‘Exhibitionist patriotism’ as a threat to our democracy

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jideofor_thursdays

There are several ways in which some of our elected officials are becoming potent threats to our democracy. One way they do this is by unwittingly nursing and voicing nostalgia for our authoritarian past under what could be called ‘exhibitionist patriotism’. Exhibitionist patriots like to hawk their love for the country – as if the rest of us love the country less than they do or that we are merely their appendages in the hierarchy ‘Nigerianness’.

 For instance the Vanguard (online) of 18 September 2013 quoted the Senate President David Mark  as directing the  ‘security agencies to track down those beating the drums of war towards the 2015 general election, saying such actions were treasonable and should be treated seriously’. In a speech delivered at the resumption of the Senate from a two- month recess, the paper quoted the Senate President as saying: “It is disheartening that even though the general elections of 2015 are two years away, political jobbers, sycophants, and hustlers have prematurely seized the political space, and are being allowed to set the tone of national discourse.”

Not long ago, the Governor of Niger State,  Babangida Aliyu was also quoted as calling on security agencies to arrest former Niger Delta militant Asari Dokubo for allegedly threatening  conflagration unless Jonathan is elected for a second term in office in 2015.Several top politicians and government officials frequently indulge in this ‘exhibitionist patriotism’, which on face value, is spurred by deep  love of country but which on deeper reflection could be one of the most potent threats to our democracy. Such calls not only smack of nostalgia for our authoritarian past but also an invitation to a culture of ‘prior restraint’ and its associated muffling of free speech.

‘Prior restraint’ (also known as ‘prior censorship’ or ‘pre-publication censorship’) is censorship imposed, usually by a government, on expression before that expression actually takes place. It is like arguing that speech which is yet to be uttered or published, will stink if uttered or published.  Prior restraint is said to have a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech because people will be restrained by fear of sanction from fully expressing themselves. And when it is realized that free speech and its associated marketplace of ideas is the foundational block of democracy, then the threat posed to our society by those nursing nostalgia for our authoritarian past will be better appreciated.

An alternative to ‘prior restraint’ is to allow the expression in question to take place and then to take appropriate action afterward if the expression is found to violate the law, regulations, or other rules. In several vibrant democracies in the world such as the United States, prior restraint by the government is forbidden by the constitution – subject to such exceptions as threat on national security. Usually for prior restraint to be permitted, such must have to pass the ‘clear and imminent danger’ test – that is the authority in question must prove that without such a prior restraint, there will be a CLEAR and Imminent danger to the society. This is clearly not the case with certain calls for people who express ideas that offend or shock. Tolerance of such offensive, awful or shocking ideas is often an indication of how far a democracy has matured.

In Anglo-American jurisprudence, prior restraint is considered a particularly oppressive form of censorship because it prevents the restricted material from being heard or distributed at all. Though other forms of restrictions on freedom of expression  such as actions for libel, defamation or contempt of court can also have a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech,  however because they are implemented after the offending material has been published or uttered, they do not impoverish the marketplace of ideas in the same way that prior restraint does.

In the marketplace of ideas theory of free speech, ideas compete in the political marketplace – just as goods also compete in open markets. There are at least four main reasons why freedom of speech is cherished in democracies: One, it is believed to be crucial in the quest to discover the truth. Two, it is regarded as an aspect of self-fulfillment. Three, it is seen as being indispensable for citizens to participate effectively in a democracy. Four, there is a strong suspicion of government – a suspicion that gets heightened any time free speech is muffled by officialdom.

While it is true that newly democratizing countries such as Nigeria often exhibit tendencies from their authoritarian past, we must recognize that democracy is a noisy enterprise and that in the competition of ideas in the political marketplace, even ideas that ‘shock and awe’ are seen as enriching the marketplace.  This means therefore that the ‘exhibitionist patriotism’ of calling for the arrest of people who have expressed strong or offensive ideas, which however unacceptable they may be, do not pose any ‘clear and imminent danger’ to the society, is a disservice to our democracy. Such calls are also exhibitions of intolerance – the very negation of the whole basis of democracy. This is why in several mature democracies, fringe groups such as racist organizations like the KKK in the US or the British National Party in the UK, are never banned. Rather the ideas they espouse are drawn into, and outcompeted in the marketplace of political ideas. This ensures that the purveyors of such ideas do not go underground to romanticize ideas that are already outcompeted in the marketplace of ideas.

Re: reflections on the PDP Crisis

Below are some of the reactions to my piece on the above published on 12 September 2013.

‘The activities for 2013 have taken over 2013 and 2014 will most likely be worse. There is nothing meaningful taking place in the government now at all levels other than politicians scheming for 2015 politics. This explains why the daily news now is not about ASUU strike, management of flood disaster, workers welfare etc. but all about New PDP, Old PDP, NGF Crises, Taraba State, COMEDY. Do you say 2015 is still one year plus away? The total effect now is a destabilized polity. Bagudu, Minna (text message)

‘Hi. I read your article of 12/9/2013. It is a good write-up. We need people like you in this critical time of our democracy. It is however totally wrong to think that PDP is the only national political party. All the parties are national parties because there are criteria they must fulfill before they can be registered by INEC.

No name, text message: 07053281229

 ‘It is untrue to say that the PDP has no philosophy. The truth is that it has never turned away from the road of neo-colonial capitalism. There may be a discordant noise, which is all about power and wealth and who gets what?’

Amos Ejimonye, Kaduna (text message)

 ‘Re: reflections on the PDP crisis: good piece and food for thought. In any case, the scenario, to discerning minds, appears quite simple without necessarily having to look into a crystal ball. It is a payback time for Jonathan’s earlier adventure to jettison zoning and the covenant for a [six year] single tenure in a secret arrangement with Governors. No leader, dead or alive in history can survive a disavowal of a prior covenant taken even if it is a pedestrian stance. To think otherwise may be an involuntary journey to a guillotine. God save Nigeria!

A.A. Umar, text message

 ‘As usual, always incisive and inspiring write-up; not taking side with the majority of columnists – what they believe or write thereby making your column unique. Besides you are always bold enough to say your views from the viewpoint that is contrary to the majority view. Maintain the courage Sir. However ‘Obasanjonisation’ was coined by Mahmud Jega, not Adamu Adamu as you said. Jega coined the phrase in his Monday column of 11 March 2013.’

Sadisu A Dandago (text)

 ‘PDP depends on governments, institutions, INEC, Nigerian Police Force, the military and total incumbency in the states and on the federation [for rigging]. So one for one it would  not have been a national party.’

No name, text message 08023664191

‘Adibe Sir, I just finished reading your piece on the back page of Daily Trust newspaper and I must confess that yours is the most objective analysis of what we are hearing and reading on the current problems in the PDP. My brother, keep on the good work you have started. God bless you.’

Barr S.A. Maisamari, Legal Adviser, Kaduna State, BIR.

‘Point of correction Mr Jideofor. At this moment, my party, the old PDP under Banamagar Tukur, is dependent on religion. Understand what I mean? Time and space may not allow me to explain this fully’

Alh, Boyi from Tarauni, Kano, text message’

 

 

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