Earlier in the week, something struck me about the demeanour of some supporters of the present government in Nigeria: they are largely intolerant of criticism, however harmless. And in a desperate bid to muddle the waters, they often deliberately lump genuine critics with others who hide under the banner of such critical engagement to spread hate. For the sake of posterity, it is important that we separate the chaff from the wheat.
Frankly, there is a distinction between criticism and toxicity. And it is pointless making this distinction, especially in response to the mischief thrown up by some of the government alleluia crowd. Their “moderate criticism” jabberwocky is, in the first place, deliberately mischievous because they know this distinction and they know what they really want: an atmosphere of no criticism. An explanation of this distinction, therefore, becomes needless; it would amount to playing to the gallery.
In the wake of the furore generated by the appointment of Messrs Festus Adedayo and Seun Onigbinde—perceived critics of the government—by officials of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government, and the controversial manners both appointments were withdrawn, there have been increased call for “critics” of government to be “moderate” because they do not know “tomorrow”. In other words, rather than being approached as a fundamental aspect of civic engagement, criticism has been reduced to a “hustle” with which “critics” could climb the ladder of political appointment. It has never felt really bad to be identified as a critic (however defined).
On Thursday, frontline columnist Abimbola Adunni Adelakun wrote about the structure of (socio-economic) opportunities in Nigeria and the ordeal of the Nigeria-based critic. Excellent intervention. Abimbola’s thesis spoke to the frustrating reality of speaking truth to power in a nation structured to rub you of independent means of (economic) survival. This perhaps explains why the most articulate and consistent critics of the present government are largely diapora-based academics—-from Abimbola herself through Sonala Olumhense, and others. Yet, the importance of criticism, especially from home-based critics who can feel the pain of living here much more than their disporic counterparts, cannot be over-emphasised.
When genuine critics relentlessly lampoon mediocre (un)governance, it’s partly because of the information they have at their disposal and perhaps the understanding that the (in)decision of the ruining elites has its domino effects on numerous lives—–both in the individual and collective realms.
At the risk of elevating redundancy, I would perhaps add that there is also the aspect of the critic’s frustration: the fact that whether you criticise genuinely or not, there are many ways mediocre decisions would come back to torment you or the person whose survival depends on you or vice versa. In the end, there is no ambiguity about the import of criticism; it’s the lifeblood of any progressive society.
Now, the essence of civility in public intervention is not open to debate, to be sure. We should all be civil because, contrary to what many feel, its absence actually reduces the potency of our message. Yet there are moments when one gets frustrated due to government’s undisguised, barefaced, legendary tomfoolery and one’s emotions get the better of one’s engagement. That’s why Seun Onigbinde’s one-off Twitter intervention was quite understandable, the numerous ill-conceived saccharine thrown at that brilliant patriot notwithstanding. Besides, his was an exception and not the rule.
Beyond this, there is this largely unexplored part of this “moderate criticism” debate that I think about now: a careful interrogation of the actual intent of the crowd screaming “moderation” in an apparently desperate move to stifle public criticism of a regime’s misgovernance. No one needs a certificate in semiotic analysis to know that many of them don’t really care about “moderate” criticism (however defined) or any criticism at all. Not a few are interested in just one thing: an atmosphere of NO criticism.
The sardonically hilarious “charges” filed against civic campaigner Omoyele Sowore (and the way the allegation is being pushed by many) is one major pointer to this. Again, a simple check into the backgrounds of many of these latter-day apostles of “moderation” would provide better insights. Or, pray, how does anyone who had the audacity to amplify the numerous terrible adjectives with which former President Goodluck Jonathan was described (including the celebrated, if misguided, “ineffectual buffoon” appellation made popular by an international media platform) now have the moral right to preach “moderation” because their favourite is at the centre of the attack? And, in most cases, when the incumbent has not been exposed to even a quarter of the critical bullets directed at the former president—often deservingly? Clearly, it is because this is a convenient thing to do now.
And it’s quite a shame that folks who rode to power on the wings of mindless insults and scathing—even if deserved—criticism of Jonathan have become most intolerant of similar rebukes. Talk about the one who beheads but would not want the sword to be wielded anywhere around him
Sadly, they have accomplices on and off the social media: folks who spew spineless “fencist” saccharine in the name of “objective criticism” even in absurd cases where the very fibre of our nation is being destroyed and a full understanding of civics should compel every genuine patriot to take a clear, unambiguous position. “Moderate Criticism”, especially in the immediate context being pushed by this pro-government crowd, is at best an unsuccessful euphemism for “fence sitting”—-or at worse, docility. (Ironically, many politically neutral Nigerians were co-opted into the Sai Buhari camp in 2015 largely with the very same “No fence-sitting” mantra).
The point must be made clear, therefore, that in the face of serious assault on the very foundation of a nation’s existence, there is no room for docility or fence-sitting.
In all, Nigerians must not be cowed. There is already a dearth of socially conscious critics and institutions anyway. The number of those asking the right questions is shrinking by the day and the few others standing must remain firm.
The Great Pius Adesanmi captured this conundrum quite well: this is a contest for meaning and no conscious citizenry should allow the “other” take ownership of the meaning in this slugfest.
In any case, SATIRE SATURDAY can only but imagine what these apostles of “moderate criticism” would have said if they were around at the time of Sanni Abacha—–a man who, quite interestingly, was Mr Buhari’s saintly boss that never stole. At the height of Abacha’s murderous campaign—-which left a long, long list of casualties in its wake—–they would perhaps have implored Nigerians to consider the positive effects of the PTDF and Abacha’s numerous pro-poor policies and be “moderate” in their outrage against his numerous shenanigans.
For effect, an Abacha Media Centre (AMC) would have been established across Nigeria where young people would be paid to launder Abacha’s murderous underwear. And when he sanctioned the murder of ten Ogoni leaders and they were eventually executed, latter-day apostles of “selective moderation” would perhaps have asked us not to blame the “military president” too much because Saro-Wiwa’s language too was somewhat “toxic”. Other activists still lucky to be alive would then perhaps be advised to learn how to champion environmental causes without “insulting” the president.
That’s how ‘Moderation’ works, you know.
Oladeinde tweets via @ola_deinde
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