Child Marriage, Senate and Public Anger: Reading the Mind of Nelson Mandela on Matured Social Intervention

The recent allegation that the Nigerian Senate passed a bill, legalising child marriage and the attendant public outburst has prompted this piece. Please note that this is a matter of national importance, therefore, I have not sat on the fence. I have shared my opinion in my piece, titled, ‘Constitution Amendment, Child’s Rights, The Senate and the Rest of us,’ shared on my blog ( ) and Published on page 81 of the Punch Newspaper on Monday, July 22, 2013

This is the second major social outburst I have witnessed in recent times, particularly since the liberalization of the machinery of expression of personal opinions with the advent of the many social media platforms, known as a critical part of the New Media. The first was the public outburst that greeted the removal of fuel subsidy in 2012. One thing that is common to both events is the way the leaders of the interventions and the public gave expression to their views. I saw that the leaders of the interventions, their followers and sympathizers were not careful not to allow words of insult, hate, name-calling, labeling, curses to badly colour what could be a meaningful social intervention. Simply put, everything was employed in communicating our anger but decorum. It was as if caution and respect for dignity of human persons were thrown out of our philosophy of communication and found a permanent resting place in the arms of comfort of whirlwind. We have acted as if the use of foul, abusive and indecorous words is the globally accepted and accredited language of meaningful social intervention, though, it is not.

As a meticulous student of social struggles and an active participants in same, in the last 25 years, both within and outside the university system, bearing the scars of my involvement on my body and psyche, including detention in three detention camps in the hands of Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) and the dreaded State Security Service (SSS) and narrowly escaping a death sentence, I have come to the irresistible conclusion that we must maintain the discipline in social struggle to always separate the acts of the oppressors from the person of the oppressor or how the oppressor arrived at becoming an oppressor. This does not excuse the oppressor. It only helps us to factor him or her in in our agenda for social change. Nelson Mandela wrote in Long Walk to Freedom, ‘it was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for freedom for my own people became hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black.  I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as the oppressed. A man, who takes away another man’s freedom, is a prisoner of hatred. He is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.’

It is simply, being at home with our humanity as human beings, understanding that every human being is sharpened by their environment. It is called, socialization. The truth of the matter is that our senators are products of this society like all of us. As postulated by Olakunle Soriyan, there is a little Nigeria inside each and every one of us. The issue is that this little Nigeria is not seen until it finds opportunity for expression. We have seen the little Nigeria come out at different times in the social critics of yesteryears and yesterday, who later pitched their tents with the same class of people, they once demonized. I do not make a case for compromise in social struggle. And when I talk about not making a case for compromise, I talk about compromise of the goals the social struggle set out to achieve. I do not talk about compromise in tactics and strategy, which is inevitable in any meaningful struggle. When we understand the foregoing, we recognize the humanity of the man, who is being castigated today and we do it with caution, knowing that casting the first stone does not mean you are without sin.

We must never condone the acts of oppression for a second. I agree with Franz Fanon that ‘every onlooker is either a coward or a traitor.’ I agree with the more recent submission of Adebayo Williams that ‘a properly educated mind, will not accept an act of tyranny, because to accept the act of tyranny is an act of intellectual self-dispossession.’ I believe, we must by all reasonable and dignified means hold our elected leaders accountable.  But in giving expression to the prompting of our social conscience, in holding them accountable, we must do our entire best not to temper with their dignity of human person. We must be angry and yet not sin by issuing forth profanity to fellow human beings, who are husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, sons, daughters, representatives of their communities. Mandela again submits, I never lost hope that this great transformation would occur. Not only because of the great heroes I have already cited, but because of the courage of the ordinary men and women of my country. I always knew that the deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.

When, I set out to do this piece, I took a decision that in lustrating my points, I will refrain from using any of the unprintable adjectives that have been used to qualify the members of the senate. I believe I can make my point to you as people, who have followed recent events without repeating, the language I want us to forget.  The unfortunate thing is that even public figures and those who are looked up to as leaders have not shown the best of examples in their use of language.

Sadly, the kind of language, we have employed in our response to the recent issue of child marriage, I must say does not add value to the struggle. Our hostile language has not helped us to communicate our grievances better. Our language gives us away as short-distance runners, who are just angry for a while and expend all their energy in a short while and crash out very sooner than they think. Our language portrays us as a people whose only strength is our verbal exertions, which has no impact in building an enduring movement for change. Anger against persons have never changed anything but anger against systems have brought great seemingly insurmountable changes to our world. Nelson Mandela wrote in Long Walk to Freedom, ‘I was asked as well as about the fears of the whites. I knew people expected me to harbour anger towards whites. But I had none. In prison, my anger toward white decreased but my anger for the system grew. I wanted South Africa to see that I loved my enemies while I hate the system that turned us against one another.

It is also important to note that anger against the system is not expressed in too many words; it is as a matter of necessity, expressed in meticulous and careful planning. In most cases it is kept only within the knowledge of the initiated. What the public knows is also part of the plan. I think bane of our social intervention in Nigeria is that it lacks a system of intervention, which has goal or set of goal, interdependence of forces and balance of roles. When a social intervention has no coordinating authorities, it becomes a mob action. Mob action does not have the character to bring about any meaningful change. The best it could do is to become a spring board for the intervention of organized onlookers.

Though, the facts of the senate deliberations have been widely misrepresented and many, who have joined the fray did not bother to find the truth of the facts, I believe we have responded this way because we are human and maybe because of the sensitivity of the matters. It is also clear in my mind that we are just getting used to the culture of social media, where censorship must be personal and responsible and this require a lot of discipline and knowledge. Many of us do not also understand that the use of abusive and fowl words may constitute an infringement on the rights of the other person. This means that two wrongs will never be equal to a right. I also know that many of us are in different level of development and we may not know better. We are maturing in our approach. Nelson Mandela, who Richard Stengel in his book ‘Mandela’s Way Lesson of Life’ wrote ‘we long for heroes but have too few…Nelson Mandela is perhaps the last pure hero on the planet,’ was a hothead as a young man. He embraced violence as the solution to end the oppression of his people in South Africa. As he matured, he gained better understanding and learnt his lessons. I think we have a lot to learn from him today and we do not need to make same mistakes he made, hence I have quoted copiously from his autobiography, ‘Long Walk to Freedom.’

Permit me to conclude with Mandela’s understanding of true test of a freedom fighter’s devotion to freedom: when I walked out of the prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both. Some say that has now been achieved. But I know that is not the case. The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.

I think I should sign out here. Thank you for visiting today. Sure you learnt one or two things on how to Think the CHILD…Think TODAY and Think the FUTURE. Have an INSPIRED day.

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