By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
When Samuel Johnson, the self-taught pioneer of English lexicography, said “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” he had people like Doyin Okupe—and other loudmouthed hirelings of President Goodluck Jonathan— in mind. In the last few days, Okupe and officials of the Foreign Affairs Ministry have made ringing appeals to patriotism to galvanize popular support in their opposition to the American government’s strong reaction against the ill-advised state pardon to Diprieye Alamsieghya and other convicted criminals.
Johnson’s statement, made on April 7, 1775, wasn’t a denunciation of patriotism as such; it was only a critique of false patriotism, of opportunistic, politically convenient patriotism, such as the kind being displayed by the Jonathan administration in the wake of the national and international reprobation that the government’s pardon of high-end criminals has evoked. Ordinarily, every Nigerian should have been rightly offended by the American government’s intrusion into our internal affairs, especially because previous American presidents have also had occasions to pardon notorious criminals.
But here are five reasons why the Jonathan administration’s recourse to nationalism against the US government is hollow and unconvincing.
One, all post-independence Nigerian governments, with the exception of the late General Murtala Muhammed military regime, actively and slavishly seek the approval of Washington almost as a state policy. This is especially true of Goodluck Jonathan, as you will see shortly. You can’t zealously hanker after another government’s approval for what you do and turn around to invoke “sovereignty” when that same government rebukes you.
Two, in the wake of the late President Umar Musa Yar’adua’s sickness and the succession crisis it caused in 2010, Jonathan sought legitimacy for his acting presidency from the US. He came here and had photo opportunities with President Obama and other top US government officials precisely because he wanted America’s symbolic stamp of authority for his presidency. Several sources confided in me that Jonathan was brought to America—as embarrassingly ill-prepared as he was and still is—because it was said that seeing him shake hands with Obama and other top US government functionaries would intimidate his opponents into accepting him as a legitimate acting president. You can’t go to another country to derive the social and symbolic basis of your legitimacy and turn around to accuse that same country of “meddlesomeness” when it tells you something you don’t want to hear.
Three, President Jonathan—more than any Nigerian president before him—exults in the worthless, diplomatic pat on the back of the White House with the kind of pitiably dewy-eyed ebullience that I’ve never seen in any national leader. He accords more value to the empty extolments of the White House than he does to the genuine judgment of his administration by the people who elected him. For instance, about two years ago, in the heat of withering criticism against his lackluster and directionless governance, Jonathan said his Nigerian critics must be wrong because even Obama had praised him.
As reported by Vanguard of September 26, 2011, during a speech at a Lagos church in response to unremitting national criticisms against him, Jonathan said, “I just got back from the US. The President of America is like the president of the world because it is the most powerful country…. Obama when he spoke commended Nigeria but back home we are being abused.” So Jonathan was basically saying: if Obama, the “president of the world,” praised me, who are you ordinary Nigerian mortals to criticize me?
In other words, Obama’s lone praise was worth more than the opinions of all Nigerians. There are many problems with this. First, Obama—and all presidents—are taught to “praise” everybody that they have a face-to-face encounter with. It means nothing. It is mere empty diplomatic ritual. Even the late Mobutu Seseko of Zaire, at the height of his savage butchery of his own people, was once referred to as "a voice of good sense and goodwill" by the late President Ronald Reagan. Second, Obama can’t be a better judge of Jonathan’s administration than the people who actually feel the pinch of the administration’s double-dyed incompetence.
But my own concern is that a man who so values the endorsement of a foreign president (whom he calls “the president of the world”) can’t turn around and talk about “meddlesomeness” when that foreign president criticizes his government. If, in the estimation of Jonathan, Obama’s faint praise of him trumped the censorious opinions of most Nigerians, the US government’s subsequent criticism of Jonathan can’t be evidence of “meddlesomeness.”
Four, Nigerian government officials can’t talk of “sovereignty” when they perpetually seek aid money from the United States government. With $625 million in aid last year, which we really don’t need given our vast oil wealth, Nigeria is the 8th largest recipient of aid from the United States. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the goal of foreign aid is to offer “economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world in support of the foreign policy goals of the United States.” In other words, accepting aid from the United States comes with the understanding that you will give up some of your sovereignty in furtherance of America’s foreign policy goals. If you don’t want “meddlesomeness,” don’t collect aid money.
Finally, as revelations from WikiLeaks show, all top government officials in Nigeria do not, for a split second, believe in the country’s sovereignty. They all voluntarily go to US embassy staff on a periodic basis to squeal. The US government doesn’t even need secret agents to get Nigeria’s national secrets. It just needs to call Jonathan and he would be flattered to be deemed worthy to divulge Nigeria’s national secrets to America.
I can bet my bottom dollar that Jonathan and his minions are peeing in their pants now and looking for ways to remedy their mistake and redeem themselves before the American government. They are grandstanding and making vain appeals to patriotism and nationalism just for the consumption of the Nigerian public.