Engaging the real message of the Nuremberg outrage

Political and civic leaders are united in condemnation of the atrocity in Nuremberg, Germany on August 17, 2019 when members of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) mobbed Ike Ekweremadu, a senator. Their grouse was that he and the political and social leadership of the South East region had not done enough to condemn the killings in the region and have failed the people. Reception of the Nuremberg incident is, however, mixed. We believe that this divergence needs examination and re-direction.

Make no mistake about it. BusinessDay believes that the action of the IPOB mob at Nuremberg is unacceptable, outrageous and egregious. Reasons for our condemnation go beyond the Nigerian culture of respect for elders and authority figures. There is also the matter of taking the dirty linen of the country to a foreign land to launder and spread in the sun.

Many across Nigeria hail the action. The social media is flush with messages and images approving of the conduct. They regurgitate pictures of similar measures by citizens of other African countries attacking their leaders, former or current, in foreign lands.

News reports, to justify the mob action in Germany, are making rounds. There is alleged remark of returning Minister of Transportation Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi that Nigerian leaders get away with poor service and injustice because citizens are yet to stone them. There is also the statement by Tony Momoh, an APC stalwart, asking voters to stone them if the party failed to deliver.

What is clear is that Nigerians are angry with their leaders. They feel helpless and are lashing out in the direction of hurting those they accuse of responsibility for the poor state of the country.

The severe socio-economic conditions of the country force many young people out of the country. Large numbers have died while escaping through the desert to Europe. Those who make it find the environment and conditions of their stay disenabling.

Worse, a renewed wave of nationalism in the Western world has led to stringent anti-immigration measures that target non-citizens and immigrants and make living uncomfortable for them. Even those who have become citizens find that their skin colour and their origin count to their disfavour. These have led to much citizen anger.

We understand the anger. We appreciate the desperation for change. We believe though that citizens should channel those emotions and concerns positively. They should engage the system as citizens do elsewhere.

A major failing of our democracy in the last 20 years has been disengagement of non-political actors. Citizens only serve as electors: they go to the polls every four years or as needed, elect the politicians and then go home. Theoretically and according to the electoral laws, citizens can recall officials who are not living up to their promises. The same law makes the process a mountain too steep. It is worse for the operation of voting out non-performing politicians. It has led to politicians thinking there is no obligation on their part to deliver.

This displeasure can be converted to engagement in the tried and tested democratic traditions. The middle class, represented in professional associations, citizen advocacy groups and civic bodies, should lead the process of getting Nigerians to pay closer attention to their politics. Citizens can participate more actively in several ways.

We have to be informed, participate in political discussions, sign letters and petitions (individually or as a group) demanding action in specified directions. We should donate money to a party or candidates and get persons of our choice, attend meetings, lobby for laws and demonstrate through marches, boycotts, sit-ins or other forms of protest. Civil disobedience to unjust laws or actions is also an acceptable tool deployed in the colonial days by our forebears. Ask questions. Demand accountability.

Participation through engagement is both a right and a responsibility of citizens to make democracy work. Positive engagement, not a resort to mob action, is what will propel accountability and promote our democracy.