Echoes From The Madhouse: On Festus Keyamo and Patriotism

By Akioyamen Josephine

Festus Keyamo (SAN) by any account is a brilliant man. He is loud, rancorous, boisterous if not cantankerous in the advancement of his causes. He is a past master at playing the press. After all, it made him who he is, from his University days at Bendel State University (Now Ambrose Alli University) Ekpoma to the great lawyer he became. It is this quality above all that commend him to the job to which he has been appointed by the Buhari’s campaign. He is saddled with the responsibility of selling the defective product that is Buhari to Nigeria. For this purpose, he has decided to cast his brain aside and in its stead, put on the persona of Joseph Goebbels, only not as brilliant as the father of propaganda, but a persona of the half-witted variety. Note, however, that the many easily “debunkable” lie he tries to ram down the throats of Nigeria is not the subject matter of this essay. Other more capable writers have written thousands of words on them. What is at issue here is Keyamo’s view of patriotism as revealed by him in a tweet yesterday.

What is patriotism?

Festus Keyamo on the 29 December 2018 at 4:55am tweeted as follows:

Unpacking that tweet reveals Keyamo’s view of the concept of patriotism. In his universe, a patriot is one who would not criticise Buhari or would not talk about the bad things that the presidency of Buhari has wrought. Anyone that does otherwise is unpatriotic or must be one praying for bad news for Nigeria. To him, it is “l’état, c’est moi. President Buhari is the embodiment of Nigeria, therefore, patriotism is owed to him by Nigerian unquestioningly. Thus any criticism of Buhari (whether constructive or destructive) at best is deemed unpatriotic and villainous and at worst, deemed a hate speech. It is criminalized and the critic hurled into Buhari’s gulag. It is not for fun he categorizes criticisms “as [a] campaign of hate against PMB”. It is to justify the criminalization of speech in the administration he serves. To be termed a patriot, Keyamo says, one must of necessity provides solutions in his discussion of conflicts. This is Bullocks!

Patriotism is not what Keyamo would have you believe. It is the love, adoration and a feeling of attachment to one’s homeland. It is a shared commonality with others who share the same sentiment. Patriotism is not love given to transient leaders such as PMB. Patriotism is love for the institutions of the nation and not the persons that occupy them. It is the love for one’s country above all and the willingness to lay down one life in the defence of the way of life of one’s country as our men and women in uniform are doing or the duty of criticism (whether destructive or constructive) to hold the President or any other public official, given a temporary charge of the common weal to account by pointing to his masters (the public who elected him) where he is wrong-headed. In other words, it is patriotic to criticize public officers. Democracy with its appurtenant politics demands this.

This is especially true since politics is a marketplace where participants sell their wares. Where competitors degrade their opponents’ wares in order to make their own wares more attractive to the customers (the public). It is for the government to prove the degraders wrong by doing in quantitative and qualitative terms, what it promised to do to move the nation forward. It is a competition for the heart and minds of the public. It is for the government to provide the solutions it touted itself to have, and for the critics to show why they are wrong-headed. This is patriotism at its height. It is the love of one’s nation that emboldens one’s to do so. It is wrong to question the motives of an opponent by questioning their patriotism to their nation as Festus Keyamo is doing with his tweet. Thomas Jefferson in a letter to James Madison written on January 30, 1787, puts it this way, “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. …It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.”

In fact, It is not criticisms that destroy. It heals. What destroys is an inability to understand how to use criticism as a feedback loop to gauge the effectiveness of policies. After all, policies are not made in vacuo, they affect the lives of the people, that are best situated to tell the government through criticism (public opinion) how they feel about the meaning of the criticisms or the government to course correct or make decisions that put the nation on the right trajectory. Unfortunately, the government of Buhari is seized with fear of criticism. It fears it would destroy him much the same way it destroyed the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. Instead of course correcting, it comes at critics with a sledgehammer to silence them. It seems to have surrendered to the fact that it has no solution to the troubles that beset Nigerians daily and must bludgeon them, instead, into subservient submission. It has refused to take a lesson from history that criticisms wouldn’t have destroyed GEJ were he not so incompetent and that It won’t destroy Buhari if he raises his game.

Festus Keyamo view of patriotism is false. It is for persons like him that Samuel Johnson in an essay titled “The Patriot” published on 7 April 1775, talked about when he made the famous statement that “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Thus when a scoundrel has no superior argument to counter that which the critic assails or harangues him with. When he begins to buckle under the burden of his incompetence, it is then, he has no other place to go but take refuge in false patriotism by branding everyone, in opposition to himself, unpatriotic, to shut the conversation down. This is what Keyamo, a brilliant lawyer, learned in the humanities attempted to do in his tweet. I hope it won’t work. In President Theodore Roosevelt words set down in his essay, “Sedition, Free Press, and Personal” of May 7 1918,” “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile but is morally treasonable to the American public.” So is the Keyamos’s attempt to justify his master’s bumbling incompetence with false patriotism.