By Chidiebere Nwobodo
“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing human race of superior ideas”.
— John Stuart Mill
As a liberal democrat, I am an ardent believer of the principles of liberalism as epitomized by John Stuart Mill—the father of liberalism. It is incontrovertible that constitutional democracy, as we practice in Nigeria today, has its roots in the ideological movement of liberalism. Liberalism embodies contestation of ideas, principles and ideologies without being pigeonholed to the whimsical aspirations of protagonists of orthodoxies. The foundation of liberalism is anchored on the freedom to express opinions—no matter how divergent or perverse it may sound. The interment of liberal democracy begins the day people are scared of, or intimidated out of their constitutional rights of free speech and expression.
As we journey towards 2019 general elections, there is a looming danger of “mob rule” as characterized by emerging trend of repression of freedom of political choices, that must be nipped in the bud if Nigeria will have a peaceful election next year. An ugly situation where people are attacked, defamed and blackmailed as a result of their opinions or political decisions, is not only barbaric cum retrogressive but ante liberalism which propounded constitutional democracy. It hits the ideological foundation at which our democracy rests.
In my course of contributing to the debate on national issues, I have been consistently maligned, abused, insulted and even threatened by those who parade themselves as “supporters” of President Muhammadu Buhari. These herd of nincompoops view every contrary opinion to government position on any issue, as a declaration of “war” on the personality of the president. They misunderstand parallel views as sheer hatred for the president. They don’t believe in contestation of ideas. They first look at the name of the writer to ascertain his ethno-religious make-up, before dissecting the pros and cons of his argument. They bury every sound, informative and superior assertion at the altar of partisan politics.
First, let me state it clearly that there’s nothing like “supporters” and “enemies” of President Buhari. Nigeria first! People like us want a nation that will be the pride of Africa out of Nigeria. Both “hailers” and “wailers” are needed in any developing democracy to checkmate excesses of power intoxication and destructive criticisms. The creeping danger of “mob rule mentality” is that it starves the spirit of democratic ethos cum ideals, while the body got swollen in despotic tendencies, of which in turn poisons the soul of democracy. The nationalistic objective of pundits like us, is to strike a much-needed balance between the two extremes of insufferable sycophancy and destructive criticism, on the ideological spectrum of the polity.
Tyranny of conformity has become a reprehensible force of silence, used by fascist agents of President Buhari’s government to coerce outspoken Nigerians into cowardice. Every critic of the government is perceived by the president’s “supporters” as a “hater-wailer”, who has refused to join the bandwagon of those playing ostrich—by burying their sea of heads in the volatile desert sand. Buharists attack any notable opposition politician at slightest opportunity. The demagoguery of President Buhari and his handlers have escalated the gulf of division in the country and entrenched the parochial cum prejudiced narrative. It’s high time President Buhari told his “supporters” that the PDP members are not Jihadists of Bokoharam affiliation that are massacring Nigerian soldiers in the Northeast.
The assault of Atiku & his “supporters” at the PDP Secretariat, when the former went to submit his nomination forms, allegedly by Buharists—who were seen waving the APC flags, can be described as dearth of liberal democracy and the emergence of “mob rule” in the country. It is a confirmation that Nigeria has distinctively regressed into a jungle where the opinion or proclivity of the mafia leader reigns supreme above individual rights. Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso has been on political “exile” from Kano—a state he governed for eight years, because the police has repeatedly told him that his security won’t be guaranteed if he dare step into the state, simply as a result of his political difference with President Buhari.
Where lies liberalism in our democracy? Where is the place of intellectual flexibility and superior firepower of argument? Who will stem this stifling of our democratic space? Can I engage a pro-government analyst in an ideological-driven cum issue-based exchanges without being stereotyped along ethno-religious prism? Paradoxically, this is a government that rode to power on the back of freedom of expression and association. And is working assiduously to destroy the ladder of liberality that brought her to power.
If this trickle of “mob rule mentality” turns into a flow, and is left uncurbed, 2019 election will be marred by violence. It is time for liberal democrats—those who are proponents of democratic suffrages; apostles of freedom of expression vis-a-vis political choices, as enshrined in our constitutional democracy, to lift their gaze from their navels, grasp the bigger picture—and brace up to dictatorial dangers of mob rule and tyranny of conformity. The liberals must checkmate the extremism of staunchly conservatives before it is too late.
Nwobodo is a public affairs commentator