Having failed to cover up its glaring failures in the economy, security and anti-corruption, with the most sophisticated propaganda machinery in the history of modern Nigeria, the Muhammadu Buhari administration has resorted to outright inducement, intimidation and subtle blackmail to silence patriotic voices of protests against its under-performing government.
The latest news of the dropping of Farooq Kperogi’s ‘’Notes from Atlanta’’ weekend column from the pages of one of Nigeria’s most important newspapers with strong influence in northern Nigeria, Daily Trust, under pressure from the Buhari’s presidency is another record low for administration. Kperogi, a US based professor at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, has been one of Nigeria’s foremost media scholars and courageous public affairs commentators who has held every government accountable throughout the fourth republic. He has helped shaped public opinion by developing narratives that are fundamentally underlined by themes of nation building, through a constructive form of engagement aimed at deepening intellectual discourse on issues of governance, politics of identity, political economy, comparative transnational economics and the use of languages.
In line with the basic role of the media as the watch dog of the society, Kperogi has been unrelenting in demanding for good governance from the administrations of Olusegun Obasanjo to the Umar Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan in a manner devoid of partisanship and ethno-religious bias. That Kperogi has continued on the path of telling inconvenient truth to power by calling out the Buhari administration on its numerous instances of maladministration is only consistent with his pedigree as a courageous advocate of good governance.
In the over three years since it came on board, the Buhari administration has seemingly become intolerant of opposition and criticisms of whatever form. This high level of intolerance for citizen engagements by the current administration has a lot to do with the man at the head of government, President Buhari. Apparently imbued with a messianic complex and an inflated sense of self-righteousness, Buhari equates loyalty to his personae to patriotism of the Nigerian state.
This reality is reflected in the manner that the directive principle of state has been compromised on the basis of partisanship and sectional interests. This style of leadership is largely responsible for the abysmal performance of the Buhari administration, which has left Nigeria in economic doldrums as the poverty capital of the world, highly insecure as the third most terrorised country on planet earth and one of the most corrupt countries in the world having slipped 12 steps from 136th in 2014 to 148th in 2017 in the Transparency International’s corruption perception index.
Despite this obvious failure of the Buhari administration in the three key areas of its campaign promises in 2015, it expects well meaning, courageous and patriotic Nigerians like Kperogi to deviate from their consistency of holding governments accountable irrespective of share ethno-geographic or religious affiliation as some others have done. That Kperogi has held all governments accountable with the same standards of demand for good governance is indicative of his aversion for ethno-geographic and religious bias. Not only has Kperogi refused to become a chorister in the Buharists choir, he actually exposed the propaganda scheme, under the banner of Buhari Media Centre, BMC, which was created to misinform and mislead unsuspecting members of the public on the true state of affairs in Nigeria. Kperogi revealed the structure of the BMC as sophisticated propaganda machinery, which operates with fascist precision. Thanks to Kperogi, Nigeria was saved from descending into a state of mass hypnotic ignorance akin to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where Napoleon is always right.
Unfortunately, the Buhari administration has weaponized the mass poverty its acute mismanagement of the economy has resulted into. Having reduced the economy to life support leaving businesses to rely largely on government patronage, the owners of Daily Trust Newspapers may have been pressured to yield to the demands of regime agents to drop Kperogi’s incisive column. Kperogi’s column was not dropped because it was divisive, libellous or incendiary. It was dropped because it was considered too critical of Buhari’s leadership style.
The Kperogi incidence, which is consistent with the Buhari administration’s effort at curtailing freedom of the press, is indicative of a slide towards authoritarian totalitarianism in clear reversal of the modest gains of a consolidated liberal democratic culture between 1999 and 2015. It is now a common happenstance for publishers, editors and reporters of media organizations to be routinely harassed and detained by security agencies with demands for the sources of their stories.
It is clear that the president like many others before him has learnt nothing from history that power is transient. He has failed to learn the vital lesson of being the ultimate beneficiary of any good governance culture he institutionalises while in power and will also be a major victim of any bad governance culture structure he abets. The media is the fourth and most important arm of government. Whereas, the executive is limited by fixed terms, the legislature by fixed sessions and the Judiciary by service period, the media neither expires nor retires.
The media keeps watch day and night, year in year out on the society while holding governments accountable to the people. Buhari has forgotten that the vibrant Nigeria media held the government of Jonathan accountable while exposing its weaknesses to his electoral advantage. Out of power, Jonathan has to also rely on the most important arm of government, the media, for protection from rights violation and advocacy for better deal from government as an ordinary citizen.
Similarly, Buhari will be out of power someday and just as he benefited from a liberal democratic culture wherein the press was free from regime suppression, he will once more rely upon the media and especially Kperogi’s column, which now runs on the back page of the Saturday edition of the Nigerian Tribune, to hold government accountable for his rights and privileges as an ordinary citizen.