Perhaps it’s sub-clinical, but partisanship as exhibited by Nigerians appears to be no more than just uncritical loyalty to a political party. It’s a psychiatric dilemma. Perhaps again this is only my lack of an explanation for, or an understanding of, the kneejerk reference to critics of the government as “haters” by those who were themselves “critics” before entering into political office.
The Critic-As-A-Hater— attention-seeker and most definitely “disgruntled”—is the perception being popularised by the legion of former critics. And they have really invested a lot in this shamefulness, such that even political appointees whose offices aren’t recognised by the Government (with creative portfolios as insignificant as their principal’s promises, only sustained by hand-outs), have joined the legion to taunt citizens who have voiced discontent with government.
This diseased mindset has been applied in their criticism of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. If there’s a medal for hypocrisy, zealous supporters of President Muhammad Buhari will bag the prize and millions in cash, without a challenger from any other political front. Some of the cheerleaders of the campaign have suddenly become its critics. This points to one thing, that their participation in this long-lasting campaign for the rescue of the girls of Chibok was not a show of humanity. It was just a restatement of their hatred of former President Goodluck Jonathan. And that’s why they are unwilling to accept that people can actually be legitimately critical of a style of governance, for they see everyone in their own image – as sycophants. To them, an apposition has to be rooted in an unrevealed interest. To them, an opposition has to be sponsored, any agenda has to be driven by bigotry or vendetta.
This justifies my advocacy for the development of Civic Education in Nigerian schools. Our understanding of government and the place of civic vigilance is dispiriting. Whatever is being taught right now clearly isn’t effective. And it’s funny when government appointees interpret civics as hatred of the government, even funnier when their partisan allies agree with such a pedestrian acknowledgement of the appointees’ inability to play their designated roles beyond serving as attack dogs. That those appointed to advise our politicians routinely identify critics as haters explains why our governments fail.
But since we survived the Jonathanians, we are strong to tell their successors, the Buharists, that praise songs don’t build a strong nation. A government is only as good as the people manning it and those that surround it. And if this holds any truth, now then is the time to speak the truth to power. This is the time to praise those still standing, those who have refused to compromise on their values, those immune to blackmail.
The political zealots have even resorted to blackmail as a part of their scheme to shut critics down. The latest victim is the US-based columnist, Professor Farooq Kperogi. In a bid to disrupt his scrutiny of the government, as he did to governments before this, his personal life was made a subject of public ridicule. The intent was to distract and dissuade him. First he was charged withbitterness for not having been given an appointment. It didn’t matter to them that he’s a highly regarded scholar at an American university, and evidently loved there for his service.
When it was obvious that the columnist was high above that shallow stream of mischief, a fiction was woven around his academic scholarship – that he was sponsored by a Nigerian university, and that it is a moral low to stay back in the United States even after benefitting from Nigeria’s largesse. “That’s flat-out false,” he wrote in a reaction to the blackmail on his Facebook. “My Master’s degree was paid for entirely by the University of Louisiana. I got a full tuition waiver and a monthly stipend for my duties as a graduate teaching assistant while I was a student there.” And then, “For my PhD at Georgia State University, I also had a full tuition waiver and a monthly stipend, and was a graduate teaching instructor.”
That they are frightened by the columnist’s commentary to the point of blackmailing him is itself a moral validation of his critiques of the President’s reluctance to lead the change he promised, to plagiarise the right things from Obama (like getting rid of the many presidential jets), to run a frugal government in view of the lean economy of the day, amongst other discontents. Kperogi isn’t a government spokesman, one of whom he’s even had a decorous exchange with over the veracity of a report in the Vanguard newspaper the Presidency didn’t refute, who yet expected the columnist to know it was false. But if It took a Farooq Kperogi column to have an official clarification on that report of the extravagance of our governing elite from Garba Shehu, then the critic achieved his aim. Ironically, the same partisans who, allying with Garba Shehu, questioned the credibility of Vanguard, rushed to share and quote Barack Obama’s praise of the President’s handing of the Boko Haram insurgency reported by the “useless” newspaper they have asked us to stop reading.
We must learn to see positive assessment of the government as recognition for the moments it fulfils electoral promises. Or, as encouragement to do more and better. This making governance look like a humanitarian service, as these shameless, shame-inducing legion of jokers insist on doing, is barefaced sycophancy. The politicians are not doing us a favour by patching up roads and rehabilitating other infrastructure. It is EXACTLY what they were elected and overly paid to do. And these aides of theirs, who criticise citizens upon civic dissent with their principals, even when the livelihood of both they and their principals are maintained by public funds, might just be in need of a psychiatrist to see the irreconcilable irony of their position. May God save us from us.