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Excuse me, Mr President

His decision to suspend Nigeria from international football competitions was quite controversial. While most people believe it was a good decision, it smirks of ignorance…

His decision to suspend Nigeria from international football competitions was quite controversial. While most people believe it was a good decision, it smirks of ignorance of FIFA rules concerning so-called interference in the running of sporting matters. The nation has wriggled out of a very dicey situation by eating its words. Some of us believe that if football is insulated from political interference, then it should be left to fend for itself as an autonomous body devoid of government sponsorship. There are many things jostling for government subvention that could make a difference. One is ensuring a hitch-free retirement for those who have served the nation in various capacities and by far, the best is education. Teachers make the difference, we should invest in them.

But President Goodluck Jonathan has been making diplomatic goofs capable of unwittingly heating up the polity with some having the potential to divide the nation. The first I remember was his controversial interview with CNN’s Christian Amanpour, in which Mr. President referred to people making trouble in Jos as ‘settlers.’ The propriety of the term is as bad as the interpretation and the timing. It was politically incorrect at a time when the utmost leader’s role is not to stoke up tension but to douse it. Why the President chose to start his first talk to Nigerians on a foreign channel still beats my patriotic imagination, especially when so-called public broadcasters are nothing but megaphones of the ruling clique. If Mr President had carried out a mock session with his media minders, that statement would have been shot down locally.

A few weeks back, Mr. President explained that some elements within his party were unhappy with the choice of Attahiru Jega as head of INEC because he was regarded as a radical – i.e. someone who cannot be manipulated. For a party which has never accepted the electoral will of the people, it was in bad taste and they had to issue a statement denying the insinuation. Mr. President did not lie he made a political slip as the candidate of his party in an up and coming election.

Before then, Mr. President had granted another interview in which he disclosed that he had to resist the pressure to change the service chiefs. We could thank him for his patriotism and an independent mind, but then, what is our need to know? As head of state, he is also commander in chief of the armed forces. He is free in both capacities to take advice that is offered him if he believed it would help Nigeria, but if he rejected advice on a sensitive issue like the position of service chiefs, most people would rather not know. Least of all the occupants of that position who may then subjugate national will on the altar of sycophancy. Methinks here that Mr. President blew his own trumpet too loud and ought to be more diplomatic in his statements.

The worst one came last Tuesday when the army celebrated its 149th anniversary and the remembrance of the start of the civil war. There, Mr. President praised the gallantry of his officers and men serving and retired, but cautioned officers to shun ethno-religious bigotry capable of running down the army. Whao! That, to anyone familiar with military discipline, is not the best way to address your troops on their anniversary, especially since some sections of the Nigerian populace have accused the army in recent past of pandering to religious and ethnic sentiments. It is a recipe for genocide to latch on to that statement.

The army by its very nature, is regarded as an iconic national institution loyal to the nation, its citizens and its commander-in-chief. Here is the only crop of people who have sworn to lay down their lives for national cohesion and who go further to prove it practically. To accuse them blatantly is indeed in very bad taste even if it scored cheap political and media headlines. The integrity of our army must not be questioned or compromised. The army have no religion and certainly, neither ethnic coloration nor configuration – the nation is their ethnicity and their religion. If they are accused of partisanship as indeed some portions have, they expect their commander-in-chief to rally round them and extol their patriotic virtues. The army goes where there are sent without fear or favour but to accuse them of  bigotry is not only to kill their morale but open up their hearts for treason. They should never be accused of partisanship, least of all in the presence of the civil populace. On some issues, Mr. President, it is better to be silent than to ruffle feathers dangerously.

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