The faceless and the Reckless

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By Dan Agbese

Let me begin this piece with the obvious. These are trying times for our country. Tensions are rising and heating up the polity. Transitional general elections such as the current general elections usually throw up new challenges that a country and its leaders are forced to deal with.

In the nature of politics and elections, disappointments are inevitable. Incendiary speeches and allegations are natural reactions to the outcome of elections that did not go the way some people had hoped and planned for.

I can think of nothing more heart wrenching than that because the ballot papers were used in a different way by the powerless ordinary people, such as truck pushers and labourers, some powerful men at the top of the mountain where the sun never sets on power and who had played God for eight years, tumbled into the valley where they will likely sink in the marsh of social irrelevance and eventual oblivion.

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This is what men of power are terrified of. The fear of anonymity is perhaps the strongest fear among men and women who have tasted and left with the detritus of its transient. No one wants to be a has-been. The temptation to cling to power directly or indirectly test men’s souls. Ask Paul Biya of Cameroun and Museveni of Uganda.

Brickbats were invented for politicians as tools for causing emotional rather than physical injuries. The free resort to this tool in the post-election weeks is gradually overwhelming us and is at the root of much of the allegations flying over our heads. Some of the allegations are laughable and deserve to be dismissed out of hand.

But you would do well to bear in mind that this is the era of fake news and its deft weaponization. Some of the allegations, therefore, deserve to be taken more seriously than the others that are merely called into play by the nature of the game of politics.

I consider two of such allegations playing in the public weighty enough to be of more than passing interest to the rest of us because they verge on the threat to our national interest. The first comes from the Department of Security Services, DSS.

It has repeatedly drawn public attention to its having uncovered a plot by some of our compatriots to impose an interim government on the country and thus reverse the 24 years of uninterrupted democracy and gains therefrom, warts and all. Our constitution does not provide for an interim government.

If it did, it would have spelt out the conditions for such an eventuality; therefore, any such plot could not be in the national interest.

We should take the alleged plot uncovered by DSS to foist an interim government on the country seriously. To dismiss it as a reaction by some politicians to the disappointed outcome of the elections as it affected them may be naïve and even irresponsible.

The DSS takes it seriously and invites us to do so too. When a country faces challenges, do-gooders flood the public space to offer solutions. Floating the idea of an interim government is not on the face of it even illegal. It is just an opinion by men or a group of men who may feel that given the challenges to the result of the presidential election of February 25, we face an existential threat to the corporate existence of the country. But do we?

The myth of our country’s fragility drives some perfectly sensible men to give in to the promotion of irrational fears. Those who are allegedly plotting or floating the idea of an interim government when nothing I can think of warrants it, believe they are driven by patriotic zeal to save the country. Hair-brained ideas have never been solutions to a nation’s problems.

Yes, it would be foolish to deny that the results of the presidential election with which Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi vehemently disagree, has put the country under tremendous pressure.

But this is not enough reason for anyone or a group of persons to try to halt our democratic process. It is not an act of patriotism. It is a disservice to the nation. The constitution and the electoral act have enough provisions to enable those who feel cheated or denied victory at the polls to seek justice and redress.

It is the path Abubakar and Obi have wisely taken. By following the constitutional route in seeking justice, they help to test the system and thereby deepen our democracy as a government of laws, not of men.

DSS said in a statement on March 29 that it had identified the plotters. Given the seriousness of the alleged plot, the plotters should be exposed. Their identity must not be shrouded in mystery. This is the meaning of an open government. The service cannot afford not to let the people know what it knows.

The service solves no problems by protecting the plotters. If people are acting against our collective interests as a nation, protecting their identity can only encourage them and others to do the same or even worse.

The second case is the allegation of treason levelled against Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party by the minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed. What did he do or say to warrant the allegation by the minister?

Here is what the minister said which he believes constitutes treason: “Obi and his vice, Datti Ahmed, cannot be threatening Nigerians that if the president-elect, Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is sworn in on May 29 it will be the end of democracy in Nigeria. This is treason. You cannot be inviting insurrection, and this is what they are doing.”

The minister’s statement is pathetic and reckless, to say the least. Mohammed is catching at the straw of relevance in the twilight zone of his principal. I have not read or heard anywhere Obi made such a threat. Obi’s supporters may be given to extreme reactions, but it was the case with Buhari’s supporters in 2011, as Senator Shehu Sani has reminded us. No one accused him of being responsible for what his supporters did, let alone of treason. Men and women are not usually rational in reacting to their disappointments.

Obi promptly denied the allegation. He said: “I have never discussed or encouraged anyone to undermine the Nigerian state. Minister Lai accusing me of stoking insurrection is totally malicious and fictitious.” It is difficult not to agree with him.

Treason is a serious crime against the state. No country jokes with treason. Its punishment for those found guilty is life imprisonment in a democracy or death in a totalitarian regime. A reckless allegation of treason against anyone puts him in harm’s way with the laws of the land.

Mohammed is not competent to determine what constitutes treason. That is the job of the security agencies and the courts. Our big men must learn to be modest in the verbal exercise of their ministerial and other powers. If the minister has reasons to believe that Obi has stepped beyond the bounds of political protest to threaten the Nigerian state, it is his duty to so inform the security agencies whose duty it is to take appropriate actions to establish the truth or falsehood of the minister’s claims.

Indeed, the security agencies will be more alive to such alleged plans than Mohammed. The onus is on the minister to prove his allegation against Obi. He must do more than mouth this inane allegation against a fellow Nigerian and thus threaten his rights and freedoms.

Politics is a game of mudslinging. It could not have come as such a big surprise to Obi to see the mud lobbed at him by Mohammed from Washington DC. After all, fake news and its weaponization are the new weapons in the arsenal of politicians. Still, it should be possible for our politicians to throw the mud with a certain level of decorum. I know they are not used to such decorum because they are sold on the fiction that a good and effective politician must be the verbal slayer of his opponent.

When Mohammed returns, it would be nice for him to answer for his allegation. He must not be allowed to get away with his attempts to put a fellow Nigerian in harm’s way. His ministerial position offers him no privilege to falsely accuse other Nigerians and then fail to prove his allegations.

He is a privileged man and like all such privileged men and women in our country, he is privileged to accuse others of serious crimes and does not expect anyone to ask him to substantiate his allegation. Obi and Datti Ahmed are tarred and feathered but Mohammed is a patriot.

I agree with Oby Ezekwesili in her response to Mohammed’s allegation. She twitted: “It is the height of sophistry, thoughtless talk and abuse of power for the minister of information and culture @FMICNNigeria to throw accusation of treason on political opponents who have taken the right judicial processes in contesting the result of an election.”

It bears repeating. These are trying times for our nation. Our public officers should appreciate and take seriously their own responsibilities in ensuring sustainable peace in the land as we grapple with the challenges of our fourth civilian-civilian transition.

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