Fraternities are Viruses in Nigeria: 9 – Silencing
The existence, approaches, and attitudes of the UCGF in every day matters as well as unusual ones are bifurcated in many senses. Probably the worst form of bifurcation most visible is the conduct of the leadership of UCGFs in 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 desirable to make audacious press releases. 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 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 finds its way into the minds of members. A motto UCGFs should sell to the public is “Silence is golden.” It is their preferred condition of membership. Even when it means “No Freedom of Speech” within; this is another bifurcation. The smallest criticisms by a complainer can easily suffer the fate of a major infraction by the UCGF leadership. Sycophancy is very much welcome and encouraged within the fraternity by the leaders.
As pointed out in FAVIN Part 8 (http://wp.me/p1bOKH-Fq), many leaders in UCGFs are routinely engaged in stealing fraternal funds for themselves and the thefts are getting more visible and more significant as more funds flow into their coffers. However, woe to those who discuss leadership thefts within the fraternity on their private forums or in the form of petitions. The UCGF leader will publish a warning, threat or ultimatum to a president, minister, governor or inspector-general of police. This is for cases of corruption in Nigerian national dailies. And with the tone of some world power or a dangerous 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.
Injustices and selective punishment are regular occurrences within UCGFs, but their discussion among members is forbidden. “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” is another motto of UCGFs. It should be in their publicised images on their websites because it most aptly describes how they execute their decision-making. And their imitations of justice. The complainer, critic and protester have no welcome space in UCGFs. So why does their leadership do the same to the government and other bodies in public?
There are different kinds of complainers but some have become more readily identifiable. The ‘regular complainer’ tends to complain regularly about many of the various shortcomings and malpractices within the UCGF. He is a person the leadership is keen to make miserable. The complainer endures regular punishments if not completely banished. He often holds the position of a truth-teller within the UCGF. To counter him is the ‘regular defender’ of leadership. A specialist 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 unacceptable occurs or is proposed within the UCGF and it affects him. But he 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 indefensible “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 holding office within the UCGF. He may suddenly see the wisdom in the protests of the regular complainer or take sides with the occasional complainer. The ‘strategic defender’ is often the lapdog that do the dirty work of the leadership. They attack any complainer when the implication of the complaint has potential unpalatable strategic consequences for the administration.
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 he finally accepts that his long silence is one of the significant 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 comes across 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 the leadership.
Nevertheless, there is quite an arena within UCGFs which lend much favour to those who loathe the promotion of free speech. They either throw wanton displays of power or punishment shamelessly siding with opponents of undeniable truth and reason. Some non-complainers neither fear to speak up nor worry about sanctions by the UCGF leadership. Non-complainers know too well the goal of many UCGFs leaders is to make money and acquire power. They also know it is a very futile adventure to challenge anything. No matter how wrong that would prevent the fulfilment of these desires. The leadership does not necessarily like non-complainers because they are keen observers who miss nothing.
The tactics of information suppression gagging speech are numerous. First, is the refusal to acknowledge complaints or petitions even though there are constant “encouragements” stipulated that such should be sent through the “proper channels of communication” i.e. in secret. Second, there is the issue of unjust or vindictive sanctions of silencing, suspension or expulsion on the members that complain. Third, the leader may silence a complaint or petition by outlawing any further discussion on the matter and once prohibited; it is criminal to continue the topic.
Fourth, blackmail and intimidation are common tactics in use to silence members. Fifth, attacks on sibling/friends of members who are also members are frequent and often used as punishment against a complainer. Sixth, financial incentives and appointments to the cadre of officers also facilitate the silencing of 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 and even justice are not the stuff of UCGFs no matter the image they try to sell the public.