The spirit of democracy and its enemies, By Obadiah Mailafia

Days have characters of their own. Some are lively, cheery and sunny; others are dull and desultory. Saturday 12 June was Democracy Day. It had this rather mournful and dreary feel about it. Rumours were rife that sleeping cells of well- armed Janjaweed mercenaries would be unleashed on an unarmed and defenceless populace. Mercifully, it didn’t happen. But the dark phantoms refused to go away. The only saving grace was that, from where I stood, in my little  Siberia, it rained cats and dogs. A good omen, some would say.

Most Nigerians did not feel that there was anything worth celebrating on Democracy Day. Some youths went on a  demonstration in our commercial city of Lagos. In typical reflex action, well-armed police swooped on them with guns  and dogs. The whole thing was over before it had actually begun.

A fortnight before Democracy Day,the government suspended Twitter’s operations in Nigeria. This is ostensibly  because the social media group decided to block off General Buhari following threatening comments he had allegedly  made against Ndigbo. Incidentally, the company had done the same to outgoing President Donald Trump of the United  States. The most powerful man on earth at the time knew better than to try to close down the organisation. In a country  governed by laws rather than by strongmen, even the strongest cannot do as they please. According to some estimates,  our economy stands to lose about N1.3 trillion annually from the Tweeter suspension – a staggering 10% of Budget  2021. The decision sends the wrong signals to the world.

First, that we are backward-looking, insular Luddites not in tune with modernity and civilisation. Secondly, we are not  an investorfriendly nation. And thirdly, that our leaders are enemies of liberty. Millions of our youths deploy Tweeter for  their small social media-based businesses. Many of them are into jobs that require that social media tool.

Tweeter is also a vehicle for communication and self-expression for many of our citizens. Its suspension amounts to not  only an assault on our democracy but also on the livelihoods of many who struggle against unbelievable odds.

As a social scientist, I always move around with a keen observer’s eye. I see immense suffering everywhere. Hunger and  poverty. Heart-breaking misery. Despair. Hopelessness. Untold hardships. The miseries of young people whose futures  have been mortgaged by cupidity and grand larceny.

Rumours have been rife that the next game-plan is to block off all  social media outlets, including Facebook, WhatsApp, Internet and mobile telephony in readiness for mass slaughter of innocent Nigerians. The smell of war hangs in the air  with the thickness of a nuclear mushroom cloud. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar and all the Apostles of Global Jihad  are rumoured to have pumped humongous sums to support the spread Sharia and imposition of Fulani  hegemony by  means of war throughout Nigeria. Those who resist will die. These agents of death see Nigeria as the gateway towards  capturing the ultimate prize – our glorious continent itself.

This fear is rendered more palpable by allegations that the minister in charge of ICT and Digital Economy is an extremist  terrorist sympathiser himself; judged by his Hitlerite,neo-Nazi fascist ranting and the venom-dripping bigotry  that underpins his rhetoric. He is alleged to have been the principal influencer of the dastardly killing  of an  undergraduate at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi.The parents of the young man are still grieving for  justice and recompense.

Extremist ideologies, I humbly submit, are the most formidable enemies of democracy and freedom.  Sadly, the  outpourings from General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd), do not edify. When asked why he was building a railway into Niger  Republic, he casually responded that he did not want to forget his kinsmen and women from across the border.  Most of our people who live in the borderline communities have relations across our national frontiers. Does that justify  incurring loans on commercial terms from the Chinese to build railways into other people’s countries? Would  that not amount to treasonable felony? If we were awash with petrodollars like we once were, that might not have been   such a big deal. General Yakubu Gowon once settled public sector salary arrears of the Caribbean Island nation of  Grenada.

General Ibrahim Babangida built the main highway traversing Burkina Faso as a gift to a friendly West African sister  nation. We have supplied shiploads of crude oil to countries ranging from Ghana to Senegal when they were in grave economic difficulty. But none of our leaders has ever offered charity financed with loans. Today, we are a highly  indebted country struggling to balance our public finances.

Using borrowed funds to build railways into another man’s country is patently an act of treachery against our country  and against future generations that would have to pay back these loans. It shows that we are being ruled by people  whose loyalty is to foreign Sahelian- Ruritanian lands of which we know nothing. Asked about the murderous activities  of his Fulani kinsmen, General Buhari retorted that the only solution is to reclaim the grazing routes of the 60’s. Never  minding that our population has quadrupled since 1960 and that most of the idle ancestral lands are now being  cultivated by virtue of an expanded population. The man is, regrettably, an unreconstructed dinosaur.  His rather dull  prose last week was rife  with dire warnings against secessionists.

The obiter about Ndigbo being “a tiny dot in a circle” betrayed a despicable contumely. His idiom was bellicose and vengeful – hardly the stuff of which statesmen are made. On Tuesday 3rd June, the Coalition of Northern Groups  (CNG), representing the vast circle of rights and civil organisations in the Old North, made a statement calling on the  federal government to invoke the relevant statutes on self-determination extant in international treaties and  conventions to allow Biafra to go. In a memorandum that was widely circulated to media groups, traditional rulers and  other key stakeholders, the coalition called for a “peaceful breakup of the country to allow Igbo citizens of the southern  region create the Biafra Republic”. They point out that the North, which is saddled with just too many challenges right  now, has no appetite for another bloody civil war.

Astonishingly, they blame Ndigbo for the widespread drug addiction and other ills that afflict the Northern. They also  blamed Igbo people for benefitting from monopolistic economic behaviour, “despite their notoriety for disregard to  every rule of decency and etiquette globally.” They warned that the North will no longer tolerate the killing of their kith  and kin in Igbo land and that a peaceful separation is the only solution to these woes.

It is a truism that the activities of IBOP/ESN have become increasingly violent in recent times. It is also true that the Caliphate North has shown uncharacteristic restraint to such provocations, including the assassination of a high-profile northern political figure such as Ahmed Gulak. But this is only a half of the story. The Northern Coalition have never  mentioned the atrocities of Boko Haram, herdsmen militias and the murderous bandit terrorists in the Middle Belt and  the South. They have never owned up to the fact that IPOB/ESN violence is a direct response to the infiltration of the  primeval rainforest of Igbo land by shadowy terrorists. All they present is a fictitious “innocent North” being attacked by  a virulent and destructive Ndigbo. As for monopolies, the biggest beneficiary of a monopolistic economic  stranglehold is certainly not an Igbo man.

Besides, when the CNG talks about “the North”, they include the Middle Belt, which is rather very patronising. If the  North believes that Biafra are free to go, they cannot presume to keep the North as one monolithic bloc. The benighted  peoples of the Middle Belt certainly do not intend to remain the bond slaves of the feudal North in perpetuity. And it is highly unlikely to believe that the break-up of our country could be done on the highly civilized model of the Czechs  and  Slovaks. If Ndigbo must go, Oduduwa and Middle Belt must follow suit. This is the reality on ground. I am a  democrat and an old-fashioned patriot.

I would be sorry to see our country disintegrate. But I am also a realist. I know that there are no guarantees anywhere.  The enemies of our democracy are in both high and low places. Nigerian democracy is an orphan. An orphan starved of the warm milk of human kindness, love and succour. Democracies, if truth be told, do not die because of violent interventions. They die because of daily acts of lawlessness and impunity; because of extremism devoid of restraint and  forbearance, because of disloyalty to the nation by leaders and citizens.


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