Alex O. Atawa-Akpodiete
Democracy envisages Freedom of expression and the press. As a result, Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states that “(1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. (2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.”
Nonetheless, there must be some checks and balances, especially with the proliferation of social media, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. I will buttress my point with the fact that some weeks back, I saw a picture on social media of a snail with the picture of President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR (PMB) transposed on the face. The artist was attempting to depict what he believed was the pace of His Excellency in handling the affairs of the country. I was actually annoyed at the sight and enraged by what length people would go to disrespect an individual. I have always been a proponent of constructive criticism of government as opposed to destructive criticism. In fact, I venture to say that part of patriotism includes being careful of what we say, how we say it and when we say it. In civilized climes, the media actually helps shape public opinion and does not always publish everything.
The immediate past president, Dr, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR was arguably the most vilified president in the history of Nigeria. Part of the zest for a change in power, led to so much media abuse of the office of the Presidency by the opposition. Even his wife was not spared in the unabated insults. We should have checked the media excesses at that time because it has gone further out of hand, especially in the social media. I am beginning to see more profane attacks on the current President, especially on issues of education, history or command of English language, all blown out of proportion. The ethics of journalism profession have been thrown out of the window because of the desire for pecuniary gains and politics of hatred.
With that said, it is important to really decipher whether our President is a Snail or rather a Sniper. Let us first look at the dictionary definition of both nouns (terms). A Snail is “any mollusk of the class Gastropoda, having a spirally coiled shell and a ventral muscular foot on which it slowly glides about” or “a slow or lazy person; sluggard.” The social media artist was referring to the second definition based on his perceived slowness of PMB.
Since PMB is a military man (albeit retired), I prefer to use the pronoun “Sniper” as a counter to the Snail. Please note I am not holding brief for the Presidential media term as I know he has very capable hands in the persons of Femi Adesina ( Special Adviser on media and Publicity) and Mallam Shehu Garba (Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity), and his social media team.
A sniper is “a rifleman who fires from a concealed place, esp. a military marksman who fires from cover usually at long ranges at individual enemy soldiers.” We are at war in Nigeria, both in terms of war against corruption and war against insurgency. The enemies are not just members of Boko Haram, but include corrupt politicians, civil servants, bank officials, oil thieves and international corporations that buy stolen crude oil. A sniper is usually very pensive and strategizes using a precision approach to eliminate a target. The tactical approach the President is using to handle insurgency and corruption should be expected of a sniper soldier.
The President has stated that he may not appoint ministers until September because he does not want to make any mistake. It is understandable that some usual politicians are anxious to get their hands on the national cake. There has been even insinuations of ethnocentrisms and nepotism in appointments, with complaints that the President’s few (scant) appointments to date are too lopsided towards the North. I will boldly say the President should ignore them for now. The average Nigeria on the street will not care who occupies what position, as long as they deliver the dividends of democracy. A businessman who cannot feed his family and cannot bring a container worth of goods from overseas to sell in main market, or the industrialist that cannot situate an industry in his village because of corruption and the cost of materials and energy, will praise PMB if he makes all these possible, as opposed to his own brother who will make his condition worse.
Pastors are advised that a member of your congregation will have a difficult time hearing your message on an empty stomach. We are not hearing the gospel of change because of hunger in the land. Feed Nigerians first with the food of dependable electricity, better roads, improved security and reduced corruption, even if the cooks have familial relationships with the President. Once we belle full, then we can start looking at the faces of those preparing and serving the food.
Nonetheless, having met the President, I believe he is a detribalized Nigerian. The recent appointments of Onicha-Ugbo (Aniocha North LGA of Delta State) born Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu as the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Brigadier-Gen Paul Boroh (rtd) as the Special Adviser to the President on the Niger-Delta Amnesty program, should have assuaged some critics.
Only a fool will mistake a strategist or Sniper for a snail. In 1954, there was a famous US Supreme Court case called Brown vs. Board of Education. The legal phrase “all deliberate speed” emanated from that case with the unanimous decision (opinion) written by Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Objective observers will conclude that our President is employing “all deliberate speed” in handling the affairs of the country.
It is my belief that the President will pleasantly surprise Nigerian as his tenure progresses. However, we are critically watching to objectively criticize, as needed to move the country forward.
Rev. Atawa-Akpodiete, a public Affairs Analyst and Consultant, writes from Asaba. Contact him on 08138391661 or Profatawa@gmail.com.