In the last few months, I have had to defend/explain our editorial decisions to someone in the industry who I respect tremendously; explanation engendered by what he called harsh headlines in Blueprint to castigate the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, his hero and idol.
For many not used to the questioning of our editorial decisions/judgment, including the casting of headlines, you’d wonder what has changed. Well, what has changed is perspectives, and not any deliberate attempt to malign or paint the government in bad light through our stories or headlines, I said to him, the last time we had an argument. For some, while it was politically correct to cast aspersion on the government of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, it is no longer tenable to do so with this administration. Assuming we even set out to denigrate the government, we would be doing democracy a whole world of good to strengthen and sustain it. It is in the light of this that the roforofo fight between Buhari and Obasanjo and their fanatical supporters and foot-soldiers, who have literally set the social media on fire over renaming of June 12 as a national holiday, should be contextualised. So, Jonathan was game, Buhari is a saint that can do no wrong.
In this context again, it is wrong to think that when two elephants fight, the grass suffers. In the disagreements between these powerful men, democracy (in this case the grass) has gained handsomely. What millions of Nigerians could not achieve — to draw attention to the government’s wrong-headed approach to governance, it took only three men — Obasanjo, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida and Danjuma to hopefully make Buhari fall in line. Think about it, the recognition of June 12 by Buhari is a fallout of Obasanjo’s criticism of his lack-lustre performance. To hit Obasanjo (OBJ) below the belt and pay him in his own coin, Buhari did the unthinkable and hit back with the hardest cut that has left OBJ dazed.
Just imagine a Buhari not being given close marking or put on his toes by the likes of Obasanjo! With all the military tendencies in him, his aloofness and slow-to-act attitude, all of which are capable of harming or derailing democracy! Imagine a Buhari without anybody calling him to order, something his appointees can never do. Just ask yourself: With Buhari’s antecedents, his association with the late Abacha and his silence about the annulment of the June 12 election for 25 solid years, what would have made him recognise that day and honour Abiola with the highest title in the land, if he had been left with his own kind of politics? Before this time, June 12 and the Abiolas were gradually being forgotten, fading from national consciousness.
The historic and eventful free and fair election that broke barriers and tore our ethnic and religious politics to shreds was almost confined to the dustbin of history. Thanks mostly to Obasanjo’s caustic mouth and pen, Danjuma and to some extent, IBB, Buhari had to rise to the occasion; so the June 12 recognition and posthumous award on Abiola will continue to resonate, to remind the duo of IBB and OBJ about their past misdemeanours and inaction respectively. Who says all fights between two elephants leave the grass bruised?
Would Buhari have assented to the Not Too young To Run, autonomy for state assemblies and judiciary bills if there was no pressure from all sides or if he did not have to prove that he is now truly a democrat, or if he was not at loggerheads with the National Assembly, knowing full well, that the lawmakers could override him to prove the point that they (lawmaker) have better democratic credentials compared to him. Perhaps yes, perhaps no. A further trip down memory lane could illuminate this point. Obasanjo’s third term agenda failed because of his squabbles with the lawmakers and even past leaders like IBB who worked tirelessly from behind the scene to defeat the evil agenda. Obasanjo’s loss was democracy’s gain.
In this country, elected officials often forget they have a social contract with the people. The federal lawmakers come to Abuja to live a new life in luxury, while the governors and those at the centre shield and distance themselves from the citizens through heavy security cordons procured with money that belongs to the electorate. Without criticisms, constructive or not, the elected officials would remain incommunicado and in perpetual slumber till the next election. Holding leaders accountable, especially for their campaign promises is part of the beauty of democracy.
It is bad for democracy to venerate leaders as some people would have us do; therefore, deifying Buhari as a saint, calling him Mr. Integrity, even when all is not well around him; singing his praises and and broaching no criticisms of his style of leadership and policies can never serve the purpose of democracy; it will, at best, diminish it, and make elected officials purposeless super men
Do you think Buhari would have spared his critics if we were not running a democracy? Would he have listened to anybody’s cries? Did Abacha not bundle all those against him, including M.K.O Abiola, into prison where his elimination eventually took place? It would be an embarrassment for a person of Obasanjo’s standing to keep quiet in the face of bad governance because he should not be seen to be rocking the boat.
It is therefore erroneous to assume that criticising Buhari is tantamount to wanting him to lose election and even more disingenuous to think the worse of Obasanjo or IBB for taking Buhari to the cleaners. Would you rather they are cosy with each other while the country burns? As a two-time head of state, the force of Obasanjo’s voice reverberates across the world. After aggregating the people’s despair and presenting these in the form of a letter to Buhari, the president has been jolted and has begun to take on issues headlong. Whether it will result in electoral success for the president is immaterial; the frosty relationship between the ex and serving presidents and the fallout, is now a metaphor for sustenance of democracy and the resilience of Nigerians beyond the two personalities.