There’s an interesting story in the Bible tucked somewhere in the book of Acts of the Apostles. Paul had provoked the Jewish leaders by ditching Judaism for Christianity. Although he committed no crime, he was hounded everyday; often escaping by the skin of his teeth. But one day, he fell into their hands, they caught him red handed – and all hell was let loose. The jewish leaders quickly incited the crowd against him and there was soon a major uproar, with the frenzied crowd, whipped up by religious sentiments, calling for his immediate execution. Meanwhile, stones, bottles, and dangerous weapons were all flying in the air, aiming for Paul’s head. The riot soon attracted the attention of the civil authorities who were shocked by such brazen display of lawlessness and near jungle justice; whereas the city in question, Ephesus, had a fantastic judicial and parliamentary system where issues could have been properly resolved. There’s a verse which sums up the mob’s attitude and is hereby quoted: “Some therefore cried one thing, and some, another: for the assembly was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together”**
The allusion is pretty clear. Nigeria presently sums up a nation under the shackles of emotional sentimentalism and inordinate sensationalism. We can be easily whipped up into frenzies and mobilized as a dangerous mob to riot against a cause even before knowing the details of what we are fighting for. The strategic arrowheads of such movements only need to appeal to our sentiments. Nothing more- and we are out on the streets. A typical example was the January 2012 national subsidy riots. The country was practically shut down when President Goodluck Jonathan tactlessly removed subsidy on petroleum products suddenly. Without digesting the details, we were all inspired to an uprising. It gradually almost metamorphosed into an insurrection before a slight reversal and NLC/TUC’s surrender saved the day. Strangely, some of the leaders of the 2012 protests have recently been asking for the removal of subsidy. Tolu Ogunlesi recently wrote an OP-ED in his weekly column on Punch newspapers where he advised President Buhari to remove fuel subsidy. He reasoned that the advantages of its removal far outweigh the disadvantages, and thus, makes perfect sense. Tolu, like many other popular youths on social media, was hugely vocal against the removal few years back, and mobilised against it. So, what has changed?
Nothing. Nigerians have been discovered to be highly malleable. And can easily change loyalty. Just peep into the register of the APC. And you’ll find thousands of former PDP stalwarts, some of them, founding members. But the populace are the most manipulated. I was highly embarrassed when I saw the unison with which Kenya responded to the denigration of their country by the afro-phobic CNN. Their resolution was so strong and united, that everyone took notice. CNN was forced to review the offensive report where it had called Kenya a “hotbed of terror”. Recently, CNN led a top delegation to Kenya where they offered profound apologies for the misrepresentation. Meanwhile, CNN has done worse to Nigeria
Often, CNN has aired offensive reports about Nigeria and even gone as far as misrepresenting us on the map. They once replaced our map with that of Niger! A network that once called Africa a “country”, obviously can know only so much about the countries there. But anytime CNN releases it’s phantom tales about Nigeria, and how horrible it is to be a Nigerian, some Nigerians celebrate the reports. Some copy-cat propaganda newspapers also reproduce such unverified reports. And when few persons challenge CNN for such biased and malicious stories, they are silences by their own brothers. That shows how sentimental we could be. We even see the country in the colours of the political party we are affiliated to. Strangely, Kenya also has a very charged political atmosphere. But, they realise there can only be political parties when there is a country. Here, it’s the party or sentiments first.
That’s why I was shocked at the responses Bishop Mathew Kukah got, when he suggested that President Buhari was pursuing his anti-corruption battle the wrong way. Bishop Kukah, having served in the Peace Committee, a body of respected senior citizens who worked extremely hard during the volatile electioneering period to ensure peace was retained regardless of the outcome of the election, realized that the peace they achieved was miraculous. Despite the prophecies that Nigeria would break up, the committee heaped enormous pressure on both leading candidates to concede early to whoever wins. It was a masterstroke of a committee. But seeing the pattern the new administration had been going in its war against corruption, fears were heightening that peace’s slender bones may break soon. Why? I’ll explain.
President Jonathan had already expressed fears of persecution during the dying days of his administration. He had advised Buhari to extend the probes to previous administrations as well. He also told his ministers and appointees to brace up for persecution. APC dismissed the allegations. But, few weeks after taking over, Buhari’s administration quickly hounded the closest associates of Jonathan including the NSA and CSO, who landed in the hospital after perceived ill-treatment. That didn’t send a right signal. There were still some disgruntled persons who were willing to disrupt the peace as a way of venting their frustration for losing power. If the anti-corruption war was ever going to look like a witch-hunt, the peace may be lost soon. They only need to sensationalize the polity and encourage their brothers to pick up arms before they are “marginalized”. That prompted the committee to visit the president where they expressed displeasure at the manner the “probes” were proceeding.
Then the backlash. Expectedly, there were various outbursts against the Peace Committee’s counsel. They perceive they were trying to negotiate a soft landing for the looters of our commonwealth. Nigerians are known to have insatiable appetite for box-office “naming and shaming” drama. They want to see big names openly stripped naked and possibly stoned to death for corruption. The loved the Lamido Sanusi type drama where Bank MDs were overthrown suddenly and jailed immediately. They want to see thieves punished cruelly. At least, that’s the least they deserve. This is a country where a simple shout of “Thief! Thief! Thief!” in a market can attract death – stones and fuel and tyre. Many years ago, when robbers were barbarically gunned to death at barbeaches, Nigerians trooped to the beach to watch them die. They derive pleasure watching criminals pay for their crimes in the most savage manner.
Nonsense. First, jungle justice prevents fair hearing. People have been burnt to death for stealing yams, goats, motorcycles, etc. The “Aluu 4” is still fresh. Four unfortunate undergraduates were stripped naked and burnt to death for armed robbery, an allegation that was never proven. Just last week, the Military High Command had to issue a statement that some soldiers caught on camera maltreating a thief had been disciplined. The said thief was stripped naked, and was whipped silly after which he was asked to roll in a dirty gutter like a pig.
Already, many feel it would be improper to prevent Goodluck Jonathan and his entire cabinet from facing the firing squad. They believe it is for the good of our country and to serve as a deterrent, for Jonathan and his appointees to vomit by force every penny they stole while in office. And they believe it shouldn’t be a simplistic “submit-what-you-stole” exercise, but should include some time in jail, and some hard labour as well. Without that, they wouldn’t atone for their evils. Really?
No one is saying Goodluck Jonathan should be allowed to walk Scot free for the sake of peace if he is found wanting. But we are saying there’s a decent and proper process of punishing corruption. And that process does not involve sentiments. If allegations of wrongdoing are brought against Jonathan, or any of his men, simply investigate, charge to court, and secure a conviction. The courts would be left to decide the necessary punishment. This melodramatic newspaper fight against corruption where all kinds of wild allegations inspiring violence and public anger would get us nowhere. And the mob have already been incited. They already believe the past administration actually stole every dime available, and are responsible for the many frustrations we are facing. Buhari once said the treasury was VIRTUALLY EMPTY. That was before he bailed out irresponsible state governments with multiplied billions of money. And, what do you do when you come face to face with the man putting you through pain? You unleash your anger of course!
Just like the public execution of robbers did nothing to stem the tide of stealing, so will this public harassment of past public officials do nothing to eventually prevent present officials from repeating same. The mob would only cry for more blood. And the Wailers would wail of victimization. Then, after four years, the cycle would be repeated, or revised. And the country would remain on the same spot.
I advise President Buhari to allow anti-corruption agencies do their job. I expect Buhari to also DO HIS OWN JOB as well. Which includes fulfilling electoral promises. It’s close to hundred days, and we’re still talking about how much Jonathan stole! Recently, Lai Mohammed said it’s now Eleven trillion naira. And that there’s no way President Buhari can fulfil his campaign promises if Jonathan doesn’t cough out that lump sum. Nonsense.
If Jonathan stole that much, and you have proof, I see no reason why he’s still walking freely. But if you know what’s good for you, you’ll face the business of governance and start work immediately, because when the mob are done with Jonathan, and have sucked his blood dry, their insatiable appetite would mean they’ll have no other person to turn on, except you. Then, they’ll remember all you promised them, N5K per month and all; and violently riot at why you took them for a ride all along. Face your work. Probes are not substitutes for governance, sir. And if you are really interested only in blockbusters and news headlines stuff, Nollywood would have been more appropriate. Not Aso Rock.
**Acts 19:32, King James Version
Olufemi Oluwaseye is a Journalist. Tweets @olufemisp