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Truth-telling as national anathema

By Alade Rotimi-John
07 December 2020   |   3:33 am
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...

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 recognise 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 deem governance or the machinery of governance to be intertwined with the shambolic performance of roles or programmes. They tinker with the time-honoured admonition that conscience is an open wound which only truth can heal; or the Jesus’ charge 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.

Revelations at the ongoing 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. 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, lack of integrity, etc. are moral issues. Lie-telling is particularly reprehensible because it is the attempt to intellectualise a perverse act. It is positioned to avoid being excoriated for a wrongdoing. It is a rationalisation or justification of a wrongdoing by employing deviousness.

Sanwo-Olu has said he did not order the putting off of the lightings at the protest ground. He has, as if he is a morbid anatomist or pathologist, asserted that no drop of blood was shed and that no one died even as soldiers admittedly poured bullets on unarmed protesters. The Army, on its own, told a bewildered nation first, that it did not go to the Lekki toll gate; later, that it shot blank bullets; and finally, that it carried live bullets for self defence. The concessionaire of the toll gate, Lekki Concession Company (LCC), had assured all that contrary to reports, the cameras at the “shooting range” were intact and so their recordings are sacrosanct and should be representative of all that happened there on the 20th of October, 2020.

At every turn, we are treated to barefaced denunciation of earlier affirmative declarations or of some solemn statements made under oath. Morbidly ludicrous is the assertion by Mr. Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture, that “not a single family” has reported the death of relatives during the protestson October 20. One may ask quibono: report to who? A report to the same persons or institution that plotted to shoot their dear ones is obviously a report in vain or is tantamount to “talking to the marines”. As if to expose Mohammed as being economical with the truth or as being insensitive, the Chief Coroner of Lagos has issued a public notice addressed to all those who have “lost loved ones” between 19-27 October 2020 to come forward and provide evidence which could assist in the “identification exercise”. This is proof positive of the fact of deaths otherwise what is there to be identified in a morgue? A number of family members have reportedly been making rounds thereat just to identify their dead and recover their corpses.

The requirement to value the social media as the extant mood of the largest demographic unit in Nigeria, has been painfully lost on the government. Its helmsmen in the mould of the Ministry of Information which core mandate is the effective dissemination of information is manically pushing for the restriction of the media space, specifically to exclude social media as a veritable source of information dissemination. The hoopla that has greeted Mohammed’s effort in this regard may have convinced him of the futility of his campaign.His effort evinces the paradox of a salesman that advocates policies in restraint of his trade. He is probably oblivious or ignorant of the extant mood of the nation and of the unpopularity of his pet project to muzzle public opinion no matter how weird.

In our world today, there is so much untruth. Lies and falsehood are delivered a la carteasin 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.

Certain undue advantages have accrued to some un-deserving sections of the polity on account of a skewed or unfair 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 challenges that beset 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.

So, as truth-telling is not enthroned as Nigeria’s national ethos, 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 inward restfulness that can only be brought about by truth-telling, and by truth in thought and actions especially by officials of government or government’s alter ego. The unashamed pervasive practice of taradiddle or lie-telling is a slur on the nation and a reproach on her people.

Rotimi-John, a lawyer and commentator on public affairs, wrote from Lagos.