Wendell Willkie, a Republican and one of America’s most colourful politicians said in the 1940s that freedom cannot be separated from America. Americans, he said will always take freedom to people, whether black or white, whether they like it or not. According to Willkie, America’s freedom would be in serious jeopardy if for any reason, other people are not free.
The wisdom in Willkie’s immortal statement is that when anybody looks the other way when the rights and privileges of others are blatantly abused, that person inadvertently brings tyranny even to himself. So for us to be free in the real sense of that word, we must support the freedom of others, no matter who they are.
Shortly after the general elections, a friend told me one day in Port Harcourt that Nigerians abandoned the people of Rivers State in their darkest hour. Apparently, what my friend meant was that little or nothing was done by the rest of Nigeria to intervene in the affairs of our state, especially before and during the last general elections.
Apparently, my good friend did not understand why there would be so much impunity, persecution, repression, lawlessness, violence and death in one state and yet, other parts of the country carried on as if it didn’t matter. But I took time to explain to my friend that the impunity in Rivers State under the Goodluck Jonathan government was driven ruthlessly by institutions and officials of state. So it would have been almost impossible for an average Nigerian in Gboko or Owo to intervene in such a circumstance, given the power of government.
This piece, I must say, was inspired by my recent visit to Lagos. My host, a member of my party, the APC had taken me to a part of Ikeja that evening to meet some of his friends. After the introduction, he went on to describe me as a survivor, having participated in the riotous 2015 election in Rivers State. It was at this point that one of the men said openly that the APC members in Rivers and Akwa-Ibom States were the real heroes of today’s change agenda.
Though for other reasons, my host did not quite agree but for the rest of the evening, I reflected on that casual statement. Indeed, we members of the APC in Rivers and Akwa-Ibom States are the heroes of the struggle to free Nigeria from impunity, incompetence and corruption of the Jonathan administration.
Later that evening, I told my friends that being a member of APC in Rivers State, even with a sitting governor came with enormous challenges, risks and pains. In fact, it was an abomination to belong to APC. I told them that even with Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi as governor; we wore APC vests and clothes with caution, and only to restricted places. We also drove any car with APC stickers to controlled places as anything to the contrary could mean returning to a shattered and vandalised car. Our political events were also routinely interrupted by members of the PDP.
It was that bad. Fear was in the whole state and everyone, including Amaechi felt the burning heat. Everybody was afraid because people were regularly attacked and killed, even in their homes without consequences. Unfortunately, the perpetrators flaunted and boasted about their connection to power and to those who matter.
It is most amazing how times change. Like most African societies, our people love life but suddenly, life became cheap and brutish. Businesses took flight while night life was crippled. APC members were hounded and killed almost every other day across the state and nobody was held responsible.
The world saw our ordeal in Okrika, home town of the former First Lady, that was after suffering three postponements on account of poor security reports. Nigerians also saw how gun men attacked us and scattered our rally in Okrika. Everybody saw what the governor went through on Election Day in the hands of security men. Before then, Amaechi had suffered all manner of indignities from the same security agents because he chose to join APC. Were all these politics and contestation or something else? Then the bitterness of my friend who thought that Nigerians abandoned us returned to my consciousness. But were we truly abandoned?
I rounded off by telling my listeners that at that time, it was convenient to belong to APC in Kaduna, Yobe, Lagos or in any of the South East States but definitely not in Rivers or Akwa-Ibom States. Even associating with an APC member was fatal.
Today, we are all enjoying the fruits of a very long struggle that defeated impunity. Even the PDP that was so bigoted and offensively intolerant in Rivers State can now condemn court rulings and abuse judges. But we must never allow the nightmare of Rivers State to happen again in any part of Nigeria. Let us always remember that when the rights of others are violently breached, we face the danger of losing our freedom also. Never again!
Wonodi, a public analyst and member of the APC lives in Port Harcourt.