Fraternities are Viruses in Nigeria: Part 9

The existence, approaches and attitudes of the UCGF in everyday matters as well and unusual ones is bifurcated in many senses. Probably the worst form of bifurcation most visible in the conduct of the leadership of UCGFs are their attitudes towards freedom of speech especially criticisms or critiques. In keeping with their “advertised” ideals, tenets and intentions, the leadership of UCGFs find it very easy and expedient to make audacious press releases that brazenly critique or question the failures, incompetence and crimes of the government of the day but are equally extremely punitive and vindictive towards their own members who are brave or naïve enough to point out theirs. What is the place of ‘freedom of speech’ in the traditions and culture of UCGFs?

A climate of fear usually grips most members oppressively when it comes to freedom of speech proffered within the UCGF. Fear gripping proud elites? Sanctions and disapproval are the main instruments by which the fear is sold to members. A motto UCGFs should sell to the public is “silence is golden” even when it means “No Freedom of Speech” within; another bifurcation. The smallest of criticisms by a complainer can easily be seen as a major infraction by the UCGF leadership. Sycophancy no matter how insincere is very much welcome.

As pointed out in FAVIN Part 8 ( many leaders in UCGFs are routinely engaged in stealing fraternal funds for themselves and the thefts are getting obvious bigger as more funds flow into the fraternal coffers. However, woe to the man who dares talk about these thefts by leaders within the fraternity on their private forums or in the form of missives. The UCGF leader will publish a warning, threat or ultimatum to a president, minister, governor or inspector-general of police over cases of corruption in a Nigerian national daily with the tone of a world power or a serious organisation that can truly deliver on their word. That same UCGF leader will consider a complaint, warning or ultimatum from a fellow member a “mutiny” against him, especially when it is factual.

Miscarriages of justice and selective punishment are regular occurrences within UCGFs but these must not be talked about. “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” is another motto all UCGFs should include in their publicised images because it most aptly describes the manner in which they execute their decision-making and their imitations of justice. The complainer, critic and protester has no welcome space in UCGFs, so why does their leadership do exactly the same in public?

There different kinds of complainers but some have become more readily identifiable. The ‘regular complainer’ tends to complain regularly about many different shortcomings and malpractices within the UCGF and is regularly punished if not completely banished. He often hold the position of a truth-teller within the UCGF. To counter him is the ‘regular defender’ of leadership who specialises in defending the indefensible with a repertoire of insults, smears, half-truths, outright lies and fallacious arguments. The ‘occasional complainer’ usually only protests when something he finds totally unacceptable occurs or is proposed within the UCGF but will be silent about most other things he sees as wrong. He necessitates the existence of the ‘occasional defender’ of the leadership who usually defends a leader when it finds itself in defensible “grey area” situations. Occasional complainers tend to be very careful with their counter-protests.

The ‘strategic complainer’ only complains when it will bring him some advantage such as a reputation of fearlessness or in preparation for hold office within the UCGF. He may suddenly see wisdom in the protests of the regular complainer or take sides with the occasional complainer. The ‘strategic defender’ is often sent as lapdog to do the dirty work of the leadership; attack any complainer when the implication of the complaint has potential unpalatable strategic consequences for the leadership. The ‘terminal complainer’ is one who has silently seen much decadence go unchallenged in the UCGF and represents the protest, “enough is enough”. The terminal complainer is one who has believed for decades that the UCGF will improve and meet its ideals in every member but finally accepts that his long silence is one of the major reasons the governance of the UCGF has declined rather than improved. The complaint of the terminal complainer is both rationally and emotionally superior and highly persuasive. While the terminal complainer is a plus for the UCGF’s idealism, he is regarded as dangerous to the leadership. The few terminal complainers that emerge often signify a potential collapse of the UCGF. There is no ‘terminal defender’ of leadership.

There is quite an arena within UCGFs which lend much favour to those who abhor the promotion of free speech either throw wanton displays of power or power shamelessly siding with opponents of obvious truth and reason.

There are also non-complainers who neither fear to speak up nor worry about being sanctioned by the UCGF leadership. Non-complainers know too well the goal of many UCGFs leaders is to make money and acquire power and it is very futile adventure to challenge anything, no matter how wrong that would prevent the fulfilment of these desires. Non-complainers are not necessarily liked by the leadership because they are keen observers who miss nothing.

The tactics of information suppression gagging speech are numerous. Firstly, is the refusal to acknowledge complaints or petitions even though it is stipulated that such should be sent through the “proper channels of communication” i.e. in secret. Secondly, the issue of unjust or vindictive sanctions of silencing, suspension or expulsion on the members that complain. Thirdly, the leader may silence a complaint or petition by outlawing any further discussion on the matter and once outlawed it is criminal to continue on the matter. Fourthly, blackmail and intimidation are used to silence members. Fifthly, attacks on sibling / friends of members who are also members are often used as punishment against a complainer. Sixthly, financial incentives and appointments to office are also used to silence members in the face of evident leadership wrongdoing. Though never spoken about killing a complaining member is never ruled out and the favourite method is poisoning.

Freedom of speech is simply not the stuff of UCGFs no matter the image they try to sell in public.


Grimot Nane

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