Permit me to present this short write-up on my observation of the dearth of civility in most discourses on this forum. The internet is an emerging powerful medium that can be enhanced for the good of mankind and this forum, the Nigerian Village Square (NVS) can be a powerful instrument of socio-political changes in Nigeria. The allures of NVS are undeniable, hence the unending stream of Nigerians to it. However, a social virus that could sound its demise is gradually creeping in and needs to be reigned in as soon as possible. There is no doubt that for public conversation to achieve desired goals, civility remains an essential ingredient. It is only with civility that rationality can be achieved in public discourses.

The issue of civility in public discourses remains a contentious issue and ever so relevant on this sort of forum. Contributions have been made by different experts. It has been generally agreed, in the words of one expert, that "public discourse has lost a quality of restraint and charitableness that can be called civility, a term that underscores the importance of this quality in maintaining a sane and satisfying civic life". Guy and Heidi Burgess at the University of Colorado, USA, did a lot of work on this rather sensitive subject. It was obvious to them that the inability of mankind to deal with broad range of problems could be largely attributed to the destructive ways in which most issues are addressed. This statement is particularly relevant to some, if not most, responses to articles on this website.

Civility is not viewed as instant acquiescence to opinions and postulations. The need for the society to raise tough questions and queries when their vital interests are threatened cannot be over-emphasised. An important issue deserves the benefit of a thorough debate that could sometimes throw up emotions and primordial instincts. No issue should be too unpleasant to address. The relevant question however is the approach to such debates or discussions. Guy and Heidi in their extensive work postulated ten different approaches to maximising the benefits of public discourses. Perhaps we on this forum may learn a thing or two from their proposals. The relevance of this write-up may not be immediately obvious, but then with the internet all things are possible. The essence of engaging in public discourse presumably is not to create enemies. However, there have been documented cases of acrimonious discourses leading to harm and disasters. There is thus the need for us to sincerely address this issue.

Guy and Heidi suggestions can be surmised as follows:

Separating People from the Problem:  For every problem, there are different thoughtful and caring people with different views on how best to address this problem. Constructive debate needs to focus on solutions which are most likely to be successful, and not upon personal attacks levelled by adversaries against one another.

Obtain Available Technical Facts: Many public policy disputes involve factual disagreements which are amenable to resolution through some type of fact-finding process. Constructive civil debate, therefore, requires that the parties work together to resolve factual disagreements wherever possible.

Limit Interpersonal Misunderstandings: Civility requires that contending parties make an honest and continuing effort to understand the views and reasoning of their opponents.

Use Fair Processes: The most destructive confrontation process, escalation, arises when accidental or intentional provocations beget greater counter-provocations in an intensifying cycle that transforms a substantive debate characterized by honest problem solving into one in which mutual hatred becomes the primary motive. De-escalation and escalation avoidance strategies are needed to limit this problem.

Keep Trying to Persuade and Allow Yourself to be Persuaded: One crucial element of civility is recognition by conflicting parties that it is possible that they are wrong and that the policies advocated by their opponents are actually better. This entails an obligation to seriously consider the persuasive arguments made by opponents and to carefully try to explain and justify one's own position to one's opponents and others.

I have obviously taken liberty with relevant portions of the suggestions by the Burgess family. Other suggestions made by them include the need to Honour legitimate uses of legal, political and other types of power, Separate Win/Win from Win/Lose Issues and Limiting backlash effect. There is a lot the moderators on this forum can do to restore sanity to what sometimes appear like a battle field. As it is, NVS is a faceless, loosely censored forum which has its inherent dangers. It is open to abuses by unscrupulous elements and can easily be penetrated by those who feel threatened by its existence. Such penetration will be with the aim of causing discord. Do not forget that contributions on this website have been aimed at powers that be in Nigeria. We are fighting "powers and principalities" and what better way to stop the momentum than to plant stooges aimed at causing disruptions and disharmony.

I cannot deny that the stimulus for this write-up stemmed from unwarranted abuses I got as a reaction to my article titled: The Mad Mullahs of Nigeria, from an incensed participant on this website. I am still mystified by the reasons for his fury. He did not vent them out but launched straight into expletives. He referred to me as adigbolugi and rained curses on rejoinders aimed at correcting him. Adigbolugi in Yoruba language refers to a rabid dog that will bite anything in its path. While I have no problem with the term itself, since it has no reference to me, the relevant question is why that vehemence? To date, this rather pathetic person is yet to counter points raised in the main article. I must acknowledge that similar trends have been observed in reactions to other articles. It went so low at a point that someone went as far as concluding that the author of a particular article suffers from a "genetic" problem as he knew the authors village and the genetic make-up of people from this village!

There is no substitute for civility in achieving rationality in public discourses. We can disagree to agree or agree to disagree. This should not be ground for name-callings, insults or demonstration of uncouth and uncivilised behaviour. Rationality still remains the best standard for public discussion.

Dr Olusegun Fakoya


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Re: Need For Civility In Public Discourse – The NVS Experience.
Frisky Larr posted on 06-18-2008, 20:19:49 PM
Separating People from the Problem: For every problem, there are different thoughtful and caring people with different views on how best to address this problem. Constructive debate needs to focus on solutions which are most likely to be successful, and not upon personal attacks levelled by adversaries against one another

A good treatise and very well written piece sir. But many of it will fall on deaf ears. But I am hopeful that the NVS will metamorphose into more intellectual decency in the future. If anything, personal attacks, of which I have received a very fair share on this site serve practically no purpose but strengthen the resolve of persons at the center of such attacks. Many reasonable people will listen to your plea. Many foolish ones will sonner than later appear even on this thread, to exhibit their infantile exuberance. Good work sir!
Re: Need For Civility In Public Discourse – The NVS Experience.
Akar ninzo posted on 06-18-2008, 20:30:26 PM

This is a wonderful piece. I hope it will serve as a refernce point to all the villagers on the need to revert back to more serious and intellectual discourse than fanning the embers of hatred, mudslinging and name calling.

You have done well!
Re: Need For Civility In Public Discourse – The NVS Experience.
Anambra Movement posted on 06-18-2008, 20:43:18 PM
Nice write up. It will also be good if personal adverts are banned from the villagesquare. It should not be used for political vandetta or as means of spreading hatred or falsehood against politicians.

I suggest a new forum where nigerians can put forward their plans/solution to our nations problems e.g power supply, efcc, election reform, constitution review. It should be like a mini conference and the final agreement presented to the responsible board.
Re: Need For Civility In Public Discourse – The NVS Experience.
Showcase posted on 06-18-2008, 20:53:56 PM
Job very well done.

In summary and plain language, we need to have respect for the other person's view point. They think they are right just as you. If you take a moment to see it from their perspective, it might make all the difference. If you finally still do not agree with their position, respectfully decline.

However, like Frisky Larr said, let us hope they will listen. They love to stretch "freedom of speech" to its limits; hiding behind it to cause disaffection and enmity. At least you said your piece. God bless.
Re: Need For Civility In Public Discourse – The NVS Experience.
Ozoodoo posted on 06-18-2008, 21:09:03 PM
Dr Fakoya,

Do you by any means think you are being civil by calling some people "mullah", a deroragatory name by all means, as in your referenced article? Prophet, why not first heal thyself.
Re: Need For Civility In Public Discourse – The NVS Experience.
Udokaamah posted on 06-18-2008, 21:28:21 PM
It is impossible to fault the substance of this article. However, it is self-serving. The author concedes that the "stimulus for this write-up stemmed from unwarranted abuses i got from my article titled: The Mad Mullahs of Nigeria..."

I read that article and i am suprised at the visible change of tone, choice of words and "civility" of reference in these two articles. The 'Mad Mullahs of Nigeria' seemed like a rant. The 'Need for Civility in Public Discourse- The NVS Experience' sounds like a scholarly treatise. What changed? Apparently the author was understandably disturbed by the unwarranted backlash from a JJC in the 'Mad Mullahs of Nigeria' named Ade.

I am of the opinion that Ade, JJC's comments to 'The Mad Mullahs of Nigeria' was overbroad and lacks merit. I am equally of the opinion that the author in that earlier article had not taken heed to his own prescription. He failed to:

  • a. Seperate people from the problem

  • b. Obtain available technical facts

  • c. Limit interpersonal misunderstanding

  • d. Use fair processes

  • e. Keep trying to persuade and allow yourself to be persuaded[/B]

    The author in the 'Mad Mullahs of Nigeria' did not apply any of the above steps. He personified the problems of Nigeria in the last 3 military rulers of Nigeria. He neglected to show facts that support his claim. He exercebated interpersoanal misunderstanding by holding the House of Uthman Dan Fodio as the culprits of Nigeria's woes, which is essentially as unfair process.

    When i read most articles on this site, i approach it with the critical mind of a defence attorney. I want to hear the other side. No good debate neglects to present the views of the other side, however flawed. A lot of persons that are celebrated on this site gained notoriety through bashing everything Nigeria. And some of the "villians" of NVS are the individuals who insist on playing the devils advocate for the sake of fairness sometimes, and at other times for reasons of conviction.

    I am firmly convinced that Nigeria, as presently constituted, is a very intricate institution. Civility as it relates to Nigeria would mean respecting our cultural, religious and ethnic sensitivities. Like Bill Clinton famously said, there is nothing wrong with Nigeria that cannot be addressed by the things that are right with Nigeria.
  • Re: Need For Civility In Public Discourse – The NVS Experience.
    Tunde meee posted on 06-18-2008, 23:12:26 PM
    allaccess take note!!!!!!!!!!
    Re: Need For Civility In Public Discourse – The NVS Experience.
    Agidimolaja posted on 06-19-2008, 05:38:02 AM
    Best wishes to you,Dr. Olu Fakoya.Pls do not stop to write.

    As for civility,you may not get much of it as you requested due to several reasons I won't bother you with here now.

    Continue to do what you are doing and do not stop doing the good job.

    Trust me,whenever you are unjustly attacked,strong defences shall be put up against your attackers;not just by this respondent but also by your other well meaning readers.

    Bear it in mind that Nigeria is a complex society.Many of us came from different sections of the country and have different backgrounds hence we at times do not see things from same standpoint.

    Nevertheless,Nigerians are wonderful people regardless of how uncivilized we carry ourselves sometimes especially in the way we talk or respond to articles.
    Re: Need For Civility In Public Discourse – The NVS Experience.
    Eja posted on 06-19-2008, 06:38:17 AM
    I give thanks to the Almighty that a person who once used an offensive brush to paint so broadly is now an advocate for cyber-tolerance.

    It may be good for you to confirm that you no longer view Iranian clerics and Taliban, none of whom you have described a first hand experience of, as ones who can be described as "barbarians", templates for "mad mullahs" or inmates of the "Neolithic" age.

    Have you heard their side of the story? Or are you just going by what those who have been making war against them say about them?

    Treat others, regardless of their distance, as you wish to be treated yourself. Then, you may rightly demand from others what you know to be your just dues.
    Re: Need For Civility In Public Discourse – The NVS Experience.
    Philipikita posted on 06-19-2008, 07:36:34 AM
    I have not read it, but I fathom this is a good write up.

    I have said it before, the day any form of censorship begins here, then it will no LONGER BE A VILLAGESQUARE. Then, it MUST BE CALLED SOMETHING ELSE! I will leave when it becomes something else.

    This is the village square, OUR village square. Thank you for the lecture on civility.
    You don talk ya own, thank you, comot lif stage for others.

    This is the freedom allowed in village square.

    talk ya own and carrygo!
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