HUMAN RIGHTS AND MINORITY OPINION

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Dictatorship of the majority is dictatorship nonetheless and it negates the very concept of human rights. The right to hold minority opinion is inclusive in the gamut of rights embedded in the concept of HUMAN RIGHTS. Of all the rights so embedded, the right to minority opinion or dissent from the popular view, has contributed more to the advancement of the concept and practice of human rights as we know and mouth it today, than any other. On the other hand, history has shown that reason is often lost when the majority is whipped up in a frenzy of public opinion. In such cases, the majority has always shown proclivity to be driven by emotions and the herd instinct. The type satirised in ACT III SCENE III of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in a conversation that went thus:
“MOB: Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses.
CINNA THE POET: I am not Cinna the conspirator.
BOB: It is no matter, his name’s Cinna; pluck but his
name out of his heart, and turn him going”

Throughout history, this right to minority view or dissent – the very bedrock of all freedoms – is always endangered or even trampled upon, whenever the majority is seized by the frenzy of a popular idea. Those who hold minority views are demonised ostracised or even killed in instances. It might not even help that the minority view or opinion is a mere disagreement about approach or methodology and not against the concept of the idea in currency. Avowed human rights activists, lost in the frenzy of the moment, forget their human rights principles and join in vilifying and demonising those who hold opposing minority opinion.

Under such circumstances, human rights is defined/reduced to the “rightness of the opinion of the majority” thereby confusing it with the popular two-part democratic precept which says “the majority MAY have their way” while forgetting the equally important part that says the “minority MUST have their say” in a free atmosphere of contestation of ideas.

The two instances I will give in this piece to exemplify this practice of minority view suppression in contemporary Nigerian society, even amongst avowed human rights activists, might sound reactionary to the “revolutionary minded” but they are the truth.

Now, let me confess that the idea of this piece was birthed as I reminisced on discussions in the public space about a proposed post-humous pardon to Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8. It is my view that some parrellel exists between what happened in Ogoni 26 years ago that led to illegal killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others and what is currently playing out in the South-East of the country. It is said that those who fail to learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its dire consequences. The parallel between the Ogoni/MOSSOP and the IPOB/South-East events, exist around the majority attitude towards the few who hold views opposed to prevalent opinion. This is not however to say that I condole the killing of the Ogoni 9. Let me say without equivocation, that I believe that their trial was a sham and designed to achieve a particular outcome. Their killing in my opinion therefore, was illegal. My intention herein is to point out that human rights activistism tend to be selective and closes it’s eyes to human rights violations in certain circumstances and how such behaviour hurts the freedom and right to dissent or holding of opposing view to that of the majority.

Before the Ogoni 9, there was the Ogoni 4 who were killed by mob action. Their crime: holding a view that was different and maybe even not necessarily opposed to the prevalent view of the time. Human rights activists and popular history have since consigned the Ogoni 4 to a footnote in history, yet they died expressing their fundamental human rights to dissent. Those unfortunate incidents of 26 years ago keeps the Ogonis permanently divided till this day. Meanwhile, the Ken Saro-Wiwa trial is mostly discussed these days without any reference to the Ogoni 4. A time will come when those who were not around at the time of those events will never know that the Ogoni 4 existed and died. Yet they were human beings like the rest of us. All you hear about the Ogoni 9 today is Abacha. But Abacha took opportunity of a situation and harped upon it to remove a perceived irritant to his government.

A similar scene, although of larger dimension is currently playing out in the South-East. IPOB Biafra is the popular view. IPOB speaks or orders and anyone with a contrary or a less virulent view is demonised or killed.

So Mr. human rights activist, please help me to answer this question: within the general concept of fundamental human rights, is it right to deny the other man the right to his opinion?

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