Why Matthew Page Is After My Shadow

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By Philip Agbese

I will court some decorousness and pretend to be excited, though it’s far from my mood now. As someone always mindful of my beloved country, and a slave to conventions of decency in intellectual engagements, I dare say, I am unscathed and undazzled by the dangerous hurricane wind which blew past me last week.

Straightforwardly, the initiates know, it is not easy to devout time and energies into a published research work. And on the strength of this reality, I will acknowledge the academic exercise coupled by a non-resident scholar, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, (CEIP), Mr. Matthew T. Page for his published paper, “Fake Civil Society: The Rise of Pro-Government NGOs in Nigeria,” dated July 28, 2021.

However, let me also quickly add that whatever findings postulated by Mr. Page in the published work has only ingrained on the tiniest part of my psyche. It only pricks as an excellent census of Non-Governmental Organizations’ (NGOs) operational in Nigeria.

Nevertheless, I have to contest some tenders and disagree with Mr. Page, who is also, an Associate Fellow with the Africa Programme at Chatham House, and doubles as a non-resident Fellow with the Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja. The author of the work has too generously assumed a number of presumptions and conclusions in the paper on the status, modus operandi, the significance and personalities of NGOs in Nigeria, with specific emphasis on where the searchlight beamed interminably on my personage.

Page attempted to drag my reputation into public disrepute, by aligning a retinue of what he called “briefcase” NGOs to me with the badge of “fakeness,” even though there was no established prima facie case or evidence of my criminal indulgence or misdemeanor. It is a negative profiling of my person, no doubt. But I am sure, Matthew T. Page never intended such outcomes, but only undertook a research to understand how NGOs operate in Nigeria. It is understandable.

Nonetheless, I have every problem with the salient judgement tone and insinuations propagated by the researcher. I felt more compelled to raise a voice and make a few clarifications, against the loud denunciations’, judgements, interpretations’, justifications and condemnations of NGOs as categorized by Mr. Page’s analysis as “credible” and single-person groups.

But famously, let me make this declaration. I am a bona fide citizen of Nigeria, with an unfading passion for my beloved country. I am also a staunch democrat and an avid believer in the cardinal doctrines of democratic governance, especially its guaranteed liberties.

And most significantly, years back, I observed my country as a nation thrown into deliberate quagmire, distress, trauma and torments by demonic forces. It’s a game gleefully exercised by the power drunk or power-hungry elites, who are in connivance with feudal lords and the affluent desperadoes who have held the rest of the downtrodden captive on a vicious podium of power tussle for supremacy.

In a number of years, we endured massive killings, sorrows, agonies, conflagrations of varying dimensions, the reign of gun-stars and gangsters, ethnic warlords, and the supremacy of armed militias against the Nigerian state. And for similar number of years, succeeding leaders of Nigeria helplessly watched the evolution, embryony, progression and entrenchments of these multidimensional lethal crises developed near impenetrable foothold in the country, until the Buhari Presidency.

When President Muhammadu Buhari became the democratic leader of Nigeria in 2015, his early actions from day one, conveyed a clear message of his willingness and commitment to regenerate and redeem Nigeria from the barrage of these subsisting afflictions, listed earlier. In President Buhari, I saw the portrait of a leader with a strong will, honesty, strength of character and a staunch commitment to the liberation of Nigerians.

Before proceeding, let me be blunt to Mr. Page! In all democracies around the world, there is always a conflict of partisan interests from the citizens. Leaders are loved and hated, supported or frustrated. There is no country where a serving President is loved or hated by all; there is no single nation with such complacent citizenry.

And I have never concealed my love for President Buhari, which is effervescent till tomorrow. I do not also hate those who hate him. We only interface on the strength of superior arguments either in support or in opposition to Mr. President depending on one’s camp or standpoint. Therefore, Mr. Page cannot determine for me, whether to love or hate my President or query my working in his favour.

My assertions are not peculiar to Nigeria. Even in great world democracies like Britain and America, love or hatred for a particular reader is unevenly spread amongst the people. In yesterday’s American political history, we saw Americans who perceived ex-President Donald J. Trump as a narcissist, white supremacist, braggard, a psycho and a poor leader, who deserved to be booted out of office after his first tenure.

But then, there were other Americans, who loved President Trump in spite of his personal shortcomings as outlined by his opposing camp. We are witnesses to the resentful actions of the die-hard supporters of former President Trump when they assailed the Capitol Hill and violently broke into the building and disrupted congress proceedings. So, my love for President Buhari is not a restraining weapon for anyone who chooses to hate him. My working for him was an expression of him because he pricked my psyche as a better leader more than others.

So, Buhari’s early manifestations as Nigeria’s leader endeared and tethered me to his personality/administration. I decided straightaway, without any modicum of hesitation to also conscript myself into the clan of patriots like my President and loyalists of my country, as exhibited by Mr. President. At all times, I elevated and defended national interest first in support of Buhari.

Unfortunately, down the lane, sprouted forces that were arrayed to sabotage Buhari and the country emerged and are at work to see the administration’s end . The sabs launched massive attacks especially on sectors and areas President Buhari’s imprints started registering early remarkable impacts and the radical reversal of the nation’s assailing misfortunes.

Consequently, in just a few months, the Nigerian Military made tremendous impacts in the counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast. The then leader of the counter-insurgency operations in Nigeria, Lt. Gen. TY Buratai (rtd) (now Nigerian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Benin Republic) ensured he never disappointed Nigerians and Mr. President, his Commander-In-Chief. He led troops to miraculously recover Nigerian territories captured by Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists, freed thousands of Nigerians abducted and held hostage by insurgents in the Northeast in the shortest time.

The Military descended on armed bandits and cattle rustlers in the Northwest and a lot more, even unsparing of violent militants and secessionists down southern Nigeria. Normalcy begun to return to hitherto troubled areas. This respite lasted all through to end of 2017, but was brutally terminated.

And the saboteurs’ and detractors with unimaginable nest and angles of attacks unleashed co-ordinated or diversified atrocities on the Nigerian state to reverse the gains. And deliberate misinformation, fake news and de-marketing of the President and the Nigerian Military’s efforts in containing insecurities became the official antiphonies of the conspiratorial gangs.

As a patriot and someone loyal to my country Nigeria, I could not stand on the fence and idle as some devious Nigerians plotted further destruction of my country and future. I had to conscript myself in this war in my smallest way. It was about the time the United States of America identified cyberspace terrorism globally as a portent weapon used by terrorists, their agents and sympathizers’ in trumpeting the triumph of terrorism against state forces. Therefore, I joined the Nigerian military in these war times to battle cyberspace terrorism.

We all know, wars are emergencies. And every energy and strategy are invested into it insofar as it can railroad a victorious cause. That was exactly how I functioned in these crucial and precarious times to fight terrorists and bandits for my country. Mr. Page and his partners must know in wartimes insistence on legality and illegitimacy of actions geared towards entrenching peace and security or ending the holocaust do not occupy the center stage.

In fact, questioning the registration status of NGOs which birthed to support the Military match the propaganda prowess of terrorists, appears more like an ass in the face of this emergency and insulated from strict interpretations within the precincts of law. These actions or dramatis personae cannot be invalidated by Mr. Page’s skewed definition of “credible” and pro-government NGOs.

Let me put Mr. Page on notice that after this piece, I will respond finally to Mr. Page on why his categorization of NGOs in Nigeria as credible and discredited merely on the bases of their outings or output in Nigeria is disingenuous and faulty.

So, I like to conclude this piece by reiterating to Mr. Page and his admirers that his submissions on my person in the paper titled, “Fake Civil Society: The Rise of Pro-Government NGOs in Nigeria,” only conveyed his repulsion of me, my vehicles of battles against terrorists and for standing up for country at its most difficult and challenging times. I perceive Mr. Page’s elucidations only within the prism of his desire, together with his sponsors to resort to the pen to persecute me for the exhibited patriotism and loyalty to my country. But I am unfazed by his poisonous arrows.

Agbese is a human rights activist and scholar based in the United Kingdom.

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