The viral video of a heated verbal exchange between two men in what looked lik7e a sports arena, portrayed wrongly by some as Governor Godwin Obaseki on the receiving end of a public tongue lashing is, in my reasoned view, a clear and sobering example of the ailing health of political conversations in Edo State.h
That some persons willed themselves to believe it was the state Governor – even though there was little or no semblance between him and any of the characters in the said video – and found delight at the prospect of him being so ridiculed in public indicates, sadly, the debased nature of partisanship in the state and the unfortunate degeneration of criticism, which is a common and accepted feature of democracy, into sheer hatred and consuming toxicity.
I have to say this as clearly and emphatically as possible: it is unhelpful for our democracy and peaceful relations.
As one sworn to democracy and its growth in Nigeria and across Africa, I recognize the importance and necessity of partisan contests. The conflict of viewpoints and struggle for ruling positions inspire the generation of ideas on how best to govern society. It provokes thought, encourages accountability, and presents the voting public with an array of options to choose from. The presence of partisan contests also provides incentives for performance and serves as a reminder to the incumbent that incompetence will both be exposed and punished.
But this conflict is not a free-for-all. There are rules of engagement. Disagreement must not mean enmity; debates should be reasoned, impersonal and meaningful not slanderous and deliberately offensive; opposition should not mean forswearing any grounds of agreement with those on the ‘other side’, rather a guided quest to persuade and convert; we should not sort ourselves, and consequently society, into warring factions of implacable enemies who pursue and rejoice at the downfall of others. Because we are not enemies.
I am afraid we have lost sense of these rules, and my humble appeal today is that we regain it. As perhaps one of his leading critics, I need no convincing that there is a lot to disagree with in the Governor’s brand of politics. But I also know that there is nothing to gain in hoping that he suffers public ridicule so that we may rejoice. Our opposition must not be without guardrails, and there must always be room to come together as one, especially on the national stage given the regional slant of Nigeria’s politics.
It is not lost on me that this message is also a criticism of self. I concede that my actions in the recent past may have contributed to this hostile, hyperpartisan climate. There are those who I have offended with my opinions, reports, and other journalistic exertions. There are also those who hardened their opposition and embraced dangerous extremes because they felt it was the only way to effectively counter me.
To those I have offended, I apologize and extend an olive branch. The apology is neither for my political positions nor for disagreeing. We will yet still disagree and engage in robust debates, because the homogeneity of thought is neither possible amongst a diverse group of people nor the panacea to divisiveness. Rather, the apology is for the times when partisanship got overwhelming, tempers were flared, wrong words were used, and lines were crossed.
It is my hope that after now, as leaders of thought and influencers of behavior, we can chart a new political path and sanitize our democratic arena.
To conclude, I know from experience that there are some who will misconstrue this earnest appeal, borne out of solemn concern for the state of affairs, and give it wild interpretations of their choosing. They will only be repeating the same mistake and preventing us from moving forward. I encourage them not to do so.
Our differences should not preclude us from recognizing – and respecting – that which unites us. There is always a high road, a better way; I say let’s take it.