Critics are not always enemies
Some years back I chanced on an instructive short story in an in-flight magazine, which could be paraphrased thus: “It is in the nature of larks (small birds) to migrate from the temperate north to the tropical south as the temperatures dropped. On a particular winter a daring lark decided it could “weather the storm;” it thus refused to migrate with its kind. It stored up enough food and coolly watched as schools of its species flapped briskly southwards. Unfortunately for the stubborn lark, the winter proved extremely harsh with unprecedented low temperatures.
“Rather belatedly, the lark threw in the towel and decided to fly southwards; but the winter had already taken a toll on its energy. Half-way through its flight the lark ran out of energy and came crashing down. It landed in a cattle ranch, much short of the tropics. It shivered uncontrollably; hungry and exhausted. Death gestured at it. The lark was helplessly looking to breathe its last when a blissfully grazing cow dumped a huge dung on it. The warmth and cover of the dung resuscitated and kept the lark alive respectively.
“However, the lark remained trapped by the sheer weight of the dung. Not long after, the keen nostrils of a hungry cat sensed the trapped mouthful. In one swift movement the cat liberated the lark and made a meal of it.”
The moral of the foregoing anecdote for Nigeria’s political class is: not every critic is an enemy; just as not every praise-singer is a friend. Unfortunately, this moral seems entirely lost on most personages who find themselves in leadership positions in Nigeria. For these persons, criticisms, no matter how constructively objective, are perceived as devices of the enemies with the singular aim to pull them down. As a consequence, the country’s successions of leaders expend disproportionately huge resources and time contending with these perceived enemies at the expense of national socio-economic development. This narrative pre-dates Nigeria’s independence.
In the First Republic, the ruling Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) federal government had devoted a greater part of its time in power fighting the main opposition party of the day, the Action Group (AG) party under the irrepressible Yoruba leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. That counter-productive scenario was replicated in the Second Republic by the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN), wherein self-same Chief Awolowo again headed the main opposition party, the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).
The acrimonies between the ruling party and the opposition parties had been of such intensity that caused a presidential candidate, the liberal-minded Alhaji Ibrahim Waziri, to plead with his fellow contestants to eschew bitterness in Nigerian politics. Much self-seeking scheming by the toothy general caused the Third Republic to suffer a still birth. In the Fourth Republic the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) party employed all manner of executive schemes to undermine the main opposition party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), a successor to the defunct Action Group party.
Some of such schemes included non-payments of accrued funds from the federation account to state and local governments, and inquisitorial harassments of vocal critics of the Federal Government, not excluding party members. Ad hoc government agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and other related offences Commission (ICPC) were ostensibly set up to combat the rising incidence of corruption in Nigeria, but actually to hound critics who dared to speak truth to power. The consequences of those mindless uses of executive powers against otherwise well-meaning critics are still with us today.
Expectedly, the hounding didn’t stop even with the change of batons at the Aso Villa in 2015. The sloganeering spokesman of the new ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), Lai Mohammed, employs every public forum to tell the world that his party is a vulnerable island in the midst of violently surging seas. Every criticism by the opposition parties is seen as a calculated attempt to submerge the nascent APC Federal Government. Such a mindset clearly offends against the dialectics of political development, as it forecloses the concretisation of necessary anti-theses, which normally interact with the prevailing theses to propel human societies forward. Even while conceding that some politicians are capable of unguarded utterances, and even deliberate falsehood in desperate situations, it still cannot be gainsaid that most criticisms are to the good of humanity. (How else can humanity progress without criticisms?).
This was the point Sister Aisha, wife of the president was making in Europe a few days ago: should the Federal Government persists in its present stead Buhari runs the risk of ending his presidency without a legacy, because some hawks have hijacked the machinery of government. This certainly ranks among the strongest criticisms against the Buhari administration. (Surely, Lai Mohammed cannot get Nigerians to believe his principal has an enemy for wife). Mrs. Buhari has merely echoed a narrative that has been in the public space since her husband revealed the names of his ministerial nominees.
The antecedents of a number of the nominees had immediately suggested to discerning Nigerians that much was amiss in the Buhari presidency. Strident calls were made for a review of the submitted list to the National Assembly, but the president was heedless. Eighteen months of APC federal executive council have demonstrated that those calls had been as right as rain.
Had President Buhari heeded those calls for a review of his list of ministerial nominees, the Nigerian economy might have averted the current “technical recession,” in spite of the tale spin in the prices of crude oil. You cannot optimally run a national economy without accomplished professionals in the cabinet. Let us hope that the president would quickly snap out of his visible shock at his wife’s unusual, but apt remarks; and cultivate the healthy habit of discerning the merits of constructive criticisms. Indeed, as the anecdotal lark belatedly learnt, not all those who embarrass us, as critics often do, are enemies.
Nkemdiche, consulting engineer, writes from Abuja.