By Tonnie Iredia
In a typical Nigerian State, whatever the Governor says is law. “His Excellency has said” is sufficient to get everyone from Deputy Governor to the lowest paid civil servant in the State to perform a particular act no matter how irrational the act may be. The same is true of the President at the national level. This aspect of sycophancy used to occur more among public officers who are anxious to either retain their positions or to attract more favours.
In recent times however, it has become a game for all. During electioneering for instance, it gives leverage to those in authority as several citizens including traditional rulers, law enforcement agencies and contractors find it more rewarding to support the incumbent. Another popular aspect of sycophancy is known as “eye service”. This refers to the doing of something not because it was directed by the ‘man in power’ but because the doers perceive their acts as likely to please His Excellency.
Actors in this game are also not restricted to the lowly paid. A large fraction of them is made up of the highly privileged including even senior citizens otherwise known as elder statesmen. Those in this group do not just abhor the criticisms of persons inauthority; they in addition find it expedient to ‘blast’ any critic in defence of those in authority. The defending and blasting games are more intense if the critic himself had held high office in the past.
Thus, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently decried the unending Boko Haram saga and blamed it on government’s indecisiveness, he inadvertently invited ‘blastings’ from several quarters. While no less a personality in the person of former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon described the criticism as ‘highly irresponsible’ other defenders argued that Obasanjo had no moral basis for his criticism. Some others even appeared piqued by the diction of the criticism.
It is however not quite easy to know whether the defenders are sincere patriots, or playing the eye service game or indeed seeking to settle old scores. Rather, what is easy to observe is that theblastings tended to lose sight of some issues. First, that every Nigerian is entitled to his opinion.
According to the express wordings of Section 39(1) of our constitution, “every person is entitled to freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”. We must therefore as a free nation allow our citizens to say their minds freely.
In other words, if the controversial Odi prescription in the opinion of Obasanjo is the best way to deal with insurgency, he is free to say so. Those who hold a contrary opinion are also free to canvass it thereby creating ahealthy exchange of ideas on a subject.
No one is expected to abuse the other. Second, those who elect to defend the President probably forget quite often that the man has officials who are paid to do just that. There is indeed doubt if Doyin Okupe’s disposition especially his eloquence leaves any room for helpers in the business. Third, President Jonathan has himself proven that he understands the Nigeria of today better than both his critics and defenders. He is fully aware of the implications of the Odi prescription as a son of the soil of the victims.
The President confirmed this by the ease with which he articulately presented his reasons in his last media chat for not applying the option to Boko Haram. His reported directive to his aides not to attack his critics on the subject was also underscored by his open declaration at the recently held Holy Ghost Congress of the Redeemed Christian Church of God that he would love to hear people’s criticisms of his government. Here,President Jonathan deserves applause.
Another person who should be similarly applauded is former PresidentObasanjo who says his mind and hardly plays to the gallery. Whether we like his mannerisms or not, he obviously often speaks for the voiceless. It was him many years back that helped the rest of us to tell the government of the day to prosecute ‘SAP with a human face’. When he said that the Boko Haram issue should be summarily addressed he was again not saying anything new.
“Many other leaders who would not say what would displease the government hold the same view. In fact, when some analysts including this columnist argued that dialogue was a better option than military forcefor handling Boko Haram, we were abused by opinion leaders who could not see why government should in their own words “dialogue with criminals”.
Meanwhile, such an intemperate posture to other people’s suggestions hasnot been able to bring to an end the avoidable continued killings in the land. For this reason, those who canvass their viewpoints are more useful to society and they should be encouraged to continue like Obasanjo who has affirmed that he will not stop criticizing government. But such critics mustnot like egoists who think they have a monopoly of knowledge expect thattheir opinions would be binding on government which in earnest has a pool of suggestions to consider.
This was what helped this column to rationalize the issue of the President’s assets declaration. The point that the President should publicly do it had looked unassailable until someone educated us all that the mandate to disclose the President’s declaration was given by the constitution to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). A month ago, the Chairman of the CCB, Mr. Sam Saba at a public press conference admitted the failure of his Bureau to so act.
He however revealed that the form which the disclosure is to takeis according to the constitution, to be prescribed by the National Assembly which is yet to do so. With such exchange of ideas, democracy progressively directs attention to what is begging to be done and by whom.
Those who embrace AGIP- the unregistered political party of persons in support of any government in power – may in due course be persuaded to put the good of humanity in mind in their hustles by serving not as sycophants and opportunists but as patriots.