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NIGERIAN CIVIL SOCIETY ACTIVISTS:WHEN SILENCE IS NOT GOLDEN

By Tunde Adebanji
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Many Nigerians are saying it in murmurs , some were able to burst it out at different fora. Inescapably a charge has been laid at the International Court of Conscience -call it ICC or better still the Court of Public Opinion that the civil society activists, pro- democracy leaders and sundry NGOs have been selective in their activism against undemocratic issues, injustice and human rights violations. While it is 'acceptable' for some leaders to commit fraud or engage in corrupt practices ,against the people and get away with it , then it's a cacophony of voices and condemnations when this same kind of undemocratic or corrupt practices are witnessed or even rumoured against some other national institutions or persons. Is it selective amnesia or selective activism ?.

This pattern of behavior yet came to the fore with the recent Lagos Local government election which for many Nigerians was a test of the political integrity or the democratic credentials of the main opposition party- the A C N whose leadership have risen to the national consciousness for mouthing democratic ideals. Even though real evidence on ground attest to the domineering and dictatorial tendencies of the leader and financier of the party Bola Tinubu,be it at local intra party primaries or selection of candidates for political positions, yet the AC N and its leaders are still found at mountain tops hollering and preaching about democracy. Egged on by unsuspecting media or is it compromised media barons, legal luminaries and ''civil society entrepreneurs', the Tinubu brand of democracy is no doubt confounding the saner society .

By the various accounts of voters , of election monitors, of news media, the local government election right from the Primaries was characterized by undemocratic practices and the election itself was marred by irregularities such that one can say that Professor Maurice Iwu deserves a national apology for the various invectives poured on him while in office as INEC Chairman. Writing under LAGOS COUNCIL POLL ; a post mortem The Sun on October 30, 2011 reported: ''Not only that the election was characterized by voters apathy and low turn out, the voting process was also marred by a number of irregularities ranging from lack of adequate materials and late arrival to ballot snatching and stuffing as well as other logistic challenges……. However in most council areas where Sunday Sun monitored the election the performance of the umpire in the overall conduct of the poll was less inspiring''

The Thisday of 27 October 2007 reported under the headline”Post Election Protests Spread in Lagos,, ''Four days after the result of the chairmanship and councillorship elections were announced in Lagos state, a wide range of post election protests continued to break out by the day in different parts of the metropolis over alleged rigging and manipulation'' To Fred Agbaje , Lagos constitutional lawyer:'' it was no election. I used to blame the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) for lack of internal democracy but that of the Action Congress of Nigeria Is worse.ACN is not a party What happened on Saturday showed that people are dissatisfied with the party I wonder how and where they got the figures they are laying claim to'' (Nigerian Tribune Saturday 29 october,2011)

Yes the elections have come and gone but the singular question has been :How come the season of anomie from the usual avuncular pro democracy groups who are eager to demonise the national electoral umpires -INEC , and the screaming headlines on how national elections have been corrupted or manipulated?Then why have the Wole Soyinkas, the Femi Falanas, the Itse Sagays, the NBA Presidents former and present, the Odumakins, theTMGs of this world, who are eager to pontificate on how to conduct credible elections suddenly got quiet even when most of them live in Lagos and the events happened in their nose. One is almost sure that the National Publicity Secretary of AC N Alhaji Lai Mohammed found it difficult to spin this disgraceful outing?

Firing the charge against human rights leaders, the President of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACL )Dr Debo Adeniran ''accussed some pro- democracy and rights groups of compromise hence their failure to condemn the alleged manipulation of the result. Only biased civil organization(sic) were accredited to monitor the LG election and they can't release the outcome of their monitored election because of public outcry''( Nigeria Tribune of Saturday 29 October 2011)

The charges filed before the '' Court of conscience'' or Court of Public opinion reads thus;

· That you pro-democracy activists otherwise known and addressed as civil society activists particularly the Wole Soyinkas, the Femi Falanas, the Itse Sagays, the NBA Presidents past and present, the Odumakins, theTMGs commit the offence of bias or selective criticism of breach of civil ,human and democratic rights by condoning such breaches in some opposition controlled states particularly Lagos , Osun, Edo, Ekiti etc while condemning such practices at other areas particularly the Federal level,thereby breaching the trust of Nigerian Populace

· That you pro-democratic activists commit the offence of bias, aiding and abetting corruption, with the selective support of trial of corrupt public officers ,particularly for keeping quiet over the allegations of breach of code of conduct , allegations of perjury committed by Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu financier of an opposition party while celebrating and gloating on the trial of other public officers of other political affiliations

· That you pro democratic activists commit the offence of bias, aiding and abetting of breach of democratic principles when you support or keep quiet over the breach of judicial principles when it benefits the opposition as in the case of Justice Salami's conviviality with opposition parties during the pendency of suits concerning them in Osun ,Ekiti ,and Sokoto. That you however cry blue murder when such breach of judicial principles are rumoured against other judges

· That you prodemocracy activists commit the offence of bias ,aiding and abetting of breach of judicial principles when you neglected or refused to warn Justice Salami not to seat over the Election Tribunal or constitute Election Tribunals during the pendency of a suit filed by the PDP Osun challenging his competence to constitute the panels on allegations of possible bias, whereof Justice Isa Salami indeed made himself Chairman of the panel in breach of judicial principles , whereas the pro democratic activists condemned the National Judicial Council (NJC) for exercising its disciplinary powers to suspend Salami during the pendency of a suit by against NJC.

· That you pro-democratic activists look the other way and commit the offence of bias when you ignore incidence of lack of internal democracy and breach of electoral principles in areas controlled by the opposition parties while crying foul when such incidences occur with other political affiliations

· That you pro democratic activist commit the offence of bias ,aiding and abetting ,when you keep quiet over the poor performance of governing authorities in areas controlled by opposition parties particularly the A C N controlled states of Lagos , Osun,Ekiti, Edo, Oyo, Ogun etc while you cry to high heavens in criticizing governing authorities of other political affiliations

· That you ,pro-democratic activists commit the offence of bias, aiding and abetting when you look the other way and pretend not to see the looting of resources of Lagos state as alleged by ''the New Face of Lagos'' while you cry to high heaven of mere rumours in other states……..''

The court is now in session daily examining the allegations and Nigerians are watching what form of defence will be proffered by activists concerned.

For starters,the Campaign for Democracy otherwise known as CD seems prepared to offer an alibi for its loud silence on the Lagos election fiasco when its President Dr Joe Okei Odumakin in a statement quotes by the Nigerian Tribune( of Saturday 29 October 2011) stated that her group '' did not issue a statement because it did not monitor the election''she was outside the country when the election was held and '' no member of CD monitored the exercise''. Convenient excuse by otherwise active election monitor of national elections .

Opinions are divided how we got to this situation where all centres of support or gate keepers of democracy has become compromised by what I have once described as Tinubusiasis political virus. There is the theory of long term friendship and goodwill laundering backed with financial lubrication enjoyed by the so called activists from the NADECO days from the political strong man of Lagos. This , pundits say, had weakened the firmament of pro-democracy groups such that they no longer see or hear evil, if the matter concerns the interest of Tinubu.

Nonetheless, the people are waiting to see the emergence of a new face of pro-democratic activism that are not held down to the apron string of local and international paymasters whose democratic credentials are suspect. Definitely there are times when silence is not golden!

Adebanji a public affairs analyst writes from Lagos

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Tunde Adebanji and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."