Chapter 17: On Political Intolerance

To understand what political intolerance generally means, we have to ask ourselves what the opposite of it stands for. So we have to try the definition through the process similar to via negativa. What do we actually mean when we say that we have political toleration of other people around us especially people who extremely don’t believe in our political ideologies? These are people who see solutions and problems in different perspectives other than how we see them, and then have divergent methods of approaches to them. They might be as right as we claim to be, but how can we tolerate them and make them come in terms with the perspectives we are operating?

It means a lot and it pays a lot to have toleration for people with different ideologies from us, but for the sake of clarification I will choose to accept that “Political tolerance is the willingness to extend basic rights and civil liberties to persons and groups whose viewpoints differ from one’s own.”[1]

This is what being civilized and tolerant all is about. Then this is a point we are still hoping to reach in many parts of Africa, especially in Nigeria. Anyone who is willing to acknowledge that other people out there have their own basic rights and civil liberties, and also have freedom to express them without any kind of restriction, has this rare virtue called political toleration. He knows that though he has his own views of the same matter, but his views shouldn’t always overrule those of others. He knows that he wouldn’t always be correct and not immune against errors.

Being able to tolerate the stand and viewpoint of another person who opposes one’s basic ideologies is mostly difficult for so many people. By default, uncivilized man sees anyone who opposes his view as an enemy or a rival and anything that could eliminate such perceived enemy is acceptable. This was exactly how Thomas Hobbes saw it in his political theory of the state of nature. In Hobbes’ view therefore:

“The state of nature is a concept in moral and political philosophy used in religion, social contract theories and international law to denote the hypothetical conditions of what the lives of people might have been like before societies came into existence.”[2]

Hobbesian state of nature describes the past in evolution of politics before we reached the state of organized society we are today. But then, don’t get it twisted when I say that many are still hungering to go back to that bad old days in Hobbes’ theory where life is brutish and short. Politically motivated violence abounds today across the world. In Nigeria, they count such brutality against opposition as part of what makes politics a “dirty game” and what makes the other person stronger. Thus, the weakness of one’s opposition due to brutality of his adversary is praised as being strong. Everyone is made to believe that total elimination of political enemies or those who do not stand with a particular politician’s ideology is part of the ‘dirty game”. And this is how we unfortunately see politics mostly in this part of the world. One of the dirty part of politics now being that any opposition must be eliminated by and through any available means. This is the height that intolerance has attained in politics in Nigeria, and all these are not seemingly about to stop soon.

Political toleration is an unavoidable tenet of liberal democracy. This means that political toleration is what makes democracy interesting, and therefore should be always be upheld. Views of oppositions are brought to the table for thorough and open debates, and people are given opportunity to choose which way they prefer to go. The voice of opposition is heard louder and clearer to enable the masses to discern their next actions and type of leadership they want to opt for, thereby putting the people’s destinies in their own hands.

But in certain political settings like the one we currently have in Nigeria, no one wants to hear the voice of oppositions. In fact, it is not glamourous to be in opposition camp. Opposition camps are viewed by the ruling camp as the enemies of the State and thus they would try to use all the instruments of the state to intimidate and shut down such voices of opposition. This is one reason many politicians in Nigeria are in the group we could humorously be regarded as AGIP (an acronym meaning – Any Government in Power). These group of politicians don’t want to be in opposition camps. They are like fluid politicians and flows with whomever has the power.

Decamping from one party to another, especially to that party which holds executive power in government becomes glamourous and worthy of being celebrated by all and sundry.  This has left democracy in Nigeria so vulnerable, and turn those who would have been in opposition into sycophants to any government in power. In any decent democracy, opposition is the best tool to checkmate the government in power. In fact, government in power sees their real selves through the mirrors presented by the oppositions. Thus, they have to find ways to sit up to avoid losing the grip of the power in the next elections.

But unfortunately that’s not what usually happen here in Nigeria. Oppositions to a particular sitting government is being perceived as the first class enemy of the ruling party.  Even clearly noted constructive criticisms are being perceived and treated as opposition’s way of overthrowing the sitting government and would be viewed at almost the same perspective as treason. They pull a lot of strings to show them that they have the power to suppress their views. They also try to close all doors of possible debates lest the people see that the opposition party has stronger points and better views on how their society should be governed. Now let’s look at United States:

“The individual rights and freedoms that U.S. citizens value, encourage a wide array of ideas and beliefs, some of which may offend segments of the population. The expression of those beliefs is protected by another core democratic principle that of majority rule with respect for the rights of individuals or groups in the minority. Without safeguards for the free expression of divergent opinions, we risk a tyranny of the majority. In a free and open society, public deliberation exposes “bad” ideas instead of suppressing them.”[3]

Let’s put emphasis on the fact that though it is known that a particular view of few or individuals might offend some segments of the population in U.S, but being a liberal state where each individual’s worldview is valued, they are being managed to make sure that those that hold such perceived ‘harmful’ beliefs do not hurt other people and that the majority doesn’t use their might to suppress the rights of expressions by the minority.

Thus, it is a type of elite society where each individual is taught that though his opinion might be tolerated, but he has no right to impose such views on others who do not hold such opinion. In fact, for such opinion to be implemented or being adopted as law, it must pass through tough rigorous unbiased scrutiny by independent and open-minded members of the society. This is the type of society that believes that one’s right stops where his neighbour’s right starts.

 

Political intolerance in Nigeria

Nigeria is a country with multi-ethnic groups of people. With more than 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria, to think of having the same political ideology is almost impossible, especially in a society where ethnicity, state of origin and circumstances surrounding one’s birth are still major factors in determining one’s ultimate height in schemes of things in the country. Everything in Nigeria today is politicized along ethnic, state of origin, tribal, religious and regional lines and this menace has continued to hamper development in the country and create unnecessary tensions among the people that supposed to be in one united country. With this kind of mindset, I can say without any fear of contradiction that no one really believe in Nigeria State when he thinks that he is not getting more than he expected from the country. I didn’t mean getting what he really deserves, I meant getting more than what he deserves. There are these firm unrelenting attachments to people’s regions or religions rather than common good of the country as a whole. To lure his people to support his egocentric cause, some politicians in Nigeria have always resorted in playing deadly ethnic, religious or regional cards. This is just a way of buying their people’s supports even when they are not in any way representing these people’s collective ideology or needs.

Proper education might have helped to calm down the political frictions, but the fact remains that the majority of people in Nigeria are not educated enough or too narrow minded to judge things as they really are. Blinded by dangerous bigotries nursed from their homes, the ones that seem to be more exposed or more educated than the rest in their domains are able to twist the mindset of those who rely on them for their own decisions. In Nigeria, hardly could political ideology be alienated from circumstances around one’s birth or origin to the extent that the more states and local governments are created to give some people some sense of belonging in government, the more the need to create more states and local governments.

Thus, we have to realize that creating more states and local governments as solution to rancor and political bitterness in Nigeria would never work out. The more these artificial boundaries are created, the more the country get deeply immersed in political crisis arising from leaving power in the hands of every small group of people in the name of giving them some sense of belonging.

Because you are bound to talk always with people who have completely different worldviews, and in the case of Nigeria, who most often do not trust you completely, then you have a lot of hurdles to jump. In a situation like this therefore, it is very easy for politicians to use this weak part occasioned by the diversity to mislead some group who they can easily sell out their own individual political ideologies to.

In places like Nigeria where hunger and greed still instigate our appetites and bend our loyalties towards the direction of the highest bidders or the people with the fattest wallets, we all have that inherent tendencies to sell out our consciences, our votes, our loyalties, our integrities at peanut prices while holding ovation for the person who could afford the bidding price.

The political class in Nigeria has also found wanting on the issues surrounding how they handle the masses that gave them their mandates. After they rise to power using divisions and pleas to intolerances, they use the people however they wish because such people had sold their rights and consciences while subscribing to the politicians’ intolerance views of political space.

 

Joseph Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953.[4] I am not going to dwell on his biography. I just want to bring back to mind what this dictator represented in his own time to his people and what we have today in Nigeria.

 

Stalin is a firm believer that people’s minds could be conditioned to accept dictatorship by disposing them of their means of livelihood and keep them in a situation they would be begging for almost everything.

 

One of his famous practical teachings was his experiment with a live chicken.

This is the story:

One day, Joseph Stalin came to one Politburo meeting with a live chicken. He started to pluck off its feathers one by one.

The chicken quacked in pain, blood oozing from its pores. It gave out heart-breaking cries but Stalin continued without remorse plucking feather after feather until the chicken was completely naked.

After that, he threw the chicken on the ground and from his pockets, took out some chicken feed and started to throw it at the poor creature.

The chicken started eating and as Joseph Stalin was walking away. But then the chicken started following him to his seat, and sat at his feet feeding from his hand.

Stalin then told members of his party leadership:

“This chicken represents the people. You must disempower them, brutalise them, beat them up and leave them. If you do this and then give them peanuts when they are in that helpless and desperate situation, they will blindly follow you for the rest of their lives. They will think you are a hero forever. They will forget that, it is you who brought them to that situation in the first place.”

This was the person and philosophy of Joseph Stalin, and I think sincerely that we are dealing today in Nigeria with politicians who are good disciples of Joseph Stalin. We clap for these politicians for providing us with some basic amenities we had taken for granted before they come to power. Then, all of a sudden, if nothing is working, no one would care to pay attention because we had sold our rights to them when we chose the path of intolerance, segregation and rejection of better hands while bringing them to power.

 

[1] Avery, Patricia G – “Developing Political Tolerance”, http://www.ericdigests.org/2002-2/tolerance.htm, 17/07/2016

[2] Wikipedia: “State of Nature”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_of_nature, 23/04/2016

[3] Avery, Patricia G – “Developing Political Tolerance”, http://www.ericdigests.org/2002-2/tolerance.htm, 17/07/2016

[4] Wikipedia, Joseph Stalin, “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin” 11/03/2016

About Author /

Ugonna Johnbosco Ezeomedo (ojombo) is a philosopher, poet, educationist, web developer and social & political analyst. He lives in Awka – Nigeria. He loves working with computer and other creative works.

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