The Partisans’ Portrayals of the Critic as a Hater


Perhaps it’s sub-clinical, but partisanship as exhibited by Nigerians appears to be no more than just uncritical loyalty to a political party. It’s a psychiatric dilemma. Perhaps again this is only my lack of an explanation for, or an understanding of, the kneejerk reference to critics of the government as “haters” by those who were themselves “critics” before entering into political office.

The Critic-As-A-Hater— attention-seeker and most definitely “disgruntled”—is the perception being popularised by the legion of former critics. And they have really invested a lot in this shamefulness, such that even political appointees whose offices aren’t recognised by the Government (with creative portfolios as insignificant as their principal’s promises, only sustained by hand-outs), have joined the legion to taunt citizens who have voiced discontent with government.

This diseased mindset has been applied in their criticism of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. If there’s a medal for hypocrisy, zealous supporters of President Muhammad Buhari will bag the prize and millions in cash, without a challenger from any other political front. Some of the cheerleaders of the campaign have suddenly become its critics. This points to one thing, that their participation in this long-lasting campaign for the rescue of the girls of Chibok was not a show of humanity. It was just a restatement of their hatred of former President Goodluck Jonathan. And that’s why they are unwilling to accept that people can actually be legitimately critical of a style of governance, for they see everyone in their own image – as sycophants. To them, an apposition has to be rooted in an unrevealed interest. To them, an opposition has to be sponsored, any agenda has to be driven by bigotry or vendetta.

This justifies my advocacy for the development of Civic Education in Nigerian schools. Our understanding of government and the place of civic vigilance is dispiriting. Whatever is being taught right now clearly isn’t effective. And it’s funny when government appointees interpret civics as hatred of the government, even funnier when their partisan allies agree with such a pedestrian acknowledgement of the appointees’ inability to play their designated roles beyond serving as attack dogs. That those appointed to advise our politicians routinely identify critics as haters explains why our governments fail.

But since we survived the Jonathanians, we are strong to tell their successors, the Buharists, that praise songs don’t build a strong nation. A government is only as good as the people manning it and those that surround it. And if this holds any truth, now then is the time to speak the truth to power. This is the time to praise those still standing, those who have refused to compromise on their values, those immune to blackmail.

The political zealots have even resorted to blackmail as a part of their scheme to shut critics down. The latest victim is the US-based columnist, Professor Farooq Kperogi. In a bid to disrupt his scrutiny of the government, as he did to governments before this, his personal life was made a subject of public ridicule. The intent was to distract and dissuade him. First he was charged with bitterness for not having been given an appointment. It didn’t matter to them that he’s a highly regarded scholar at an American university, and evidently loved there for his service.

When it was obvious that the columnist was high above that shallow stream of mischief, a fiction was woven around his academic scholarship – that he was sponsored by a Nigerian university, and that it is a moral low to stay back in the United States even after benefitting from Nigeria’s largesse. “That’s flat-out false,” he wrote in a reaction to the blackmail on his Facebook. “My Master’s degree was paid for entirely by the University of Louisiana. I got a full tuition waiver and a monthly stipend for my duties as a graduate teaching assistant while I was a student there.” And then, “For my PhD at Georgia State University, I also had a full tuition waiver and a monthly stipend, and was a graduate teaching instructor.”

That they are frightened by the columnist’s commentary to the point of blackmailing him is itself a moral validation of his critiques of the President’s reluctance to lead the change he promised, to plagiarise the right things from Obama (like getting rid of the many presidential jets), to run a frugal government in view of the lean economy of the day, amongst other discontents. Kperogi isn’t a government spokesman, one of whom he’s even had a decorous exchange with over the veracity of a report in the Vanguard newspaper the Presidency didn’t refute, who yet expected the columnist to know it was false. But if It took a Farooq Kperogi column to have an official clarification on that report of the extravagance of our governing elite from Garba Shehu, then the critic achieved his aim. Ironically, the same partisans who, allying with Garba Shehu, questioned the credibility of Vanguard, rushed to share and quote Barack Obama’s praise of the President’s handing of the Boko Haram insurgency reported by the “useless” newspaper they have asked us to stop reading.

We must learn to see positive assessment of the government as recognition for the moments it fulfils electoral promises. Or, as encouragement to do more and better. This making governance look like a humanitarian service, as these shameless, shame-inducing legion of jokers insist on doing, is barefaced sycophancy. The politicians are not doing us a favour by patching up roads and rehabilitating other infrastructure. It is EXACTLY what they were elected and overly paid to do. And these aides of theirs, who criticise citizens upon civic dissent with their principals, even when the livelihood of both they and their principals are maintained by public funds, might just be in need of a psychiatrist to see the irreconcilable irony of their position. May God save us from us.

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Change Does Not Begin with an Empty Slogan, Mr. President


Last Thursday, the Federal Government, obviously terrified by the burden of expectations on it, launched what is without doubt an exercise in propaganda. It is a social orientation campaign named “Change Begins With Me”. Introducing the campaign, the President said, “Our citizens must realize that the change they want to see begins with them.” And then, “Before you ask ‘where is the change they promised us’, you must first ask how far have I changed my ways, (sic) ‘what have I done to be part of the change for the greater good of society’.”

This is an audacious attempt to alter the definition of “Change” the APC proposed when it approached us in selling its beautiful ideas for Nigeria.  The governing party’s idea of change has been widely archived, and it’s just impossible to convince the people that the change they promised isn’t creating three million jobs yearly, providing free meals for public primary school public, offering N5,000 stipends to unemployed youths, adopting Social Welfare Programmes to cater for the poor, free maternal and children healthcare services, amongst similar visions as laudable as they were popular.

This is why the definition provided by the President is a contradiction of what the APC told us, that it would lead the way to our redemption. The Change promised Nigerians was framed as institutional and systemic, not this grand campaign for exceptional individualism. The problem, as I’ve repeatedly said, is not the person, not the Nigerian. It’s the institutions, stupid, to creatively quote an exceptional American who also came to power chanting Change. Institutions aren’t made by people, they are made by rules, fair rules impartially administered, hard to bend. That is the Change we were promised, it was the Change we expected and voted for, it is the Change that is demanded.

Have you ever paused to ponder why Nigerians beat traffic lights in Abuja but obey traffic rules in London? It’s because the UK institutions are strong. So, the change we anticipate must begin with institutions changing people. Telling some people that change begins with them is like telling a robber to stop stealing. No, you’ve to build a strong Police to change him, and strong social services so that petty theft for survival is diminished. Citizens are often only as good and as incorruptible as the country wants them to be, through its institutions.

An expatriate friend, an Australian, beats traffic lights in Abuja and he actually once described it as fun. He’ll never try it in his country. Why? It’s not patriotism. Words like “change begins with me” will never stop people from disobeying traffic rules. To achieve this, you need surveillance cameras and strong penalising institutions. Wait, why do you think Americans are afraid of evading tax? It’s the horror of having to deal with IRS. It’s not patriotism. Who’s afraid of FIRS? Definitely not the Nigerian big man who’s sure of his ability to make phone calls and get any case against him dropped! So, change should begin with the President addressing institutional lapses like those employment scams at CBN and FIRS, and apologising to the nation for condoning such nepotism.

Truth is, this “Change Begins With Me” campaign may only further give the President more excuses to skip electoral promises. He and his handlers will claim they failed to deliver as promised because the citizens didn’t change. Our President may go down in history as just another politician if he does not stick to the dream he promised which got him elected, with honest apologies or explanations where necessary.  He’s to lead and inspire a generation by giving them a functional nation to strive to change their realities. Change begins with having stable power supply, equipped and upgraded hospitals, developed road infrastructure, rehabilitated schools, countered nepotism, defeated crony capitalism…

Yes, you don’t need a witchdoctor to understand that the change promised by the APC means overturning our social conditions. Our people are hungry, forex is unstable, businesses are collapsing, and instead of changing their conditions, the government is shamelessly telling them that change begins with them. What the hungry citizens need isn’t an empty slogan, what they need is a favourable socio-economy to stay alive and thrive in. To say #ChangeBeginsWithMe when inflation is on autopilot is an understating of the nation’s reality, it’s a state-authorised insult. To deploy a slogan as facile and silly as #ChangeBeginsWIthMe in 2016 is an insult to the intelligence of even the dullest of the Nigerian electorate. Change means an improvement in the quality and responsiveness of our institutions, and we will never let the President CHANGE the CHANGE!

If Nigerians had not changed, they wouldn’t have volunteered to campaign for Candidate Muhammadu Buhari who, addressing delegates at his party’s National Convention before the elections, said, “I can’t give you a pocketful of dollars or Naira to purchase your support.”  What he offered in place of dollars was a beautiful dream. In that dream, the people saw a Nigeria where they don’t need a “connection” anymore to secure a job. But that has happened under his watch. This is why I suggested #ChangeAlongWithMe as a more sensible slogan elsewhere, because the President was elected to pave the way for the change by, for instance, installing functional streetlamps and establishing strong penalising institutions for citizens to obey traffic rules, and by stopping recruitment scams at our federal agencies for the citizens to get the sense and essence of a Nigeria without nepotism. Psychologists call these conditioning!

But the usual governmental praise-singers, in their serial bid to endorse the campaign, say its critics are ignorant, revealing their amusing misconception of Civics. Some have written that Nigerians have a sense of entitlement. They miss, of course, embarrassingly, that Nigerians are not requesting effective institutional change from the President. We are demanding it as he promised. It’s our right, paid for in blood and votes, it is not a privilege to which entitlement and too much of entitlement can be attached.

Nigerians are waiting for the President have them conditioned into what he wants them to be, possible only through his policies and actions. He has access to the public treasury and administrative machinery to shape the destiny of this nation. That the government is resorting to psychological propaganda to hoodwink Nigerians into embracing a contradiction of its promises and capabilities, is dispiriting. Change begins with action, and with the President not abdicating his responsibility to champion it. May God save us from us.

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Happy Recession, Nigeria!


We do not know the exact starting date of this historic festival, nor are we in the know of its end date. I mean this festival of inflation and hunger, unemployment and job cuts, liquidation and crime, mental health crisis and despair. There’s something savagely beautiful about celebrating our misery, about refusing to see it as a danger, preferring to call it a mere “word”, for example, since it does not threaten the existence of those in the political house – elected politicians and their allies in and out of the corridor of power.

Some think the decision to celebrate our misery was taken on our behalf by our foreign-sounding Minister of Finance, Ms. Kemi Adeosun. It’s a fact that she called the decline in our Gross Domestic Product by -2.06 %, a recession, a mere word. And it’s also a fact that she has not told us why a decline in one sector – which contributed only 15% of the GDP, according to her professional colleagues – has resulted in a recession. This is somewhat strange for an administration that claims to have been diversifying, contradicting reports that our non-oil exports have dropped by 43%.

Adeosun’s denial of our threatening reality is a familiar trend amongst our governing elite. Reacting to the ranking of Nigeria as one of the five poorest countries in the world by the World Bank, then President Goodluck Jonathan said, “Nigeria is not a poor country. Nigerians are the most travelled people. There is no country you go that you will not see Nigerians.” And then, “I visited Kenya recently on a state visit and there was a programme for Nigerian and Kenyan business men to interact and the number of private jets that landed in Nairobi that day was a subject of discussion in Kenyan media for over a week.”

This disheartening yardstick of measuring poverty was actually that of a President of a nation “with almost 100 million people living on less than a $1 (£0.63) a day” – according a 2012 data. So, it didn’t come as a surprise reading the similarly elitist delusion of Mr. Bayo Onanuga, a journalist whose class suicide as a firebrand critic of elitism and military brutality to a former senatorial candidate and now head of the government-controlled News Agency of Nigeria is as intriguing as it comes. He pandered to Jonathan’s thinking, that the luxurious lifestyles of beneficiaries of the nation’s most corrupt class represents the realities of a blacksmith in Potiskum, a roadside yam seller in Ogbomosho and a vulcaniser in Onitsha.

To Mr. Onanuga, a text message from his London-bound daughter – “Daddy, my flight is filled up o” – was a confirmation of his belief that reports of economic hardship in Nigeria were untrue and the true situation exaggerated. His reaction to the threatened existence of citizens who may go to bed tonight without any means is Denial. It is a style of engagement widely adopted by other government appointees, all understandably immune to hunger.

On various social media platforms, other outspoken political appointees have been publishing statistics that not only repel our realities but attempt to create an imaginary paradise for Nigerians. In line with the festive nature of the times, of course. Even the President’s media managers seem to believe their bogus statistics and grandstanding on Twitter will redeem the growing inflation and hunger nationwide. But the truth is that it is even their confrontational and combative style of communicating these alternate realities that will multiply the army of displeased citizens. It’s unfortunate that our friends who used to be critical of the government suddenly are now quick to say to say, “You guys are too critical” on finally jumping ship.

Like our politicians, the trappings of political power have confused the conscience of our former civic allies. They have become even worse than the Establishment they once antagonised. Instead of delivering on their roles of advising their principals, they are becoming intolerably obnoxious, giving the managers of our economy illusions of good performance and misleading public perception.

The governing elite have succeeded in recruiting the Bayo Onanugas into contradictions of their old values, so that they now see the civic vigilance they were once known for as a social nuisance. It has got to the point that when a critic points to a snake the politicians were given power to hire able hands to kill, he’s asked to tell the government how to kill it. And this, unfortunately, is the mentality of the praise-singing brigade stationed to defend our politicians. The critic highlights shortcomings to get the government’s think-tank ticking. You can’t be in possession of a fire extinguisher and ask the man who alerts you to fire to quench it for you!

If a leader expects more from critics after being shown a flaw in his idea, he’s either incompetent or his lieutenants are due for the sack. The similarity between a critic and a politician is that both have ideas. The difference is what matters. Only one has access to popular political legitimacy, administrative machinery and the public purse. But since we are in reality being asked to celebrate this severe economic downturn, let me kindly wish Nigerians toasting to national misery a happy recession. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@GimbaKakanda On Twitter

Dear FCT Minister, this Centre no Longer Holds!


I was dissuaded from writing to you, from alerting you to things you are likely too busy to see. The main reason given for this was that writing to you is futile and, in some cases, there was the added collateral argument that you do not exist. My stubbornness is informed by my having seen your photographs hanging on the walls of several offices in this Abuja, enough to object to the mischief of They who shall remain nameless. I know it’s not easy serving as escort to a jet-setting President, accompanying him to the airport whenever he travels and receiving him there on his return. When I brought this up, They dismissed even that tasking role as a proof of your existence and love for us. They refused to see that you’re Agent Double O Seven, protecting the President with whom we are still in love. In fact, and forgive me for saying it, They said you’re a ghost worker. I have no interpretation of this other than your perception – by them, that is – of you as ceremonial administrator.

I gather that the FCT Budget for the 2016 fiscal year has just been signed by the President. This has moved me to point out some of our problems you don’t seem to have acknowledged. I want you to see the things we see the way they are, this city’s gradual fall unto ruin under your watch. Over the years, we dealt with the horrors of the city’s urban slums, how such monstrous poverty managed to find an incubator in this city of limitless wealth and billionaire policymakers. Outside the city were even more dehumanising evidences of poverty fed fat by years of elitising public policies. Aside from Abuja Municipal, which was fixed to serve as paradise of our criminally rich politicians, the other five Area Councils – Abaji, Gwagwalada, Kuje, Bwari and Kwali – have been an eyesore.

As a man of piety, to which those who know you have testified, the de-elitisation of public policies and reforms is expected from you. Even though your background as former head of an organisation tasked with managing religious activities, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, was cited in your early days to question your capacity, I am indifferent to such an allegation. But it’s devastating now to see you not only seem to lack plans for the five neglected Area Councils but further seem incapable of keeping Abuja Municipal in shape. You have to prove us wrong, Sir.

The metaphor of the decay of this capital of Nigeria, once proclaimed “the fastest-growing city in Africa” by a drunkard I’m yet to identify, came to me around 5 PM, on August 26. The epiphany happened in Maitama, arguably Abuja’s most beautiful district. In the course of the day’s rain, Nile Street attempted to become the river it was named after. The street was flooded from up to the Nile delta at Alvan Ikoku Street. And the message I got was a loud cry for intervention, for simply a working drainage system. I assure you it’s worse elsewhere. It should frighten you that rain causes flooding, damage and safety risks even in Maitama.

You may want to go for a lone tour of FCT. You don’t have to fear for paparazzi or kidnappers, since you’re really not known outside your office. Do this at once and see what this city looks like when it rains. Do so at night too, and see the dysfunctional streetlamps. My cousin assures me that half of the streetlights between Berger and Kubwa do not work. Go out for a walk in the afternoon and note that there are no signposts to alert your citizens to the death traps that are the missing manhole covers along our streets. Sewage runs across the street regularly in Garki and Utako. Sir, there’s far more to city management than taking over the role of Mr. President’s Head of Protocol.

Yet, you’re a lucky man. You seem to be under no pressure to deliver because your office isn’t elective, and is thus protected from the outrage of a disappointed electorate. But no matter what, there should be a channel for communicating your development plans and how you seek to take us by surprise by outperforming even your worse predecessors. You’re appointed to serve the people, and isn’t it weird there are no explanations for these perpetual risks of flood, health hazards from open sewers and traffic mess as a result of malfunctioning streetlamps and stray herdsmen who, some have said, mistake the city for Federal Cattle Territory?

A friend once observed that it’s the “dormant” chairmen of FCT Area Councils that made your own inactivity too obvious, and I’m wondering why there seems to be no communication of the reasons our five other Area Councils look like big villages of a country emerging from a decade-long recession. These people are economically downtrodden, denied basic social amenities, and forsaken. I was once a part of an NGO that navigated places with no motorable roads, no healthcare centres and poorly equipped schools, in this Abuja. The pupils couldn’t even afford books and uniforms. Isn’t it disgraceful that small NGOs build boreholes and schools for communities just a thirty minute drive from your office?

If you’re ever allowed to join the President’s jet to one of his trips overseas, how would you respond to questions around the state of the nation’s capital by potential investors? Because it will be sheer fraud to deny, in Washington DC or London, that Abuja is neither dysfunctional nor even convenient for investment or habitation. An existence threatened by flood, traffic lawlessness, power outage, sanitation systems not maintained, disorganised and unreliable intra-city transportation, amongst others, is too much baggage for any serious investor seeking to migrate to Nigeria’s supposedly most organised modern city.

Malam Mohammed Bello, Abuja residents don’t have to wake up and find themselves floating in water before you intervene. While you’re deciding what to do with the budget, respond to these collapsing features of the city. At least, embark on fixing the drainage system, restore the missing manhole covers, have streetlamps fixed at strategic places, stop the shit from getting on the streets and make the placing of signposts a priority of your administration. Be creative, court private partners. These things don’t cost a fortune. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter