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Quit the blame game

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Muhammadu Buhari. Photo/Twitter/MBuhari


The blame game is as old as human history. Perhaps its first incidence was what happened in the Garden of Eden. There, in that paradise we now sorely miss, Adam and his helpmate, Eve, ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of life. When God came looking for Adam, the man found, to his horror, that he was buck naked. He could not stand the divine eyes roaming all over his naked body, so he hid himself.

He forgot that the almighty was omniscient. God knew where Adam was and he knew that he had committed the serious sin of disobedience. But Adam was not man enough to accept his weakness. He blamed Eve, who, in turn, had the presence of mind to blame the serpent. And blame became the handiest human reason for why things either do not happen or go wrong.

Charlie Campbell puts it nicely in his book, Scapegoat. He says that blame “is our original sin, this refusal to accept responsibility for our actions. It is the reason we were exiled from the Garden of Eden, the reason we work and suffer. Well, the blame game’s never made any sense – it’s just an inbuilt system we have to deflect guilt elsewhere and make it easier to live the unexamined life.”

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I thought the blame game was a sickening indulgence by our politicians at our collective expense at every fork in our long trek to paradise on earth. The military politicians generously used it to rationalise replacing the ballot box with the barrel of the gun. They delighted in telling the world that the politicians they overthrew were thieving profligates who had cheated the people by emptying the treasuries into their private treasuries. This made military intervention both morally and ethically right. That is a bit simplistic, I know, but this is not an argument for or against military rule. It is about the blame game and our tendency as human beings to always locate the blame for our failure elsewhere.

The blame game is a crutch in the politics of self-justification. When politicians blame their predecessors for their inability to fulfil their campaign promises or move us forward, it easily resonates with the public. Failure of political a political promise demands some metaphorical spilling of blood. The scape goat was born. It is the sacrificial lamb in the blame game. If a state governor met an empty treasury, it would not be fair to expect him to pay his civil servants and pensioners. It makes sense for him to offer his predecessor to the public as the scape goat.

I was reminded of this indulgent game this week by what the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Tukur Buratai, said at the opening of a transformational leadership the army organised for its officers and men, June 18. He said: “It is unfortunate, but the truth is that almost every setback the Nigerian Army has had in our operations in recent times can be traced to insufficient willingness to perform assigned tasks; or simply insufficient commitment to a common national/military course by those at the frontlines.

“Many of those on whom the responsibility for physical actions against the adversary falls are yet to fully take ownership of our common national or service cause.”

It struck me as a courageous admission by the general that the war against Boko Haram was not going that well because his commanders and men were not doing what is now called the needful. If a commander is not committed to winning a battle, it is a stretch to expect him to win. It makes the whole thing rather more frightening. I wondered if Buratai has shifted the blame for the grim state of our national insecurity from the politicians to his own officers and men. He has repeatedly said the politicians were to blame. After the general elections, he made the allegation more specific. He blamed it squarely on the politicians who had lost elections. President Muhammadu Buhari has said the same thing repeatedly too.

We expect both men to be sufficiently informed about the true situation. If they say the politicians are to blame, then they are to blame. The one problem with this is that it is quite easy to weave conspiracy theories that resonate with the people but are only theories. Conspiracy theories locate the blame on a shadowy group of men, always men, who do not mean the nation and its leaders well. The only group of men in competition for leadership in a country are the politicians. In the long years of military rule, they were known as disgruntled politicians, as in people sulking over their loss of power.

In politics, as in much of life, when one group wins, the other loses. Politicians do not lose gallantly because politics is not athletics. It is about power. So, we tend to picture the losers as grumblers who spend endless sleepless nights plotting to revenge any which way they can to make life difficult for the winners. This is the easy part. The difficult part lies in the willingness of the people to wake up from this induced stupor and accept that conspiracy theories quite often, if not always, mask the facts and, in this case, excuses sending our security forces out on a mission to catch the shadow.

The problem with the blame game is that it is insidious. Its crutch is the conspiracy theory woven in any way that suits the circumstances to help it deliver on the ultimate objective of either catching or neutralising the enemy. It thus never fails to exact a price. Persons or groups of persons who fit the bill are turned into fall guys and pay a stiff price often for what they know not.

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If the president and his army chief have unadvisedly permitted themselves to indulge in the blame game, then there are problems, serious problems, in their ability to grant the country independence from the reign of criminals. It is a luxury we can ill afford. What our country faces is too serious to be resolved by the blame game. The blame game is not a solution. It is just a feel-good game.

Both men should do better, much better, than that. The security of the country is in their hands. They cannot put that responsibility on any one else. The rest of the people can only play a supporting role to ensure their success. The law permits them to not allow anyone live above the law. If the commanders and their men on the frontline of the war against insecurity do not live up to expectation, it is not their duty to complain; it is their duty to make the necessary changes to motivate the officers and men who, for the love of country, put themselves in the gun sight of the enemies daily. If the defeated politicians are sabotaging the war and they have concrete evidence against them, they ought to know what to do. But in going after persons or groups of persons, the watch phrase should be irrefutable evidence.

Buratai, in his speech under reference, quoted Buhari’s most quoted statement when he took over as head of state in January, 1984. Here it is: “This generation and indeed, future generations of Nigerians have no other country but Nigeria; we must remain here and salvage it together.It is the president’s constitutional task to lead the salvage operation assisted fully and unreservedly by his security chiefs and men. Nigerians expect nothing less. And urgently too.

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