Adversity is the trial of principle. Without it, a man hardly knows whether he is honest or not.
~ Henry Fielding
A people who value privileges above principles soon lose both.
~ Dwight Eisenhower
Dr. Reuben Abati, the erstwhile chairman of the editorial board of the Guardian newspapers was a powerful columnist. A man behind the reason many purchased The Guardian, just to have a peek into his powerful mind. A panelist on Patito’s gang, a television program that had many idealistic youths glued to their TV sets( where they got informed and were able to form different perspectives on government, governance and public service), Abati was almost too good to be true.
Labaran Maku, a once powerful student union activist, who once led thousands of students on a demonstration to protest against what he termed “a mindless” increase in fuel (PMS)price by the ruling military junta in Nigeria in the middle 80s, also comes to mind. He was a no nonsense, straight talker; shooting from the hip, student union leader back in the University of Jos.
What do these two men have in common? Many refer to them as turncoats, sellouts, betrayers etc. I didn’t mention Reno and Okupe, because both of them have no antecedents. They are therefore inconsequential men seeking for daily bread at any cost, even at the risk of being called attack lions, dogs or whatever they deem fit. The focus is on the two gentlemen earlier introduced above, who at one time or the other rattled various governments, opposed policies that they considered anti-people or anti-masses and had been seen as defenders of the common man or “activists”.
Why am I focusing on Reuben Abati and Labaran Maku? It is simple: I have seen various characters mushrooming as activists, many are either jobless or underemployed and therefore find in activism a pastime. I have also seen others who take what they themselves term a “moderate” position and daily attack their fellow “activists”. And as the race towards 2015 heats up, many will surface as we go along. My concern in this write up is to try to argue for activists who have either turned “turncoats” or will later become turncoats.
What makes a man suddenly turn around to embrace a life he once derided? How can a man who once wrote or spoke in a manner that sent jitters down the Government's spine, turn around to suddenly become a sissy? How can a man who criticized the government and called the president names suddenly turn around to not only work for the same president, but lie, fight dirty, lose every sense of decorum and engage in mudslinging just to curry favour and remain relevant in the kitchen cabinet of the same man he once derided as “inadequate” and incapable of leading the country?
Successive rulers had done nothing but pauperize the Nigerian masses. Most Nigerians (70% of them according to the national bureau of statistics) live below the poverty line. There is a saying that a hungry man is an angry man. No matter your ethos, principles or personal ethics, most (not all) people will sacrifice belly for principle. No man can think well on an empty tummy. Our despotic rulers know this. No wonder, Ibrahim “Maradona” Babangida set about his task of impoverishing the vast majority of Nigerians during his inglorious 8 year rule. He did a wonderful job of wiping out the middle class in Nigeria. He laid the foundation for “cash and carry” activism, soiled many and destroyed a lot too. He ensured, during his time that “man must live by bread and bread alone”
Let us reason together here. A professor who is supposedly on the highest social strata, lives in a ramshackle government building, with a wife and maybe 4 children, who earns about N400,000 monthly, depending on the discipline or school, will gladly throw away the chalk and grab any political appointment to earn extra pay. Consider a journalist or some other professional who earns even less. These people are expected to feed a family, clothe them, pay school fees and other living expenses, yet they must live like respectable members of the society. I am aware that most journalists don’t earn up to N100,000 monthly, while a barely literate ward councillor and the Local Government Chairman are busy building houses like birds, riding exotic cars and living large.
Take a look at the State and National levels, where both elected and appointed office holders live like feudal lords. Briefcase business men; men of shifting personality and all manner of shady characteristics and low integrity, bestride our political space like colossi, making the rest of us, mere mortals, wish for a life our honest livelihoods cannot bestow. Truth be told, our sense of value has been distorted. Gone are the days a family can gladly live in a three bedroom bungalow, with a Volkswagen beetle and another Peugeot 504 and they would be considered a model family. Today, with our warped sense of prosperity, to be considered lucky, you must live in a walled mansion, with uncountable number of SUVs, a string of domestic guards… all of these with no visible means of livelihood, but your closeness to the government of the day as your only source of hope to the good life.
No wonder principled and seemingly intelligent journalists are happy to ditch their professions and become press secretaries , special assistants on media and the likes to riff raffs in government just to have a taste of the good life. Same way retired old men whom we assumed to be men of integrity will abandon retirement to run mundane and useless “SURE” errands for a shady and unfocused government so that they can “leave something” for their children and great grand children. No wonder Ayourb said, in “every battle of survival versus principle, survival mostly wins." Man’s instinct is to always survive and keep his head above the water.
The great Dwight Eisenhower warned people against valuing privilege over principles, as there is a clear danger of losing both. It is clear that we have lost our sense of value as a people. Most times you are judged by the type of car you drive, the clothes you wear or the kind of place your house is located. I have witnessed several situations, first hand, where I was allowed into some places because I drove a “big car”, whereas I had been denied same privilege in the past, when I came on foot. Our sense of value is warped.
Also as a people, our warped sense of value leads us to berate any of “our sons”, or daughters, “stupid” enough to leave a government appointment without amassing enough wealth for the “future”. We deride such people who either by virtue of principle or religious zealotry, refused to dip their hands into the cookie jar; calling them names.
It is a lot easier to stand afar and throw stones at Reuben Abati and his co travelers in the present malady we erroneously refer to as a government, but the truth be told, what was Abati’s financial worth before supposed hunger pushed him to seek crumbs from his master’s table? What were his economic and financial woes? Same goes for Maku, Reno and the shameless attack dog turned lion, Okupe. In a society where privileges are valued above principles, where men are judged by the quality of their earnings above the depth of their mind, we will keep losing our best to the dark side.
Recently the world went mad after the emergence of TV footage of the “pen” we called the police college Ikeja. How do you train a man in such deplorable conditions, then hand him an AK47 rifle? Do not be alarmed, same goes for our various government universities and other public institutions. We are raising a set of survivalists– people who will do anything just to make ends meet. You don’t preach morality and ethics to an empty tummy. Even the Lord Jesus Christ had to feed his listeners at a time when he observed they were too hungry to concentrate on heavenly messages.
Until we have a honest government that sincerely works towards reducing the inherent soaring poverty instead of bandying some useless statistics garnered inside some air-conditioned offices, survival remains the game. Nigeria has now effectively been turned into an animal farm, where all seven laws have disappeared only to be replaced by the inequality law. Yes, some are more equal than the others.
This is not a hopeless treatise, as I continually hope against hope. Like the People of Georgia, I earnestly pray for the Nigerian version of Mikheil Saakashvili. I have heard it whispered and I have seen it said openly, that most people who either write or criticize the government do so either to be noticed or to get some crumbs. While I won’t hold brief for anyone, I have reached the conclusion that, every man has a price but not every conscience is for sale.
I am @Ayourb on twitter
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters