By Wole Olaoye
Tribalism is to Africa what racism is to the West. It is the African version of black-on-black violence, except that ours is unmatched in the crudity of the implements of violence and the tenacity with which we insist on handing over the chalice of hate to the coming generation. Some people are not content with fouling the waters of human coexistence; they want to ensure that their children inherit their ‘enemies’ so that a fractious future is thus assured.
Six years ago, in my column of February 20, 2017, I pondered over how politicians and some of their collaborators within the larger society weaponise ethnicity to drive a wedge between the people and advance the politicians’ game of mass deception. With the shameful developments in the run-up to the recent elections, it is clear to me that some people know of no other way to seek a democratic mandate except through transmogrifying polling booths into gory crime scenes.
And don’t let anyone fool you, it’s all about self and never about the people. Politicians play on the vulnerabilities of the mob. It is the same trick used by the racist American who has convinced half-literate white layabouts down the social ladder that the reason for their poverty is that black doctors and engineers from Nigeria are taking their jobs.
That is the same trick used by our politicians who tell their impoverished followers — people they, the politicians, had kept in penury through treasury looting and lack of vision for the betterment of society — that non-indigenes are the cause of their poverty. The last set of elections witnessed a resurgence of tribalism, making me realise that my campaign against the scourge six years ago needs to be re-echoed.
Part of my “Memo to the Tribalist” ran thus:
Mr and Mrs Tribalist, your tribe is well represented in the list of armed robbers, treasury looters, kidnappers, ritual killers, internet fraudsters and drug peddlers, just as the other tribes you deride. There is no tribe that is all good just as there is none that is irredeemably bad. Every mother does have them!
The most worrying aspect of your myopia is that you are handing over the baton of hate to your children. But you forget that they are in a globalised world in which those children you have ‘villagised’ will have no place. Has it ever occurred to you that the more you ‘villagise’ your children the narrower their catchment scope in terms of spread and reach?
Naturally, you can dislike what some people are doing. That is your entitlement. But, as Pope Francis has repeatedly said, we have no right to hate anyone because hate begets terrible consequences…
Check out the innocuous rumblings and hate peddling that preceded the Rwanda genocide. Having sufficiently stripped rival tribes of their humanity through stereotypes, rumours and hate vending, the next step naturally was to lash out at the source of their anger. In their minds they were not killing fellow human beings, they were doing humanity a favour by ridding the world of vermin.
Perhaps hate pedlars are scared that they will peter into irrelevance once their wares become unfashionable. So they hawk hate on street corners, in beer parlours, at the hilltop, in seedy tribal conclaves, anywhere and everywhere they pollute with their hate-filled presence. If only they realise that there are many good things to celebrate about other people too!
…Have these haters in Nigeria not heard of one gentleman called Booker T. Washington who said, “I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him”?
The only good takeaway of the season of madness is that it helped unmask closet tribalists. Society cannot forget that although no man or woman chose where he was born, some people turned that into the main issue in their quest to preside over our collective patrimony. And they are recruiting younger elements to take over from them in future.
When I think of the ideals we propagated as university students in the 70s and the fact that it was the relationship of ideas that established kinship, I am alarmed at the tribal mantle some in my generation are handing over to their children. There can’t ever be a frictionless interaction between various cultures. In our university days, we taunted each other to the moon and back. But hate? No!
Anything that demonises people for their tribe or race is evil. If we don’t stamp it out, it festers. As Fr. Dwight Longenecker brilliantly notes: “First we overlook evil. Then we permit evil. Then we legalise evil. Then we promote evil. Then we celebrate evil. Then we persecute those who still call it evil.”
It is understandable then, that this poisoned atmosphere we are currently experiencing is bound to take its toll on the media whose duty is to inform, educate, entertain and monitor the society. Politicians think that because they routinely get away with their crimes, they also ought to determine how their shenanigans should be reported by the media.
There is a pattern of media harassment developing in the past few years. Some politicians are so vacuous that they deploy braggadocio as a substitute for their brain. When asked questions that require introspection or simple honest-to-God truth, they resort to throwing tantrums.
One of the more famous cases in the last 24 months was a press conference at which Femi Fani-Kayode rained insults on a journalist who dared to ask him if his “consultative meetings” with the ruling APC was sponsored. He could simply have answered, “No”. But that wouldn’t be dramatic enough. He gave a thorough tongue flagellation to the journalist and ordered him out of the press conference. Amazingly, other journalists at the conference witnessing the humiliation of their colleague for doing his job simply kept mum!
In another instance which was rebroadcast recently, Festus Keyamo, speaking in defence of his principal, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, over the plea bargain episode in the US, told his interviewer to get a biro and paper so that he could lecture him on the intricacies of the law. What a cheek! The accomplished attorneys of the great countries of the world would never talk down on a reporter no matter how lowly (and, unlike the legal profession which places a premium on rank, every journalist is, first and foremost, a reporter).
The arrogance of politicians seems to come with the territory. Once they occupy some public office, they think they are above censure and that journalists should orally lie prostrate before asking them questions. They are able to carry on this primitive attitude because journalists themselves seem to have accepted that the idiocies of politicians are to be tolerated no matter how ridiculous.
I think journalists have to stand up for themselves and for each other. Nobody, no matter the degree of his delusion of grandeur, should be allowed to get away with talking down on a journalist whether in the print or electronic media. In those days, the threat of the self-acclaimed big men used to be, “I’ll report you to your editor”. These days, they simply resort to ‘area boy gra-gra’. Instead of answering your tough question, they rain insults and refuse to allow you to put in a word. Politicians think we all have amnesia. Thank goodness that journalists are always there to drag the intrepid men back to reality.
And only the other day, former Governor Ayo Fayose, refused to answer an uncomfortable question put to him by Arise TV’s Rufai Oseni. The question had to do with the ‘small’ matter of the alleged billions of Naira transported to Ekiti for the purpose of election rigging when Fayose was running for governor. Instead of answering the question, Fayose literally descended into the gutter. He questioned the moral right of his interviewer and revealed that he had expressed reservations about Oseni being among his interviewers. Apparently, his sense of entitlement made him feel that a TV station should rejig its team to please him.
The matter riled many journalists. One of the more educated responses was provided by Nkanu Egbe, publisher of Lagos Metropolitan:
Nkanu wrote: “All these pseudo-journalists pontificating on Oseni Rufai ‘s presentation style, have you ever heard of outrage journalism? It’s journalism that provokes! The interviewer asks the most daring questions in the most provocative way. For a democracy and society as ours which is fraught with wanton lawlessness and impunity, you need someone who would dare to push out the questions. Label him, get upset with him, at the end of the day, he’s calling out the issues. Perhaps, he’s too idealistic in his approach, but at the end of the day, you will thank him.”
(Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021)
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