(Published by the Nigerian Tribune, January 15, 2023)
Last week, Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike and his entourage were in Ahoada area of the State, on a mission to flag-off a road construction. Then a drama was staged. It was skillfully perfumed by a sweet-smelling fragrance which disguised its heretics. As the governor sat to the panoply of songs and fawning political chicanery often entertained visiting political bigwigs with, an unnamed traditional ruler sauntered out to speak. You would think it was a typical narrative at a religious gathering where congregants are regaled with ludicrous and unverifiable claims.
So, the natural ruler was handed a microphone and he began his “testimony”. The only difference here is that he did not preface his narration with the usual deafening “Praise the Lord!” to which congregants usually chorus “Halleluyah!”
If you hitherto didn’t know the havoc that political fawners wreak on the psyche of Nigerian political barons, at least, you saw the viral video of that event. It was an attempt to make god of a mere mortal. Nigerian politicians, ever so creative in negativism, seem to be the only species among global politicians who author this brand of gimmickry. Watching the video, you cannot but pity the obvious imprisonment that political office holders are banished to in the hands of those who make gods out of them for political and selfish reasons. It also shows you how the minds of politically exposed persons are skillfully penetrated by a coterie of ingenuous, disingenuous and obviously idiotic spins. These are all in the bid to penetrate the unearned mounds of cash and positions in their possession.
Back to the video. Then, the fawner-in-chief began. Wike must have thought the man was going to shuttle into the usual political chicanery. No, this time around, a very brilliant brand of groveling was invented which thereafter must have remarkably reshaped the politics of hoodwinking of political barons which Wike and his political class cohorts were used to. I can bet my last dime that, as streetwise as the Rivers governor is, this latest gambit fazed him silly..
Apparently clearing his throat at the magnitude of his narration, the traditional ruler began, to which Wike listened with the usual half attention. The governor must have initially thought that he could recount what the ruler would say by rote. The usual practice is, begin the address of the governor with panegyric, then bring out your request, often for cash and position. However, something in the prefacing of the narration by the traditional ruler, who was decked in the complete regalia of an Ikwerre chief, must have sounded an alarm in Wike’s mind that this was going to be a very unusual narrative.
Then the natural ruler threw the bombast. Or bomb. A lady was admitted into an Ahoada hospital and was ostensibly in the throes of labour pain, struggling frenetically to be delivered of a child. Then she heard nurses in the hospital discussing an impending visit of Wike to the community on January 11. Immediately the pregnant woman heard this, said the traditional ruler, she hysterically shouted “God of Nyesom Wike!” three times. Miraculously, continued the ruler as he maintained the straight face and mien of a money-doubler, her baby came out seamlessly. We didn’t hear the traditional ruler chant the usual epilogue of such ecclesial narration which is always, “Halleluyah!” nor the frenzied shouting response from members of the congregation.
Wike must have been dumbfounded and confounded. A Master of Political drama before and even outside of the microphone, Wike, I reckon, immediately felt masterfully outperformed by this ingenious political con. Concluding, the ruler asked the governor for permission, which he claimed the woman’s family demanded of him, to have the child named after Nyesom Wike.
The pandemic of deodorizing political office holders is a scantily studied political culture in Nigeria. I submit that if properly examined, this culture of deifying mere mortals who hold political power, research may find out, harbours the key to understanding how and why political office holders suddenly go out of control immediately they are vested with power.
I was once in the presence of a governor who was told by one of such disingenuous fawners that his attire was similar to Obafemi Awolowo’s. “Your Excellency sir, the way your cap is tilted was same way Papa Awolowo used to slant his cap!” Adjusting the hapless cap fondly, an infantile smile suddenly jumping on his face, the governor was like a child who had just been handed a self amusing toy or a bar of choice candy.
The politics of adulation and deodorizing of political office holders may have a long history that is a throwback into our African culture. During the Ibrahim Babangida military autocracy years, a Guardian commentator labeled it the Kabiyesi culture or the culture of investing office holders with the same infallible and super-human qualities and epithets of the omnipotent. According to the commentator, apparently unable to find a corollary in modern day power structure to heap on present political authorities, Nigerians and Africans in general reincarnate all those frightening, deifying and godifying features and nomenclatures that we once attributed to monarchs.
Adulations in traditional Africa can be compared to what is found in popular South Indian cinema. Those who research into that cinema culture say it is a highly melodramatic entertainment scene and plotted around what is considered improbable twists of fate. This cinema setting, in the estimation of popular culture scholars, is woven around exaggerated locales and sauced with folksongs, dances, and dueling cinema scenes that are not reflective of the reality of life. The patronage of that cinema culture is largely the poor of society. Not excited by it, critics dismiss its vast popularity as bemusing or an indication of how viewers have sunk in a surprising moral and intellectual somersault.
But we cannot dispute the fact that adulations are part and parcel of us as Africans and that they have existed for centuries. In fact, panegyrics, more than a work of literature, defined the politics of imperial cities. Ancient Rome was renowned for its pioneering role in panegyrics for political powers. It went beyond prose and poetry to becoming a pastime of aristocrats, emperors and generalissimos as one of the forms of encomia in Rome. Among the Yoruba, adulations, praise-singing suffered metastasis of an almost pandemic proportion. In palaces for instance, special places and roles were reserved for fawners and palace courtiers whose sole role was to extol the panegyrics of kings.
It was in this process of odorizing kings that they got invested with epithets of Igbakeji Orisa – second in authority to the gods and Kabiyesi, Kabiyesi being that the king was beyond questioning. This must explain why it was a taboo for monarchs of that era to be seen eating or drinking in public. This was in the bid to continue to sustain the myth of kings’ sacredness, so that they could carry aloft the mythical garb of being far removed from ordinary mortals.
The culture of praise-singing was easily transported into the blanket veneration and loyalty accorded godfathers, elders and ancestors and accounts for its presence in virtually all cultures in Nigeria. It is why these cultures easily transform into clientelism and gerontocracy. Some African anthropologists studying this phenomenon have labeled it sacrilegious in that they attribute God or god’s features to mere mortals. Only in very few instances have attempts been made to look at the dangerous impacts of political panegyrics and dogmatic eulogies of political office holders on Nigerian democratic politics and how the phenomenon negatively impacts on societal well-being.
As I said earlier, it is not only in Nyesom Wike’s Rivers State that you would find the kind of deification politics which happened last week in Ahoada. It is present in virtually wherever there is politics in Nigeria. Indeed, there seems to be a large clique of political panegyricists who, like vultures, wait for political office holders to ascend their imperial offices. They take time to study them and find out what their Achilles heels are. Once they ascend the offices, the vultures unleash their subtle attacks on the politicians’ minds. Having found out their weak points, until they lead the political office holder to Golgotha, the vultures will not let go of their throats.
These vultures come in various forms: religious, political or social. Pastors and Imam variants exist too. So also those who come in the cloak of political pundits, hiding theirs in the veneer of political party wisdom. For some political office holders, their Achilles heels lie in being told that “even Awolowo, Zik or Sardauna” didn’t perform as much as them. This adulation opens the wallets of state in their possession. For others, it is something as mundane as extolling the political office holder’s sartorial appearance. The political barons are so naïve not to know that, on many of those occasions, those adulations are sardonic.
The implications are dire for society. Political adulations have led to cronyism, favouritism and perversion of extant rules. By cuddling political office holders’ vanity veins, the vultures have variously misled them into taking decisions that they most often wouldn’t have taken. Those who are engaged in adulatory politics are mostly people who cannot compete favourably on a level playing field. They needed to tug at the soft spot of the political principal to get favour. That, to me, is the gospel at Ahoada.