At last 2019 has, with poise, come! Like a spinning wheel, the orbit of political maelstrom in Africa’s largest democracy, Nigeria, has completed its course after nearly four years since 2015. So, the country joins the league of nations around the world having general elections at the very dawn of 2019. Nigeria’s elections, covering all levels of governance come with profound duality; of positive expectations and ominous anxieties. But in all these, an apparent and emerging concern of stakeholders and observers is the assessment of truth or the absence thereof, that is, lies and falsehood.
We need to recognize from the outset that one of man’s greatest life pursuits, almost as valued as daily existence is the search for what is considered as truth. At the intellectual level, no other subject matter has preoccupied the mental rigour and philosophical enquiries of countless ages of thinkers, scholars and religious schools as this one. However, the search for what is considered truthful by human society has raged with equal concern as its definition and meaning and exact evaluative criteria for what may pass as truth or not. When it comes to election season as we have entered in Nigeria, the polemics as to what is truth or not become more adumbrated.
We recall that it was the Roman Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate who while adjudicating on whether the Lord Jesus be condemned to death as recorded in John 18v23 that retorted imploringly, “What is truth?” Still today, many in Nigeria and across the world, especially at times like this, re-echo or rephrase those historic words: “What is Truth?” and why is it so elusive? The answer is complex and subjective. Hence some schools of thought have doubted its empiricism. Supporting this, even the revered ancient source of knowledge – The Emerald Tablets stated that “All eyes do not see with same vision, for to one an object appears of one form and colour and to a different eye of another”. It is views such as this accentuated by the vagaries of life that many prefer to ascribe great relativism to the whole concept of truth. This accounts for the multiplicity of religious traditions and even political aggregations such that each sees the deep and the end of reality through the narrow prisms of their persuasions, dogmas, creed or faith.
So what has happened even here in Nigeria is that many variants of the concept and content of truth are in the public space. On the one side we hear terms such as minimalist truth, pragmatic truth, inferential truth and self-evident truth. On the opposing side, rather cheekily, some insidious corpus of belief systems have been allowed to creep into our common discourse on national political platforms. So our political class have conjured such perversions as acceptable lies, justifiable lies, minor lies, reasonable lies, etc. At wider global level, the scenario is similar, with one leading authority on the subject of lying, Sissela Bok, in the book, “Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life”, details a wide stream of philosophical reasoning for what they term, “justifiable lying”.
As politicking starts in Nigeria, the question is really whether truth is as fluid and amorphous as is suggested by its proponents? The answer certainly is in the negative. There is wide amount of absolutism and exactitude in many things considered as truthful. Outside the unbending confines of religious dogma which we happily live with in this country of supposed prayerful people, our daily human existence oscillates between clear contrasting swings of diverse sorts.
If we are to inbox daily scenarios in Nigeria, whether in our villages, states or federal capital, it would be foolhardy or outrightly mischievous to trivialize the truth of our enormous opportunities to build a very great nation or attenuate the lurking challenges before us. As a matter of fact, tilting back to self-serving generalizations, embellished narratives, woeful blame games and outright denials at different levels, amongst political parties or opposing candidates, do not diminish our actuality. A few posers will suffice.
Can anyone contradict the fact that we have suddenly become a very divided country, where ethnicism, sectionalism and sectarianism are now referral points? In what can be considered our recent past, Generals Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon emerged as Head of State and de facto Vice President respectively although both were Fulani by ethnic origin, of the Islamic faith and from Northern Nigeria in terms of geographical origin. Yet most Nigerians welcomed their pro-moralist administration and in like manner condemned their unacceptable Human rights scoresheet. Even more telling was the MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe duo. Both of them being Muslims won democratic elections in 1993 as President and Vice President on one ticket. Nigerians wholeheartedly accepted their candidature. What was important in the minds of voters in that election was whether they will deliver on their promises.
Within the corpus of Public Service, it was the same thing. What mattered was pedigree, qualification and suitability for service. Predispositions such as cronyism, nepotism, clannishness was unheard of. Many young officers in the Nigerian Public Service became shinning stars in their places of service and rose to the highest peaks, effortlessly. This was based on their record of performance and on the recommendation of superiors, often from other parts of the country who had mentored or had oversight over them. Not so today,
From Abuja to the various state capitals, many leaders at different levels only find sanctuary and security in the cocoon of those who dress like them, eat what they eat, pray like them and speak their local dialect!
Again in the not too distant past, in most Federal Government offices, it was considered disrespectful and uncivilized conduct to speak vernacular in the presence of colleagues from other parts of the country. But these days it is practised in a brazen manner, encouraged and promoted by those who should be guardians and protectors of our collective harmonious coexistence. Even in states where diversity is pronounced, the practice is common. In the same vein, young graduates from all strata of society who looked forward to being thrown far away to the uttermost parts of Nigeria to participate in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) are no longer as enthusiastic. Now they pick and choose where to serve and often in their states or those in close proximity to their states of origin.
What about security? Still within very recent memory, incidences of violent crimes were far apart, when they occurred. Cases of fatality made headlines and were received with awe, shock and collective condemnation. As recent as the 1990s, Nigerians debated openly that the spectre of suicide bombing symptomatic of the Middle East, would never occur on their soil. When Maitasine, the extremist religious sect surfaced, it was shamed from all the four corners of the country by Muslims, Christians and others. At the moment, it’s all totally different. Gruesome killings, unspeakable violence have almost become the norm to the extent that Nigeria presently occupies Number Three position in Global Terrorism Index (GTI). We are competing with the likes of Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, as a theatre for senseless bloodletting. Like the once ill-famed Cambodian “killing fields”, thousands and thousands of our fellow compatriots are slaughtered every year through violent crimes and by ethno-religious extremists. Dozens of precious lives are wasted daily in the hands of political desperados, militants, ritualists, kidnappers and armed robbers. With elections by the corner, a recent reliable study has again cautioned about the likelihood of politically motivated violence in about 30 states.
A few of the other socio-economic indices are even scarier. The UN has lately determined that Nigeria has become one of the most unsafe places in the world for a new born. We are now the country with the highest levels and risks of infant mortality. Similarly, just a few years ago India was at the rear in two other areas: Sanitation and Extreme Poverty. Suddenly, Nigeria has overtaken that country of over one billion people. We have become the cynosure of extreme hunger, poverty and lack. Despite, the boom in Agriculture announced in Abuja and some state capitals, we are almost at the same level of poverty with Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Niger Republic. In terms of poor sanitation, we are sadly the number one country in the world where open defecation is endemic with attendant consequences in the spread of highly infectious waterborne diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, diarrhea and cholera.
The gunpowder of Youth Unemployment, unarguably a major global scourge deserving of a national emergency made a slight improvement in Nigeria according to ‘Trading Economics’. Moving from 38 percent in 2017 to 36.50 percent in 2018 gives little room for cheer. It is still terribly high and one of the worst worldwide. The reality of this scourge stares all Nigerians in the face as many of our young men and women continue to roam the streets in pain, despair and hopelessness, year-in and year-out. The implication of this state of affairs is a sharp drop in our Human Development Index (HDI), comprising standard of living and overall quality of life and human wellbeing. No wonder, majority of the perpetrators of the notorious Offa Robbery were educated unemployed young persons. The spectre of despair is what fueled, in recent times the deluge of young Nigerian persons headed to Europe through illegal migration routes across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea with many losing their lives. Others, even if it sounded unbelievable, ended up in modern-day Slave Auctions in North Africa, coming as it were, 200 years after the abolition of Slave Trade in the 1800s!
Another truth which stares us in our faces is the state of our infrastructure. Roads, Power Supply, Healthcare, Water and Sanitation, Transportation, Public Schools at all levels, etc. In all these areas and many more, can we sincerely say that we measure up to the standard and quality of service delivery as our neighbours? A visit across our borders to either Ghana, Cameroon or even Togo and Benin Republic will provide answers to this. In the midst of relatively modest sizes of national economies and wealth, things work much better in all these countries than Nigeria. No wonder, our children now troop to these ‘poor neighbours’ to search for education. It’s the archetypal oxymoron of the lesser surpassing the greater.
Rather than show remorse, settle down to tackle the problems with sober commitment and proactive action, we choose the more self-serving attitude of passing blames. From Abuja to most of the state capitals, the imaginary ghost of the immediate past government and its officials continue to haunt current leaders and policy makers. In some cases, the obsession with denying responsibility is taken to ridiculous extents. Even the military era and our colonial past are not spared in the blame game.
The totality of all these negative inclinations has found expression in the unimaginable level of brazen lies, half-truths, innuendos and falsehood being peddled as political campaigns begin. No less is the unleashing of very wicked, deceitful and intentional untruths and false impressions. The campaign period seems to have created a workspace for purveyors of blackmail and practitioners of extortion to thrive. Even more repugnant is the ease with which politicians move from one ideological position to the other without qualms after fouling the air with lies and untruths. They call it cross carpeting. Ironically, even the Persian Carpets from where the concept was derived has well founded creative patterns which remain unchanged for thousands of years!
Our discourse on truth and lies brings us to a final truth which many in the political class and leadership fail to realize. It is that Nigerians are smarter, better informed and knowledgeable than before. They know that in spite of some token efforts at the centre and the states, most of Nigerian leaders have performed woefully, and pitiably below pass mark. Therefore, our overall self-assessment as a country would tend to be average, at best.
Even if the combination of prowling poverty and the shock of seeming political conquest by their leaders may have blighted the capacity of Nigerians to speak out, they know the good and committed leaders from the scaremongers and hyenas. Praise singers and rabble rousers continue to mislead our leaders by peddling lies, and more lies at political rostrums and media outings.
Rather than play the ostrich or continue to evade the truth, our political leaders should face reality and take stock of the journey so far. As the Presidential, Governorship and Legislative campaigns daily gather momentum, the season should inspire deep reflection, introspection and self-assessment. Indeed, one of most hackneyed phrases of the great Islamic Scholar, Sheik Usman Dan Fodio in justifying the need for moral and spiritual rebirth of his day is, “Conscience is an open wound, and only truth can heal it.’’
This is a time to own up to our human frailties, errors, failures, indiscretions and deliberate shortcomings. Rather than continue to attempt to put truth itself on trial or celebrate the orgy of lies, it’s a time to face our humanity with courage. Above all, remember that classical aphorism – “All power belongs to God”. Actually, it is “not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth; but of God that showeth mercy”.
Dr. Godknows Igali, is a Diplomat and Administrator. He lives in Yenagoa, Nigeria.