Enough of this tired, old hatchet journalism By Aisha Yolah


Even after four consecutive general election campaigns in which a number of politicians like General Muhammadu Buhari and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar featured more than once, one would still be hard pressed to find political discussion about them that departs from certain static, tired old lines of thought and analysis. The continuous recycling and reinforcement of insulting descriptions directed at their persons rather than their politics, the perpetuation of   unfounded allegations and staid opinions of old is worrying.  However, expanding the discussion beyond persons and pedestrian demonization is difficult given the fact that the worst culprits of this method of ‘political assassination’ are the ‘establishment’.

Despite pretence at not engaging in politicking for 2015 right now, President Goodluck Jonathan and his supporters are obviously preoccupied and obsessed with this question as we speak, strenuous and wordy denials notwithstanding.  It is all déjà vu – pompous, wordy and inconsequential refutations from the Presidency with no suggestion of sanction for ‘erring’ campaigners or endorsers as they relentlessly multiply and mobilise across the land – like microbes in a petri-dish. The signs are clear – the hunting party has left already, let loose to deal with real and perceived political opponents. Ironically, for now it would seem that the most dangerous for the President are those within his own party who could compete with him for the Party’s ticket.

Is the sudden re-awakening of an age-long ‘corruption case’ against Senator Bukola Saraki or the spate of strange pieces on why ‘Atiku is politically finished’, just a coincidence?  An op-ed so titled and written by one Sule Tankarkar is just one recent example of  the kind of political writing that comes not only from free expression of ‘public’ opinion but much more worryingly from senior reporters and correspondents themselves.

The presumptuous overstatement of labelling a fellow Nigerian as being ‘politically finished’ is typical of   hatchet writing that seeks to appeal to sentiment rather than intellect. The aim, rather than to expand and dissect our huge political and economic challenges, is simply to neutralise, demonise and yes, finish. What makes it really sad for those of us in this journalism profession is that it is rarely done on the basis of any principle or small part thereof – but rather simply for filthy lucre.

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So, rather than discuss a man’s abilities (or indeed, inabilities)  in the context of current national challenges – insecurity, national divisions, deep unemployment, infrastructure deficit, corruption and rule of law troubles, dying educational institutions etc – we are treated to the most unhelpful, and destructive profiling of our politicians. Our democracy is so much worse for it.

How about asking hard questions of political figures who aspire to lead us? This would be infinitely better than the tired, old pedestrian cat fighting that seeks merely to demeaning and dehumanising others or demystify, as our political reporters like to say.

Surely Nigerians are merely diminishing their own polity and reducing the stakes for greedy, clueless politicians by delimiting political discussion to inanities like: ‘Conspiracy is a game of generals. In the real power game, a customs man is just an onlooker.’  In this day and age? The writer of this sentence was, it seems, trying to paint Alhaji Abubakar as having lost out to the Generals, like Obasanjo on the premise that he does not know how to conspire against others.

In fact, the whole piece lists a number of what he calls strategic blunders committed by Abubakar beginning from 2003, when he chose not to contest against Obasanjo’s re-election, to 2007 when he moved to then Action Congress Party to contest for the Presidency, to his return to the ruling party in 2008 and his emergence as the Northern consensus candidate in 2010.

Though he states that Abubakar went to court many times, winning many landmark judgements, the desire to merely malign does not allow him to admit that it was this struggle fought in the courts of the Rule of Law, which earned him unprecedented national prominence and branded him as the pre-eminent democrat of our times.

No, the discussion would rather focus on personal insult and allusions to ‘region’, profession and worst of all, even contrived notions about how ‘it is taboo’ to inherit a younger brother’s assets! There goes any pretence at our democratic leadership structures being institutions occupied for a time, in trust. The presidency is clearly described as an asset, not a trust, which Alhaji Abubakar had a portion of for 8 years as the vice-president. Sule Tankarkar lands his final pedestrian blow that truly baffles: That if Alhaji Abubakar could become so wealthy as a mere vice, what does he want again?

Meaning: the Presidency is an asset to be handed about and conspired for only if one needs more money. How truly tragic for us poor Nigerians. It will be a while clearly, before we can rise above this kind of awful pseudo-political writing that shames us, and only manages to narrow our horizons.

Instead, more half-truths and demonization will continue to follow, such as the statement that Alhaji Abubakar became a champion of zoning…‘making zoning a sectional issue of the North’. The writer goes on to display his admiration for ‘the Generals’ and their conspiratorial talents, who came up with a safe exit strategy called consensus…allowing fellow ‘General Obasanjo to consolidate his demystification of Atiku by making sure Jonathan defeated him…’

Of course amid all this talk of demystification and Generals ensuring defeat by all and any means, there can never be space for real, battle-hardened democrats – even those who being human may have made mistakes along the way.

Aisha Yolah, development economist, journalist and public affairs analyst writes from Abuja

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