Dada J.P. Vaswani, wrote that there is no perfect peace anywhere, even for the rich and the powerful. He cited many examples. Here are a few.
An Indian girl got a gift of a gold trinket. She became so overwhelmed that she never had a good sleep thereafter. On almost every hour, she woke up to look at the trinket, which she kept under her pillow, making sure that it was there.
A rich man had a security guard who was mostly inattentive. He was advised to test the guard with a gift. He gave this guard the kind of money that he never gave him. The guard remained awake and alert throughout.
Seeking power is like going to war. In the words of the American Gulf War hero (1990), General Norman Schwartzkopf: “if a soldier is obsessed with the fear of death, he needs not join up in the first place.” So is it with politics. If you don’t like being criticised by those you lead, why seek their votes in the first place?
I am trying to address the worry of our President, Dr. Jonathan Goodluck, who complained recently that he was unhappy with public criticism. In Hausa, we say “in ba ka son kuda, jefar da mangoron” (if you don’t want flies, throw away the mango). At the conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, he cut a picture of a hurt and handicapped government going down a slippery slope without brakes. He told the conference that he was the world’s most criticised leader and that come 2013, he would become the most praised leader.
Taking off from there, his spins people have embarked upon loud utterances, trying to tell the people that the President can do no wrong. Contrast this with another incident that happened. The President of the United States, George W. Bush, had gone to the United Kingdom in 2003 to help Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, with public opinion, which had been very unfavourable towards the Iraq war. As the US President was stepping out to 10, Downing Street, a man in the crowd aimed an egg at the President’s face, narrowly missing it. It broke on his chest. Bush responded to this incident at a press conference where he told reporters that “this is the beauty of our democracy. In other countries, that man would have been shot and killed on the spot.”
Again, compare our own case here. In the run-up to the 2011 governorship election, a former Nigerian President, General Olusegun Obasanjo, had gone to Owerri, Imo State, to shore-up the sagging fortunes of the then Governor, Ikedi Ohakim, who was much disliked by the people. As the two leaders drove past a crowd, a man aimed a sachet of water at President Obasanjo. The police went into overdrive and arrested those that they could catch in the vicinity. Prominent among those caught was Prince Eze Madumere, the present Chief of Staff, Government House, Owerri. They were kept in detention before being charged with attempted murder! Prince Eze became a free man only after his principal and now Governor, Rochas Okorocha, was declared the victor in that election.
President Jonathan’s image has been taking a beating in the media and the credibility of his government has nosedived since his unilateral decision to withdraw the fuel subsidy and increase the price of petrol in January this year. From that time, there has come, in a quick succession, a plethora of scandals from the Stock Market to the oil industry. No one would blame the citizens for thinking that government in power in the last few years has only been looting and covering up anything that comes to the surface. The recent scams in the oil sector have projected the government in a very bad light. Most citizens of this unhappy country are enraged that tribalism and regional chauvinism, problems of the 60s, are hibernating with their stripes and in their full colours because the political weather is supporting their growth.
I have read all sorts of columnists and in particular Femi Adesina of The Sun and Olusegun Adeniyi of ThisDay, as well as several newspaper editorials on the President’s outburst and they all seem to be saying one thing: The only effective answer to media criticism is to arrest the sense of drift that has enveloped the country; that there is no amount of self-righteous outrage that can change things for the better without the government setting itself to the task at hand of providing good governance and arresting this drift.
Government is wrong to allow its spin masters to open a war with the media on account of their siege mentality. They are equally wrong to insult the intelligence of bloggers. These guys are aware of the type of leadership and the policy paralysis that has gripped the country. The emperor is naked and this is clear to all except those who thrive in super-sycophancy.
While it is true that the media intrude excessively into everything, disrespecting even the privacy of individuals, the remedy to this will take a long time to come given the slow speed of international jurisprudence in catching up with the speed of the internet. Information now travels in myriad and mysterious ways through the newspapers, 24-hour TV and radio; the internet and the hand-held phone. And if anyone bothers to look around, they will see that other world leaders are equally being attacked by the social media through critical reviews. If you don’t agree with their comments, ignore them or if you can’t, give your rejoinder. As former South African President Thabo Mbeki observed: “The era of the internet is the biggest headache of leaders because the people have instant access to information.”
The first principle of any democratic country is the tolerance of criticism. The government has a fiduciary responsibility to govern in the best national interest, not that of a region or tribe. The President, who is the butt of all criticism, is himself a public figure who must be accountable to the people. If he is being criticised, he should take it in a sportsmanly spirit and try to improve instead of shooting the messenger. He should govern with vision and put the country ahead of personal adherence to power at all cost.
As the other writers I mentioned earlier argued, this government should focus on the economy and the well-being of the citizens and not to worry about what is being written against it. Let them work for the betterment of the country. The President must realise that respect is earned, not a thing to be begged for. You don’t demand to be praised. No, not in a country like Nigeria where citizens are not all sycophants. This country is blessed with many who have vision, courage and guts, and for which we should be grateful.
To stand before the public to complain that too much criticism is being made by the angry people of this unhappy country is as insulting as it is a reflection of the inferiority complex prevailing in the government system. Even with a Rhino skin, President Jonathan must absorb this reality of democracy. Leaders are fair game in this system that hold elected officials accountable to the people.