I have always believed that democracy is about robust and in-depth discussion; a discussion that fosters dissent and gives opposition the ample space to thrive. A discussion that promotes opposing views, even controversial ones. I’ve always believed that without such freedom—freedom of speech, freedom to express oneself without fear or favour—is the beauty of democracy.
This belief is so general, so presumptive, so speculative that it needs no analysis. It needs no lithium test. It needs no scientific inquiry. It’s the great speculation of the ages. It’s the reason why men waged war against tyranny. It’s the reason for every revolution against dictatorship. It’s an inalienable right that brave men have died for, and some have experienced the most vile, brutal and painful treatment of injustice from the evil powers of the world.
In this part of the world, this belief, this axiom, this unprovable proof is the reality that underscored the resilient spirits of men like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Tony Enahoro, Sir Ahmadu Bello and other great men of yore who fought tooth and nail to put an end to colonial rule and its suppressive imperial structure. After the fall of the first and second republic, it’s this undying speculation of faith in democracy that led men like Pa. Okutokun, Sani Shehu, Prof. Wole Soyinka and many others into exile under the dark age of Abacha’s era. Many whose name have been written in the sand of history and many who have been forgotten because no one is there to write their story and tell of their trial and triumph in the war against tyranny and dictatorship are part of those who have been lured by this great speculation—the belief that every man has the right to pursue life, liberty and his own happiness. Every man has the right to speak his mind.
My own uncle, Mr. Dare Babarinsa, veteran journalist and now columnist, embodied the living truth of this great speculation. He was one of those who fought tooth and nail against the preponderance of the Abacha’s administration. He was one of the founders of TELL magazine. The magazine which quickly became the darling of many Nigerians after the heyday of Dele Giwa’s Newswatch. His writings and publications became foreboding menace towards those who are enemy of truth. If the immortal words of George Orwell are true that “In the time of universal deceit, truth telling becomes a revolutionary act”, then my uncle and his coterie were revolutionists in their days.
Because this great speculation, this belief in the ability to hold a dissenting view is so ingrained in the soul and breast of every human, it becomes superfluous to try to prove it to anyone. It seems that anyone who disagrees with this line of thinking is a tyrant or tyrant in making. That’s why it comes as a surprise to me when I saw the online trend of Peter Obi supporters, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. Their intolerant, vicious, vitriolic and vile approach to any dissenting view is at best alarming and at worst repulsive. It’s even more shocking that their candidate, a southeast politician who was once the governor of Anambra state, appears to be a democrat and a peaceful man.
Even glancing at a distance, no one will mistake Peter Obi as someone who is vile or a stereotypical troublemaking politician. His charisma, calm smile and robust brilliant mind reveal him to be a gentleman who espouses the principles of civility and democracy. But such can’t be said about his followers. His online supporters are condescending, vitriolic and sharp-tongued. They see any criticism against the man’s policy as a personal vendetta. They view every dissent as an attack on their candidate. They want to ride the horse of tyranny to make their candidate the president.
In a world where you can’t have a contrarian view, where every dissent is clampdown on with tyrannical disdain, little wonder it’s being said that democracy indeed dies in darkness. This is the world of Obi mob supporters. It’s heart-wreching to watch.
A good example is their recent rampage against social media influencer and ex Jonathan aide, Reno Omokri. Needless to say, Omokri has been a vehement, open and unashamed supporter of the People Democratic Party’s candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. According to Omokri, the APC has failed the country in leadership, governance and security. Also, he doesn’t see Peter Obi winning the popular vote based on his political calculation and permutations. Hence, he’s pitching his tent with PDP.
Now, for Peter Obi’s supporters, Omokri has committed the unpardonable sin. Obi’s supporters have tagged themselves #Obedient. And anyone who has decided not to be obedient to the cause of their political mascot is therefore an infidel. He doesn’t deserve any human dignity. He doesn’t deserve to be seen as a Nigerian. He’s “an enemy of Nigerians.” He’s a pariah.
What’s more, Omokri has sinned against heaven and earth. He should be removed from any social media space. That’s the reason these little tyrants, these Orwellian thought-police have begun to campaign on Twitter for the removal of Omokri. Their groupthink philosophy is that if he doesn’t agree with them, he doesn’t deserve to have any social media platform to express his views. In the alternate reality of social media, he should be burnt in an outer court.
Omokri is not the only one that bears the burns of holding an opposing view. Almost every influential Nigeria right now on Twitter are afraid to express their belief and campaign for their chosen candidate because of the fear that Obedient tyrants will come for them. They’ll also lose their cyber space and end up an online nonentity. This is alarming.
For people who claim that they want to save Nigeria from the verge of tranny, it’s ironic and pathetic that they have become tyrants themselves. They’ve built around them an impenetrable bubble that doesn’t permit anyone else in. This bubble is veiled and opaque that they themselves can’t look outside and see their opposition as fellow humans, fellow Nigerians. After all, political theatre is a marketplace of ideas. If your idea is strong and convincing enough to resonate with the populace, why try to bully others into silence? Why try to stifle dissent?
Perhaps the reason could be that the ideas and ideals Peter Obi espouses are not strong enough in their own merit that there’s a need to silence the opposition. Perhaps the simple fear that others might consider other alternatives is so great in these fanatics that they will rather cut the tongues of those who dare speak in its name.
Political candidate can’t be superimposed on anyone. What we need isn’t some online tyrants that call others name and threaten to deprive them of their social media space. What we need is a robust discussion about where our nation is going and who is more qualified to take us there. Enough of this mob rule. Let’s give the great speculation another chance!
Ademola is a freelance journalist from Lagos,