Insults as Faux Political Skill
When one looks at the Nigerian political terrain one finds a teeming abundance of participants who exhibit their mindlessness, mediocrity and incapacity with great pride and honour. A disinterested observer, and there are many, would wonder if political participants in Nigeria knew any better. One aspect of the bungling but haughty political participants’ sensibilities is to be effortlessly found in the “arena of verbal exchange” between allies and opponents in both real and imaginary issues. These exchanges are mostly common with youthful wannabe politicians and clients who have nothing worthy to offer to the polity. Older and more established political participants tend to be less eager to engage in public verbal exchanges but use youths to do their dirty work.
The ability to insult an opponent, an impartial commentator or a fancied critic of one’s political persuasion or patron is observed to be the key skill and only skill necessary to rise in the political ranks within parties in Nigeria. Insults, unsurprisingly, are also hurled very freely at allies who are seen to going against a political patron within the same political party. Sometimes the praise of a despised patron within the same party by an ally can also trigger insults. Social media is a particularly good panorama for observing insults and the tactics employed. However, other meeting points like private homes, beer parlours, hotels, club houses and social gatherings are also excellent for observing insults in political discussing. And it is no different where Nigerians gather in diaspora.
“Insult readiness” with very little discrimination is thus highly valuable in a political arena where ‘to be or not be insulted’ is riddled with uncertainty, capriciousness, opportunity, ease of victimisation and sheer ignorance. With social media one does not even have to know who one is insulting. I have seen a hairdresser with a high school diploma tell a statistics professor he needs a maths class only because he criticised the very ostensible misuse of data by a political patron. I have also seen a doctor who specialises in tropical diseases being called a fool for questioning Nigeria’s preparedness to deal with numerous potential epidemics. Elected and former elected politicians who make themselves available are constantly insulted, say in social media. However, no one is more insulted than the wannabes themselves often leading to minor and major tragedies.
The only other necessary political skills the wannabe politician needs to exhibit is the ability to proffer to political patrons and benefactors visible sycophancy complete with praise singing, calculated histrionics, servility, expedient self-sacrifice and so forth and so on. If achievement is an indicator of political success, sycophancy is mostly espoused for imaginary or incomplete achievements; real concrete achievements tend to be few. The imaginary achievements in question are figments of the wannabes’ imagination but are uncannily pleasing to the ears of the politician or patron who knows he or she has not achieved what they are being praised for.
Accepting praise for imaginary achievement gets very spooky at times. Incomplete achievements only mean a task has started but not completed successfully and are qualified by the notorious unctuous claim “the politician is trying”. Logically trying and succeeding in any sphere of activity (especially public service delivery) are worlds apart are but are conveniently conflated and conflated again by political wannabes and rapaciously accepted by the master it is directed towards. The land of imaginary achievement is quite a land.
Name-calling is the favourite insult-tactic by wannabes; any offensive name or label would suffice. The unusual aspect of name-calling is when racial slurs reserved for white people, who choose to pour scorn on black folk, is used by the wannabes on their fellow country man. Negro, monkey, baboon, chimp, pygmy, and even Neanderthal and 3/5ths of a man are used. How else would we know there are wannabes that have lived and studied in diaspora? Slander is another favourite tactic to insult and tarnish opponents and allies with alike. The invention of falsehoods about an opponent who is then induced to counter with his or her own set of falsehoods in retaliation reduces political discussion to a level a bit lower than the gutter. Gaslighting whereby the targets mental health is questioned though not yet a favourite is on the rise. Without diagnosis or indication an opponent or ally is slighted as depressed, psychotic, neurotic or clinically mad only because they did not agree with someone else or criticised their patron. Ad Hominen attacks in which the subject of the debate is avoided and substituted with the person “on the other side” is the most common form of argument tactic used to insult.
Uncritical and rude dismissal of an opponent’s perspective no matter how accurate, relevant or irrefutable facts presented is also a common argument tactic used to insult. Straw man attacks are launched in such a way the entire intelligence of a people is brought into question. While politicians and patrons secretly endorse and definitely encourage wannabes on their payroll or in their camp to attack their opponents with insults and arguments that reek of bitterness and senselessness, the insulting game has taken on a life of its own which the men at the top have no control over. Insult-readiness has become everything to wannabe and they sincerely believe in the superiority and excellence of democracy by insults. How unfortunate does a generation of political aspirants get?
One should ask, what ever happened to political skills such as leadership, vision, oratory, dialogue, persuasion, discretion, personality, diplomacy, campaigning, organising, policy formulation, paradigm adoption, fund raising, etc. Are these not the necessary skills people with political aspirations need to develop to superlative levels in order to create the systems of genuine democracy, good governance, responsible government, bureaucratic morality and proper elections that Nigerians have always cried, whined and sighed about? But the mostly youthful wannabes lack the aptitude, capacity, patience, discipline and courage to acquire and master such political skills. While patrons prepare their children and a tiny select youth that have proven undying loyalty (no mean test) with superior mentoring in superior political skills the rest are used as political cannon fodder e.g. in the insults game and violence. Leadership, persuasion, dialogue and fundraising, for example, by the tactic of insults are atrociously untenable practices which patrons never mentor to their children and favourites.
One may wonder why youthful wannabes subject themselves to being used by politicians and patrons in such a crude, ruthless and risky manner. Ignorance? Yes. Hunger and the fear or further or future hunger is the exclusive underlying factor though. The Nigerian youth know they are condemned to a life of hunger and have to survive in an optionless manner. The days when it was relatively easy for the youth to go overseas and get papers to live and work there are over; foreign immigration rules are getting much tougher and more resilient by the day. So the Nigerian youth has to stay at home and survive purely as a “hustler with do or die hustler’s mentality”. Why? Politicians do not create jobs for the youths in Nigeria because they believe that Nigerians have a ‘magical ability’ to survive. Legally one can only make money by selling one’s labour, renting out one’s property / capital or making a profit through enterprise. Nevertheless, there are no jobs, those who inherit property and capital to rent are usually the children of major politicians and the capital for start-up enterprises is non-existent. Hopelessness and helplessness coupled with hunger easily becomes the lot of the Nigerian youth. There is however a bright but mostly illusory glimmer of hope for the youth to earn incomes in “political jobs”. Being appointed a personal assistant (PA) to a state governor, federal minister, state commissioner, director-general, local authority chairman, senator, representative, etc. are “the” dream jobs for youths.
It is erroneously believed by the youth that such jobs are stepping stones to political greatness and financial success. More unfortunately, is that the youth are aware of how competitive getting political jobs is necessitating the adoption of ruthlessness, nastiness, violence, rudeness, heartlessness and betrayal, as character attributes necessary to succeed; the well-groomed approach takes too long for the hustler. The tragedy is that most youths not only end up without achieving the political rewards they seek, they also never rise above the insult game and do not even realise that if the politicians and patrons who they are willing to sacrifice themselves for used Nigeria’s oil money to create jobs for them their lives would be better lived and much more civilised in practice. One has to weep for these wannabe youths.
Is it, therefore, not unsurprising that Nigerian politicians are generally characterised in local and international media as possessing thoroughgoing crudeness and the newer upcoming stock are even cruder? I say do not blame the youth much; I hold the politicians and patrons that arrange the ‘rules of the game’ in which the youth participate as responsible. Fighting against the military to bring back a democracy of ‘insult and violence’ was not the plan and it is a national shame that it now is.
- Dr. Nane is an errant scholar and economist. Follow him on Twitter @Grimot