Ekweremadu’s ordeal in Nuremberg
The proscribed Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) claimed responsibility for the assault and vowed to attack more Nigerian officials who travel outside the country. Videos of the encounter went viral on social media and sadly most comments on that all-comers’ citizen medium, viewed it with sadistic relish and infantile gloating. It was a sad and embarrassing spectacle watching a state official being manhandled in such a brutal manner outside the shores of the country, rescued only by the kind intervention of some organisers of the programme the senator went for.
The unfortunate incident threw up some of the intense contradictions of our contemporary life – how our people have taken difference to the extreme, how capricious mob actions could be in confronting political issues, how leaders have tragically failed to meet their social obligations to the people, and how we find some ambivalence in totally condemning acts of self-help as occasioned by the Nuremberg experience. It also internationalised the dilemma of the Nigerian people in dealing with state failure and official ineptitude.
Let’s reflect on the Nuremberg’s unanticipated baptism of fire: Do Nigerian leaders at all levels – the executive arm at federal and state levels, the legislative arm both at national and state levels – feel the angst which the people have against them? Do members of the judiciary know that the Nigerian people are angry with them? Do they realise that there is a deep disenchantment with the system and its operators and that any opportunity to physically express that anger can easily be exploited? Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky observed in his seminal novel Crime and Punishment ‘when reason fails, the devil helps.’ The devil, as it were, has taken a front and dominant seat in the relationship between governors and the governed in Nigeria as it seems to us that reason has been a failure that keeps failing.
To be sure, no self-respecting media house or individual should lend support to violence as a means of expressing disagreement. An endorsement of self-help promotes descent into anarchy. We are therefore at odds with the resort to self-help, which some Nigerians demonstrated when Ekweremadu visited Nuremberg to address a gathering of Igbo nationals as a guest of his kith and kin. It is dangerous and could lead to unexpected consequences including loss of lives. For, as we know, once an action by a mob starts, there is no predicting its denouement. It takes on a life of its own with certain persons using it to settle personal scores. Furthermore, politicians, known for their wily ways could instigate persons to embarrass officials with whom they have political differences. So, the mob mentality, which reigned supreme in the assault on Ekweremadu is condemnable.
However, we must call to question the yawning income gap and access to the good things of life between the average elected or appointed officials and Nigerians. To be elected or appointed seems to confer on one the power to exploit the resources of the state. Else, how do we account for the stupendous amounts being approved as welfare packages for the supposed servants of the state? The staggering sums, which are allocated to officials in the name of work, are offensive to social justice and equity. We are indeed sowing the seeds of eternal discord that could lead to mass revolt. Added to this is the failure of the government to secure life and property in the land. If brigandage gives the political elite access to power and state resources, then the people, particularly the youth, would begin to see themselves as bona fide claimants to the self-help theory to protect the state.
Certainly, this is not the way to go. Is this not partially responsible for the criminal behaviour of some youth who have taken to cybercrime as a way of keeping up with the Joneses? We do not rationalise criminality. The hard fact is that the trajectory and philosophy of governance in Nigeria inexorably encourages criminality and eccentricity.
It is apposite to observe that the government is sparing no effort to muzzle internal dissent by descending harshly on non-violent protesters. To a large degree, citizens who were vociferous in expressing divergent opinions and promoting a healthy counter-discourse are being cowed. However, Nigerians in the diaspora will not be bullied into submission. They live in climes where the right to free expression is fully guaranteed and protected. They monitor events at home and often would tell anyone who cares to know that if things improve in their homeland, they would rather return than be second-class citizens in Europe, America, Asia, etc. As a result, their passion for change is often greater than patriots who have remained at home. The assault in Nuremberg is a pointer to this fact that should not be ignored, in the circumstances.
The doctrine of change, anti-corruption and the next level which characterised President Muhammadu Buhari’s elections were expected to alter the narrative. Sadly, some five odd years down the line Nigerians are beginning to worry about the true dreams and intentions of the Buhari administration. Daily, the nation is bombarded with bad news of malfeasance, murders, and kidnappings. In the states, although official corruption is raging, there is a culture of silence because most fingers are deep in looting the pie. Hardly do state governments charge any official to court for corruption. It is only when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) makes an arrest that we hear of fraud at that level. What is the Nigeria Police Force doing? Are they so enmeshed in seeking cheap bribes that they have become complicit in official corruption at the state level?
We are in the most difficult and trying period in the history of our country. Our continued existence as a nation is fundamentally under tension. Nationhood in a federation is not to be taken for granted: it must be nurtured in the altar of truth, justice, and equity. The signs are not good. The optics are bad. Daily existence is a nightmare compounded by a seeming acquiescence to brigandage by some sacred cows. The body language of leaders is not encouraging. The people are disenchanted and have resorted to self-help to seek redress in their own courts, promoted by social media. Except definite and progressive steps are taken to address the drift, it is easy to prognosticate that there will be more assaults on public officials in the days and months ahead.