A call for Christmas truce by Nigerian elite
This is a call for truce in the ongoing cold war between oppressors and oppressed in Nigeria on this occasion of Yuletide 2019. The BBC English Dictionary, 1992, at page 1255 defines truce as “an agreement between two people or groups to stop fighting or arguing for a short time.” It is reported that on December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested that the Allied and German troops should stop fighting for a short time to enable the troops celebrate Christmas. No formal agreement followed the suggestion but on Christmas Eve, the sounds of rifles and shells ceased. It was reported that at dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers climbed out of their trenches on the Western Front, approached the frontline and shouted to their enemies “Merry Christmas” At first suspicious, some British soldiers cautiously climbed out of their trenches and found that the German enemies who greeted them were unarmed. So both sides met and exchanged gifts of cigarettes and puddings and sang carols. The commanders on both sides were pleasantly surprised.
Christmas is a period when individuals and groups extend goodwill to others, including belligerents. I therefore wish to take this opportunity of yuletide, when my country is in distress, to humbly call for a truce in the cold or undeclared war in which less privileged sections of the country are victims. My plea is principally directed to the Nigerian elite who are in the best position to bring an end to the war. The purpose of this appeal is two-fold. The first is to expose a class of virulent oppressors; the second is to plead with them to cease fire against fellow Nigerians. The so-called common criminals or petty thieves are not the most dangerous groups in the on-going war in Nigeria. These social misfits arise because of the activities of the real dangerous men that set the society at war. I mean the political, bureaucratic, economic, environmental and legislative wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Structure of Oppression in Nigeria
Oppression, as defined by the American social psychologist, Professor Morton Deutsch (1920-2017) entails “the experience of repeated, widespread, systemic injustice. It need not be extreme and involve the legal system (as in slavery, apartheid, or the lack of right to vote), nor violent (as in tyrannical societies)”. The Nigerian state is a gigantic structure of oppression made up of a strong centre, 36 weak states and the FCT. The country is ‘federal’ only in name. The “Federal Republic” is run like a unitary state where the centre collects funds from two or three revenue generating zones while all states (including states in the revenue generating zones) go cap in hand to the centre to collect monthly allowances. Oil revenue from the Niger Delta amounts to over 80% of the revenue of the centre and the states.
The ruling elite that controls the country has been eminently successful in using its power to strangulate the country. As a social category, the elite constitute a plurality of persons whose main characteristic is a position of pre-eminence over others. The oppressive dimension of elite offensive in Nigeria is how this category of persons deploys their immense power to pauperise, subjugate and enslave the masses. High power groups employ all possible tactics and schemes such as manipulation of elections to hold on to power, including the use of bribery, intimidation, violence and murder to preserve the status quo that benefits their positions to the detriment of the masses.
In spite of a written constitution, elaborate laws, expansive security network and outward display of religiosity, the country is in the grip of escalating insecurity, economic turmoil, extreme poverty and social disarray. The question is: who is responsible for failure of laws and institutions in Nigeria. It would stretch the imagination quite a bit to try to place these failures on the doorsteps of the downtrodden masses. The responsibility lies squarely on elite groups just enumerated.
The most visible class of oppressors in Nigeria is the political sub-set thereof, using security agencies as its tool of oppression. The bane of this class is coup-plotting and election rigging, both of which are procured by violence, fraud and treachery. Since General Yakubu Gowon (rtd.) started the process of dispossessing the Niger Delta of its oil and gas resources in 1967, Nigerian military and subsequent political leaders have been drunk and dizzy with oil money. They are fixated on money from the Niger Delta and appear incapable of thinking beyond that source of money.
The history of Nigeria is replete with military coups and rigged elections in order to control oil money. Speaking in Abuja in January 2003, His Grace Most Reverend Dr. John Onaiyekan, who was then Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, declared:“The act of rigging elections is bad. Those who rig elections are worse than coup plotters. Election riggers should be abhorred for they tend to make the world believe that they had been elected by the majority while nobody elected them.”
What comes clear is that election rigging is another technique of taking over power without the consent of the electorate. It is a civilian coup; the ultimate political sin. Election rigging derogates from the legitimacy of government. It accentuates the crisis of weak legitimacy and absence of political community among the various groups in Nigeria. It is plausible to suggest that no reasonable or informed citizen will take seriously whatever an election rigger has to say, particularly when such an individual is hypocritical enough to presume to teach others how to be good citizens. When significant groups of citizens believe that their government has no legitimate right to rule them, this easily degenerates into neighbour against neighbour. This accentuates the challenge of inadequate national integration. I therefore earnestly urge the political terrorists in agbada to cease fire. Stop killing fellow citizens in order to win political positions. Stop feeding helpless youths with drugs and guns to fight your selfish battles. Your activities serve to create a class of violent criminals in the society. On December 6, 2019, Daily Times reported that Nigeria ranks “among most oppressive countries on earth” citing a report by an international research organization, CIVICUS Monitor. The organization categorized the civic space in Nigeria as “REPRESSED”.
Biose, a former university teacher and human rights activist, wrote from Asaba.The indices of oppression include abuse of rights of citizens, constraints on freedom of expression and assembly, journalists physically attacked, arrested and judicially harassed, disruption of protests, use of restrictive laws to stifle dissent and disregard of court orders. One wonders what detaining honest and patriotic citizens without trial has to do with good governance or what benefit the masses derive from such repressive tactics. The hierarchy of Government needs to rethink such strategies if indeed their objectives are altruistic.
It is dishonest for any public office holder to claim that he is being compelled to do bad things. Of all the killings and fraud that cries to the heavens in elections in Nigeria since 1999, particularly the 2019 electoral coup, no chairman of member of the electoral commission resigned in protest. They are dead in conscience. In this regard, present-day Nigerian public office holders degenerated far below their counterparts in the First Republic. For example, in December 1964, three members of the Federal Electoral Commission (FEC) resigned in protest against the untoward happenings just before the Federal Elections held on December, 1964. Those who resigned in protest included, Prince David Akenzua representing the Midwestern Region and Mr. Anthony Aniagolu, representing the Eastern Region.
A strategic elite group in Nigeria is the bureaucracy. This is because of its intricate relationship with other elite groups (both indigenous and foreign), and the expertise of its members in facilitating official corruption in the country. Whether you speak of corrupt politicians, military rulers or businessmen, none can carry out their “business” without the active collaboration of the bureaucracy. This silent, but extremely dangerous class of oppressors is found at the top echelons of the bureaucracy at local government, state and federal levels in Nigeria. In the process of carrying out national and international assignments, bureaucrats discover that they can fend for their pockets. National assignments soon transform into opportunities for personal enrichment. By a classic example of displacement of goals, individuals employed to protect the national interest place their private interests as their primary concern. No project will see the light of day which does not satisfy various “cuts” of innumerable hierarchy of officers of the bureaucracy.
The unholy marriage between bureaucrats and the ruling class becomes stronger because most of those in political power are only too glad to obtain unmerited personal privileges facilitated by the bureaucrats. Political office holders do not hesitate to sign documents prepared by bureaucrats as long as their mutual privileges are guaranteed. Financial and moral indiscipline multiplied tremendously with the oil boom. This got to a level where a former war hero attempted to bring a kind of military discipline into the bureaucracy. He instituted tribunals to try public officers, dismissed thousands of officers and seized their assets. This was popularly referred to as “The Purge”. Unfortunately, his efforts were cut short by the same system of violence that brought him to power. Years later, another military dictator reversed this process, returned seized assets to the officers and institutionalised corruption as a culture or norm in the public service.
Biose, a former university teacher and human rights activist, wrote from Asaba.