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Kwara: Hate speech and burden of good governance

*Why Governor Ahmed needs another mirror

From Tunde Mohammed
I do not know Kwara State Governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, before now. I doubt also if he knows me either. Since he is my state governor, it has become irresistible not to discuss him or his administration. Democracy has much higher ideals and more enduring preoccupations. First, it seeks genuine representations actualised in free and fair elections. Then it builds institutions and protects them through its sacrosanct laws.

It opens the space for collective involvement, even dissent and protects the rights of individuals. Democracy does not create an infallible system or perhaps human beings.

Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara State...comment on hat speech is subtle attack on citizens
Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara State…comment on hat speech is subtle attack on citizens

Governor Ahmed’s subtle assault on the citizens: When recently Governor Ahmed at a meeting dealt on hate speech and cautioned the citizenry against same, not only a few took exceptions to the governor’s remark. When war becomes a way of life, life itself becomes no different than death. Already faced with boiling challenges of good governance, this subtle attempt to harass and intimidate the public further exposes the governor’s strong deficiencies as a leader.

Perhaps not fully understanding the difference between hate speech and the complexities that befuddle his administration, his reasons primarily may seem to be whether he can make an increasingly disconcerting status quo appear delectable just by the sheer elegance of his verbiage.

Governor, why not admit failure: In the face of the mounting evidence of economic and infrastructural contraction, Governor Ahmed’s newest theatrics admits failure. This essay opposes the government’s latest view. There is no need gagging the people because there must be no vacuum. Help abound the harshest of criticisms and no government desirous of making any meaningful impact slams those opposed to its ideals and policies after all President Muhammadu Buhari himself once admitted that the idea of not having a vibrant opposition itself breeds lawlessness.

However, it is curious that Governor Ahmed as a democrat can reduce the meanings of words of his administration’s critics to hate speech. Democracy required an informed public. The people must not only vigilantly guard their right but must also be explicitly informed about what is wrong.

It is rather about accountability: Even though the governor failed to detail what constitutes hate speech to his administration, democratic due process becomes more confounded when government itself refuses to define the elements of hate speech prior to taking any citizen to task for committing a crime. Any government that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a government that is afraid of its people.

Kwara government should not copy this behaviour by defining hate speech in the same nocturnal, clandestine manner. If by definition hate speech connotes an intensely strong hostility towards one or a general dislike which is human and also an element in a democracy, Governor Ahmed should not at the slightest think that the people’s challenge to his administration is a form of rebellion against him. It is rather about accountability.

Social media source and media of strongest hate speech
Social media source and media of strongest hate speech

Government infallibility is obvious: In broad day light, what is required alongside his address was for him to openly enumerate what constitutes hate speech. Lack of this implies government infallibility. And if by nature government admits its infallibility then the hunt for democracy is indefensible. In as much as those wielding great power are soon confronted by the incontrovertible distance separating the quality of their decisions from that of infallibility, then there is no point putting more pressure on the polity by turning intolerant.

These are the costly by-products of leadership that has no business coming into being. The worst of dissent is a sufficient elixir and people too willing to trust whatever government does may be a people too insufficiently vigilant to hold inviolate the democracy they have.

Is the governor a confident statesman here? Governor Ahmed’s view is not the tactics of a confident statesman. It is rather the antics of a worried bettor. From whatever angle he sees it, nearly everyone is united in believing that this pinched view is in contrast with his popular sobriquet- ‘MAIGIDAN KWARA’ – a man with a large heart.

According to David Binkley, a successful man is one who can lay firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him. It is unfortunate the new dimension hate speech has taken in our political lexicon. Away from the facts of its ineptitude and unfettered corruption, no government in the history of this country perhaps suffered hate speech more than the Goodluck Jonathan administration.

This has not abated either. The All Progressive Congress (APC) thrived most on hate speech in its days as opposition party and has been a beneficiary of same today. Governments of Kwara in the last 20 years or so benefitted from hate speech. It was an instrument that was effectively deployed to dislodge late Governors Adamu Atta and Mohammed Lawal by those they had an axe to grind.

hate speech...defining what is means is high priority
hate speech…defining what is means is high priority

Is government not measured by the well-being of its people? And except this is another case of the executioner who would not like to see anyone dangle a sword over his head. In these modern times, the harshest wars are not always sword against sword, army against idea. At times, the most trenchant wars are those of idea against idea, vision against contrary vision. The people are not in a battle pitting corporal army against army but are struggles pitting the mind and spirit of enlightenment against those invested in inequity and wrong.

Today we exist in an age where government itself cannot sufficiently cater for the mass of people yet seek to drive them towards penury and the socio-political subjugation penury ascribes. Morally we have entered an age as selfish and uncaring as any prior.

While government successes are measured by the well-being of its people, at every level of governance policies also are made for the benefit of the people. But proponents of such policies themselves are humans and so the people on whose behalf such policies are made also have the right to correct them and true democrats must have the humility to accept and acknowledge their mistakes and change course.

This mirror is not speaking the truth it sees
This mirror is not speaking the truth it sees

The governor’s mirror conceals the truth from him: Besides, a progressive government must be humble enough to know that the people have a reservoir of wisdom from which it can benefit. That is not to say Governor Ahmed should or must take anyone’s or everyone’s advice but being able to really listen to feedback from those who oppose his administration will set him for success in the long run.

The point is that the mirror most popularly used is the one that most conceals the truth while the biggest obstacle facing most leaders today is the way they rationalise their reasons for having done the wrong thing.  Often this is because of ego and the fear that admitting failure exposes weakness. Success comes when one is able to look at where one screwed up, listen to feedback and change action.

Hate speech has never felled any great nation: But should this negative trajectory of the state leadership continue, people will be forced to wake from numbed desolation to realise they walk towards molten danger – a police/security state nears. Dictatorship readies itself in the shadows cast by avarice and ambition. Hate speech has never felled any great nation. We have seen this in civilised communities.

Creeping despotism and the democratic dry rot are mortal dangers to great civilisation. We should not sacrifice freedom for profit than to protect it at a cost. The more I think about all of these, the more it seems Governor Ahmed still deserved a price and not so much to congratulate him on what his acclaimed achievements are but to propel him to face, with brave faith in peace, the uncertainties and difficult events that lie ahead.

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