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#EndSARS: Truth, disputation and moral responsibility

By Alade Rotimi-John
15 December 2021   |   4:20 am
Truth is generally recognised as the most cognate attribute of God. In recorded communication of God with man, God usually reaffirmed His truth-value attributes.

Police officers arrive at the scene of protest during a protest to commemorate one year anniversary of EndSars, a protest movement against police brutality at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos, on October 20, 2021. – Hundreds of youth match to commemorate one year anniversary of Endars protest that rocked the major cities across the country on October 20, 2020. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

Truth is generally recognised as the most cognate attribute of God. In recorded communication of God with man, God usually reaffirmed His truth-value attributes. “I am God of truth,” He is wont to say as He reveals some transcendental truth. Human beings have, in their misguided judgment through the ages, attempted to bury or otherwise exterminate some uncomfortable truths about themselves, their situations or their world-view which conflict with or are repugnant to reality. Hard as they tried, however, they have failed on every occasion. Some 2000 years ago, certain authorities, doubting the divinity and novel message of Jesus and finding its inherent truth uncomfortable or conflictive with their entrenched interests, conspired to put Him out of circulation. Jesus had revealed to His audiences that He was the Truth personified. He was rounded up, tried, found guilty of the charges preferred against Him and sentenced to death by crucifixion. He died and was buried. The significance of Jesus’ death however is that three days after He was buried, He arose or resurrected. The truth could not be contained in the grave; it could not be otherwise tucked away in some dark or dank chambers. Either literally or metaphorically, the truth cannot be buried for all time. It will resurrect; it must resurrect.

When the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the Nigerian Army and the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) unabashedly varied the stories of their respective involvements in the shooting of unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate protest ground, little did they realise that they have re-inforced the general sense of our national aversion for truthful conduct and statements. Our national institutions and certain instruments of state are steeped in the un-ethical pre-occupation with lie-telling or silly talk. They seem to deem governance or the machinery of governance to be intertwined with lie-telling or the shambolic performance of roles or programmes. They ignore the time-honoured admonition that conscience is an open wound which only truth can heal; or the Jesus’ truism that only the truth can set one free. As one untruthful statement requires tonnes of further untruthful validations, an untruthful official of state is forever needing to vary his earlier statements with a view to confounding or confusing an uncritical audience.

The official attempts to diminish the value of the judicial probe into the Lekki Toll Gate shootings have demonstrated that integrity may be a rare commodity even among officials of government at the rarified level. The attempts have in turn diminished the status of official communication. Even though human society sets for itself certain standards of morality, vices have been known to be the preferred mode of behaviour or the directive principle of state policy among state actors. Dishonesty, lie-telling, indifference to integrity, etc. have become the forte of state officials. Lie-telling is particularly reprehensible because it is the invidious attempt to intellectualise a perverse act. It is positioned to avoid being excoriated for a wrongdoing. More disgustingly, it is a rationalisation or justification of a wrongdoing by employing deviousness.

The ancient popular attitude towards persons who are referred to as lawyers was one of disdain. A group of people who would “call white, black” or would upturn justice in favour of their paymaster or client was loathed. Thankfully, the practice of law is fast assuming its proper place as a body of scientific knowledge with strict rules and procedures for ascertaining or determining the truth of any matter. The public view of the lawyer is thereby changing positively to one of an unyielding purveyor of the truth and commonsense. Even as lawyers jealously guard their ancient traditions, a return to the abyss of a disdainful public image regarding ambivalence in matters requiring the promotion of truth, of duty to conscience and of morality as recently portrayed by some lawyers is not contemplated by the general body of the Bar. When a lawyer therefore strenuously seeks to upturn truth on its head in a matter of public concern by employing subterfuge, dishonest logic or mendacious verbiage he unwittingly curries the disfavour or invites the disdain of his colleagues. The low esteem of the general public becomes his reward. 

Many of Nigeria’s national programmes are afflicted by the absence of an underlying truth base. They are generally conceived even at the onset to attain certain perverse set of goals. They are obstinately positioned to achieve a wrong-headed or schemed distortion of the advertised object. Nigeria’s national headcount or population census, for instance, has since its first exercise in 1952 been mired in controversies arising from the untruthful outcome of its published results. Due to be conducted every ten years, the periodic headcount has inexplicably fallen into arrears. Government has demonstrated a pathetic lack of will to conduct the exercise each time it is due. Aware that digital technology for determining demographics may prove unyielding to manipulation, i.e. that a fair exercise may upturn the shibboleth of the past, government has been pussyfooting to conduct the due exercise. Certain undue advantages have accrued to some un-deserving sections of the polity on account of a skewed or untrue population distribution schemata.

An outstanding untruthful statement about Nigeria is the reference to her as the “Federal Republic of Nigeria.” The country is definitionally in abuse of the true intendment and meaning of the concept of “federalism” as the structure of her governance mould is akin to “unitarism”. In a federal state, the distinct entities or federating units composing it are semi-autonomous as a large measure of independence is accorded them in terms of items on the legislative list over which they have jurisdiction. Matters such as policing, derivation, resource control, mining, business registration, inland waterways etc. are, in a proper federation, the exclusive legislative jurisdiction of the composing units. The pervasive advocacy for a return of the country to a true federal status underscores the general understanding of the grave implications arising from the bearing by a person of a wrong name or title. When a person bears a wrong name, or an untruthful name, he or she spiritually denies himself/herself of the benefits attaching to a proper or true name and foists on himself/herself the tragedies that otherwise attach to the bearer. This is one of the tragedies of Nigeria.  

In our world today, there is so much untruth. Lies and falsehood are delivered a la carte as meals in a restaurant. Many are afraid to speak the truth or do the right thing. As we give way to fear, the truth is suppressed. As we denounce or ignore the rules regarding truth telling and tell lies instead, we injure our soul. We must recognise there is a limit to the injury we may inflict on the soul. It vegetates with each lie-telling exercise. Emerson has admonished that “he that speaks the truth executes not private function or individual will, but the world utters a sound by his lips.” Truth is the divine spark in man. It is the light of God in man. For instance, the recognition of the presence of God in all men, all things, and all creatures is the Truth. The pursuit of truth is the path that leads to God; not hollow religiosity. It is single-minded devotion to truth that does.

Historically, stratagem or a plan for deceiving a people or of gaining an advantage over them as a policy of government has been found to be counter-productive.  The Gobbellian tactic during the Nazi interregnum in Germany is an eloquent example. The moment the people identify their government as over-indulging in emotion or untruths especially the conscious effort to induce emotion in order for the people to be lulled to sleep or of an over-optimistic emphasis on a touted ingenuity, the people lose their ability to sympathise with the government’s plight. Lie-telling or inability to accept failure or mis-judgement is the concomitant self-repudiation of the people’s projected hope in the government.  So much hope and passion had been invested on this government.  The people have however come to recognise that much hype and an over-promotion of the government have un-subtly de-marketed the presumed prowess of the government and have confirmed the APC as a will-o-the-wisp or a deceptive contrivance.

So, as truth-telling is not enthroned as Nigeria’s national ethic, the entire Nigerian edifice is built on quick sands. Even as life is a long and arduous search after Truth, the Nigerian soul, if it is to attain its ordained height, requires an inward restfulness that can only be brought about by truth-telling, and by truth in thought and deed especially by officials of government or government’s alter ego. The pervasive unashamed practice of taradiddle or lie-telling is a slur on the nation and a reproach on her people.
Rotimi-John is a lawyer and commentator on public affairs.