A large segment of the Nigerian blogosphere exploded in rage after the local media published excerpts of The Economist’s article which profiled Nigeria’s immediate past president, Goodluck Jonathan, as an ‘’ineffectual buffoon’’, and his successor, Muhammadu Buhari, as a tactless minder medicating an anemic economy with a dinosaur formula.
Social media accounts issued a flux of pride and patriotism and pain. In a virtual world where generosity is the only de rigueur virtue, nimble hands clicked and shared and reshared. The ire passed around- as a lit stick of cigarette kisses the end of the nearest virgin cigarette and inflames it!
The dominant tenor of the anger said ‘Crude Tactics’ was a neo-colonial insult. Who had advised the busy bodies to provide us a commentary on Nigerian leaders? Did we ever request them to critique, castigate or cartoon our past and our present?
Observing the wildfire indignation, the result of a mobilization around obligatory filial fidelity, or in the parlance of the street, ‘monkey-no-fine-but-him-mama-likeam’ solidarity, it’s tempting to conclude that the digital mob may have presumed that the viral quote was the entire article. The whole story comprised of the buffoonery of Jonathan and the farcical economics of Buhari.
Of course, The Economist temporarily united Nigerians, like a Super Eagles match. While foreign news channels and their ''African experts’’ still cling to their timeless misconception of Nigeria as a country roughly halved into the Muslim North and the Christian South, modern Nigerians consider themselves split into the Jonathanians and the Buharists.
Jonathanians hero-worship Goodluck Jonathan while Buharists believe in the creed of the infallibility of Muhammadu Buhari.
Jonathanians glamorize the disastrous record of the Jonathan presidency. They defend the crazy kleptocracy he ran. They justify the riot of thievery he and his aides visited on the Nigerian commonwealth.
Buharists, on the other hand, are infatuated with the fabled incorruptibility of the Buhari brand. They swear that his private character is the panacea to Nigeria’s problem. They rationalize the free fall of the naira under him. They justify his continued retention of a dozen aircraft in the presidential fleet. They cheer when he endorses, on primetime television, the massacre of 700 Nigerian civilians by his Chief of Army Staff.
Luckily, The Economist did not humor one group at the other’s expense. It didn’t indulge the Buharists by ‘’insulting’’ Jonathan alone. Neither did it gratify the Jonathanians by denouncing only Buhari. The Economist meted out the supposed insult to both men. And so, the lose-lose scenario forced the rivals’ anger to overlap and focused them on a common enemy!
They felt so offended they hastened to scapegoat a Nigerian for the article. They ascribe its authorship to Tolu Ogunlesi, the enterprising young Nigerian journalist who regularly pens op-eds for international newspapers. They indicted Ogunlesi for hiding behind the anonymity of a white nom de plume to badmouth his father's and his fatherland.
Sure enough, the ‘’accused’’, with a fatwa hovering over his head, flew to the refuge of a disclaimer. Ogunlesi had to plead that while he would have been flattered to be associated with The Economist, one of the most respected news dealers in the world, he didn’t write the said piece!
Anybody who is familiar with the terrain of Nigerian discourse knows that much of that faux outrage stemmed from unmitigated ignorance. Majority of those who took umbrage at the celebrated citations had not read the original article to master its point of departure, context and central theme. They joined the bandwagon of protest to participate in the trending meme.
Nigeria is a country where the educated barely inform themselves more than the illiterate. The educated of Nigeria often tends to stand on their native wisdom to debate an alien viewpoint as they conceive it to be. They can hardly afford the patience to expend time on any passage that is resistant to facile reading.
Many Nigerians, in fact, would read the title and the name of the author, conjecture the message of the body of the text, and then rush to opine on the validity of the content of the writing. This reckless inclination to project fantasy on a material not read or understood makes dangerous diviners and unleashes a surfeit of harebrained misinterpretations.
So shall we parse the article and see if The Economist committed slander as charged?
The piece began by proposing that today’s Nigeria harks back to the Nigeria then General Buhari inherited thirty years ago through a military coup. Politicians had robbed the country and oil prices were plummeting. On his second advent, Buhari presides over a Nigeria despoiled by politicians, one subsisting on drying crude revenue.
The Economist complimented Buhari. He has degraded the career killers called Boko Haram and is fighting a meaningful war against corruption, ‘’which had flourished under the previous president, Goodluck Jonathan, an ineffectual buffoon who let politicians and their cronies fill their pockets with impunity.’’
But it warns that Buhari had conjured an important remedy from his dictatorship days. He has ‘’refused to let the market set the value of the currency. Instead, he shut out imports, causing the legal import trade to fall by almost 50% and killing much of Nigeria’s nascent industry in the process.’’
It concluded that by stating that, ‘’Today, as in the 1980s, the president is making a bad situation worse.’’
So did The Economist lie against Jonathan? Did it abuse Buhari? Or did it gift Nigeria the candor of an outsider looking in?
If Nigerians have not discarded the vestige of the capacity to recognize sincerity, if we have not desensitized ourselves to the concern of the rest of the human family, if we have not decided that it is our fate to be the happiest people in purgatory –as a certain poll once suggested, we would be quick to acknowledge that The Economist spoke the unvarnished truth.
The Economist did not confuse Nigeria with another nation. It described our domestic reality. It described the peculiar mess we exist in. So why are the victims railing against the snapshot of their humanitarian disaster? Is it so ugly The Economist should have sexed it up?
Now, except you are Ayo Fayose, Raymond Dokpesi and other delusional conspiracy theorists who intone that the exposed scams of the Jonathan days are hoaxes, you witness every new day the thickening of the layer of confessions of the cast of thieves who set out to bankrupt Nigeria.
A look at one niche of the plunder, the Office of the National Security Adviser, shows that the black hole they filled fraud with is bottomless. The thefts are almost incalculable. The profiteers are so numerous Nigeria’s anti-graft agencies doesn’t have the capacity to prosecute all of them in one fell swoop!
Many of them, including Tony ‘Mr. Fix It’ Anenih, the former chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party, and Olisa Metuh, the party’s national publicity secretary, have publicly admitted that President Jonathan personally made them his bribery envoys and money laundering ambassadors.
Just last Monday, January 25, 2016, Nneka Ararume, a lady who self-identified as a wealth manager, told an Abuja court how Metuh invited her to his home sometime in December 2014 and handed her 2 million US dollars cash to invest!
Metuh is a lawyer of average acumen. He was an unknown quantity before he smuggled himself into Jonathan’s syndicate by grabbing a seat on the national executive of the PDP. Prior to that time –before the phenomenon of Goodluck transformed his house into a dollar dump –Metuh was as undistinguished as other commoners who feed their family by the sweat of their brow. He was not even on his village’s version of Forbes list!
But as soon as he managed to insinuate himself into Jonathan’s favor and became one of his main Fridays, one that Jonathan telephones and equips for secret operations, Metuh developed a Yakubu Gowon headache. Money overwhelmed Metuh’s sense. His bedroom was so packed full of hard currency he needed help to evacuate the eyesore!
Some insist that Jonathan, by virtue of his one-minute concession call to Buhari, has earned the right to eternal honor. But the heists he facilitated, authorized and ignored make him unworthy of such gratuitous flattery. He was ineffectual. And he was a buffoon. He was an ‘’ineffectual buffoon’’ –and he would still have been an ineffectual buffoon if The Economist had called by another appellation!
And the Buharists: they bristle at The Economist proclamation that Buhari’s policy is crushing the economy. The Economist said the obvious. Financial Times, another foreign newspaper, had called Buhari’s ridiculous crisis management approach ‘’the height of foolishness.’’
But the Buharists would prefer that The Economist declare the counterfactual truth: Buhari is growing the Nigerian economy!
In the fiery reactions to The Economist, we behold the common ground of two loyalties of a personality cult culture. One defends the wreckage left by their departed idol. The other defends the damage their present idol is perpetrating.
Together, they constitute a self-hating population inured to its own pain. A nation that would not be roused to its own suffering. A nation at peace with its jinxed leadership!