Cheap blackmail

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Dan Agbese

I confess I have a lot of sympathy for Chief Olisa Metuh, national publicity secretary of PDP. Speaking for a political party as big as his can be anything but a nice time at what reporters call the watering hole. He is doing his best to ensure that both the party and the federal government present to the world rosy cheekssans wrinkles and pimples. It is a worthy cause.
I confess I am alarmed at how well he does his job. I find the manner of his doing his duty to the party and the government drenched with what looks to me like the sweat of desperation. I confess I may be wrong. Old men like me don’t always get it right.
In his position, Metuh faces a formidable opponent in Lai Mohammed, the national publicity secretary of APC. Nothing the PDP and the federal government do ever escapes the attention of Mohammed. I wonder if the man ever sleeps for eight or more hours like the rest of us. He constantly puts the government and the party on the defensive. He may not always be right. He may sometimes over dress his reading of some steps taken by

President Goodluck Jonathan and his government because of his failure to appreciate the man’s honest efforts at transforming this Augean stable of a country. But to me, he is doing what democracy demands: afflict the comfortable.
Anyone who faces a formidable word-churning machine like Mohammed deserves some understanding and sympathy too. Metuh can count me on that account. He has every right to throw the mud back at APC and its leaders. In his book, the party is the evil behind every conceivable evil in the country. He has repeatedly said the party was behind Boko Haram. He has repeatedly said that those who criticize Jonathan are driven entirely by ignoble motives because a) the man is a minority and b) he is a Christian.
Nothing particularly alarming here. The ethnic and religious cards are the clubs with which we beat one another to submission in our endless struggles for relative political and economic advantages. These fault lines will continue to define our national politics for as long as the struggle for the soul of Nigeria is the only business of politics.

My worry this week comes from a statement Metuh issued on Monday. He said that APC leaders were attempting to “truncate the democracy.” You would expect someone making such a weighty allegation to have some incontrovertible evidence. Trust Metuh. He does. And it is this: “In continuously hauling insults against a democratically elected president upon whose shoulders lies the sacred mandate freely given by the Nigerian people, the APC is directly insulting Nigerians and showing their disdain for the institution of democracy.”
Metuh went on to claim that APC leaders “have contracted foreigners to undermine the government of their own nation, using negative paid write-ups and advertorials to dish out lies and vituperation against the Federal Government.”
I do not intend to defend APC and its leaders. It is a job Mohammed does so well to the irritation of PDP and the federal government. I am not sitting in judgment and so I cannot ask Metuh to provide evidence. My reading of his statement is that he and the leaders of his party feel increasingly frustrated by the niceties of democracy. In their book, the president can do no wrong. Those who think otherwise are frustrated and unpatriotic. I understand.

Democracy is a difficult form of government. Its difficulty and its attraction derive from the same source, its most important pillar: freedom of speech. Every democratic freedom hangs on this pillar. That freedom gives all citizens the right to make demands on their governments. They may do so with a civil tongue or with an uncivil one. It is the choice of the individual.We are all ruled by our feelings. We express them differently.
The exercise of this freedom has never threatened, let alone truncated democracy anywhere in the world. Democracy is imperiled when this freedom is denied the people in any shape or form, under whatever guise or pretences. I have never heard anyone insult the president. I have heard many people criticize what he does or does not do. It is no disrespect to him or his exalted office.

The president’s men and women need to be constantly reminded that they do not have a greater stake in the country than the rest of us. We all have equal stake in it. We will benefit equally from good governance.We want our country to command respect in the international community for the integrity of its public office holders. We all have a right to demand that the president rise to the demands of his exalted office and ensure our protection. Nigerian citizens, whether or not they belong to parties in opposition to the PDP, have the right to have a say in how they are governed. It is no disrespect to hold and express views about our president for the simple reason that he did not vote himself into office. We did.
The president’s men and women tend to believe they wrote the book on patriotism. They did not. A man is not patriotic simply because he lands a job from the president or the ruling political party. Patriotism is not a matter of party loyalty or sycophancy. It is a reciprocal gesture from a citizen who feels protected and provided for by his country and its government.

There is no institutionalised opposition under our form of government. It is the bounden duty of all parties not in government to play that role and keep the government on its toes. Metuh would do well to read American newspapers and see what the Republican leaders think and say about President Barack Obama. They mince no words and they do not pretend to sugar coat them either to make the president look good. They know that is not their job.

It is human nature for Jonathan to feel that those who do not see the pimples on his face as beauty spots do not love or want him. But the yes men and women who try to lull him to sleep with sugarcoated pills of praise are not necessarily his friends. Some of them are merely doing it, not as a matter of principle or belief in him but entirely in the service of the two things that matter – the stomach and the bank account.

Should we be turned into chorus men and women, old and young, so our president can sleep soundly? We mustreject this cheap blackmail. For many of us, and we are not in the opposition camp either, Nigeria governed strictly in keeping with good practices of democracy trump the demands of the stomach and the bank account. A quiescent Nigeria is not a democratic Nigeria. Even under the strongest of our military dictators, we refused to be cowed. We demanded to have a say in how we were governed. It is no-no to suggest that it should be different in our democracy. Were robust words to leave scars, all our former military rulers would today be covered with scars.
We need robust and courageous voices to rise above the symphony of sycophancy. Only so can our president and his government live up to the billing of democracy as a government of Nigerians by Nigerians for Nigerians.

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