By Pius Adesanmi
Audu Ogbeh’s admission that things went wrong in our attempt to export yams to Euro-America comes as a teachable moment for us all.
Here are the basic terms of Ogbeh’s admission. Our first attempt was not perfect. Governments in Europe and the United States rejected the rotten yams. However, we are the world’s largest producer of yams. We shall not give up. I have been reading about the incident and there has been heavy criticism. We will try again. We will work better with the private sector exporters to see how we can preserve the yams better during transportation. We will look at Ghana. But even Ghana too faces the problem of rotten yams. We will keep at it, improving till we get it right.
This is a scenario I’m sure that even the staunchest opponent of the current administration – so long as your opposition is about Nigeria and not about juvenile personality politics – could live with and accept as a fine outcome. Audu Ogbeh was not stung into action by hailing. He was stung into action in behalf of all of us by the persistent voices of patriots who would countenance no mediocrity for their fatherland.
And the entire purpose of our critique is captured so well by Audu Ogbeh: we can do better, we deserve better. If we fail, we critique, we scrutinize, and we keep holding you to higher and higher standards. We expect you to try and try and try again till you get it right.
Once you get it right, the next phase of the struggle begins: institutionalizing that which we have gotten right so that the system and the process continue to work like a fine-tuned machine long after you have left office. At every stage of this process, you will be heavily critiqued, heavily scrutinized by those who understand that they have a civic duty, a solemn obligation not to cut their fatherland any slack in the journey to catch up with the 21st-century.
What happened with Audu Ogbeh has become a familiar scenario. The Buhari administration hardly ever does anything right or the proper way unless it is dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing.
The administration was dragged kicking and screaming to investigate the grass cutter and will have to now be dragged kicking and screaming to act on the report. She was dragged kicking and screaming to go about Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB through constitutional legal order instead of violating civic space with jackboots and a show of force by the Army. She belatedly approached the courts to put a make up pancake on the face of previous unconstitutional brigandage but at least she eventually understood, even if minimally, the need for constitutional respect.
Now we have Audu Ogbeh, who has been dragged kicking and screaming by critique to commit to a reset.
A note to those who are being called names on account of the sustained critique that has been producing results. The first thing you must notice is that every time your critique and unrelenting engagement produce results, those whose mission is to praise mediocrity to high heavens, justify the status quo, rationalize travesty, and make highfalutin arguments for how great the administration is doing, will immediately change gear and move in to declare victory seamlessly.
That is why as soon as the administration yielded to pressure and approached the courts over IPOB, those who were justifying the unconstitutional militarization of civilian space moved seamlessly to declare victory and gloat all over the land and, of course, praise the administration to high heavens, as if the change of course from unconstitutional brigandage to a semblance of legality had been birthed by their unquenchable choric hailing of the administration’s previous illegality.
From justifying everything about the grass cutter and claiming there was no case, as soon as the administration was swayed by relentless criticism and instituted the Osinbajo probe, they moved seamlessly to gloat and proclaim victory as if that shift by the administration had been occasioned by their hailing.
In case after case after case, they hail the administration on the wrong path. Whenever critique stings the administration, she pulls the rug from under their feet and changes course, they immediately move in to claim victory.
This should be a lesson for those whose sustained critique and engagement and struggle are providing these minimal gains: even the most irredeemable sycophant recognizes results and is willing, ready, and able to take credit. He is just too far gone in personality cultism to be willing to offer what is expected of him to get such results in democracy and civilization: critique, sustained engagement, and a zero tolerance for mediocrity.
What the community of engagement must understand urgently is that this stuff is serious business and it is not a popularity contest with professional praise singers. You must be willing to be called names on your path of sustained critique and be willing to allow praise singers to move in and claim credit and gloat over results and progress delivered by the sort of critique in which they did not participate. You must always remember that the purpose of your commitment is called the commonwealth.
Any progress made for and by the commonwealth should be enough satisfaction for you.
You must also remember that if you give in to intimidation and name-calling by personality cultists, Nigeria will never make progress for their own idea of critique is to continuously lower the bar of expectation to such ridiculous depths that even if President Buhari watches TV, it can be celebrated as the achievement of the century.
They lower the bar of expectation, clobber and pummel fellow citizens psychologically into a culture of accepting stomach-churning mediocrity as the height of 21st-century Nigerian success, genius, and innovation.
That is why a state governor inspecting and commissioning a roundabout and some fountains at midnight is celebrated as roaring success. A Senator delivering ero alota to his constituents is held up as Nigeria meeting up to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the UN. A state governor inspecting gadas or a parade of I better pass my neighbour generators has delivered Nigeria’s nirvana.
Borne by personality cultism, the confederacy of hailers create a national atmospherics in which the bar of expectation for President Buhari and the entire APC leadership in the country is considerably lower than what is expected of leadership in Chad, Niger Republic, and Sierra Leone. They must make way for daily celebration of roaring success. If you judge all birds by their ability to fly at the level of butterflies, there will always be daily occasions to celebrate the soaring prowess of every bird.
To the critic: Audu Ogbeh is rebooting the yam export exercise because you shouted and screamed and refused to accept, justify, excuse or tolerate mediocrity from your fatherland. Never stop your critique from administration to administration. Be comforted by Chinua Achebe’s immortal words in his book, The Trouble with Nigeria:
“There will always be some people whose personal, selfish interests are, in the short term at least, well served by the mismanagement and social iniquities. Naturally they will be extremely loud in their adulation of the country and its system and will be anxious to pass themselves off as patriots and to vilify those who disagree with them as trouble-makers or even traitors. BUT DOOMED IS THE NATION WHICH PERMITS SUCH PEOPLE TO DEFINE PATRIOTISM FOR IT…Patriotism is an emotion of love directed by a critical intelligence. A true patriot will always demand the highest standards of his country and accept nothing but the best for and from his people. He will be outspoken in condemnation of their shortcomings”.