The Ultimate Tragedy Of Activism By Japheth Omojuwa
You must know at least one person who used to be loud, stubborn and passionate about a better Nigeria, who used to wail and cry about how things needed to get better but who today, despite the obvious rot, thinks things are the best they have ever been. By this, I do not mean someone whose views about the state of Nigeria changed because of a new level of grace at seeing things differently or of a new kind of knowledge that allows same to see things differently. You must know someone whose view of Nigerian realities took a paradigm shift by virtue of getting a government job, government contract or assistance from government or someone in government. The numbers are as innumerable as the number of those who have dedicated their lives towards looting this country to its very last kobo. For the ones whose view changed because of inducements – work or contract – there is a transition period many do not pay attention to until the change becomes apparent like pregnancy in its trimester.
It was interesting to see the realities of this transition play in the studios of the African Independent Television in Abuja earlier this year. I was on Gbenga Aruleba’s Focus Nigeria with two other gentlemen. One of them happened to be a politician from the Labour Party and the other a university lecturer. We were discussing the issue of immunity for legislators, which was one of the major distracting issues in Nigeria at the time. I took a straightforward stance: immunity for legislators was a bad idea that should never even be discussed let alone tabled for serious legislative consideration. The crux of my argument on that day was that considering the fact that a legislator could be returned to the House every four years, seeing as there are no term limits, all a legislator had to do was just ensure s/he returned to the House and s/he would essentially be above the law. What was the stance of the others, I sincerely cannot remember because it moved from one end to the other. It was not as clear-cut as saying, “Yes, the immunity is a step in the right direction,” or, “No, it shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”
However, this is not the main reason why I am sharing the story. After the live show, some young men who had apparently been watching somewhere in the building, came to meet us on set. They knew one of the other gentlemen who from their conversation was a regular on Aruleba’s programme. One of the men who came in was very vocal and did not mince words. He shook my hands and said, “I am proud of you. Keep it up,” or something to that effect while he looked at the lecturer and said, “You have changed! You used to be able to speak your mind. This is not “the you” we are used to seeing here. What happened to you?!” I remember those words clearly for a reason.
I remember those words because I took them home, ate them, digested them and had them locked in my head. It would be a kind of death to hear those words after displaying guts and bravery for donkey’s years only to find oneself in a position at war with one’s soul, values and beliefs. Need I say the lecturer had nothing to say in response? That he had nothing to say is probably credit to his sense of shame on that day. Mind that, this is not saying the lecturer had changed, this is just telling a story as it happened.
Today, there are people who have sold out who still won’t even out of shame, for what they used to be, take a rest and hide their shameful selves somewhere, where the odious filth of their shame will not spread further.
People on social media are quick to remind the many young people rightly demanding justice in Nigeria not to be a former newspaper editor who used to be very critical of government, who today now appears to be the very opposite of what he stood for. I personally think people are not considerate. Would anyone expect a presidential spokesman to publicly accuse his boss of any wrongdoing? People do the job for which they are employed. Spokesmen are not expected to have their own ideas; they are expected to say what their oga wants the people to hear. Newspaper editors are expected to stand for and uphold the truth. People who cannot stand for the truth are not expected to take up such jobs. Presidential spokespersons are expected to be good liars or be at best, twisters of the truth. Whatever you do to the truth outside of the essence of that truth is a betrayal of the purpose of that truth. The truth is its own essence.If you don’t want to ever betray this essence, don’t ever become a spokesman for the president of any country!
You cannot love a man for truthfully doing the job of a newspaper editor and then expect to love him same way, for doing the job of a presidential spokesman. The purposes of both jobs are fundamentally different. This change, if we accept the truth for what it is should not be placed beside that of someone who used to pose as a defender of the people, who then gets to sell his/her soul and then evolves into a non-official government praise singer.
The presidential spokesman has a job to do and s/he must do it do it to the best of his or her ability. Of course anyone who claims to be a pastor and also acts as a presidential media source is either deceiving himself or trying to deceive mammon. You cannot be a pastor and at the same time be in a job where you are expected to at least keep shut when the people want to hear a truth that your government wants kept out. Life is about choices and there are times when wanting two of different contrasting things sells you out as being morally weak. The very tragedy of activism and the ultimate sellout is the man who did not change his views on issues because s/he got a job from the government but because s/he was literally bought to shut up and join the choir. It is a tragedy for which when you find yourself transiting to it, you either seek out your friends and re-commit to your old values or if you can, shut up and never speak again. It becomes the naked dance of a shameless man when you start to bless people you cursed yesterday just because they gave you some money. Slaves were bought centuries ago but only their bodies were subjected to slavery. The transaction that takes place between a bought activist and the buyer is much deeper than physical slavery. At that point, the body, the mind and the soul were being paid for. The slaves of yore could escape with the ability to break certain physical limits. A bought activist only escapes the enslavement of his body, mind and soul when s/he retraces his/her steps and continues on the path of his/her values and beliefs. Since one has never seen this happen in Nigeria, one can only ask the reader if even this is possible. May God help us stand to the end!
•Omojuwa, editor, AfricanLiberty.org, wrote in via firstname.lastname@example.org
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