Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Trade Unionist
Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak for me.
The above quotation came from the early 19th century socialist, Martin Niemoller, during the early post skirmish period of the 2nd world war. Different versions of this quotation exist primarily due to the fact that Martin himself spoke rather extemporaneously in a number of settings. Though much controversy surrounds the content of the poem, it has been printed in various forms and fashions utilizing a rich mix of referrals involving the Catholic Church, Communists, Jehovah witnesses among others. Martin believed that the German citizens of his day, particularly the leaders of the protestant churches, had been complicit through acts of silence as it were, in the Nazi imprisonment and murder of millions of people. His strong views on the issues of his day saw him incarcerated in a number of concentration camps but his spirit for speaking out was not broken. To this day, his actions form a necessary kernel of human rights movements spread across the globe.
These rights described in the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (a charter to which Nigeria is signatory to ) include the right to life, liberty, and security of person; to freedom of conscience, religion, opinion, expression, association, and assembly; to freedom from arbitrary arrest; to a fair and impartial trial; to freedom from interference in privacy, home, or correspondence; to a nationality; to a secure society and an adequate standard of living; to education; and to rest and leisure. The declaration also affirms the rights of every person to own property; to be presumed innocent until proven guilty; to travel from a home country at will and return at will; to work under favorable conditions, receive equal pay for equal work, and join labor unions at will; to marry and raise a family; and to participate in government and in the social life of the community.
These rights form the bastion of what modern society is all about. The absence of these universally accepted proclamations would drive most societies spiraling downward into the cesspools of dictatorship and anarchy. The risk of falling in line with the Hobbesian narrative of life being nasty, brutish and short becomes consequentially greater. Most would agree that such a path is not what an emerging country like Nigeria should chart but the erosion of these rights in our country both in swift and incremental steps, portends great danger for us all.
The purpose of this treatise is not to undertake a lecture in basic civics. Neither do I seek to dwell primarily on the sorry state of human rights in Nigeria. Rather, this discourse seeks to examine, as it were, the major contributory factors to the alarming disengagement of a majority of the citizenry of our country Nigeria.
Most people will agree that our country’s journey to greatness and even the continued togetherness of our nation has never being questioned the way it currently is. The level of disharmony and discord that pervades the country at the moment is truly shocking. With so much anger in the land, any easily containable skirmish results in near cataclysmic disasters with huge toll on lives and property. Living conditions seem to be declining at rates that leave the best of our economists mystified and stumped. Indeed, there appears to be two ‘Nigerias’. One for those who are well to do and another for those who are not. Different laws govern each one of them while an uneasy calm surrounds the interaction between them. The laws, political processes, security and economic guarantees/cushions respond to each subset of the Nigerian society in manners that midwife deprivation and conflict. Indeed the issues that bedevil Nigeria are numerous beyond what can be contained in any reasonably thought-out paper. And these issues continue to torment the best of us primarily due to the horrifying apathy and indifference a majority of Nigerians exhibit, regarding issues that deal with the wellbeing of us and our children, born or unborn.
It is pertinent at this point to ask, how do you deliver a people who are not aware that they are in captivity? Is the cost of indifference sustainable? Can we afford to remain on this path of apathy that we have chosen as a people?
Our march towards development, equity, social justice and economic advancement under the framework of supposedly democratic institutions will be an exercise in futility if we as a people continue exhibiting the level of disengagement that we have exhibited so far. Democracy only works when institutions of democracy are virile and vibrant. Democracy only will yield results when the nationals of a nation without colouration of views and unhealthiness of bias, hold elected leaders responsible for promises made and not delivered on. Holding the feet of our leaders to the fire is such an important task that all citizens must be engaged in. A democratic government with a light opinion of accountability is only a short leap away from dictatorship. Democracy is only the best form of governance when the people are vigilant to the safeguarding of and functioning of its institutions. Absent the participation of the majority of the populace in the voting in and monitoring of elected individuals, a dangerous trend of increasing dictatorship and the erosion of public and individual liberties sets in. Government becomes not about the people, but about those who govern. The consequences of such an anomaly, however regrettable and dire for all, are indeed predictable.
Can we in all sincerity say that the present state of the country is what the democratic experiment we embarked upon in 1999 promised us? Absent security of lives and property, collapse of health institutions, public rape and pillaging of the commonwealth by elected officials at all levels of governance, a judiciary that is unresponsive to the needs of the proletariat, Institutions that only work in favour of the well heeled, and the utter hollowing-out of educational institutions that a majority of us in the country rely on. These are just a few of the evils gripping us at the moment. Our people say, the dawn shows the day. If after fifteen years of democracy, our country is no better off than where we were at the conception of civilian rule, then a lot has to be answered for. Because the blood of many was shed to purchase and make possible, the present democratic experiment. We cannot allow our acts of indifference and apathy negate and put their efforts to waste. Nigeria can be a better place for all of us to be in. The good of the land can be available in equal measures for all of us. We must find our voice and let it be heard. Silence is a luxury we can no longer afford.
They say the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. We must proudly carry the torch of eternal vigilance if we want our country to be the envy of other nations. We must realize that ultimately, we are all connected in ways and manners that our minds cannot begin to decipher. Acts of misgovernance in places thousands of kilometers away from us that seem to have no bearing on our immediate day to day living, can have devastating effects on us down the road. As an example, the men and women who lost their lives in the many bombings that have rocked various state capitals in Nigeria probably had no idea that the jobless and listless young men in Borno and Yobe states were being incentivised into carrying out acts of anarchy and destruction. Now let’s pause for a moment and imagine what could have possibly happened if all those who have ruled Borno and Yobe states since the inception of these states had actually been committed to the total and exhaustive development of the economy and institutions of their states. If education had been a priority readily available for all children and youth, would any still be available for acts of thuggery and bloodletting? If social security insurance was a guarantee and employment opportunities were surplus and rewarding, would most youths not rather seek to lend their strength to more productive causes? It would indeed become difficult for those who seek to sow seeds of anarchy to find willing foot soldiers. I certainly haven’t heard of extremists running amok in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia as they have in Northern Nigeria. Could good governance have played a part in that? I’m tempted to believe in the affirmative.
With every billion naira a politician steals, we must count the cost in millions of jobless youths, roads that are honey wells of death, hospitals that turn slaughter houses green with bile and envy, an increasing army of jobless, homeless and desperate youths. We must count the cost in our children going home to bed every night hungry, our babies and our nursing mothers malnourished, our grandmothers and grandfathers collapsing in lines waiting for meager pensions, our educational institutions that disinform and diseducate. We must count the cost in creeping hopelessness and desperation. But our rulers and leaders can only continue the mindless looting and pillaging of our resources if we remain apathetic and unconcerned. Oh! And what a price we pay!
That it may not affect us in one way or the other now, doesn’t exempt us yet both in the short term and long term. We have a duty to speak out in whatever way and manner we can. Let no public discourse not find our voice. Let primordial sentiments and ethnic cleavages not colour our judgment. Nigeria can only work if we make it work. Every hand and voice to the task!
Moe Ebute can be reached on
08034767200 (sms only).