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The tyranny of deniers

The tyranny of deniers
November 29
22:09 2021

Every era in global and national affairs throws up distinct patterns in behaviour, culture, and actions of key actors. These patterns set the tone for conversations that ultimately decide the nature of interactions between various actors – states, organisations, and individuals. For citizens and policymakers, charting the trends is important, not least because they aid analysis and help to course-correct where necessary or reinforce where valuable.

In recent times, one trend that has become increasingly distinctive across the world is that of denial. This involves the refusal to accept fact-based information and, instead, to offer up views that have no relation to reality. There is no gainsaying the fact that we are now in the era of deniers. People who stare truth in the face and refuse to accept it. Folks who see bald-faced facts and swear that they are not so. Citizens who refuse, despite all available empirical and anecdotal evidence, to accept they are wrong and instead declare that their position is sacrosanct.

We got a taste of it when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. As the medical and scientific world worked ceaselessly and tirelessly to understand the nature of the virus and fashion effective protection and remedies, an army of deniers sprung up. To these people, COVID-19 is the work of the devil aimed at controlling the world. A new name, plandemic (a combination of “plan” and pandemic”) was coined for it. The message in this was clear: sinister forces, for selfish reasons, planned COVID-19.

There was more from the COVID-19 deniers. The use of facemasks was derided as ineffective and against the natural order of things. When vaccines became available, the world was regaled with talk of the use of vaccines to implant chips for satanic control, to reduce world population, and to render many sterile. The fact that vaccines have been in use for centuries, and have saved the world from the scourge of multiple killer diseases did not matter. The reality that the same pharmaceutical companies that are producing the COVID-19 vaccines also produce millions of drugs and any of these could be used to achieve the same alleged end goals of chip implantation and world population control was ignored. That eminent scientists and leaders across the world assured of their safety also meant little. COVID-19 vaccines could simply not be trusted.

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Narrowing down to specific countries, we have seen deniers of events in several countries over the past couple of years. The United States takes the lead here with the election deniers. When Donald Trump lost his bid for re-election in 2020, what followed was bizarre. The man refused to concede. Instead, he waged a bitter verbal war against the electoral system – the same system that had put him in office 4 years earlier. He and his followers denied losing the elections. He announced to the world that the elections had been fraudulent and that he had the evidence to get multiple results cancelled. His supporters lapped it up. Yet, for weeks on end, he provided nothing in court to back up his claims. The few court cases that were filed on his behalf were quickly and summarily dismissed for lack of evidence. In the end, he had nothing and was eased out of office. Despite this and till today, a decent number of Americans, mostly Republicans, believe that Trump did not lose the 2020 elections. They continue to deny the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s presidency.

Still in the US, closely allied to the election deniers, and perhaps an extension of the same, are those who deny the January 6 invasion of the US Capitol building. On that day, hundreds of supporters of Donald Trump had stormed the building and sacked senators and congressmen and women who were in the process of confirming Joe Biden as America’s next president. A building once thought to be sacred became the playground for thugs brandishing confederate flags and various light weapons and projectiles. Surprisingly, despite all available evidence, there has been no consensus amongst about the intent of the invaders and the need to bring them to book. Republicans see them as citizens exercising their rights to movement and association and deny the reality of the violent and unlawful invasion. The reality of the damage caused, including deaths and destruction of properties, as well as to America’s global image, has been the subject of dispute ever since.

The United Kingdom has its own share. They are the Brexit deniers, a bunch of politicians and citizens who refuse to acknowledge the damaging impact of Brexit on the British economy and polity. In 2016, after several months of an acrimonious campaign, a slight majority voted for the UK to leave the European Union in a national referendum. Brexit became a reality in 2019 and since then, it has brought about several issues that have caused difficulties for the British people and, in some cases, crippled the economy. These include the scarcity of fuel arising from the non-availability of truck drivers most of whom had left for their home countries in Europe as well as several other supply chain challenges. Yet the deniers refuse to acknowledge that what was sold to the British public before the referendum is significantly different from the reality they have to deal with today.

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Nigeria has not been left out of the denial pandemic. The country has the Lekki massacre deniers to contend with. These are the people, in and out of government, who spend day and night swearing that no massacre happened on the night of October 20, 2020, when the Lagos state government abruptly declared a curfew and invited the Nigerian Army to forcefully disband a small group of protesters at the Lekki toll gate. This was the night that the managers of the Lekki toll gate, to aid the work of the security forces, bathed the place in darkness. This was the night that a detachment of soldiers of the Nigerian Army arrived under the cover of darkness and used live bullets to disperse the peaceful crowd of protesters. All these are facts. All are admitted before a judicial panel of inquiry (headed by a retired high court judge) set up by the government and funded by taxpayers. Several reputable media, home and away, had reported their findings even before the JPI submitted its work and all point to a massacre. The JPI even included the names of dead, missing and injured persons in its report. Yet, the deniers will have none of these. As far as they are concerned, nothing untoward happened that night. The soldiers were simply glad-handing and all reports, evidence and witnesses to the contrary are labelled as “tales by moonlight”, to quote Lai Mohammed, the federal minister of information.

These are but just a small sample that points to the nature of the peculiar times that we live in. What makes this pattern of behaviour even more so is the stridency with which the deniers push their fact-averse messages and the ease with which they get their messages out. Increasingly, it borders on tyranny, a tyranny that tests the soul and spirit, and questions purpose and principles.

In a world buffeted by multiple challenges, from global health to the global economy, contending with very vocal groups of refuseniks is tasking and an unnecessary waste of time, energy and resources. Yet, because it is crucial that they are not allowed to overrun the polity at national and global levels, the need for men and women of goodwill to remain guided and guarded remains paramount. Vigilance, as the saying goes, is the eternal price of liberty.

Adetayo is a public affairs commentator

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