in the political maneuvering of a nation. Godfathers are a permanent element of every democracy and political outing; without exception of any nation or county, even in our mini institutions. We just witnessed Barack Obama’s influence on the Biden Campaign which led to victory; he went round the country and used his influence to expand Biden support and pathway to the White House; that is the work of a godfather. We must realise how ridiculous it is when we condemn the same in our system because we need a political point to attack an opposition.
Another lesson we take from these events is that the more we choose the path of hypocritical responses and actions while relating with politics and political events in our country, the more we will be sinking. In 2015, and then again in 2019, we spent a ridiculous amount of time condemning a presidential candidate on the basis of age and religion; yet, we are comfortable and have reasons enough to agree with the choices of both Trump and Biden who are well above seventy years for America presidency. Not once did we raise the same concerns we raise daily in Nigeria for youth to rule. It is becoming clearer with the choice of leadership across the globe that when the youth prepare themselves for leadership, they gradually get accepted into the system. We have not seen a nation where the youth take power because they are youths; it is capacity and the strength of competition that determine democratic leaders and not bias and propagandas. If the leader of the free world could be grandpas in the midst of tens of millions of youths, because the youth are not adequately presenting themselves for the offices and there are no rule that hand over the offices to them without requisite efforts, Nigerian youth must recognise that the nation would not handover the presidency to them because they are occupying the street and the social media.
The level of hypocrisy I am talking about is what we showcase when we chose to love Trump for being Christian-centric as well as ethnocentric, bent on preserving the fortune and values of the indigenous white population of America and the Christian religion globally at all cost, but hate on our own president for the unproven and alleged moves to preserve Islamic values in Nigeria at all cost. We have ways of bailing him out when he demonises and dehumanises the people of colour in America and boldly called the other sect “my people.” We supported him when he chose the use of force against peaceful protesters after the killing of a black man that till today, he did not condemn, but rather chose to dominate the street and counties by the military and national guards; but we wreaked havoc on our nation when there was yet an unsubstantiated use of force against protesters in Nigeria.
I have come to realise that most Nigerians are just naturally illogical and would spew any gibberish to tally their opinions. I found the narrative of Buhari’s religious extremism that rent the wave years back incomprehensible considering the fact that he was contesting against another Muslim; but now I realise the narrative does not designate hatred against the person of the president but because the propaganda is capable of selling. In the last few months, I have seen and heard the same Nigerians hating the American President-elect on the basis of the excuse that the Catholic Christian Biden is anti-Christian and his reign would affect the fortune of Christians worldwide, without evidence despite the fact that the man has been a public figure and operating in the public space for decades including as the vice president of the country for eight good years. That is in comparison with the incumbent who claims to be a Christian and have the welfare and protection of Christians at heart, though he would not go to church and filled with evidence of atrocities that should not be named among Christians and even on one occasion willingly teargassed peaceful protesters to get to the frontage of a church to pose with a Bible he held upside down. In the future, we would not be bothered by such nonsensical brewed narratives from oppositions to discredit the credibility of good candidates.
Institutions are pertinent and building strong institutions and not necessarily strong men and leaders should be the basic responsibility of the nation. The events in the last days in America have opened up our minds to what should be our priority as a nation. Over the years we have been more preoccupied with choosing between political parties, and revolving individuals in the nation’s corridor of power at the expense of strengthening our institutions; and consequently, we have had men we elevated trespassing on the institutions we ought to hold dear. As uncontrollable as Donald Trump was and as the president of America, he could not engage in certain things that could have forcefully delivered the presidency to him for a second term in office; as much as the president has not hide his wish to use the National Guard to trample upon the voting process in his favour, he could not do it because he is well aware that they would answer only to their allegiance to the America people and the constitution they swore to. The Secret Service does not require his permission or approval to commence the process of protecting Joe Biden even when he has not been declared winner but they already saw a path to his winning the race. We saw media houses cutting him off from his press release because they believe he was denigrating the democratic institution of the nation. We must take from this; in the process of building our nation, we cannot allow individuals to continue trampling on our sacred institutions; we must prioritise strengthening our institutions. That is the only way our democracy can live up to the tenet of democracy.
The need to regulate the social media is even becoming more glaring with the revelation of the use of the same to spread divisive information by Trump and his allies in America. Just like, we saw in Nigeria, some days ago, when gullible Nigerians were busy editing scenes and video to present incidents – which never occurred – of the military using force and killings of peaceful protesters, which ended up inflaming our nation, and leading to wanton destruction of lives, properties and trust among the citizens. Trump allies and foot soldiers have also been creating and posting on social media fake videos and pictures showing incidents of electoral frauds and attempts at stealing the votes from their candidate. Now, the consequence, just like in Nigeria, the misinformation allowed to filter unto citizens via the social media, will undermine the legitimacy of our institutions, system; pitching citizens against one another and erode opportunity at unity and peaceful interrelationship for the benefit of the country. This is the time for world leaders to put on the burner, the need to discuss the implications of misuse of social media on global and national peace. There is the need for control of the media at all levels, else, nations will soon be erupting into civil wars and the possibility of a third world war would not be too far.
A greater lesson for us to learn from the American election is that we must be wary of individuals who want power by all means and would not mind the extent of display and use of whatever means it takes to get what they want. The current difficult position we found in Nigeria cannot be divorced from the existence of the abundant population of individuals who had and are still attempting to take power by all means; setting the people against themselves, corrupting institutions while they tarnish noble ideals and values in the nation. The American election of 2020 is yet a revelation of how the nation is divided; in the hands of leadership bent on creating chaos rather than harmony and creating inequality while using misinformation and propagandas to pitting the citizens against one another on different platforms. We saw a leader who was careless to dismantle huge progress the nation has made over 250 years if need be for him to oil his popularity and win a re-election.
We must learn to take our nation away from this tendency; for as long as we allow increasing celebration and upsurge of tribalism and growth of religious differences as much as economic hardship, we will end up further in perilous position than we are now in our dealings with enshrined democratic precepts and choice of leaders. The reason individuals and politicians take advantage to mal-administer our states and country is because we have created the cracks of disunity along the lines of tribal differences and religious differences for them to feast on to our disadvantages.
Now, that Joe Biden has won and the Democrat is taking over the White House, what is in it for us? What does a Joe Biden presidency portend for Nigeria? This is my opinion. The Trump administration does not reflect the republican opinion and policy for Africa, but the president’s opinion. Specifically for Nigeria, Trump has at no time hidden his hatred for the country he refers to as a shithole and at every opportunity to hit at us – he has never hesitated. He stood till the end to stop the Nigerian candidacy for the president of AFDB and would do anything to stop the election of a Nigerian as the president of the World Trade Organisation. His disdain and ill-treatment of black Americans is an extension and imagery of what he thought of us generally. In the past four years, Nigeria has not benefited from the country as much as the continent of Africa has been grossly affected by the decision of the Trump administration to withdraw from a number of global treaties that are beneficiary to the continent. We are looking at issues ranging from climate change, immigration, human rights and global contribution to health. Under the current Trump administration, the United States withdrew from the U.N human Right Council, enshrined a global gag rule against reproductive health and right of women, withdrawal from global alliances against climate change with the decision to withhold $2 billion of the $3 billion pledged by the Obama administration, expanded immigration visa ban especially for Africans, among several other. A president who would not hide his hatred for the people of colour who share citizenship with him could not in any way be said to have any agenda to support or make life easy for people of colour he shares nothing with.
For Joe Biden, I was opportune to have an insight to his personality and disposition long before he became what he is now. A human right activist who stood against his nation’s government in defense of the cause of Africa. He pleaded the cause of South Africa. He blasted what he referred to as the racist white regime in South Africa during a fierce 1986 senate hearing. He lambasted the American government for given support to the apartheid regime in the country and not being decisive in ending the apartheid regime in the country. The same way, I will not want to blame the Republican wholly for Trump’s treatment of our continent, and would not begin by insinuating the Biden administration will play out a Democrat policy for Africa. But, I know for sure that our continent would be witnessing a new level of acceptance under a non-bias and non-racist Biden presidency. Overall, what we would benefit from the new government would be determined with how we choose to relate with their system; after all, individual nations have the liberty of pursuing its own foreign policy.
I am going to end with this. If our president had openly declared hatred for the Nigerian Christians; gave the simile utterance of “there are good men on both sides” in support and defense of SARS officers who brutalised Nigerians; unleashed federal might to dominate the street and to restore law and order during the protest; openly declared that he is a president for the northern people of Nigerian and give a marching order for his teeming supporters to be battle ready against his foreseen enemies and opposition, I cannot imagine what we would have said about him. But, the president of America, Donald Trump, openly and without remorse did all that and we praised, supported and defended him. Who exactly are we?
GOD BLESS THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA!