It is not impossible for one to be a powerful and influential voice for say, truth and justice, without undermining successes achieved in an event or process under focus. In other words, in critiquing or registering one's reservations about what is wrong within a process or event anywhere, one can still achieve the overall objective of standing up for the what is good and proper without taking away from the larger shine of an imperfect outcome of the aforementioned action or process. And in doing so, one's message is often better received by his audience [including lukewarm or hostile audiences] if there is the willpower to make one's feelings known with certain grace and candor - a grace and candor that may [or may not] include making one's feelings known in a manner that honors others on the receiving end of one's complaints, protests or lobbying.
Some of the world's greatest reformers are committed pacifists, from the legendary Mahatma Gandhi, late of India, to the late icon of the American civil rights movement, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Their successes in advocating their causes didn't simply derive from their rejection of violence in the pursuit of their causes, but such successes are primarily the result of the abiding manner of communicating their grievances and their hopes. The methods of communication by these men went a long way in convincing diverse individuals and whole societies to back their causes. For example, it wasn't just blacks who bought into the dreams and ideals espoused by MLK, but people of diverse racial, religious, economic and cultural backgrounds from across the world supported and still support his cause, even long after these men have left the scene.
These leaders tapped into the conscience of their audience, not just by railing forcefully against institutional injustice, but also by honoring and exhorting such audience wherever such honor or exhortation is due in their social, cultural or historical realities. In America, Reverend King reminded fellow citizens and the world of the dreams and awesome possibilities of a truly united America as guaranteed by the country's founding documents [and, as amended over time], where his black sons and daughters will play and dine with sons and daughters of other racial origins. And no, he did not do this by begging for his rights or speaking in a manner that took anything away from the sacredness of the cause for which he fought, or from the gravity of the inhumanity meted against the men and women of his race, but whatever he did knocked on the conscience of a society that could not ignore the truth in his words, enough for many to join hands with him and others in upending institutional racism in America.
Nelson Mandela's story is another good example in this regard. He suffered immensely for daring to stand up to something that everyone with a conscience should stand against. Yet, he not only befriended his jailers while in jail but also learned their culture, language and all, ultimately earning their trust and respect on the way to toppling the institution of apartheid for which these same jailers worked. At the end of the day, a near-absolute majority of his fellow black South Africans, amongst others, were later joined by a sizable proportion of white South Africans to celebrate the triumph of a new era in South Africa.
More recent examples of such gracefulness [in the line of carefully seeking to achieve a delicate objective] can be found in the 2008 campaign for president by the current US President Barack Obama. At virtually every campaign stop where Mr. Obama spoke about how and why he would be a better president than his war veteran opponent, Senator John McCain, he began by paying his respects to McCain as a decorated American war veteran and politician who has given his life in service for the country, and he would enjoin his audience to join him in honoring McCain for the same reasons. He would then follow-up, as always, by laying down what many people saw as a solid case for an Obama presidency [as opposed to a McCain presidency], usually in a level-headed and dignified tone, free of unnecessary exaggerations or dramatic display of emotion.
In all the examples cited, there is an obvious acknowledgment of [and respect for] others and their views, regardless of the legitimacy of such views or lack of thereof. The point is this: one needs to study [and perhaps understand, if possible] the thinking on the other side, taking whatever is learned into consideration while dealing with whatever points that one seeks to highlight for the audience's attention. Along with the benefit of a better reception from any audience that has been honored and whose views or beliefs have treated with some modicum of respect, there is also the chance that an audience can see where a sincere attempt has been made to acknowledge its views, and such prepares the audience to be more receptive to a different view.
The 2011 presidential election in Nigeria may be over and generally adjudged to be free and fair by a majority of local and foreign monitors and observers [and Nigerians at home and in the diaspora], but side-issues with obvious implications still linger. Leading opposition candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change [CPC] Muhammadu Buhari believes strongly that a considerable amount of improprieties -- enough to deny him better success than recorded -- went on during the exercise. And like any candidate who is fully entitled to stating his case, Mr. Buhari is doing just that.
Before, during and after the election, Buhari made allegations of plans to rig the elections and of acts of actual election ringing. More sophisticated methods of election-rigging were perfected and executed, Buhari's backers say, to circumvent the new hurdles that Attahiru Jega's Independent National Electoral Commission had put in place to prevent electoral malpractices. In the meantime, Mr. Buhari and his party continue to make their case as forcefully as they should, even going as far as to verbally interrupt the initial announcement of results on live television by Mr. Jega at INEC's collation headquarters in Abuja.
While one does not in any way seek to deny retired General Muhammadu Buhari of his right to protest any untoward conduct that may have caused him any loss in the number of votes due him in the presidential elections of April 16, 2011, there is a case to be made against something that looks like a stubborn or selfish argument, on the part of Buhari, that comes at the expense of the relative integrity of the exercise, at a time when Nigerians can hardly afford any more stigma over the conduct of elections in Nigeria.
Virtually everybody and his mother in Nigeria and beyond heaved a sigh of relief on the outcome of this year's elections. The months and weeks leading up to the elections saw the citizens of Nigeria at home and abroad vacillating between bracing for the worst and hoping for the best, only to be a little surprised that Nigerians were able to pull this one off with relative success, especially when compared to Nigeria's previous woeful performance in organizing elections.
But the cautious excitement of Nigerians began to ebb with complaints of electoral chicanery getting louder, led by no other than the former military head of state Buhari. By the next day after the elections, untempered complaints from respected leaders like Mr. Buhari [who by the way hardly spared a moment to congratulate Nigerians on their most successful elections in over a decade of democracy] had helped encourage riff-raffs especially in Northern cities to go on a violent orgy of arson and murder, 'dulling' whatever initial excitement that was felt at the relative successes of the election.
Mr. Buhari later emerged to disown the violent protesters and urge for calm on local and international media, but not before the burning and killing had spread across some cities of his Northern base. A man respected especially in the North and other parts of Nigeria, earlier and better-chosen words from Mr. Buhari [as opposed to the particularly dour ones he used in complaining about the elections] would have done a lot to keep things under check - mainly in the North where most of these violent incidents were recorded.
A gentleman patriot [who many Nigerians like to believe General Muhammdu Buhari is] would make studying the situation and mood of Nigerians after the elections a priority before coming out to rail against the outcome of the elections like he did. He would congratulate Nigerians -- INEC staff, security agencies and ordinary Nigerians, etc -- on the conduct of these elections and thank his supporters for his loyalties. He would acknowledge what virtually everyone else has acknowledged and is acknowledging: the relative integrity of the elections, and urge Nigerians and the government of Nigeria to build on what was achieved.
He would do all these and more without denying himself of his right to complain about the reported cases of electoral malfeasance anywhere they occurred.
A different path from earlier-described alternatives will cause the retired General to be seen as a sore-loser, even if he isn't one - that is, assuming he isn't already seen as a sore-loser. A perusal of comments on Nigerian newspaper websites and online forums is a fairly accurate gauge of people's feelings in this regard. Buhari may have already blown the little he had in the trust and confidence of those Nigerians who had begun to warm up to the idea of Buhari as a disciplined but humble Nigerian statesman burning with the desire to put an end to the burden of the stigma of corruption that Nigeria has carried for so long now.
The truth is that those images of arson from Northern Nigeria did more damage to the world's perception of the elections than the alleged cases of rigging did. And the burning and the killings that happened in Northern Nigeria had more to do with those unguarded blanket allegations of rigging by powerful and influential men like Buhari, than they had to do with actual cases of rigging as alleged - never mind that Buhari eventually rose to condemn the riots after most of the damage has been done.
Nobody was vain enough to imagine that this year's elections would be without its own share of flaws, especially given the fact that Attahiru Jega and INEC and the rest of us Nigerians had just a little over 9 months to prepare for elections in a country as challenged as Nigeria has been in the department of organizing successful elections. But Nigeria got some sort of respite that needed to be acknowledged by everyone who wants the best for Nigeria, even as she registers her genuine grievances about the outcome. This include aggrieved parties like Mr. Buhari and his party, the CPC.
Would they at least acknowledge what was good about the presidential elections - if they can find any?
Anyhow, as the damage has been done, the country must move on while remaining thankful that the situation is under control. Mr. Buhari is probably not as perturbed about how he is perceived across Nigeria at this time, but he might want to consider calling off any lengthy challenge of the result of the presidential elections in the overall interest of Nigeria.
Or, oh wait a minute; like hell he would! I say so, mindful of what Buhari himself had stated to the press: he won't personally file any complaints with the election tribunals, but the Congress for Progressive Change will. And we all know that Buhari has very little influence in the affairs of a party he almost single-handedly put together anyways - or does he now?
This opinion was originally published Thursday, April 21 2011.