BY ALEX OTTI
“The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” Steven Biko (1946-1977)
Steven Biko was a revolutionary whose anti-apartheid struggles helped to abolish the despicable regime. As a student, he was so brilliant that on some occasions, he was promoted over and above his peers. He actually jumped some classes as his teachers realised that he was a young man endowed with very high intelligence quotient. In 1966, at the age of 20, he enrolled at the University Of Natal as a medical student. He was then the leader of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) which had both black and white students as members. He wasn’t very comfortable with the paternalistic approach of white liberal members of NUSAS, not because he couldn’t stand whites. As a matter of fact, he had many white friends. His problem was that the presence of white liberals in the union dampened the fight against white domination. He and other like-minds, therefore started an all black students association, called the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO) in 1968. The movement campaigned for an end to apartheid and the enthronement of democracy. Biko fought for racial equality between the black and whites and popularised the slogan “Black is Beautiful”. The year 1972, saw the formation of the Black People’s Convention (BPC), to promote black consciousness amongst South Africans. This union became so effective that the minority rulers of South Africa took notice and started a counter offensive. On many occasions, Steve Biko was harassed, intimidated and arrested on trumped up charges of subversion and attempted mutiny . In 1977, he defied the restraining order placed on him by the authorities and travelled to Cape Town from his detention camp in King Williams town.
He was promptly arrested as he made his way back on August 18, 1977 by the South Africa security forces who had earlier laid ambush for him. He was shackled hands and legs and mercilessly beaten by the police. He sustained head injuries, but was denied access to immediate medical attention. After a massive outcry and pressure on the apartheid regime, the police decided to take him to a prison hospital. On September 11, 1977, he was thrown into the open back of a Land Rover truck, naked and shackled and driven about 1,190 km (740miles) to a hospital in Pretoria. A day later, on September 12, 1977, he died as a result of the injuries sustained in the hands of South African security forces. Contrary to the expectation of his white oppressors, he became even more famous in death. Many people who even though were concerned about the apartheid regime, knew very little about Steven Biko until his death; an event that led to serious uproar around the world, with many calling for an end to the South African apartheid regime. His funeral was like a carnival, attracting over twenty thousand people from across the world. Amongst many of his popular quotes is that the oppressor needs to manipulate the mind of the oppressed to succeed. How does the Oppressor do this? Another philosopher, John Henrik Clark (1915-1998) provides an answer. According to him, “to hold a people in oppression you have to convince them first that they are supposed to be oppressed.”
Dr. James Kayode Fayemi is a good man. He is the governor of Ekiti State as well as the current Chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum. In the tradition of full disclosure of this column, let me state that Dr. Fayemi is my very good friend and we relate like brothers. It is a relationship that has been on for close to 25 years. In fact, he used to be one of us in the struggle for the emancipation of the masses until he committed “class suicide” and left the struggle for a few of us to continue, or better still, he decided to fight from within. He ran an election in 2010 against an incumbent Ayo Fayose and defeated him. In 2014, after his first term, Fayose showed up again and using the “stomach infrastructure” strategy and what is now known as “federal might” Fayose prevailed against him and completed his second term last year. Fayose’s attempt to install a successor hit a brick wall as Fayemi renewed his bid for his second term and defeated the PDP candidate in a very controversial election. The name calling, the bad blood, the street fights, in addition to Fayose’s drama, made that election stand out in the whole country.
Some Nigerians were, however, stunned when photographs were released last week showing Fayemi attending the wedding of Fayose’s son. To some, that was a great show of magnanimity by Gov. Fayemi. In normal climes, that is how it should be. But the reality is that the clime here is anything but normal. While we commend Fayemi for his large-heartedness, we hasten to add that in spite of the political differences, both of them belong to the same class and any disagreements between them can always be resolved amicably. More on that later.
A few weeks ago, I granted an interview in the Punch Newspapers where I had insisted that there is no fundamental difference between members of the ruling class in Nigeria. I had insisted that there were two classes of people in Nigeria, namely, the rich and the poor. I went further to argue that the promotion of artificial differences was to serve the interest of the ruling class. These differences are promoted in the name of religion, tribe, culture and sometimes, gender. Just like someone once remarked, every day, people from different geography, religion, ethnic group and culture, sit down and decide what is in their interest and also decide how to further those interests by deploying the potent weapon to realise them which is the mind of the oppressed.
Unfortunately, many people, particularly the oppressed fail to understand that the only difference between the oppressor and the oppressed is economic. This was aptly captured in Karl Marx’s great works in ‘Das Kapital’. Beyond the economic factor, every other thing that is sometimes described as fault lines are man-made creations to further the interest of the oppressors. The oppressor would stoke them to achieve his purpose. When it is in the interest of the oppressor to appeal to ethnic sentiments to win votes, he would gladly do so. If it is religion that he feels will work, the oppressor would remember that some people share the same faith with him while others do not. He would stoke religious differences and remind faithfuls that this was their turn while encouraging them to despise the infidels and unbelievers. If it is gender that would work, the oppressor would not hesitate to appeal to that sentiment.
This is used more often by men, but in some instances by women. The interesting thing here is that when men appeal to this sentiment, more women tend to fall for it, even when there are women in the race. It is then you will begin to hear women castigate their fellow women calling them all sorts of names including arrogant, disrespectful, selfish, sloths etc. Many would recall that some women have made efforts to present themselves for elections in areas dominated by female voters but come out with very woeful results, compared with their male counterparts. Why is it that the Sarah Jibrils of this world hardly won elections, even in their wards?
The Oppressors also understand how to manipulate the oppressed using the instrumentality of money. Many times, it is actually the money of the oppressed, commandeered either by force or legitimised by laws made by the oppressors that is used by the latter to hold the oppressed under firm control. Some of the legitimised stealing would include the current practice of huge pension and severance packages for the executive and legislators who finish their tenor of 4 or 8 years. It is only in Nigeria that someone serves for 4 or 8 years and gets to benefit from ridiculously high severance packages and pensions while those who retire after 35 years of service get paltry sums of money as pensions and the sad story is that most of them receive these packages several months and years in arrears. In some cases, the beneficiaries of these packages get recycled either into the legislator from the executive or vice versa and they begin to earn jumbo salaries again while still enjoying pensions as demonstrated recently in the country. How is this ill-gotten wealth deployed to hold down the oppressed? During election seasons, they are deployed to thugs, bribe security agencies, buy the electoral body and most recently, buy votes. In the last election this year, some votes were bought with as low as N1,000 a piece. The oppressed are excited to cast their votes for the candidates that pay them such a paltry sum. Little do they think that this means that the electorate has sold his right for N250 a year and about N20 per month. In buying votes, the oppressors don’t want to know if you are male or female, if you are Muslim or Christian, whether you are Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa or whether you are from the North or from the South. When the price of poor leadership is going to be paid, it will know no creed, religion or gender.
It is mostly the poor that would pay the highest price. It is only when the action is perpetrated by the oppressed that oppressors eventually end up paying some price. That is the case with the present menace of insecurity that has assumed alarming dimension in the country. When bandits strike, when kidnappers are on the prowl, when armed robbers are let loose, when militants get unleashed on the society; their usual targets are not the oppressed. Their targets are the oppressors. Unfortunately, Oppressors all over the world know this, but those in our country either do not know it or pretend not to know. That is why they operate as if it does not matter that close to 50% of our people live below the poverty line. That is why they do not bother that our educational system is collapsing. That is why they are unconcerned that the healthcare delivery system is in shambles. That is why with the alarming level of unemployment they sleep easy. Elsewhere, out of self-interest, the oppressors ensure that the oppressed enjoy a certain level of comfort to prevent them from turning against their oppressors. The question that the oppressed need to answer is this; how come while the oppressors are united in pursing their interests and even wine and dine together when the need arises, the oppressed are on each other’s neck, pursing primordial and disparate interests? I wish some people can wisen up.
Nevertheless, the message that needs to go out to all and sundry is that history is replete with instances where the oppressed have turned on their oppressors with devastating consequences. One very clear example is the French Revolution, which took place 200 years ago. When the aristocrats of France were busy enjoying themselves and not caring a hoot about the plight of the commoners, a revolution was enacted that abolished monarchy and aristocracy in France till date. The Bolshevik revolution in Russia came from failed and exploitative leadership, which led to the emergence of Communism. The world is still reeling from the consequences of these developments. A word is enough for the wise!
TO DORIS AKPOVWA AS A FELLOW OF NAPE
On Thursday, November 21, 2019, Mrs. Doris Akpovwa, née Lawson, was one of the six distinguished petroleum experts admitted to the fellowship of the Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE). In this male-dominated body, Doris was the only lady so honoured this year. She is a geophysicist of over 30 years standing. She started her career with Ashland Oil, now Addax in 1989 and left 5 years after to join Statoil where she spent 20 years getting to Senior management levels before quitting to start her own business. Doris and I met at the University when she joined my class some 35 years ago at the age of 15. She was easily the youngest in our set and some of us thought she was missing her way. Shortly after, she showed great resilience and intellect, graduating four years after with a degree in geology.
A few years later, we were to become classmates again at the MBA class in the University of Lagos where she also excelled and passed in flying colours. She was not done as she subsequently took time off work to travel to the prestigious Imperial College London and a year later she returned with an MSC in Geosciences. In 2008, Doris secured a British Chevening Fellowship and that saw her proceeding to the University of Reading where she studied Energy Economics. As if all those were not enough, she enrolled and qualified as a Chartered Tax Practitioner. This amazing and brilliant amazon is married to the award-winning publisher Dan Akpovwa and the marriage is blessed with three wonderful children. One must admire her self-effacing and unobtrusive carriage. In spite of her achievements, she has remained a mother, a wife, and most importantly, a human being. She loves working and mentoring children. She also publishes a children’s magazine called “Teeky” and gets involved in a lot of charity work. This column celebrates the amazing Doris Tamunotonye Akpovwa on her achievements and wishes her all the best in her busy and fulfilling life.