President Muhammadu Buhari recently dubbed critics of his lackadaisical and desultory style of handling the country’s security challenges as unpatriotic. Not a few people have been taken aback by this apparently supercilious and obviously arrogant equation of himself to the Nigerian state. Thus, a former Nigerian president, a former governor of the old Kaduna State and a former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations have all been tarred by President Buhari’s paternalistic brush as unpatriotic elements. Thankfully, he said this while hosting members of the Buhari Campaign Organisation (BCO), an audience obsequiously tolerant of his unfounded claims, in Aso Rock.
President Buhari nurtures a sense of presumptuous patriotism which pitches him against other citizens. In this reckoning, he alone is the ultimate patriot, superior to everyone else. Yet on the issue of insecurity and governance in general, his approach has been quite laid back. He has demonstrated no sense of urgency even though the situation in the country is quite dire. His postulation that critics of his handling of the security problems in the country are unpatriotic is unfortunate. He cannot claim any form of superiority over other stakeholders in the Nigeria project. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, erstwhile Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku and former Governor Balarabe Musa are all indubitably patriotic Nigerians. They have paid their dues as elder statesmen and it would be quite facetious to suggest that President Buhari either loves or understands Nigeria more than them all.
Their respective positions on the security challenges in the country deserve to be taken very seriously and placed on the front burner of national discourse. They do not deserve a peremptory dismissal. If anything, the president’s use of criticism to gauge patriotism is unhelpful; it cannot lead to the resolution of the security challenges confronting the country. Truth be told, branding critics as unpatriotic elements amounts to labelling them as enemies of the Nigerian state. How can Obasanjo, Balarabe Musa, Soyinka and Anyaoku be described as enemies of the Nigerian state even in the wildest imagination?
Now, even the international community has had cause to lament the insecurity in the country. Are members of the international community also unpatriotic? They have been issuing travel advisories to their respective citizens who are in Nigeria for various reasons. There is a desperate need to manifest the attributes of statesmanship and bring them to bear on the national dialogue. Labelling contributors to the dialogue as unpatriotic elements is definitely not the way to go. On the contrary, it is a subtle and sinister way of silencing views that are perceived, albeit wrongly, as adversarial.
In a democracy, the yes-men are arguably the real enemies because they are often unable to speak truth to power. Silencing critical views and opinions is antithetical to the resolution of conflicts and hence inhibitory of national development. President Buhari’s view of critical thinking as unpatriotic betrays narcissism. It is, therefore, no surprise that the country suffers from a depletion of participants in the national dialogue. The definition of a patriot is, as far as we know, not the exclusive prerogative of the president or even the entire executive arm of government. Only persons who have been convicted of any form of treason can be described as being unpatriotic even by a president.
To be honest, President Buhari’s disposition to criticisms is habitually gross. Time and again, he has strived to prove that he is the only patriotic Nigerian alive. That cannot be true. Even members of the National Assembly perceived to be his supporters have been debating the security challenges in the country and their action is definitely borne out of patriotism. President Buhari has this hubris of seeing himself as the only patriotic Nigerian and this is delusional. He needs to embrace the arguments of his compatriots in the Nigerian project for the country to remain one indivisible entity and to thrive and progress.