WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
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This week, the lessons from the cumulative events of the last four years in America are instructive for not only Nigeria and Nigerians, but the entire continent of Africa and the rest of the world. America has enjoyed lording it over as third world countries and even got the uncharitable description, the ‘shithole countries’ by Donald Trump without much rebuke from the people of his country. A couple of weeks ago, I hinted at the need for us to recognise that we are not what the acclaimed developed nation wants us to believe we are; an attempt to make the point that, regardless of the shortcomings in our systems, the only difference between us is the length of the years they have had to deal with their very many imperfections, to the point where they could easily cover those imperfections with the lines of achievements they have amassed over the years. There are criminals in Nigeria, but America leads the pack of scale and committed crimes globally; there are terrorists in Nigeria, but the reality is that America harbours more terrorists and terror-inclined groups than any other countries the world over. Yes, they have built systems to check them but they do exist at threat levels over there; Nigeria democracy is not perfect, the third world countries are still struggling with democracy, but so also is American democracy, at least, that much Donald Trump has exposed to the whole world. The fact that close to two hundred members of Congress, a great deal of Republicans in the Senate, and roughly hundred millions of foot soldiers, making a third of the population of the country are with Trump’s anti-democracy moves, means that is what America is regardless of what is said to reclaim the battered image of the country. No democracy is perfect; we cannot and should not henceforth allow them to breathe down on us. They came to our elections not just as observers but as an established oracle who comes to ensure we grow and behave; that must stop. It is an insult on our sovereignty. Henceforth, we must relate at par with them as an independent and great nation of great people.
How are the mighty fallen? America weathered its lowly beginning, overcame the incivility built in its structures, defeated the confederacy, and projected itself as the pinnacle of civility, human rights, democracy and a paradigm of global development. Gradually, the once colony of England has become the global world power and a dictator of global affairs. The country became so self-confident that it has achieved the pinnacle of national governance efficiency to become the role model for others. So, America without invitation enters other nations’ backyards to direct how they breathe and live to be accepted as humans.
The current America reality is the striking reality of the difference between what the country claims to be and what the country really is. The America that assumed the position of control over the globe, dictating the course of actions and behaviour of developing nations with claims that they are primitively indisposed to maintain the basic tenets of human right and democracy. The same America that enforces sanctions-after-sanction on nations because it concludes the latter falls short of maintaining global agreements on respect for rule of law and sanctity of democracy; the same America that destroyed Libya, by removing a leader it concluded was a tyrant; broke up Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia, all for the same reason of protecting global respect for democracy and rule of law; the same America that calls us shithole country because it concluded we do not have the capacity to play democracy the way they do. We saw the same American that chooses its whiteness over democracy and unity in the manner of Nigerians choosing their tribes and religion over national unity and development and carrying arms to bring down their own country.
The same America that Donald Trump has come to expose its bottled weaknesses; the America that houses the population that love the characters of Donald Trump and desires him as a president; the America that houses the population that innately deride the concept of equality and are set to re-enthrone White Supremacy; the America of the population that innately prefer the confederacy, the subduing of the people of colour, the racism-ridden America where blacks lives do not truly matter. The events of the last three years of American life has clearly revealed that regardless of what damage control measures are taken by America to redeem the image of the country that is already tainted, the reality will remain that the beliefs of the tons of million of the Trump cult members did not grow overnight, and would not disappear overnight; it represent the inner truth desire of the huge population that grows everyday in the country. America has shown the world it is capable of raising a Putin in character and a near Idi Amin in action. A president who love power for the thrills of power; a president who is careless about democracy as much as of the unity of the country and would not hide it; a president that literally allows the citizens collapse under the weight of the ongoing pandemic even after he knew how fatal the pandemic is before anyone else, yet he midwifes the deaths of over three hundred thousand of American and the collapse of almost all institutions of the nation in a short period of time.
America suddenly becomes a country that needs to take a lecture in respecting democratic processes. We saw a campaign train; messages and dispositions that were worse than anything experienced anywhere else including the widely derided third world countries. We saw a campaign structure that was bereft of issue-based campaigns but filled with hate messages, lies and propaganda of a higher magnitude than we witnessed in Nigeria at the height of the 2015 presidential election. We saw election campaigns becoming rogue outings and a president commandeering mob attacks against the opposition without remorse. We saw the America that, just like the Sowores, Fani-kayodes and Fayoses of Nigeria has Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn, Rudy Gulliani and the list of fake news and conspiracy theorists and supporting groups.
Has America really been as great as they made the world believe, or has the popularised greatness of America been a myth that is now shattering in present times? While I wrote about my nation, Nigeria, I have repeatedly submitted that the nation cannot be great in isolation or by assumption; the greatness of a nation is the cumulative greatness of its people. Now, it is becoming obvious that we have lived long enough to see the reality behind the greatness of the American nation, that till a few seasons ago pride itself the best globally on all fronts. The truth of the last four years of American history, the Donald Trump years, is forcing the world to rethink what the United State of America is.
It was once the Soviet Union. As the 1960s saw the end of colonialism, the misguided notion and myth of cultural superiority and economic prowess that were fervently claimed and upon which the grotesque and usurping myth of their cultural and superiority power were built came crashing down, leading to the end of an empire. The crumbling of the economy of Great Britain in the 1970s, also took its toll on the myth of the greatness of the empire leading to its economic stumbling.
American wrote the script of the country’s greatness; the umpire of democracy, a perfect entity until now that the realities of what over seventy million citizens of the country, who also doubled as the Trump supporters, have revealed. A population of close to hundred million in a nation of three hundred million populations, and one cutting across age groups and political rankings is enough to conclude the fact of who the people are and by extension what the country is. Trump’s supporters, if nothing else have exposed what America is that has been hidden to the whole world, at least until now.
Why did America create and orchestrated the myth of a great America standing taller above others? Perhaps, to be perceived as great, to irk a stature that evokes respect as well as both direct and indirect servitude from perceived lesser societies and nations, that they mostly coined the title third-world country for or in the language of their own president, “the shithole countries.” Like the “great Roman Empire,’’ and a popular statue that represents a symbol of despair for others, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; look on my works, ye Mighty and despair.”
How a nation that rebukes the confederacy tons of years ago and deny the acceptance of white supremacy; the symbol of racism and pledged itself to the world as a free nation, the land of equal opportunity; a land of hope, the beacon of democracy, promising everyone a voice and equal opportunity to chart their constitutionally allowed courses, becomes a nation of the Proud Boys, the QANON conspirators; the land where Blacks lives do not matter anymore; a land where the president can easily use the word “my people” to refer to the White community in deference to the people of colour in the same country.
The American problem is that they knew their country is not perfect; they knew racism grows and flourishes in their backyard, even long before Trump lighted it up; the symbol of discrimination and non-acceptance has been up across the states and racism associated murders and crimes indices were a constant, yet the nation chooses to hide the burning fire underneath, and continue offering itself up as the shining city upon the hill. But I think at this point, America has gotten to the inflexion point, the point at which the country has surrendered to reality and begins the process of restoring the country to what it is capable of.
I suppose, I am not misinterpreted. The United State of America is a great country compared to most other nations of the world. Over the period of the last 240 years, from colonialism, what the country has achieved for itself is synonymous to some sort of miracle. The nation, by sheer decision of its founding fathers, had made a decision that forced nations of the world to bow to the ingenuity and strength of the nation. What is missing in the element of the greatness of the American nation is the continuous consensus to maintain the values and virtue of greatness. MAGA might be new, Proud Boys and QUANON might have been popularised by Trump, but the idea they represent; the idea of rejecting the culture of one America is not new. While America travels the globe as a watchdog of peace, democratic and human right compliances, it knew all along that internally, it is brewing dissidents who would rise one day just like we saw all through the last four year and more prominently, at the Capitol on January 6th. Today, America has lost it; the country would spend the next years making attempts to rediscover itself and rebuild its greatness. Shamefully, America would be silent for the next decade from attempts to interfere in democratic processes of nations they naturally breathe on before.
Now to the point of this piece: there are instructive lessons for Nigeria from the events in America. The first is the question of perfection and comparison; we have spent the whole years long comparing ourselves to America, have castigated our system, especially the democratic processes with the America system and develop the attitude of running to America to report our leaders at every opportunity. After the ENDSARS protest and the ordering of the military force to the street to control the protest coupled with the few casualties actually recorded from the mob actions as it turned into, we have written the American Congress pleading sanctions on our leaders, we have aided CNN to humiliate our sovereignty and carry the slogan “this cannot ever happen in developed nations.”
When a similar scenario was repeated in America, the protesters were unanimously called by the majority of Americans, domestic terrorists and their outing an insurrection and further utterly disowned and condemned them and their destructive and national humiliating actions. In unison, they beckon on the military to descend on them and blame not the forces for the dead and the wounded. The American media, all without exception, came strongly against what they termed insurrection (you will all notice that no one is agreeing to accept the outing was a protest). CNN, FOX news, the rest and even Facebook and twitter came out fully to speak against the rioters. Those that invaded the Capitol were arrested one after the other to face charges for the crimes they committed against the sanctity of the nation, for the destruction of properties and acts of vandalism. They say it is felony and there is no escape – they will be brought to judgement. In our country, on the other hand, we would have tagged the various response of those government agencies as human right abuses and suppression of innocent protesters. PDP and its minions would have written to the British Parliament, the American Congress, and also file charges at the Hague.
The same Facebook that fully supported the organisers of the Nigeria protest and even went ahead to open a Bitcoin account for the Soro Soke movement in Nigeria, responded in America by blocking the Facebook and twitter accounts of the president of the United State and those closed to him that are considered as the forces flaming the insurrection. This is a chance for us to learn something sacrosanct to moving the nation forward.
Altogether, American came to the agreement that dissemination of fake news, propaganda and conspiracy theories were responsible for the event that rubbish all the century long labour of the founders of the nation and they responded appropriately. CNN, FOX and almost all the media houses in the country came down heavily on the fake rhetoric, fact checking and dispelling the fake news as much as possible. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Shopify, Instagram, YouTube, all responded immediately, blocking the president and all others engaging in the dissemination of the inflaming rhetoric. They all in unison stated that they would not tolerate actions that incite violence.
The opposite is the case with us in Nigeria; the destructions fake news, lies, propaganda and conspiracy theories have done to the systemic growth and development of Nigeria over the last six years is inestimable; we all know it but we nonetheless prefer to allow the sustenance of the regime of fake news in the country. The magnitude of the opposition to the attempt to regulate the nation’s media space and clamp down on fake news has been overwhelming and coming with huge supports from the high and mighty, those who are supposed to be in the position of knowing the consequences of the fire we are romancing today on the future of our nation. Because of the acceptance and salability of fake news in the country, the nation’s journalism has altogether derailed from providing best practices of the profession; investigative journalism is long dead in the country, and replaced with sensational messages that are taken from sources that they never bother to verify. America has taught us a great lesson in treating fake news as fake news. They faltered, paid the price and rose up to recognise fake news for what they are. How long are we going to allow the Sowores, the PDP operatives, the partisan clergies, like we saw Rev. Kukah’s latest missive, continue the free dissemination of fake, slanted news and the misrepresentation of facts that keep undermining the capacity of Nigeria to unite, grow and become all what it is capable of becoming? As of today, on the back of nurtured fake news and divisive messages, our nation has become so polarised that the hope of a united Nigeria is dimmer than it has ever been.
Don’t we all realise that there should be a limit to madness when the integrity of the nation is at stake? Political party affiliations and loyalty is great, but our individual and collective loyalty to the nation is above all, the measure of our patriotism; that we cannot and should not negotiate for anything. Who will ever believe that the likes of Attorney General Barr, Senate President Mitch McConnell and Senator Lindsey Graham as well as a good number of Republicans and more importantly Vice President Pence, will recognise when to draw the line and stand on the side of their country? But we all saw it happening; the country after all is more important. Here in Nigeria, we don’t know where that limit is, and we must make effort to locate it.
The game of opposition has been interpreted as an integral part of a must-win game of politics. The dictum “If we don’t have it, let no one else have it” has erroneously become the central focus of opposition play in Nigeria. Our reconsideration for the wellness of the country should from now onward pull us to begin the new era of constructive opposition and criticism of government actions and policies; opposition and criticism with love and concern for the country’s development and not for the unbridled desire to rule should become our module operandi as individual, organised bodies and political groups in the country. if Senator Graham can see wrong in Trump and accept the incoming Biden administration, heaven wouldn’t fall if Atiku Abubakar and all the sworn enemies of the Muhammadu Buhari government praised the great infrastructural works of the present Administration and solicit public support and admiration of the government while offering sincere advise on the way forward for the country.
Finally, dear fellow Nigerians, what do we all say of the ENDSARS protest again? Is a destructive protest still the fundamental right of the citizens? Like in the saner society, is it still wrong that the military were beckoned on to restore order to the nation? Was reporting Nigeria to the saner countries and at the Hague still the most patriotic way to go by PDP and its minions. Should DJ Cuppy, Mr. Macaroni and the entire organiser of the protest that led to the destruction of properties across the country, the burning of several police stations, killing of police officers, death of innocent citizens and bastardisation of the integrity and reputation of the country globally, still be allowed to roam the street freely after the saner society is busy arresting those who did the same in their country. Americans have vowed not only to fish out all the mobs that descended on the sanity of the country on that day, but also all the big men, the politicians who spurred them on. Even the heat is on the president. Shouldn’t all the Nigerian enablers of the ENDSARS protest also be investigated, fished out and prosecuted. Just a pertinent question for all of us.
GOD BLESS THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA