A major disservice caused by “groupthink” is to treat any dissenting voice as that of the enemy. President Muhammadu Buhari had hardly settled down when officials of his government derisively tagged those who criticised him or held a contrary opinion as “wailing wailers”. An alarm went off in my head immediately. It was this same mentality that got President Goodluck Jonathan boxed into a corner from which he never recovered. He treated every criticism that came his way as the handiwork of his political enemies. He became paranoid. The end result was that he lost his balance, went on the defensive and got snookered.
By the way, it is very unfair to use “Wailing Wailers” as a pejorative term. For those who may not know, the Wailing Wailers was the debut album by The Wailers released in 1965. It was a compilation of recordings by Neville Livingston (Bunny Wailer), Robert Nesta Marley (Bob Marley, Livingston’s step-brother) and Peter McIntosh (Peter Tosh). They planted reggae as protest music and put the genre into international reckoning against all odds. They were the voice of the voiceless. After Macintosh and Livingston left the The Wailers in 1975, the group became known as “Bob Marley and the Wailers”. Tosh and Marley must be turning in their graves at Nigeria’s aspersion.
Let’s face the fact without beating about the bush: in the real world, Buhari will face criticisms. The motives will always be different. It is all too natural. Criticisms will come from those who want him to succeed — as well as those who are desperate to see him fail. Criticisms will come from those who think he can do better than he has done since May 2015 — as well as those think or wish they have already seen the best of him. Criticisms will come from those who have nothing against him but think his policies so far are uninspiring — as well as those who think he needs to be discredited now in preparation for the 2019 presidential election. Motives.
However, wisdom dictates that: one, don’t lump all your critics together (as “groupthink” tends to do) because you may become unnecessarily touchy and miss the point; two, listen to even the worst of your enemies because there may actually be some substance in their criticism that you can use to your advantage; and three, the beauty of democracy is the diversity of opinion, and people must never be cowed into shying away from voicing their views. When people become too scared to talk because of DSS and EFCC, the beauty of democracy remains unexplored. The classification of critics as “Wailing Wailers” is, in the end, not helpful to the progress of the president.
Criticisms are in two categories: constructive and destructive. Constructive criticism is often done with concern. It could be harsh. But it is more like: “You’re not getting it right. Try something else. Do it another way.” Implicit in constructive criticism is a desire to see things done in a different and better way, even if outright suggestions are not always offered. Ultimately, there is goodwill. Ultimately, the motive is never selfish. Agreed, nobody likes to be criticised. It is only human. But when people criticise me, no matter how uncomfortable I am and how bruised my ego feels, I try to examine my ways. And it has helped me tremendously in my life journey.
There is, of course, destructive criticism. We don’t need to google that. Destructive criticism can hide under altruism and fair comment, but the motive is difficult to disguise. Clearly, some people are out to destroy Buhari for political reasons. It is certainly legitimate — after all, APC came to power by destroying Jonathan and refusing to recognise any achievements recorded by him. It would seem then that the PDP is serving APC some tablets from their own medicine by trying to cast Buhari as a failure less than two years in office. Some are also criticising Buhari because they have lost out or are completely uncomfortable under the new dispensation. It is all normal.
Unfortunately, the contents of public criticism are virtually the same. Both the constructive and destructive are saying the same thing. So when both camps say, with different motives, that the power situation is getting worse, is it a lie? When they say there is still corruption, is that not true? Is the economy not contracting — even if Buhari inherited a mess? Is the DSS not detaining people without any legal basis? Has there been any legal justification for the continued detention of Ibraheem El Zakzaky, Nnamdi Kanu and Sambo Dasuki? Are state agencies not disobeying court orders? But does it mean anyone who says these things is automatically a “wailing wailer”?
I am so eager to see Buhari succeed as president. Aside the fact that I genuinely believe in him and trust his integrity, I am insanely desperate to see Nigeria move up the ladder of development. The world has left Nigeria behind. We are still discussing Introduction to Physics when the world is already doing laser brain surgery. My theory all along, dating back to the military era, is that Nigeria was not developing because of corruption. I’ve always believed that if a patriotic leader puts together a competent team, there would be no stopping our progress. We’ve had brilliant leaders whose brains got poisoned by the lust for filthy lucre.
Some of Nigeria’s problems are so basic yet they look insurmountable. What does it take to have constant power? Even if there was no single cable anywhere in Nigeria in 1999, we could have done it in 17 years with all the petrodollars that flooded this economy. Even if there was no road anywhere in 1999, we could have paved 50,000 kilometres by now. Even if there was no single refinery in 1999, we could have built 20 by now! There has been a lack of seriousness and sincerity for ages, and in Buhari I believe we have someone who can still offer true leadership despite a very slow start. But of what use is a competent team if they don’t have access to him?
I would love Buhari to pay closer attention to criticism — both the constructive and the destructive. Everything has its value. Criticism represents a strand of opinion, no matter how acidic. You may say my shirt is dirty because you want to ridicule me, but what if it is true? I would have to ignore your motive and change the shirt. That is the point. If Buhari makes positive use of criticism, he will only become a better leader. I know every leader has his or her strategy in dealing with critics. Some believe in fire-for-fire. It may work. It may not work. Jonathan did fire-for-fire, arrow-for-arrow, and bullet-for-bullet. Whatever it is, people must be free to voice their opinion in a democracy.
In Rebel Music, Bob Marley sang: “Why can’t we be what we want to be/We want to be free.” Those values are at the core of constitutional democracy. Once these freedoms are curtailed, it takes away the “demo” from democracy and replaces it with “auto”. And can we deny the fact that many Buhari supporters are losing their patience and singing “I don’t wanna wait in vain for your love” along with Marley? The Wailers famously sang: “Get up stand up/stand up for your rights.” If you legitimately demand for your rights and you are classified as a “wailing wailer”, that should be taken as a compliment. Buhari’s team members must consciously deal with the pathologies of “groupthink”.
Satirist and singer Tom Lehrer famously said political satire became obsolete when “war criminal” Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973. Now that the National Assembly is at the forefront of the fight against corruption in Nigeria, satire has gone into coma. The same National Assembly that lampooned the DSS for raiding the homes of judges, insisting that financial crimes are not under the agency’s purvey, has now used a “financial crime” report by the same DSS to halt the confirmation of Mr. Ibrahim Magu as EFCC chairman. I’ve not said Magu is a saint, but I have lost my sense of humour since Thursday when the lawmakers joined the anti-graft war. Hilarious.
‘CRACK YA RIBS’
Two of my favourite Nigerian comedians are currently in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet. One is Comrade Solomon Dalung, minister of youth, sports and comedy. The other is “Pastor” Babachir Lawal, secretary to the government of the federation and laugh-master general of the federation. There is no time he talks that I don’t laugh away my sorrows. So an engineering firm founded by him got N200m payments from a grass-cutting contract awarded by an agency under his office and people are calling on him to resign. Can’t people see that he has disengaged from the company? The only thing he does now is sign the cheques and collect dividends. Balderdash.
MY, MY, MY (MMM)
When I was a tiny little boy, I heard about the activities of “money doublers”. If you gave the native doctors one naira, they would double it to two naira, I used to hear. I always wondered how they did it — and why they were not doing it for themselves. But I was not intelligent enough to know that I was not supposed to understand how it works. Now, money doubling has gone online. From your smart phone, you can double your money. All you need do is go on a website, register, transfer money to some account and your money will double in no time. As easy as ABC. The seduction by native doctors has gone digital. My, My, My. You sure look good tonight. Greed.
All (the bad) roads lead to Umuokoro Eziama, Ngor Opkala LGA, Imo state, on December 27-28, 2016, when my friend, brother and partner-in-crime, Chidi ‘Uzor, buries his sweet mother, Mrs Grace Chinyere Uzor Anugwa, who recently died at 101. The real story, though, is that Mama, through sheer tenacity and courage, sponsored all her five children in school — singlehanded. This was after the devastating civil war when nobody in the south-east had food to eat, much less scholarships. Chidi clearly inherited his mother’s never-say-die gene. He has moved from being a journalist to owning a microfinance bank — by hard work, discipline and imagination. Inspiration.
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