President Obasanjo and his Critics

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

The rule of politics dictates that those in opposition or out of the corridors of power criticize those in government — especially when there are fundamental disagreements with the intermestic policies or direction of the government. They are to do so with decorum and dignity. Critics may be forceful and dramatic or even comical in style; but at no time must they be venomous, malicious, extrajudicial or inhumane in style or pronouncement.

It is also the duty and responsibility of the citizenry, opinion-makers, stakeholders, and the media to criticize the actions, positions and policies of the government. Otherwise, left alone and unchecked, government may violate or abridge the constitution; individuals within government may abuse their powers and use the instrument of state to oppress and repress, engage in corrupt practices and lead the country to utter ruin.

The President is especially at risk. Left to his own devices, he is likely to become a tyrannical ruler. Despots easily get drunk with power. Soon, very soon, he would begin to believe in his own omnipresence and omnipotence and then act as though the laws are his to toy with. Therefore, besides constitutional provisions for checks and balances — one of the better and true ways to check a ruler’s excesses, shortcomings and failures is through transparent criticisms. For a nascent democracy like Nigeria it behooves us to criticize our leaders when we think they are going astray. Criticism is good and necessary and is one of the imperatives of democratic undertakings; it is a globally recognized tool of constitutionalism!

In the case of Nigeria however, we have taken criticism to a new level. Some Nigerian-related websites and newspapers are replete with two-kobo columnists pretending to criticize the president and his official policies when all they do is dish personal attacks and insults. Not to be outdone, some politically irrelevant politicians have joined the bandwagon shoveling garbage at President Obasanjo. If you are an ex-this or ex-that; or if you have been in political wilderness for too long, one sure way to relevance and to the public’s notice is to throw jabs and uppercuts at the president with the hope that the public will remember who you were!

Lately, a lot of jabs and uppercuts have been thrown at Obasanjo. I wonder what he, the president, makes of his legion of critics who spill venoms the way Mount Vesuvius and Mount Saint Helens spilled lava. I wonder how it feels like to be the target of vociferous critics most of whom simply rant and rave, bark, and dump insults at him the way tsunamis dumps anger at isolated Islands. Does the presidency require one to be the receptacle of all manner of jokes, insults, and spiteful criticisms? Life in Aso Rock must be dreadful and stressful.

Does President Obasanjo, in his moments of melancholy and outrage, feel like herding these bitter, dangerous and scathing critics into a Black Maria and dump them in Kirikiri; or does he gracefully and graciously take it all, all in the name of democracy? I hope the later is the case!

Some of the president’s critics are honest and level-headed. They criticize him without any trace of anger, venom or malice in their writings or pronouncements. They understand that there is such a thing as “time lag” between policy formulation and “policy realization.” These sets of critics are few in number; and they criticize the president mostly because of their love for country and fellow Nigerians.

The vast majority of the president’s critics on the other hand, are simply blind, deaf, and vituperative in their approach. Devoid of reason, critical analysis, and unprejudiced thought they coat personal insults and abuse as criticism. These sets of abusers see nothing noble, honorable and viable in the work and policies of the president. They want the president’s head. They want him driven out of Abuja and out of Aso Rock. They want him back in the gallows. They want him disgraced. Isn’t it ironic that most of his current critics are the sane set of people who brought about the decay that’s enveloped Nigeria for the last 2-3 decades?

Hear some of his critics: “Obasanjo is a disgrace,” an “embarrassment” a “traitor,” and “a liar.” Others believe he is “unfit to rule” because he is “raping democracy” thereby making the “future bleak” for fellow Nigerians. For Nigeria to return to the path of righteousness, progress and modernization therefore, Obasanjo must immediately “seek proper understanding of the Lord.”

Of these “pajapaja critics,” how many have successful managed a business outfit? How many have successfully managed an educational institution? How many have successfully managed a non-profit organization? How many are adept at managing human and natural resources? How many can claim not to have given or taken bribes? How many can claim to be law abiding citizens? Do they have respect for our judiciary and our democratic institutions?

What galls me, I once wrote, is the hypocrisy, the duplicity and the chameleonic nature of all those who are calling for Obasanjo’s head. None of them can perform better; none of them has the courage, the strength of character, and a sense of purpose and vision; none of them can save Nigeria from itself – except the likes of Chief Gani Fawehinmi. For over two decades, the military and the ruling elites bastardized the country and for much of that period a vast majority of the civilian population simply went along. Today however, they want Obasanjo to make all the decay, corruption, and malfeasances go away in nanoseconds. Dream on!!

And so, I say to all those paper-tigers, all those paper-critics and all those cyber-tattlers who are safely ensconced in London, Paris, Canberra, Ottawa, Washington D.C., or wherever you may be – get off your high tables. To all those who find joy and satisfaction in sticking it to the president – I ask: what do you gain by sending lava the president’s way? What’s in it for you?

Criticize the president if you must. It is our moral and constitutional duty to do so. We cannot sit back and allow the president to fail. It is our country; and is ours to save, protect and nurture. But in doing so, we need not engage in this never-ending barbaric and fruitless catcalls and insult disguised as constructive criticism. Nothing good and noble will come out of such incivility. For incivility is not a necessary ingredient for nation building.

Sabella Ogbobode Abidde: Norman, Oklahoma.

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