Nigeria is not only the biggest democracy on the continent but also the greatest accommodator of the freedom of speech. Many of us did not realize this until now.For illustration, I will use my experience. Before now, I had uninformed views about the person and character of Mr. President. I had even at one time accused President Olusegun Obasanjo of playing god. I had paid too much attention to the soldier in him and ignored that vast democratic landscape in him. I had thought that he was too arrogant and spiteful of every other Nigerian, including those who got into office through the same process that made him a President. I had talked about his inability to take into consideration the contributions and positions of other political stakeholders. I had claimed that his impatience for the opposition is one of his weakest links. I now have every reason to apologise to him. Indeed he is just a misunderstood person and a victim of our poor judgment. He is in reality a good cultured democrat. To be sure, I can say that he is a manipulator, a leader with no conviction and without any sense of patriotism and nothing will happen to me. Many of my colleagues in this heckling profession reading this in other countries on the continent would be trembling and fearful of repeating such a heresy in their dreams in their own countries. But in Nigeria it is not only a self employed person like me that can say so but even a servant of Mr. President can say worse things and still retain his job.
If you think that I am exaggerating, read the following quotation credited to the Tzarist crime buster Mallam Nuhu Ribadu: “Nigeria has not been lucky with good leaders at local, state and federal levels. We have had leaders without conviction, leaders without any sense of patriotism, leaders whose concept of governance is the amassing of personal wealth, leaders without vision. It is indeed a misnomer to call them leaders, for they do not qualify to be so called. They were, in the main, professional manipulators who pillaged and emptied the treasuries.”
Not even George Bush, the first citizen of the world’s most democratic and freest world can stomach this. You cannot imagine that a junior and non political office holder can say so much trash about the office of the president. I cannot imagine Tony Blair tolerating a subordinate telling him to his face that he is a thief. But Ribadu has said much more than that to Obasanjo and yet he is still the beloved servant of the Federal Government. For Ribadu to have the effrontery to say that all Nigerian leaders including Mr. President are thieves who are not fit to be called leaders and still remain in office is a clear pointer to the statesmanship of Mr. President. If you add the fact that Ribadu has been taking this sermon of the thieving public office holders to all the corners of the world then you would understand why I am celebrating this thriving free speech environment.
Before now, the horsemen of Mr. President had restricted their vulgar abuses to the Governors. Those days people like Prince Fani Kayode will without provocation unleash vulgar abuses to Governors like Dariye but now the culture of vulgarity has grown and it is now giving and revealing the true meaning and ambit of the freedom of speech. But it is not only the President’s errand boys that are enjoying Nigeria’s absolute freedom of speech. Mr. President is also a great beneficiary of it. Mr. President can insult a Bishop in public without any fear of the wrath of God. He can tell a Governor in public and to the hearing of the whole world that he, Mr. President is not finding it funny at all that a report from a local government concerning primary and secondary schools are brought to his notice as President of the federation. He cannot only embarrass a Governor in public but can snatch a microphone from him and ‘wash him down.’ Can President George Bush dare do that in a federated America?
Perhaps it was Aso Rock that first noticed the absoluteness in the country’s freedom of speech. Possibly that was why the boys from Aso Rock were quick to reduce the communication process from the Villa to the level and language of area boys. Anybody they disagree with they abuse.
But I have my worries about the way we are utilizing this all important natural and inalienable right. In the first place, I do not think that God gave us that right in order to dehumanize others or infract on their right to dignity. I do not believe that the freedom of speech is the same thing as vulgarity or vulgar impunity. It does not envisage a situation whereby a person who is merely heading an agency of the federal government or a spokesman of the President can constitute himself or herself into rude public nuisance. It is alarming and most unfortunate that a mere employee of an agency would mount the rostrum and tell the whole world that all Nigerian leaders are thieves who are unworthy of their offices. This is more so when the people he is referring to are elective office holders who their people have out of trust and sacred expectation elected into offices that determine the fate of the citizenry. It is my thinking that such unguided, unfounded and wild accusations are capable of inflicting untold hardships on the polity. Such rude and insulting accusations are capable of driving honest and patriotic Nigerians from the political arena.
People like Ribadu should know that people worked hard and are still working earnestly to make Nigeria the big and prosperous country that it is. Ribadu should know that the agency he is presiding over was thought of and established by Nigerians. He should know that his office and its powers are a creation of hard working Nigerians. What he is trying to do or achieve is exactly what a son that claims that he had a first male child before his father would want to achieve. Of course there are public office holders who are thieving in nature and indeed and unfortunately constitute the majority, but it is most unfair for him to say that all Nigerian leaders are thieves. That is an undeserving insult for a class of people that have in their own wisdom establish an agency to fight a course they believe is ruining their efforts at maximizing the opportunities and potentials that the country provides.
Ribadu is a lawyer and was trained under a jurisprudence that seeks to preserve that innocent minority. That is why even in crime, the principle is that it is better for nine criminals to escape justice than for one innocent person to suffer injustice. Simply, it is a cardinal principle of law that he as a public officer must respect and abide by. It is wrong and uncharitable for him to be so dismissive of the entire ruling class in Nigeria. If he must be told, his office requires utmost decorum and dedication to public etiquettes. It could be that the frustration of seeing public office holders looting on a daily basis is driving him crazy but he still owes that minority some respect. His effort should encourage and support that innocent minority to hang in there. Remember God would have saved Sodom and Gomorrah if only they had a few good men.
I will join Ribadu in the streets to club the thieves that are holding down this headquarter of the black race but I will part ways with him if he fails to safeguard those few good men out that who am sure are wishing that men like Ribadu know that they exist.