MUST READ: President Buhari’s Supporters And Critics - by Niran Adedokun

Not at any time in the recent history of Nigeria have we seen a more ferocious and unsparing following like those of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Up north where he hails from, Buhari has the image of a cult leader. Most natives, old and young, especially in his North-West zone are stuck on his perception as a man of integrity and truth hence the epithet “mai gaskiya”, a man of truth with which he is known.

Buhari is so loved in this part of the country that we were warned of a possible bloodshed if he failed to win the 2015 presidential election like he did three consecutive times previously. And of course, the globe panicked at such a prospect. The loss of close to one thousand mostly non-indigene lives when Buhari lost the 2011 election was still fresh in the minds.

Among this crowd of followers are numerous uneducated, uncatered to youths who only identify the command “go” but are unable to reverse themselves when you give the command “come back” Thank goodness Buhari won the election and no time bomb exploded on us.

However, in the run-up to the 2015 elections, another group of supporters rose for Buhari. These were largely young, upwardly mobile folk who were justifiably tired of the drift in the nation and wanted the reversal of the grim fortunes ahead.

Although as violent and uncompromising as the first group, this new group brought a novel set of weaponry different from the cudgels, knives, bows and arrows of the first set of supporters. They were armed with their smartphones, tablets and laptops, from which they not only supported Buhari but harassed those who did not want him.

As is seen in every form of war, they employed all weapons available to them, truths, half-truths, lies and manipulation of minds. They exploited the laissez-faire nature of the new media and fed not just Nigerians but the world with any information that suited their minds without check. And sometimes when clarifications came to debunk some of their occasional misinformation, the spin would have gone viral, far beyond recall!

One of such mindless distortions was a tweet that a respected man of God proclaimed that the gates of hell were going to be invoked against enemies of then President Goodluck Jonathan. As it is with the New Media, hundreds of thousands of people saw and believed this tweet within hours such that a denial (including a press statement and a video) by the worship place produced no remedy. Such was the spleen with which this new group of soldiers warred. They were organised, had ownership of all social media platforms, took effective possession and always had the edge in this spatial combat.

As alarming and unnecessary as these violent exchanges were then, they were permissible. The group only tried to sell its candidate and diminish the chances of the opponent as much as possible. Then, came the election on March 28, the announcement of a winner two days after and the swearing-in of President Buhari two months later. That would be 60 days next week.

Yet, there has been no let off in the tyranny of Buhari’s supporters. Every day and on every available platform, these men and women do not just sing the praise of Buhari’s every step, (which is fine as far as I am concerned) but shout down and attempt to shut up voices that are contrary to what they believe. Name-calling, intimidation and ridiculing of voices contrary to what those who are trapped in the President’s stardom are the game. As a result, one now queries the essence of democracy and the importance of an alert citizenship to the democratic sustainability.

I suggest that those who think President Buhari should not be criticised should wake up in the interest of the country. Now, I must make the point that they are totally entitled to hold whatever positions they desire in support of the President, but where their right to hold opinion stops is where that of others to differ starts. I think Nigerians must learn to allow the dignity of the other person’s right to independent thought. This is indeed the beauty of any democratic system.

Buhari and others are leaders because we voted for them to do a job. They are in office to work for the people. That means the electorate must communicate with them about what to do and what we think about what they are doing. Without this, they would run riot on us and this is one of the reasons why countries are run down by politicians. And in the case of Nigeria’s President, there are a number of reasons why the citizens have to be a lot more vigilant.

Again, for the next four years, Buhari would be leading Nigeria as a politician. I agree that he is a man of integrity but democracy does not run on integrity alone. He will be hobnobbing with thousands of men and women who are deft in the art of politics and would give him advice that could muddle up his clarity. For instance, how do we explain the current position of a President who said he was ready to work with anyone who emerged as leader of the legislature but has refused to interact with any of the two elected to lead the National Assembly almost 50 days ago, even when the constitution gives him no role in the matter?

The President, like every mortal, is susceptible to mistakes and Nigerians, whether they voted for him or not have the right to point out these errors and demand better performance. President Barack Obama of the United States has for the past few years faced caustic sometimes deprecating criticisms but in all, his administration is better for it. Feedback from citizens is the tonic for democratic growth. Those who attempt to stop people from ventilating do not love the President.

On a final note, every Nigerian must support and pray for the President. No matter what your political leanings are, the success of this man is tied to the prosperity and peace of every citizens and the earlier we all realised this, the better for us all. But that, I submit, does not mean we cannot demand criticise and demand better performance from the President right from this moment.