OPINION: Govt’s doublespeak and intolerance to criticisms – Rasheed Olokode
Let no one show the least surprise over the instantaneous presidential bile aimed at Chief Olusegun Obasanjo over his criticism of the President Goodluck Jonathan’s government as being “too slow” on the Boko Haram problem. It is not because Jonathan now loathes the former President who had skilfully awakened the consciousness of Nigerians to the supposedly divine good luck in the name Goodluck. It is just that what has always been for oppositional critics must also necessarily be for even ‘family members’ who dare criticise a government which tries hard to say or do only what it thinks must impress the citizens at every point in time. This informed the fate of Obasanjo in his attempt to differ with the government.
His fate has yet another manifestation of an inherent trait I have long discovered in our current government. It is the syndrome of impressionistic words and actions caused by an acute deficiency of sincerity of a government that, ironically, wields a pan-Nigerian mandate. Public contradictions amongst its officials on national issues, wide gulf between their words and actions and their characteristic disdain for criticisms are, in my opinion, symptomatic of this disease.
To clearly establish my drift, I want to, comparatively, allude to the fact that it was the tinge of sincerity, however little, possessed by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, which made him to publicly admit that the election that brought him and his then Vice-President, Goodluck Jonathan, to power was significantly flawed. Thus, he was truly committed to effecting genuine electoral reforms before his death. To be sure, the acclaimed electoral transformation of the present administration actually derived from the necessitating conditions already put in place by the late Yar’Adua, making it impossible for any succeeding president to do otherwise. I suspect that Jonathan, the then Acting President, who had just fought a battle of his life to access his constitutionally-given right, a battle that was actually fought and won, on his behalf, by a coalition of civil society organisations and human right groups, was only smart to embark on initial actions that were populist to further endear himself to his benefactors, the Nigerian masses, hence the appointment of Prof. Attahiru Jega as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission to align with the sentiments of the moment.
Perhaps, the President’s voices may want to defensively deploy the pretensions of the administration to the rule of law, as illustrated by his supposed respect for court rulings, particularly on electoral disputes. Still, I give kudos to the late Yar’Adua for creating the much-needed precedents that would have made a reversal of trend by his successor a suicide mission. Nevertheless, this government has not been quite successful in hiding its discreet disdain for the rule of law. The result is double standard, as it has been choosing which court judgment to obey and which not to.
For instance, an extant litigation as well as a temporary court order in favour of Justice Ayo Salami, the then suspended President of the Court of Appeal, as at the time his suspension was suggested to the President, was too light and inconsequential to be obeyed by Jonathan who approved it in defiance, but later cases that lingered, as at the time the National Judicial Council made a U-turn to recommend his recall, were too weighty to be ignored by the President, as he has, till date, refused to sanction his recall. In simple words, while a prohibitive injunction from a competent court of law could not deter the President from approving the suspension of Salami, some other suits seeking to block his recall of successfully prevented the President from approving his recall as recommended by the same NJC. What a classical case of doublespeak!
Regarding commonplace verbal contradictions amongst government officials, I strongly feel that the same syndrome of impressionistic public words and actions is responsible. Every member of Jonathan’s cabinet as well as appointees must have discovered that it is that official who surpasses his colleagues in the race of innovatively creating in the public, on behalf of the government, positive impressions on national issues that gets endeared to the powers-that-be. Thus, a once revered Reuben Abati, is now famous for statements instantly assumed as false prior to confirmation efforts by the populace. What a tragedy!
The last presidential media chat is indeed the final official confirmation that our government suffers from the syndrome of impressionistic words and actions. Part of what the President succeeded in telling us during this session with Nigerians was that Abati had only invented a lie about an acclaimed “back-door dialogue” between the government and Boko Haram to merely suit the ears of Nigerians – a case of creating positive impressions in the populace through innovative lies to ultimately impress his employers.
If anyone out there still casts off my diagnosis as a mere conjecture, let such imagine what must have inspired the emergency hiring of Dr. Doyin Okupe into the hurriedly created office of Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs. One only needs to observe the yawning gap between the venom and speed of Abati and the newly-appointed Okupe. Please note. The unmatched ferocity of the latter’s attacks against the critics of Jonathan! The lightening speed by which the medical doctor-turned politician invents defensive shields for his boss!
In fact, the eventual setting up of a White Paper Committee on the report of the Mallam Nuhu Ribadu-led Petroleum Resources Special Task Force, which Okupe had earlier condemned, on behalf of the government, also affirms the dilemma of Jonathan’s administration as a troubled government constantly overtaken by self-manifesting truths. The agent of this wickedness is indeed its victim, the government through which mouth its own lies get regularly exposed to embarrass and ridicule the nation globally.