Nigeria’s slippery political terrain
By Bola Bolawole
The convergence of social media and civil society organizations as agenda setters, ombudsman and crusaders all rolled into one comes with opportunities and challenges that many still struggle to grapple with.
The new media, as they are called, and their new social critic counterparts struggling to fill the void created by the exit of the Tai Solarins, Ayodele Awojobis, Gani Fawehinmis, Fela and Beko Ransome-Kutis of this world mean different things to different people. No matter how lofty an idea is, it is also prone to abuse; social media and CSOs are no exceptions. Calling a dog a bad name to hang it is also a ready resort to excuses not in a hurry to depart these shores; more so with politics already in the air.
Let us consider two recent instances: One story reads: “ASUU strike: CSOs mobilize against lecturers for demanding six-month salaries” That story was published online by Daily Post on Monday, August 22, 2022. The statement reads in full: “The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been accused of attempting to hold the nation and citizens to ransom. The leadership already declared that their industrial action would continue until the federal government commits to the payment of salaries from February till date.
On Sunday, the Nigerian Project Initiative (NPI) and the Initiative to Save Democracy (ISD) expressed outrage over the request and threatened demonstrations. The chairmen, Mohammed Salihu and Akinloye James respectively, condemned the vow by ASUU to keep students at home over ‘money they didn’t work for’.
In a joint statement, the civil society organizations described the stance of the lecturers as hollow, self-centred and vexatious. They said it was provocative that other unions in the academic community have decided to end their face-off with the authorities while ASUU remains adamant. ‘If the government were to heed them, would that not be a recipe for disaster as NASU and SSANU would resort to strike to demand the salaries they forfeited’, they queried.
Salihu and James said it is a rule in industrial relations that unions keep strike funds, noting that ASUU, through its president, had earlier admitted they have been paying members. ‘It is thus apparent that ASUU, by its demand, is now seeking double pay for its members for work not done’ the groups said.
NPI and ISD noted that for the sake of students, the lecturers should return to classes and repair ‘the damage that has been done instead of (resorting to) financial blackmail’. The statement announced the plan to mobilise other civil society groups for a showdown against the university workers. ‘If by this week ASUU sticks to its selfish demands, we would be compelled to lay siege to its offices across the country’, it added”.
This story has a tinge of what is called “headline journalism” in that the headline gave the impression that ALL civil society organisations (CSOs) in the country or CSOs in their multitudes or numbers were those mobilizing against the striking university lecturers but it turned out that it was only two relatively unknown CSOs, out of the hundreds that the country can boast of, that issued the statement in question. And when you take a look at the geographical-cum religious spread of the two signatories – one from the North/Muslim, possibly Hausa/Fulani (Mohammed Salihu) and the other from the South/Christian, possibly Yoruba (Akinloye James), you begin to see the shenanigans of the Nigerian regional, religious and ethnic divide starring one straight in the face. It is when our people are up to something sinister that they are careful to gingerly arrange the delicate North/South, Christian/Muslim permutations as the two CSOs have done here.
Except they had been so mandated, there is no way two CSOs can speak authoritatively for the multitude of CSOs that this country parades today. This is not to say, however, that the two are not entitled to speak for themselves and hold opinions as they deem fit. It is also instructive to note that the story ended with a threat by the two CSOs to mobilize their colleague-CSOs to tow their line of reasoning. The wisdom of their action is one; the possibility of its execution is another. Besides, the two CSOs had no word of reprimand for the Federal Government. It started and ended its statement upbraiding ASUU in a one-way attack. That is what we call “yellow journalism”, which is as bad, if not worse than the headline journalism earlier referred to. The other side was completely shut out by the two CSOs in question. If they are accused of doing a hatchet job, the charge has a likelihood of sticking on them. It can be said that the CSOs here were decidedly on the side of the Federal Government on the lingering FG/ASUU tango.
The second story is attributed to Comrade Festus Keyamo, Hon. Minister of State for Labour, Employment and Productivity, who was quoted on Monday, August 22 as saying that many CSOs – the same CSOs we have been talking about – are PDP members in disguise! Keyamo’s ire was fired by the demand in some quarters that he should resign as Minister after he was appointed the spokesperson for the Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu presidential campaign. Keyamo argued – and quite correctly, though – that there had been precedents set in that direction when the PDP was in power. And what is sauce for the goose should also be sauce for the gander. One argument is that Keyamo’s job as Minister will suffer in his new role as presidential spokesperson but the question is, even when there was no distraction or divided attention, what difference did it make?
Is it true that many CSOs are on the side of the PDP today? I think it is more correct to say they are more against the APC today than they were in 2014/2015. And assuming they are on the side of PDP today, so were they on APC’s side in the rundown to the 2015 presidential elections when they were decidedly against PDP/President Goodluck Jonathan; chorusing from the rooftop Lai Mohammed’s propaganda of Jonathan/PDP being clueless and incompetent. I am sure APC enjoyed it then. If now we suppose, but without conceding, that the shoe is on the other leg, we ought to know why!
Today, on the economy, APC/Buhari is clueless. They are incompetent in handling the security challenges facing the country. Fuel subsidy, which they said did not exist, is worse under their watch. The Naira, which they boasted they would bring at par with the dollar, is galloping towards the N1000 to US$ mark. Power supply, which they said they would fix in months, is more epileptic today than under Jonathan/PDP. We should skip Buhari’s so-called fight against corruption if we do not want to suffer high blood pressure! On all the indexes, Buhari’s performance has been woeful. I do not expect to see the majority of our people post anything good about Buhari and his administration.
What Keyamo should worry about is how his being a member of the lacklustre Buhari administration will rub off negatively on Tinubu’s campaign. If anything is needed by the Tinubu campaign, it is how to diplomatically distance itself from the Buhari administration without, at the same time, antagonising it. It is walking a tightrope. And walk it they must! There is no way they can publicly describe themselves as an “offshoot of the Buhari administration” without being visited with opprobrium by right-thinking Nigerians.
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It is only when a preceding government has done well that the succeeding government prides itself as its offshoot. The Olusegun Obasanjo regime proudly described itself as an offshoot of the assassinated Murtala Muhamed; but did Abubakar Abdulsalami ever describe itself as an offshoot of Sani Abacha? Instead, the first thing Abdulsalami did in office was to distance himself from Abacha by releasing some of those clamped into detention by the vile dictator.
Tinubu must find a way to tactically distance himself from the Buhari administration. He must begin to tell Nigerians what he will do differently from Buhari rather than say he will build on what Buhari has done! Build on failure? Build on the sea of indebtedness drowning the country? Build on Buhari’s nepotistic security architecture that has failed to deliver or his puerile fit-and-jerk economic policies that have turned Nigeria into the poverty capital of the world?
Possibly, it is towards this end that the Tinubu campaign has recalibrated its media team’s top echelon with the addition to Keyamo, Dele Alake and Bayo Onanuga – seasoned and accomplished reporters, editors, and media managers who have seen it all. My surprise would have been if Dele plays no role in the Tinubu media team! It remains for this team to now rein in Adebayo Shittu and dissuade him from his cantankerous public statements that hurt, rather than help, Tinubu.
LAST WORD: Before next Sunday when ASUU’s National Executive Council meets to deliberate on the next line of action in respect of its six months-plus strike, this is hoping that commonsense would have prevailed on both sides of the FG/ASUU divide for the strike to be called off. Even the vile dictator, Sani Abacha, said: Enough is now enough!
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