Humanitarian Service and Civil Society Activism as Facilitators of Democracy and Good Governance, By Ukertor Gabriel Moti

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Introduction

It is a privilege to be invited to present this birthday lecture in honour of Rev. Fr. Solomon Mfa Ukeyima. I have heard about Fr. Mfa but we only met briefly for the first time this year 2021 when I was a book reviewer at a book launch in Makurdi in April. Fr. Mfa was also invited to the occasion. I am attracted to Fr. Mfa’s humanitarian activities especially among the widows because I have an aged mother who is a widow and had a son who was a priest. I therefore understand something about widows and priests. Besides, the topic for this discussion has to do with good governance which is within my academic preference and I am excited to share my thoughts with you all.

Democracy and Good Governance

We usually make the assumption that democracy and good governance will lead to development. And we are not wrong. This has manifested in several societies. But one thing is clear, we cannot conjure democracy and good governance as Fr. Mfa takes six raw eggs from an old woman and conjures it into a modern house and makes it the envy of the ghetto.  There is also an assumption that electoral democracy and good governance will reduce conflicts and promote accountability and stability, which will lead to economic growth and prosperity.

I am sure that by now the enduring culture of neo- patrimonialism in Nigerian and Benue politics must have disappointed a lot of you here today. Neo-patrimonialism is the vertical distribution of resources that gives rise to patron-client networks based around a powerful individual especially one in position of authority or party. Neo-patrimonialism affects policy making, especially development projects, and is responsible for the misuse of humanitarian aid and state budgets. It is a modern form of state capture: a type of systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence a state’s decision-making processes to their own advantage.

Democracy has thus been tamed by our elites and domesticated in various states as a means of generating resources. The continuity of neo-patrimonialism means politics today exhibit three intriguing characteristics: political systems are increasingly informal: people are guided by the logic of their place in the community, rather than as individuals, which promotes informality. Also, vertical patrimonial ties tend to be stronger than horizontal, associational ones.

They seem to be retraditionalising and confounding conventional expectations of modernisation. Our elites operate in a world that combines modernity and tradition, and those who benefit from patronage see what is actually illegal as legitimate and are willing to support and defend the worst exhibition of bad governance. There is an absence of development. Notions of political legitimacy favour the redistribution of resources from patrons to their clients. Elites are interested in engaging in activities which promote disorder but generate income in the short term, such as corruption, smuggling and civil strife; the type of violence we are witnessing in our country and state today.

Rev. Fr. Solomon Mfa Ukeyima

Bad governance is being increasingly regarded as one of the root causes of all evil within our societies. We only mouth good governance which is characterised by participation, consensus, accountability, transparency, responsiveness, effectiveness and efficiency, equitability and inclusiveness which flow from the rule of law and assures that corruption is minimised, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. Democracy and good governance do not come on the platter of gold. We must all fight and play our roles to entrench them and ensure they become functional and sustainable for our wellbeing.

Democracy is a system of government in which power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or through elected representatives. It is more than elections. It is constantly holding officials to account. We are too carried away by elections such that we sometimes think it is an end in itself. The attitude and frenzy is: conduct an election, vote in people and our problem is over! Wrong! What happens between one election cycle and another matters more than an election event.

Democracy and good governance are not events. They are continuously evolving processes championed by the citizens and civil society organisations. It is usually our misunderstanding of democracy and good governance that often makes us fold our arms when democracy and good governance are sacrificed on the altar of pre-bendal politics that makes us wait for another election date hoping to vote out what we perceive to be our problem and vote in those we perceive to be our messiahs.

Social Activism

Social activism is an intentional action with the goal of bringing about social change. If you feel strongly about a cause and are working towards a change, you could be considered an activist. An activist is anyone who is fighting for change in society. Activism also consists of efforts to promote, impede, direct, or intervene in social, political, economic, legal, or environmental reform with the desire to make changes.

Activists need to become aware of the roles they and their organisations are playing in the larger social movement. There are four different roles activists and social movements need to play in order to successfully create social change and engage democracy and good governance: These roles include being the citizen, reformer, rebel, and change agent. Each role has different purposes, styles, skills, and needs and can be played effectively or ineffectively.

  1. The Citizen

The citizen must be effective: He promotes positive national values, principles, symbols, e.g. democracy, freedom, justice, nonviolence; grounded in centre of society; promotes active citizen-based society where citizens act with disinterest to assure the common good; the active citizen is the source of legitimate political power. The naïve citizen believes the ‘official policies’ and does not realise that the powerholders and institutions serve special elite interests at the expense of the majority and the common good. We have too many naïve citizens in Benue State, ungrounded in issues of society acting with disinterest to the common good.

  • The Reformer

The reformer must also be effective and use official mainstream system and institutions, e.g. courts, legislature, town halls, corporations to get the movement’s goals, values, alternatives adopted into official laws, policies and conventional wisdom (like MAFO and the Anti-Open Grazing Law). How can we ever forget how some years back Governor Samuel Ortom signed into law the Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition, and Ranches Establishment Bill presented to the Benue State House of Assembly by the Movement Against Fulani Occupation, (MAFO), supported by the Vanguard Against Tiv Massacre, (VATIM), and the Tiv Diaspora Forum, (TDF).

 How can we easily forget the travails these movements went through in the struggle? How can we easily forget how during a public hearing in Gboko, youths became angry and disrupted the public hearing? How can we ever forget late Pastor Edward Dooga? This is reform movement. The power of civil society activism.

The reformer uses a variety of means: lobbying, lawsuits, referenda, rallies, candidates etc. to assure enforcement, expand success, and protect against backlash and nurtures and supports grassroots.

When a reformer is ineffective the denominator becomes organisational maintenance over movement needs; undermines movement democracy and disempowers grassroots; promotes minor reforms rather than social change and easily offers itself for co-optation by power. Unfortunately many civil society organisations and activists have a purchasing price.

  • The Rebel

The rebel that is effective says NO! to violations of positive, widely held values; engages in nonviolent direct action and attitude; demonstrations, rallies, and marches including civil disobedience; puts issues and policies in public spotlight and on society’s agenda and adopts  strategies and tactics that empower, excite, encourage, and even risky at the centre of public attention, but holds relative, not absolute, truth.

The ineffective rebel is authoritarian, anti-authority, anti-organisation structures and rule; self-identifies as militant radical, a lonely voice on society’s fringe; engages in disruptive tactics and violence to property and people and is isolated from grassroots mass-base. He is angry, dogmatic, aggressive, powerless, holds absolute truth and moral, political superiority, strident, arrogant, egocentric; puts self needs before movement needs. He is an agent provocateur. A lot of our youths unfortunately are turning to be ineffective rebels: killing, kidnapping and engaging in all sorts of criminality.

  • The Change Agent

The change agent that is effective organises people power and the engaged citizenry, creating participatory democracy for the common good; educates and involves majority of citizens and whole society on the issue; involves pre-existing mass-based grassroots organisations, networks, coalitions, and activists on the issue; promotes strategies and tactics for waging long-term social movement; creates and supports grassroots activism and organisations for the long term; puts issues on society’s political agenda; counters new powerholder strategies; promotes alternatives and paradigm shift.

The ineffective change agent is often too utopian: promotes visions of perfectionistic alternatives in isolation from practical political and social action; ignores personal issues and needs of activists and is unconnected to social and political change and paradigm shift.

Both individual activists and movement organisations need to understand that social movements require all four roles and that participants and their organisations can choose which ones to play depending on their own make-up and the needs of the movement. Moreover, they need to distinguish between effective and ineffective ways of playing these roles. Understanding a social movement’s need to have all four roles played effectively can help reduce antagonism and promote cooperation among different groups of activists and organisations.

Humanitarianism

Humanitarianism is an active belief in the value of human life, whereby humans practice benevolent treatment and provide assistance to other humans, in order to improve the conditions of humanity for moral, altruistic and logical reasons. Humanitarianism is today primarily understood as voluntary emergency aid in a transnational context, but it overlaps with human rights advocacy, actions taken by governments, development assistance, and domestic philanthropy.

Other critical issues include the correlation with religious beliefs; the motivation of aid between the poles of altruism and social control; gender and class relations; and the types of humanitarian agencies and endeavours that characterise different epochs. A practitioner is known as a humanitarian. Humanitarianism is at once a broad dedication to and belief in the fundamental value of human life. Though lacking an agreed definition, this central ethics of humanitarianism crosses cultures and history.

As a systemic response to crisis, humanitarianism involves addressing the needs of people affected by conflict, natural disaster, epidemic and famine. In these crises, the focus of humanitarianism is, to varying degrees, placed upon basic or immediate needs of assistance and protection, as distinct from (though increasingly linked to) work more directly aimed at development, peace building, rule of law, etc.

Statistics have it that Benue State had 27 IDP camps accommodating more than half a million displaced citizens. The Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) classifies eight of the camps as official while the remaining 19 are unofficial. Some of the camps have closed down. The IDP crisis in Benue state is multifaceted, involving conflict between ethnic and language groups, tensions between transhumant and nomadic herders and sedentary farmers, as well as attacks by armed herdsmen on local population and banditry from criminal groups, such as kidnapping and grand larceny along major highways.

Benue hosts the largest number of displaced individuals in North Central Nigeria (81, 132 or 26% of IDPs) with Guma Local Government Area accommodating the most IDPs (48,558 IDPs or 17% IDPs). The most urgent needs of IDPs across all sites is food (61%), shelter (7%), medical services (5%), drinking water (19%), and security (13%). In terms of accommodation, the highest group of displaced persons are living in camps or camp-like settings (34%), schools and government buildings (26%) and host family or acquired houses (20%). These are needs that democracy and good governance must respond to in partnership with civil society and humanitarian organisations and activists, as well as development partners. Internal displacement is an impediment to development and IDP camps are not sustainable solutions to the inhuman situation.

There is no way the humanitarian spirit in us will not rise up when we see people living in such harrowing and debilitating conditions. Fr. Mfa has practical experience with humanitarian crisis. He has been displaced three times from his Parish in Guma by Fulani herdsmen. He has lost parishioners who sat in his Masses.  However our initiatives should focus on bridging the gap between humanitarian and development efforts for refugees and finding durable solutions. Development administration has taught us that solutions that are not sustainable are only palliatives. Living in IDP or refugee camps is not sustainable. We cannot continue to keep our people in IDP camps and make them spectacles for visitors. We call on the government, our development partners, humanitarians and philanthropists to synergise resources and materials and resettle our people and once more return to them the dignity and honour God created them with. 

Fr. Mfa and Social Activism

Political and social activism among Christian clergy is often regarded as deviant in that it violates the expectations of significant others. Nevertheless, the role and training of the clergy promotes some support for those clerics that are politically active. Some theological traditions facilitate the use of techniques of neutralisation which make entry into the deviant role of political and social activism a distinct possibility for any Christian clergyman. Indeed, within the last five decades, we have witnessed that increasing members of the Christian clergymen have become involved with efforts to bring about significant social change.

Social action work is a way to meet the goal of social justice. So, some may ask or indeed have asked: why is Fr. Mfa involved in humanitarianism and activism? Why is he concerned about the internally displaced persons (IDPs)? What is he doing with Kegh Sha Shwa (KSS)? What is his business with “Ungoov Mba-dedoo”, and “Matter Dei”? For those who are stressed that Fr. Mfa is an activist and may have left his priestly calling, my exposition on social activism and humanitarianism is a response.

But let us further argue this position: For many, the primary way of building the kingdom is to influence politics in order to make others more Christian. Others take the opposite approach, concluding that Jesus did not try to overhaul the political systems of His day through political means and activism; therefore Christian faith is only a private matter that has no social relevance. Both approaches get it wrong.

Because Jesus did not allow the society or politics of His day to define His ministry, He positioned Himself to make a revolutionary prophetic impact upon His society and the politics of the time. Jesus did not buy into the limited options the culture placed before Him. He rather exposed the ugly injustices in all kingdom-of-the-world options by offering a radically distinct alternative.

For example, Jesus never entered into the fray of particular debates about the status of women in society. He rather exposed the ugliness of patriarchalism by the countercultural way He treated women. Ignoring negative consequences for His reputation, Jesus befriended them and gave them a culturally unprecedented dignity. That is exactly what Fr. Mfa is doing with “Ungoov Mba-dedoo” and “Mater Dei”. Women culturally deprived of dignity because of widowhood.

In a similar way, Jesus did the same for social outcasts. He served lepers, the blind, the demonized, the poor, prostitutes and tax collectors. His actions were a challenge to the inhumanity of social structures of the day that served as a mustard seed alternative that started small but grew slowly. That was humanitarianism.

Jesus also exposed the inhumanity of certain religious rules, which was a political problem in the first century because religious leaders had political power. He exposed the evil of racial prejudice by fellowshipping with Samaritans and Gentiles, and He even praised them in His teachings. In addition, He healed and worked miracles on the Sabbath, something that religious leaders forbade.

Finally, Jesus exposed the barbarism and lack of empathy of the Roman government by allowing Himself to be crucified by them. Instead of using His power to preserve His life, He exercised the power of love by giving it.

The power of the Kingdom is not one where Christians aim to attain “power over” like the kingdoms of the world. Instead, we exercise “power under.” We therefore must resist the demonic pull toward “power over” violence that characterises all versions of the kingdom of the world. “Power under” unmasks the ugly injustice and violence that dominates our political and social systems and does not wage war “against flesh and blood” but instead fights against “rulers, against authorities, against cosmic powers of this present darkness, the darkness that holds Benue underdeveloped, neglected, exploited and abandoned by those we give the privilege to lead us. What our leaders do not tell us is that Jesus was also a radical social activist who died fighting for justice and the common good.

So we must eat ‘Kyegh Sha Shwa’ which literally stands for chicken and beniseed delicacy. Kyegh Sha Shwa’ otherwise known as KSS as it is mostly called recently and popularised by both the conventional and new media is a conception of this Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Solomon Mfa Ukeyima.  ‘Kyegh Sha Shwa’ was born as a means of promoting the culture of sharing which is identified with the Tiv people as well as seeking genuine reconciliation among both those at home and the elites in order to foster development of the Tiv Nation which is fast eluding. This is social activism. It is in keeping with Fr. Mfa’s philosophy: When Church services are over, our services must begin. Life should be a window through which you see the face of others and not just a mirror through which you see only your face. The most powerful evangelism is the one that goes beyond the pulpit and meets the needs of all strata of society.

It is true that KSS can be a real vehicle of unity carrying out reconciliations as a sign that all frictions, divisions and grudges have to be put behind because development cannot thrive in disunity; it has brought some economic benefits to the host communities, their people and the state at large particularly the hospitality business. But it must go beyond that. We must elevate it beyond eating and drinking as perceived by some.  We must seek for innovative and creative ways of transforming it into a vehicle of empowerment, sustainability and prosperity for our youths and women. We must raise the chickens and sell them and make money. We must grow the beniseed and sell it and make money. That is when its power will transform the society and become not only a vehicle for social activism but economic development as a change agent.

Humanitarianism, society activism, democracy and good governance

When we are engaged in the above then our civil society activism and humanitarianism will sustain democracy, add value to and engender good governance. Democracy and good governance also protects human rights. Good governance and human rights are mutually reinforcing. Human rights principles provide a set of values to guide the work of Governments and other political and social actors. They also provide a set of performance standards against which these actors can be held accountable. Moreover, human rights principles inform the content of good governance efforts: they may inform the development of legislative frameworks, policies, programmes, budgetary allocations and other measures. However, without good governance, human rights cannot be respected and protected in a sustainable manner.

When led by human rights values, good governance reforms of democratic institutions create avenues for the public to participate in policymaking either through formal institutions or informal consultations. They also establish mechanisms for the inclusion of multiple social groups in decision-making processes, especially locally. Finally, they may encourage civil society and local communities to formulate and express their positions on issues of importance to them.

Fr. Mfa is not only a Priest, he is a social activist, a humanitarian, a philanthropist, defender of the vulnerable especially widows and the poor, a mobilizer and organiser, a supporter of just causes who has earned his own unique incontestable titles: TOR KSS, OYAME 1, The AGU of DEMEKPE. Fr. Mfa has touched many lives in different and varied ways.

We celebrate you as you mark your birthday and pray for more years of social activism and humanitarianism ahead. We can now toast a Champari.

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Prof Moti
  • Being a Birthday Lecture in honour of Rev. Fr. Solomon Mfa Ukeyima, presented by Ukertor Gabriel Moti Ph.D, (Professor of Public Sector Management and Governance and Dean, School of Postgraduate Studies) University of Abuja. Email: ukertor@yahoo.com or gabriel.ukertor@uniabuja.edu.ng; Phone: +2348033114425.

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