Simon Kolawole: At what point do we put aside political bias for the greater good?

In November 2014, I penned an article, “My Grouse with President Jonathan”. I highlighted his major achievements in agriculture, infrastructure, finance and education. I, however, said Jonathan was not doing two things the right way: the fight against corruption and the war against Boko Haram. I called these “my grouse” with him. I concluded: “Mr President, without brutally tackling corruption and caging Boko Haram with everything at your disposal, the job is not yet done. We need to free our resources for development, and we need peace and security to attain that goal.” Naturally, I came under heavy bombardment from rabid partisans from different directions.

The PDP mob, who believed Jonathan could do no wrong, classified me as an “opposition writer” with immediate effect, and called me names that are not on my birth certificate. Their most recurring argument was that APC chieftains were behind Boko Haram. The APC gang, who said Jonathan had achieved absolutely nothing in office, went wild, accusing me of campaigning for his re-election. As political narratives go in Nigeria, Jonathan was either 100% bad or 100% good. When you say, “Come on, Jonathan had good and bad attributes”, you are accused of “engaging in doublespeak”, “sitting on the fence”, etc. Thank God, you can’t be accused of blindness.

Unfortunately, I have observed that as we discuss and debate the progress of Nigeria, many of us have been turned to blind extremists, unable to submit our consciences to fairness in our assessment of our leaders. We take a position and stand by it, even when the facts don’t agree with us. We indulge in a lot of self-hypocrisy, justifying things we normally would condemn, and condemning things we ordinarily would justify — all because of politics, all to validate our biases and prejudices. So I am asking myself all the time: at what stage do we put the national interest first, no matter whose ox is gored? At what point do we rise above the fray?

Our pre-occupation as Nigerians, in my view, should be how our country can march to greatness. Not partisanship, not the president’s accent. Those are pre-election matters. As soon as a president is in situ, we have to put our divisions behind us and engage constructively as Nigerians. Same prescription for presidents and governors. It should no longer be about PDP or APC, north or south, Muslim or Christian. I illustrated today’s discussion with my November 2014 article for one reason: the same PDP/APC bitterness tints our spectacles till today. We are behaving as if the 2015 presidential election is still on — or was inconclusive (apologies to INEC).

Corrosive partisanship is a major impediment to our development. I have nothing against partisanship. To be sure, party politics is one of the strongest pillars of democracy. The plurality of opinion and choice must never be compromised. But things get corrosive when we blindly take positions not backed by accurate facts and sound logic. We don’t know the point at which to put the national interest above political sentiments. This does damage in at least two ways: one, the political leadership, on assuming power, seeks to undo what a previous administration has done, purely to score a political point; two, the public debate becomes destructive, heating up the polity.

Indeed, there is often this tendency for a new administration to discard the policies of the previous one — because of politics. Let it not be said that it is the ideas of my predecessor or the other party that I am implementing. Thus, good policies and programmes are demonised, reversed or abandoned. It usually starts during electioneering when you say the incumbent has not achieved anything. So it becomes difficult to eat your words and continue with the same policies when you take over power. To me, though, as soon as the election is won and lost, partisanship should take the back seat in governance. Without shame, Nigeria should come first.

That is why I’m glad President Muhammadu Buhari has not dumped many of the projects started by Jonathan, despite the political discomfort. The deployment of BVN, which was a Jonathan project, has become the biggest weapon in the anti-graft war. The treasury single account (TSA) is being fully implemented. The reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan road, started by Jonathan, has resumed. Most of our projections on self-sufficiency in food production by 2017 are based on what was on the ground long before Buhari came in, dating back to the days of President Olusegun Obasanjo. The Kaduna-Abuja rail remained on track all through the years. Nigeria first, after all.

The notion that a previous administration is totally useless has been dragging us backwards for decades. We deny them credit and discard their policies. The inimitable military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, was a bad man, in all fairness to him. How can we ever forget the political persecutions, the state-sponsored assassinations and the destruction of the refineries? Yet, it has to be said that he did more projects with fuel price hike than any other government before or after him. Also, he made the final investment decisions for the multi-billion dollar Trains 1 and 2 of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG). In our anger, though, we fail to grant him any particle of credit.

One of the biggest mistakes of Obasanjo was discarding Vision 2010 produced by the Abacha government. You see, it was not written by Abacha. It was produced by some of the best brains in Nigeria. When Obasanjo came in 1999, he did not want to touch anything Abacha, so he fed Vision 2010 to the shredder. He produced his own Vision 20-2020, which subsequent governments have effectively avoided — as if it is an improvised explosive device. With Obasanjo’s Vision 20-2020, we were supposed to have hit 10,000mw by December 2007. But the change in government halted the plan. No matter the justification, it was a monumental setback.

On our part as followers, I’m amazed that some people are desperately praying for Buhari to fail. They want the economy to continue its Humpty-dumpty fall. They are praying fervently that oil prices would never recover so that the economy does not get a lifeline. They are hoping Boko Haram would stage a strong comeback. They are happy to see the Niger Delta militants continue avenging whatever. They are eager to see Buhari unable to do any meaningful project. All because they want to gloat at the end of it all. They want to have the “last laugh” and declare: “Didn’t we warn you?” It doesn’t occur to them that we will all suffer the consequences.

Of course, it was a similar situation under Jonathan. From day one, many were very passionate to see him fail. They worked to pull him down. They had this bitterness that he shouldn’t have stepped in after the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and this resentment shaped their wishes for Jonathan’s government throughout. An APC member told me in 2014 that she hoped Jonathan would not be able to rescue the Chibok girls before the 2015 presidential election so that it won’t sway votes in his favour. If her daughter was among those abducted, would she be saying such a prayer? At what point do we put aside political bias for the greater good?

Do not get me wrong: I am not suggesting that anybody who criticised Jonathan had sinister motives. I am not saying anyone criticising Buhari is corrosively partisan. I want to be clear on that. There are several cases of disappointed love. There were, and are, people who expected far more than they got or are getting in terms of performance. I have nothing but respect for this community of critics. My grouse is with the community of those hoping and praying and working for the failure of our leaders just because of prejudices. Just because of biases. Just because of politics. They do everything possible to distract, discredit, destabilise and demonise whoever is in power.

As we continue to discuss and debate the progress of our country, I appeal to the non-partisans to remain calm and constructive, even if they are called names. We must always keep our eye on the ball. In all our arguments and anger and misgivings, the progress of Nigeria must remain the motive — and the motivation. Whenever I sit in front of my laptop tapping the QWERTY with determination, the last thing on my mind is party politics or religion or ethnicity. I worry more about the country my children and grandchildren will inherit. My generation inherited a disjointed and demoralised country. Should the next generation inherit the same nonsense?

“We must always keep our eye on the ball. In all our arguments and anger and misgivings, the progress of Nigeria must remain the motive — and the motivation”

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

AISHA’S ANSWER
Ekiti Governor Ayo Fayose once told Nigerians that Mrs Aisha Buhari, the president’s wife, would not dare step into the US because she is the same “Aisha Buhari” mentioned in a US court paper as having transferred $170,000 to Williams Jefferson, a US congressman who is currently in jail after an FBI sting operation. Well, Aisha arrived in the US on Thursday and she is yet to be arrested at the time of writing this. The focus of the argument has changed, not unexpectedly, from the Jefferson case to the price of the “designer bag” she carried on the trip. Politics.

ZAMFARA HELL
Recent reports tend to suggest that Zamfara is becoming one of the least secure states in Nigeria. Bandits are having wicked fun without let or hindrance. The Dansadau emirate, according to those who have been there, is the new definition of hell. The bandits reportedly launch attacks on the people at will, steal their farm produce and rape the women in the full glare of their husbands! Villagers run into the bush at night to escape the wrath of the marauders and often feed their children with sedatives to prevent any sound that would alert the bandits. Tragic.

DOLLAR RAIN
Going for hajj? God bless you. Get your dollar at N197 — the rate the CBN once said has ceased to exist with the introduction of the so-called “flexible” exchange rate of N380/$1. BudgIT has calculated that the subsidy for the 65,167 pilgrims amounts to N11.92 billion at a time we are cutting down on expenditure because we don’t have money. Christian pilgrims got theirs at N160, we’ve been reminded to show “balance”. You know what? The Qur’an prescribes hajj only for Muslims who can afford it. And Christian pilgrimage is alien to the Bible. So what’s the point? Nigeria!

OLYMPIC FIASCO
Watching the national U-23 football team beat Japan with a beach soccer scoreline in their Rio Olympics opener really gladdened my heart. Having endured the international embarrassment of being stranded in Atlanta, US, and only arriving for the match a couple of hours to kick-off, they showed the Nigerian never-say-die spirit in taking a 5-2 lead before petering out as the Japanese ended strongly with two late goals. A lot has been said about who should be held responsible for the flight fiasco, but nothing surprises me about Nigerian sports authorities anymore. Typical.

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