The Power of Protest

The popular saying goes that ‘silence means consent’. No matter how aggrieved you feel about anything, if you don’t speak up the chances are that you will continue to suffer in silence. For many years now, this has been the attitude of the Nigerian citizen. In our nation today, silence is no longer golden. Recent months have seen three major protests: two by the ‘Save Nigeria Group’ in Lagos and Abuja and another tagged ‘Enough Is Enough’ in Abuja. These are signs that things are beginning to change. More and more people realize that waiting on the government to do the right thing or lamenting in private will never get us anywhere. Throughout history, those who have been in constituted authority have only done what is right because they are held accountable by those they govern. Our biggest problem since independence is that we don’t hold our leaders to account. One of the best ways to do this, apart from the ballot box, is through peaceful protest. In between elections, protest is a great way for citizens to show their displeasure with government policies. For at least 15 years, the only people that protest are Labour, usually over increase in petrol or salary increments. It is only now that protests in Nigeria are going beyond Labour to the wider populace.

In any democracy, the right to protest is a key part of civil liberties. It is a right that we haven’t used enough in 10 years of this 4th republic. So many things in this country are going wrong, and need to fixed YESTERDAY. The beginning of every solution (for example #lightupnigeria) is political will that can only come from good leadership. Nigerians have not shown that they are ready for good leadership because of their nonchalant/defeatist attitude to elections. I have a feeling that when we look back in 10-20 years time, the handling of Umaru Yar’Adua’s illness will be seen as the turning point. We were left rudderless as a nation for 90-odd days, and the outrage that has generated has made Nigerians a lot more politically aware, but this awareness needs to be translated into a very high turn-out among young people for the elections in 2011.

On the 13th of this month, there’ll be an ‘Enough Is Enough’ rally in Lagos. With the success of the Abuja version, young people in Lagos have taken it upon themselves to organize one here. A lot of people want change, but until recently it’s been mostly talk without any actions to put things right. Think about it like evangelism, only that the gospel protesters will be preaching is that we are finally tired of being pushed around by the political class. When you march in the sun for what you believe in, some others who feel the way you do will see your example and be convinced to also stick their necks out. It started with the ‘Save Nigeria’ protest, where old men like Kongi who is 70 led the march and as a result, Dora Akunyili found the strength to break ranks with the EXCOF because she had proof that public opinion was shifting. Since then, the protests have spread and people are becoming more emboldened. You do not light a lamp and put it under a bushel. Nigerians are looking around for people to lead, so that they can follow. Every single youth at that rally will be telling those looking on that it IS possible to get our country back from those who have held us hostage for so long. We will be passing the message that there is hope for Nigeria, because we are that hope.

Coming out in protest will also make those change candidates who want to contest for various offices in the next elections come forward to declare their intention to run. They may feel that Nigeria is finally ready to start a new chapter as we begin our next 50 years as a nation. The ultimate aim of these protests, in my opinion, will be to mobilize young people across the country to register to vote, select their candidates, vote for the candidates of their choice and perhaps most importantly, protect their votes. It’s been coined R-S-V-P and I think it’s very catchy and it will be very effective in spreading the word. Everyone and anyone who can possibly be at this rally should do so because if Nigeria goes down, we all go down. It’s as simple as that.

The price of secrecy

Today is Holy Thursday, the beginning of the end of Lent. It is the beginning of the three days that lead up to Easter. For Catholics like myself, these three days are laden with significance as we walk with Jesus in his last hours on earth that end with the completion of his mission to reconcile humanity to God. The whole season of Lent is one of reconciliation, first between man and God, then between humans. We are charged to take stock of our lives, seek forgiveness from God and man & take steps to do better in future.

Against this backdrop, it seems almost poetic that widespread allegations of child sex abuse by priests come to light during this period. Of course, there have been allegations before, but never on this scale and certainly, never with this coverage. From Ireland, Germany, Austria, the US and Brazil people have come forward to tell their stories of abuse by the people they least expected it from. Given the fact many people trust priests implicitly, this represents a breach of that trust on a massive scale. It’s effect on Catholics around the world vary, but even though an exodus from the Catholic Church is very unlikely many are losing confidence in its human leadership. This confidence has to be restored.

The cases of abuse are so many because instead of the priests against whom charges were brought to be removed from circulation, they were instead transferred over and over by church authorities. This is because the priesthood is seen as a brotherhood, and brothers stick together. The first inclination is to protect a fellow priest by moving him away from a particular parish to another one where he can make a fresh start. In Ireland for example, those who came forward were asked to keep quiet ‘for the good of the church’ while they struggled with the emotional trauma inflicted on them at such a tender age. The leaders of the Catholic Church must reconcile with their flock, and the first step to this is that the veil of secrecy must be broken. However bad, however sordid the revelations, all church documents where complaints of abuse have been recorded must be made public. There are downsides to this obviously as some high-ranking bishops, cardinals and even the Pope himself maybe implicated not for commission, but for omission. There have been strident calls by some that the Pope resign, indeed some Irish archbishops have already done so, but to me this is not the first or most important step. There must be openness.

Any priest still serving who is found guilty of committing pedophilia in the past must be defrocked and handed over to civil authorities, or at the very least, not work with children ever again. We must leave ultimate judgment of these priests to God, but they must be made to face human justice as well. This will give some form of closure to the victims whose lives were altered forever. There is also a need to evaluate the psyche of those young men who want to become priests. If an aspiring priest has been abused in childhood by a parent or superior, it would make him more likely to commit same. There are always behavioral signs that a trained psychiatrist could see. Its not enough for a person to be spiritually and intellectually fit for priesthood, he must be emotionally fit as well. A ‘zero tolerance’ stance must be adopted towards this issue by the Vatican. Any future cases should be handled decisively by expelling the priest concerned as there are few things worse than taking advantage of a little child.

I must also mention that this scandal has enabled those who dislike the Catholic Church for one reason or the other to make even more uncharitable remarks in the media. Some feel giving the priests the option of getting married is the way out. Liberal groups who don’t like the church’s stance on abortion, contraception and gay marriage have used this incident to heap insult on the person of the Pope and on the Church. Its all fair game I guess. The Catholic Church owes no group any apologies for its beliefs, but it owes its followers a full disclosure of the actions of a very small minority. Only then can the journey to reconciliation start. It has paid a high enough price for secrecy.

'The aim of an argument or discussion should not be victory, but progress.' — Joseph Joubert