Debo Adeniran, a consultant educationalist was the pioneer secretary-general, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights. He was the first general secretary, Gani Fawehinmi Solidarity Association and Inaugural Assistant general secretary, Campaign for Democracy (CD). In a chance meeting two weeks back with the Editor, FOLORUNSHO HAMSAT, the executive chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), shares his affairs as an activist, human rights crusader, including his unknown soft side. Excerpt…
What do you honestly think of activists contesting for political offices and not making it; what is really wrong with the system?
It is not totally incorrect that activists don’t get elected when they contest in elections; contrarily in recent times, activists have won gubernatorial elections; National Assembly slots, and at the level of Local Government. However, it is clear that the state and ruling class that have subsisted for so long under bourgeois democracy always do try to ensure that activists are alienated from the process of governance using any means possible; including, but not limited to violence, monetary influence, intimidation etc. So the dominating ruling class and their underbellies consciously and constantly put ‘obstacles’ on the path of activists contesting in elections and this is because the state and ruling class know that if the activists get into power, the music will change and business will not be ‘as usual’. It should not, in anyway, be surprising as to why genuine activists seeking elective offices don’t always make it. Given the corrupt and often monetized atmosphere under which our political activities operate in this part of the world, activists’ incursion into the murky waters may just be like a fish out of water – in a strange environment, so to say. Furthermore, birds of the same feather flock together, they say. It shouldn’t, in anyway, be surprising as to why genuine activists seeking elective offices don’t always make it. He just doesn’t belong. The system has been so tailored to suit the whims and caprices of the bourgeois godfathers who have overtime held sway and have also succeeded in brain-washing and inducing the average electorate into doing their bidding. These ones often see the activist as a potential ‘spoiler’ to their selfish, exploitative tendencies and so would do anything to block his chances. They already know that the activist is most unlikely to tolerate their anti-people stance and not ready to compromise on most issues of governance. And because they would always want to ensure that the status quo is maintained and sustained to their selfish advantage, everything would be done to stop the already identified ‘enemy’.
How would you describe the relationship between the civil society groups and the government of the day?
In terms of relationship between the government and civil society, it can be described as flourishing. This position is, however, not general, as government at some levels remain hostile to the civil society. The relationship could rightly be described as the one between two partners in the same business but with clearly different callings, methods and approaches.
Whilst the government possesses the mantle of authority and resources to govern and to provide for those elements of growth and development for the benefit of the people in their domain, the civil society, on its own part, serves as a watchdog, snooping at every step of the government, watching closely with keen interest, diligently and critically scrutinizing every policy, action and pronouncement of the government with a view to either give support where necessary, provide checks where the former appears to be digressing from the set goal of providing good governance, commend or condemn as the case may be. Simply put, they serve as the voice of the masses. It must, however, be noted that as to whether these two partners would relate as friends or foes at any particular time or stage, is naturally determined by how pro-people government’s policies and actions had proved to be.
People are saying since the death of Chief Gani Fawehinmi, real activism has literally gone to sleep. Do you share this view?
I don’t share the view that activism died along with Gani Fawehinmi; the legendary chief relied on the present crops of activists to carry out his socio-political agenda while his activism lasted. That is why we still see activists criticizing and engaging the evils of the society till date. So I would not subscribe to that view. Yes, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, in his days, was exemplarily vibrant, bold and courageous; a brilliant and articulate mind, no doubt. However, I dare say that his exit, rather than leave behind an unfilled vacuum, had only broadened the scope of activism in the country. The indices are there to evidently prove that, the masses overtime have become more mature and informed politically; the last general elections evidently attested to this fact and this development, in turn, has equally paved the way for the emergence of various civil society organizations and as you might have noticed, each tending to specialize or focus, if you like, in one particular aspect or the other. For example, today, we have some, focusing mainly on electioneering issues, others on government budgeting and implementation, good governance and constitutionality and of course, anti-corruption which is one of our own thematic area; I can go on and on. So, while the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi and his likes would always enjoy a place of relevance and reverence in the history of activism in this country, I can assure you that those of us still alive will continue to keep the flame aglow.
What does the civil society in Nigeria most need by way of support or other interventions from the international community?
What the civil society in Nigeria most need by way of support or other interventions from the international community is solidarity which can be by