The Fierce Urgency of Now

It was the legendary Ernesto Che Guevara, the famous South American revolutionary and serial inspiration of popular mass revolt against bad governance, appropriately called the Saint of Bolivia, who once quipped while the success of the populist venture was being solely attributed to him, that: “I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves”. Sociologically, it is an inherent character of a human being to resort to self help, when his or her primal interest is threatened with an extant injustice, especially at the moment when the object of threat met with the reactive impulse of the situation of revulsion. Indeed, putting it more graphically and into an explanatory level, a circumstance that occurred a few weeks back suffices, when news filtered-in from Kazaure emirate in Jigawa state, where Professor Attahiru Jega was attacked while leaving the town, after attending a marriage ceremony at the emir’s palace, when a group of youths sought to stone the convoy of the much vilified chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission.


While a lot of people questioned the rationale of resorting to self help by the hapless community, others especially in the popular media and the greater community tried to rationalize the act of stone throwing, by individuals that desired to enforce accountable governance, for rightly or wrongly, the general perception of an average Nigerian is that the election conducted by the Jega’s commission was an exercise in graceful fraudulence and to stone a public official was a valid method of registering a sign of disapproval against such individual. After all, the number one citizen of the country, chief executor of Nigerian laws and President of the republic, at the beginning of the year and immediately before the Bayelsan polls, exhorted and even threatened to join the people of the state in stoning the governorship candidate as he then was, when Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan admonished: “Dickson you brought the people from Abuja to present flag, the only thing I want to do is to tell you that sometimes ago I was here in Bayelsa and the people stoned the governor. I was here and you must work hard for Bayelsa not to stone you, the day they stone you, I will join to stone you.”

It could be taken metaphorically, though for others all statements are purely literal, indeed I was once one of the literalist, for I could not understood how a presidency founded on the prism of rule of law, can advocate an alternative vision of self help to conceptualize and actualize accountable leadership. Until when the Senior Special Assistant to the President on media affairs Dr. Reuben Abati, differed with an opinion about the advocating of the usage of stone as mere metaphorical allegory, not as a physical act of violent attack but a mere threatening warning for public officers to sit-up and guard against pushing the people to revolt against the system. Yet far from the extra legal means as a solution, the Nigerian political system has had many procedures of ensuring good governance, where the electorates are able to hold elected leaders to account, from the periodic re-elections that forces an incumbent to seek a fresh mandate, recall of public officials as an option to recompense betrayal of elected office and impeachment of individuals legislatively convicted of grave breach of official trust.

Perhaps it is because of such situations, when adherence to structured procedure of submission to the instruments of public authority, cannot be fathomed by the dictates of the rule of law, if an un-remediable injustice is not likely to occur. Critically depicted with a circumstantial inference of a husband arriving into his house and finding the spouse subject of an attempted violent rape, within some jurisdictions like the United States of America, the flight of rage of the affronted husband validly serves as a mitigating defence. While in our distinct climes instances of coerced self helps, when an individual is forced to take action against a likely commission of grave crime suffices, a situation where a husband comes home to find a wife under attack, does he strenuously defend her using all means available or should he diligently seek refuge in law abidance, with a flight to the nearest police station to lodge a complaint of illegal harassment. A similar scenario is the situation of a committed lover of democracy, founding self in the midst of habitual ballot box snatchers and serial election riggers, does such individuals defend their votes or await the arrival of properly constituted law enforcement agents, especially in a Nigeria which has never had a history of ever prosecuting serial election offenders.

It is this dilemma which solemnized the marriage between law and sociology, the relationship between a codified body of rules with a society upon which such legal dictates are applied, for no matter the calmness and soberness of an individual, certain grave situations create an impulsive reaction of a flight of rage, causing the law to accommodate such acts under the Doctrine of Irresistible Impulse. However, for such doctrinal instrument to be applicable, the concept of fierce urgency of now becomes highly relevant, as certain crimes require the immediacy of reaction to serve as a mitigating factor upon judicial review. Indeed in the short history of Nigeria’s electoral democracy, although there have been many rulings against individuals who profited from fraudulent elections, the highest sanction delivered against them is mere nullification of the questionable polls, while the time spent in office is declared as legally non-existent, even though the perks, privileges and actions of the vanquished politicians never assume such legal nullity.