Barack Obama

Moving Nigeria Forward (V): Freedom of Opposition

Posted on

When the announcement was made on Monday July 23 that Pastor Tunde Bakare, presiding overseer of Latter Rain Assembly, convener of the Save Nigeria Group and former Vice-Presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), had been summoned by the State Security Service (SSS) on account of statements he made in his church sermon on Sunday, Nigerians did what they do best – criticize. However, as against the usual trend, the criticisms were divided into two classes: those who criticized the SSS for pursuing harmless citizens while ignoring the real threats to the society, and those who criticized Pastor Bakare for his truthful and honest stance on national issues. For all intents and purposes, I stand with Pastor Bakare on this issue, though I don’t always agree with his sentiments.

In his church sermon, titled ‘How to change government peacefully and make society better’, which sounded more like a ‘state of the nation’ address, Pastor Bakare argued that President Goodluck Jonathan would be better serving himself and the country if he resigned from public office before the Federal House of Representatives acted on its threat to impeach him on account of alleged selective implementation of the 2012 budget. Bakare also seized the moment to speak out against the mismanagement of public funds by the current administration, which has equally struggled to stem the tide of insecurity in the country. He stated that “Mr. President may be doing his best, but the impact is not felt anywhere except in the bank accounts of oil vultures, his corrupt political allies and corporate cowboys” and that “in spite of the president’s promises to deal with insecurity head-on, this government appears helpless because it cannot see the linkage between corruption and violence”.

As an educated citizen, I cannot seem to find the link between these harmless words and the need for a summons by the nation’s top intelligence agency. Where did Pastor Bakare err? Was he wrong to highlight the evident flagrant display of corrupt practices in every arm of government? Was he wrong to mention the fact that the president’s genuine or staged efforts to curb violence in the country have not yielded much result? Was he wrong to suggest that it is more honourable for the president to step down from office than face public disgrace by his political stooges? Or was he wrong to educate his church members about the need to be vigilant and watchful of political scoundrels who promise transformation but deliver destruction? What exactly was Pastor Bakare’s offence? Quite understandably, the SSS has a responsibility to sense violence before it erupts and to quell it, but did Pastor Bakare indeed cross the line?

In the United States and other progressive democracies, there is recognized freedom of opposition, not only enshrined in the constitution, but practiced by the people and recognized by law enforcement agencies. The essence of having multiple political parties is for different groups of people to demonstrate their interest in national progress by championing causes that matter to them and pressuring the ruling government to address societal challenges in manners that are acceptable to the people.

In the United States for instance, John McCain, presidential candidate of the Republican Party in the 2008 elections has been a vocal antagonist of President Barack Obama’s cautious foreign policy, specifically concerning Libya and Syria. McCain vehemently condemned Obama for not acting strongly enough to arm the opposition during the Libyan uprisings, and has been even more vocal during the ongoing Syrian crisis. He has called Obama a ‘weak president’ and has questioned his vision for American leadership in the world, yet none of these have warranted any summons by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), because McCain is understood to be demonstrating his citizenship rights. This same custom was practiced by Francois Hollande, the erstwhile leader of the French opposition, who routinely criticized Nicolas Sarkozy’s domestic policies and eventually toppled his government, and Ed Miliband, the leader of the British opposition Labour Party who has regularly criticized Prime Minister David Cameron’s government.

For any democracy to thrive, there needs to be total freedom for the opposition, and Nigeria is no exception. Since 1999, we have struggled to unify the discordant voices in opposition to the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), with as many as 63 political parties emerging at the peak of Nigeria’s political jamboree in 2011, yet none of these contraptions have been able to highlight comprehensive differences between the PDP’s and their approaches to domestic and foreign policy. One cannot help but conclude that the Nigerian opposition has grown only in size but not in wisdom. In spite of the growing respect accorded to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), largely based on Governor Babatunde Fashola’s exploits in Lagos state, there would never be a toppling of the PDP unless opposition parties can get over their money-driven agenda, formulate definitive policy differences and embark on nationwide public education drives to sensitize Nigeria’s ignorant population about the ideals of a progressive government and their efforts to change the status quo. Whether or not the CPC and the ACN get over their personality contests and merge into one dominant force to capture the north and the west, the future of the country’s opposition rests on their ability to define a different approach to governing the country, not hoping for superstar governors to independently lift them out of oblivion.

While the few educated Nigerians in the opposition who have the potential to lead public education drives on domestic and foreign policy are getting their act together, they should probably also include modules in their curriculum for engendering public appreciation of the opposition. As has been established in the past, perhaps the most dangerous effect a ruling government can have on a populace is the political and economic subjugation of the people such that they find it hard to recognize and advocate for ideal conditions. The military and democratic dictatorships in Nigeria’s history have had precisely this effect on the generality of Nigerians such that heroes like Pastor Tunde Bakare, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, Professor Pat Utomi, Chief Dele Momodu and others who have attempted to speak out in favour of the people are routinely derided by the same people whom they seek to defend. None of these patriots can be said to be posturing for personal benefits as they have each made names and fortunes for themselves in this corrupt climate, yet they serve as public defenders at the risk of their lives and freedom. Nigeria will indeed rise again, but the road will be much longer if we do not learn to accord respect and give freedom to the opposition from the government, and from the people.

You can follow Faith Abiodun on Twitter @FaithAbiodun

Public Speaking

Posted on Updated on

Dr. Martin Luther King giving his "I Have...
I Have a Dream - Martin Luther King Jr.

He lived from 106-43 B.C. He was a statesman and famous Roman orator, but he was not born that way. Cicero worked his way to the top; defying the odds and challenging the status quo, which dictated to all his predecessors. In Rome, when he grew up, there were limitations on the ambitions of every young person, especially those who were not born to monetarily, politically or militarily rich families. But Cicero was different. He had an ambition and he successfully harnessed the power of the tongue.

So much has been said about the similarities between the stories of Cicero, Bola Ige and Barack Obama; with Bola Ige being dubbed the ‘Cicero of Esa-Oke’ and Barack Obama earning the more contemporary title of the ’21st Century Cicero’. So, what exactly was prominent in the story of Cicero, and common to these other great men? It is very simple, and not far-fetched: Public Speaking as a means of Social Mobilization.

Cicero grew up in Ancient Rome, where it was a ‘crime’ to aspire for the highest office in the land, the office of the Consul, if one did not have a rich political family background, or a rich military family background. In essence, political succession was reserved for the high and mighty in the society, and operated in a hereditary manner. Only those whose ancestors had served the Roman government were recognized by the people in political contests.

As the child, Cicero grew, so did his political ambitions and his quest for success. For the records, Cicero was born to a very poor family, with no political or military background, therefore he was considered an outsider in political matters. However, he harnessed a new and unexplored field; the field of Public Speaking. Cicero had identified Public Speaking as a virgin territory in the quest for social mobilization and thus, channeled all energies into converting it to his private conclave.

Cicero grew to be respected all over Ancient Rome as a master of the art of Public Speaking, and no one needs to ask if he fulfilled his political ambitions, because he not only did, he successfully engraved his name in the walls of history as a famous Roman statesman and came to be regarded as one of the fathers of Public Speaking.

This prelude brings the present day focus on Public Speaking as a means of Social Mobilization into proper context. Viewing present-day events through the eye-glasses of history helps to understand the ‘hype’ that surrounds Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Aung San Suu Kyi, Barack Obama and other champions of Public Speaking.

From the beginning of the age; events have been shaped by the power of the tongue. The biblical account of the creation story states that God said, “Let there be light!” A discerning mind will picture that the voice wasn’t a weak whisper; it was most probably a thunderous voice laced with power and authority. Similarly, events in modern history have been shaped by the ability to speak and to speak effectively.

Taking a brief trip back in time to the early 20th Century; events in the United States of America indicated that the average black man was under subjugation and denied civil rights. Women were not by any means allowed to vote, black men were not as privileged as their white counterparts; they attended segregated schools, ate in segregated restaurants, worshiped in segregated churches and practically lived segregated lives. Until… Martin Luther King Jr.

The young preacher from Georgia emerged on the scene as an agent of social change around 1950 and took on the cloak of leadership on behalf of segregated Americans; black and white. His mission was dubbed ‘Mission Impossible’ by detractors, because he was a black kid and he came from the under-privileged side of America; but like Cicero, Martin Luther King harnessed the power of Public Speaking and led America on a trip to re-discovery. On the 28th of August 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, before over 250, 000 Americans, Martin Luther King delivered unarguably, the best speech of the 20th Century, and maybe of all time. It is to his credit that America began to experience a re-awakening in her treatment of her own citizens and he thus led the way for the liberation of coloured people in America.

Nelson Mandela, the messiah of the South Africans has been and still remains a fierce vocalist in the chorus for social change. Growing up as a young man in South Africa, Mandela noticed the prevalent social injustice that frustrated native South Africans in their own country, and joining the African National Congress (ANC), he spoke up for everything he believed in and was rewarded with 27 years in the worst prisons of South Africa. But his years of sacrifice paid off on the 11th of February 1990 when he tasted freedom and subsequently emerged President of South Africa. But his use of Public Speaking did not end there; he remained a determined campaigner for the eradication of various social problems, least of which is the HIV/AIDS eradication campaign through his 46664 Foundation. Has anyone employed Public Speaking to better ends than Nelson Mandela? Maybe not!

Enter, Barack Obama: “the skinny black kid with a funny name”. That was how he described himself on his introduction to the big stage in 2004 when he addressed the Democratic National Convention (DNC). The story of Obama has been told time and time again, but the part of the story that stands out the most, is not that his father migrated from Kenya, or that his mother grew up in Kansas; it is not that he lived part of his life in Indonesia or that he grew up in Hawaii; it is not that he attended Harvard University on loan or that he has a small lovely family; it is that he successfully employed Public Speaking as a Means for Social Mobilization.

By his ability to speak before varying audiences and evoke the exact emotions he intends to evoke; laughter, joy, sadness, passion, tears, fear and then hope, belief, trust and then tears again; Barack Obama rose from obscurity to the highest and most desirable office in America, nay in the world! That is why his story has often been equated with that of the great Cicero; they both emerged from obscurity and maximized the power of Public Speaking to fulfill personal ambitions and to effect social changes in their societies.

The story is still the same today; anyone can dream, aspire, desire to achieve anything in life and be held back by the inability to speak up to influence people. Benjamin Disreali summed it all up years ago when he concluded that “With words, we govern men!” Anybody who will achieve anything worthwhile in the emerging world will and must ensure proficiency in Public Speaking, in order to captivate audiences and drive the message home. Social Mobilization in the 21st century will be fully actualized by the power of one strategy: Public Speaking.