What Is Your Price For Compromise? 

Criticism of government is, perhaps, one of the easiest things to do. As a matter of fact, it is a part of us, especially in the absence of political apathy. In other words, if you are one who has an interest in how the society is run, whether as an observer or an active participant in politics, you cannot help criticizing the actions/inactions of players in government. And while there are those who criticize the ills of government, there are those who choose to see no evil, for whatever reasons. Their reasons might include fear, cowardice, personal gains from the perpetrators of the evil, or even admiration for the perpetrators. Yes, there are those who just like someone for no reason, even when that someone has perceived or established baggage. 

The focus of this piece is not on those people, it is on the ones that are the loudest voices in activism and criticism of societal ills. Social criticism is as old as organized human society, and it is everywhere irrespective of what form of government is in place. This is so because human society is not perfect and can never be perfect since it is run by imperfect beings. And largely because of social critics, social engineering is a continuous process, everywhere in the world, whether the society is democratic or not. Now, social criticism is not something to trivialize, it is not something to be done just for the sake of it, as there are various consequences that can result from it, both intended and unintended consequences. 

This is why governments everywhere do not ignore social criticism, though their responses differ from time to time, and from place to place. And in non-democratic societies, social criticism might be a risky undertaking, which only the courageous would dare to embark on. The risk of speaking against the actions/inactions of public office holders could be as risky as costing you the ultimate price, but some critics would rather pay the price than keep quiet in the face of glaring abuse, negligence, or nonchalance of public office holders. On the other hand, there are those who are critics only because they are not sitting at the proverbial table. And because of these pretentious moralists, society is often denied the needed change that should result from denouncing wrong. 

Are you wondering how these pretenders deny change? Well, Nigeria is an example of how pretentious social critics not only deny the country the needed change but also help perpetuate the status quo. When some people are out there denouncing various wrong decisions of government, but some others choose to be defenders and promoters of the ills being condemned by the first group, any government will easily ignore the calls for change since the people are not united in their demand. As unpleasant as the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has been since 2015, one good it has done is its exposure of such pretenders for who they really are, hungry folks who would criticize others just to get an invitation to the table. They were the ones who coined the tag “wailers” for Nigerians that groaned under Buhari and APC’s deliberate misrule. 

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“Every single time I have said no, not because there is any logical reason for saying no in a society like Nigeria. As I was told pointedly by one such individual earlier this year, ‘We have seen your type before, and they all fizzled out. Let’s see how long you will last.” This is an excerpt from a lamentation written by the rising social critic, David Hundeyin, and published by Businessday on August 17, 2022. In the piece, Hundeyin acknowledged that the individual was not wrong in suggesting that even Hundeyin would someday succumb to the system, as others before him did. The title of the Hundeyin piece is actually “Try hard as we might, the system defeats the individual”.

David Hundeyin

Hundeyin became prominent on the Nigerian social scene because of his hard-hitting works of investigative journalism, especially his works on corporate ills – like the one on the Fintech company, Flutterwave. As expected, people have reacted to Hundeyin’s Businessday article in diverse ways, including sympathy from some who say they’d understand if he is eventually compromised. Hundeyin himself said in the article that, “the only variable is the price they required to compromise and how long it took them, not the act of compromise itself”. That’s largely true for many, like one of the current presidential media aides, in whose mouth the national cake was too fluffy and tasty to let go.

There is another one who is currently eyeing that post, having already had a taste of the appetizer, thanks to the Lagos landlord. Unlike the one who tasted the national cake before throwing caution to the wind, the pen-for-hire eyeing his post cannot wait till the Lagos landlord gets to Aso Rock before removing his veil. 

These pretentious social critics, and Hundeyin’s Businessday article, might suggest that truly, everyone eventually compromises. But that’s not true, there have been people, even in this Nigerian space, who stood their ground and rejected the lure of the systemic harlot. Veteran journalist Dele Giwa paid the ultimate price because he wouldn’t dance to the tune of the system. Legendary musician and fierce social critic Fela Anikulapo Kuti refused to taste of the systemic harlot’s forbidden apple, even after his mother, Funmilayo Ransom-Kuti, paid the ultimate price. Nigeria’s most iconic legal practitioner to date, Gani Fawehinmi was also defiant in the face of real threats. Like Fela, Gani Fawehinmi was uncowed in the presence of the military’s boots and guns. Not even multiple detentions could deter the “senior advocate of the masses”. 

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There are some today, like Hundeyin, who are saying no to misrule and other societal ills. You may not like his style, but you cannot deny the courage of Omoyele Sowore, who is perhaps, the most vocal and most daring critic of Buhari’s misrule. While he could do his criticism from the safety of his home in America, and despite having little or nothing to lose if he kept quiet, Sowore took the battle to the enemy and has remained undaunted despite detention and abuse in the hands of an intolerant regime. Expressing his growing frustration at the lack of impact his works, and those of others, are having on the polity, Hundeyin said “What I find myself increasingly unable to rationalise, however, is the seeming pointlessness of it all after the stories go out into the world, are read by millions of people, and then absolutely nothing happens afterward. And it just happened again.” 

You need not be told that the lines above came from deep down inside a frustrated man who feels his efforts are not yielding the desired results. Yes, it can be really frustrating to have your efforts yield little or no result, but Hundeyin seems to be raising his hopes too high, naively. He must realize that the job of a social critic is largely a thankless one, and it is continuous. Another thing Hundeyin must accept is that his desired results may not happen in his lifetime. If Gani Fawehinmi and Fela Anikulapo Kuti became disillusioned by the unyielding Nigerian system, the likes of Hundeyin may not have a country to call theirs today, let alone think of becoming social critics themselves. And without the resilience of the likes of Sowore, what Buhari and the APC would have done with Nigeria since 2015 is better imagined. 

These, and more, are the reasons Hundeyin and others must remain focused on the tough task they voluntarily embarked upon. The fact that political rogues would constantly look over their shoulders because of the awareness that there are some people who will expose their dirt should be enough results for Hundeyin. When the difficulty increases and the temptation seem almost irresistible, Hundeyin and others must learn from history and renew their resolve. Harriet Tubman was a slave who refused to be enslaved. At a time when some others were cowing in the presence of abuse, punishment, and torture, Harriet defied the odds and escaped slavery. But she didn’t stop there, she risked her freedom, and grave punishment if recaptured by her masters, by returning to the hostile environment in order to attempt to free others who were willing to try. 

On August 28, 1963, American civil rights activist and Baptist minister, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous speech, “I Have a Dream”, in which he called for the civil and economic rights of Black Americans and an end to racism in the United States. Not long after that iconic speech – one of the greatest ever in the history of America and even the world – Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. But 45 years later, Barrack Obama (whose father was not only black but had migrated from Kenya) was elected president in the same America where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed for demanding that blacks be treated like the human being they are. In that 2008 election, Obama defeated two white opponents – Hilary Clinton in the Democratic party’s primaries, and John McCain in the main election.

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That was probably greater than even Martin Luther King Jr. or Harriet Tubman could have imagined. But when it happened in 2008, they were remembered and celebrated, again. And that is the beauty of standing for something, especially in a hostile environment. Let’s bring it home. Our own dear Pius Adesanmi, in one of his last contributions to the Nigerian project, gave his reason for continuously pointing out the ills of the Nigerian society. He said, “I write basically these days for the purposes of archaeology. A thousand years from now, archaeologists would be interested in how some people called Nigerians lived in the 20th century. If they dig and excavate, I am hoping that fragments of my writing survive to point them to the fact that not all of them accepted to live as slaves of the most irresponsible rulers of their era.”

The individual who tried to entice Hundeyin, unsuccessfully, and told him that there have been others before him who fizzled out, was naive or deliberately mischievous to suggest that everyone has a price, despite the examples of Fela, Gani Fawehinmi, Sowore, and others we’ve seen in this country. Yes, there have been pretenders and even those who compromised due to limited resolve. People compromise for various reasons; financial, personal safety, and threat to their loved ones, amongst others.

But one thing is crucial in whether anyone would compromise or not – their original motivation for taking that often lonely path, whether genuine love for the country or just a way to position for attention and potential patronage by the system. Identifying your primary motivation would then determine your answer to the question, what is your price for compromise?

Seun Lonimi (lonimisamuel@gmail.com)Writes on Politics Today

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