It is becoming increasingly difficult to criticise the administration of Goodluck Jonathan, even when there are justifiable reasons to do so. The hawks in the Niger Delta will see it as an attempt to bring down his government.
Yet, one of the beautiful attributes of democracy, which has endeared it to civilised people of the world, is the multiple freedom it offers: the freedom to comment exhaustively, in any manner deemed fit, on the government in place.
When you exceed permissible limits, the law will deal with the situation. The rule hardly allows excesses.
Before Jonathan assumed office, many Nigerians did not cease to avail themselves of the freedom to castigate their leaders as much as they wanted in deserving situations. When former President Olusegun Obasanjo was in charge, they found his travelling spree highly distasteful, among other things. And the loudest critics of what was often described as ‘presidential jamboree’ were found among his kinsmen, the Yoruba.
The late Chief Gani Fawehinmi took the pains of documenting the number of times that Obasanjo travelled outside the country and he did a mathematical analysis that gave a graphical picture of how many days he spent in Nigeria each year.
In his newspaper column, Reuben Abati, who is an Owu man like Obasanjo, shouted himself hoarse on this issue of foreign trips.
Another column titled [email protected] was a delight to read in The Sun newspaper every Sunday because of its strong criticism of Obasanjo. It was pungent, analytical, unsparing, courageous, and a study in the critical dissection of government policies.
Also Prof Wole Soyinka, another kinsman of the former president, fought him to a standstill on some of his excesses, particularly on the issue of the fund raiser for the Presidential library, which he described as illegal and an example of corruption.
The experience of Obasanjo’s successor, the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, was not in any way different. Several times, Yar’Adua was the butt of bitter jokes in the newspapers. He was bashed left right and centre, yet he absorbed everything. His people also soaked in the attacks. They knew it was the price of leadership in an enlightened society.
Even Yar’Adua’s poor health was repeatedly brought to the fore, as he was made to look like a liability to Nigeria. As he travelled out of the country from time to time to receive medical treatment, only a few Nigerians sympathized with him. All that mattered to them at the time, which they were never tired of saying, was that he should throw in the towel and give the country a breathing space.
It got to a point when a section of the country took to the streets to demand the empowerment of Jonathan to mount the saddle of leadership. The Save Nigeria Group, which is now the enemy of the Niger Deltans, had marched on the National Assembly to demand the proclamation of Jonathan as the acting President. To the best of my knowledge, not many people from the Niger Delta were involved in that agitation. If anything, rumours had it that the influential Niger Deltans consciously worked against Jonathan’s emergence as President of Nigeria.
Yet, today, who dares criticise the present Federal Government without incurring the wrath of some tribal warlords and ethnic jingoists from that region? All of them who were calm at the time and had their tails in between their legs, even when ‘their son’ was more or less in bondage, have now found their voices. Suddenly, Jonathan is no longer a Nigerian; he is simply a Niger Deltan and any attack on him or his policies is simply considered an attack on the Niger Delta.
Imagine the outburst of the supposed elders of the Niger Delta during the last crisis over fuel subsidy removal. After condemning the protest, which they described as sponsored and orchestrated to bring down ‘their son,’ they went ahead to inform Nigerians that his life was in danger because some people were planning to assassinate him. They threatened fire and brimstone should anything happen to him, as if he was not the Commander-in-chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, to whom we all look for the security of lives and property. Imagine the infantile and absurd appropriation of the symbol of our sovereignty and the personification of our common destiny by a small group of people!
It was a pathetic way of trivialising Jonathan and reducing him once again to the bare footed Goodluck of Otuoke. No, they are not the same. They are two different persons. The one they now seek to guard against jealously belongs to every citizen of this country. He is President Goodluck Jonathan, the face of Nigeria and embodiment of the sovereignty of Nigeria, as well as the unification of our plurality and convergence of our diversity.
Since he is the President of this country, we reserve the right to criticise his policies from time to time and analyse his person as much as we want. We have always done this anytime there was an increase in the price of fuel, regardless of whether it was done by a military or civilian president.
Jonathan has enough paraphernalia of office paid for by Nigerians to engage us constructively and effectively when his policies or his personality are attacked. While an official spokesman is attached to his office, there is another one for his government.