Why are public statements issued by individuals and organisations? Are they just reflection of some desire to disseminate information based on some perspectives; to seek for relevance and recognition; could they be for material and financial rewards? Are they to influence choices or endorsement by citizens, public officials, authorities and governments or are they expressions of our ability to show superiority or to delegitimise and overpower others? Is there any consistency flowing from statements issued by individuals or organisations and can such consistency be determined with reference to objectivity, logic, ideology or even factuality?
Perhaps, it can be assumed that combination of factors may inform most statements. Issues of consistency with reference to objectivity, logic, ideology and factuality are often sacrificed on the altar of exigency. This is largely because, statements in contemporary times are predominantly responsive and defensive on account of which, therefore, the focus tend to be reduced to show of superiority, delegitimisation and to overpower others. Once statements are only responsive or defensive, they become cheaply egoistic.
In so many respects, this provides the cultural attributes and orientation that regulate and shape both context and content of public statements in Nigeria. Whether with reference to politics, governance or any facet of engagement, statements are responsive, defensive and essentially promoting personalities. Matters of objectivity, logic, ideology and factuality can at best be inferred, but are hardly a guiding principle or consideration, no matter the claims of the individuals or organisations issuing the statements.
In the case politics, they also come with desperation which may strategically seek to distort and fabricate information. Part of the stimulating influences that makes that almost compelling is the mindset of living for today. Integral to such mindset is that our today should, and in most of cases, must be detached from who we are and how we became the personalities we are today, and as for tomorrow, let God take care of that.
How this manifests in politics diminishes the business of movement to mediocrity, and electoral contest competitively shows off inelegance and grandstanding. Egos get fattened and propagation of untruth becomes the attraction. Rather than contest of ideas and issues based on facts and logic, it becomes contest of falsehood such that it is all about display of skills to transfigure untruth into facts. Given such atmosphere, abuse, vulgarity and hate become the language of expression.
How else can one explain politics and the contest for the 2019 general elections in Nigeria? Be that as it may, can we in anyway estimate whether statements are making any desired impact? Do we even have yardsticks for determining any considered impact? Does it even matter whether statements make impact or not? In any case, if politics is denigrated to contest of falsehood, can anyone, politician or not, have any power to make a lie become fact? Against such, is it possible to produce good or accountable leaders? In other words, is it possible to have good governance in the realm of falsehood? Conversely, is it that falsehood has become our national way of life?
The realities of our time clearly diminish any rational consideration for a brighter tomorrow. If we are not propagating falsehood, we live in perpetual denial all because a small category of our population has forced us to relate with politics and its associated leadership challenges based on a very high capacity to perforce a national political agenda of falsehood. With such realities, factors of reward may not necessarily translate to material and financial compensation. They may simply be the capacity to elicit indulgence, which could come in different ways.
A combination of this and possible absence of courage and confidence is making the 2019 electoral contest to become swimming competition in the pool of polluted politics of abuse, vulgarity and hate. Choices are expressed accordingly in such language. Shouldn’t it be possible for choices to be expressed without recourse to such uncouth language? Isn’t it possible to win support of citizens using a different language? But if political contest is about show of superiority, delegitimisation and overpowering others in a pool of abuse, vulgarity and hate, which other language can guarantee victory?
Somehow, it is either that everyone has resigned or we have all been intimidated into accepting abuse, vulgarity and hate as the only language for politics and electoral contest.
Unfortunately, it is such banality that would appear to have strong retrogressive influence on the consciousness of all citizens. Educated people comfortably talk in the lexicon of the unschooled, professionals as cultured and unskilled, diaspora citizens more eloquent in the language of abuse, vulgarity and hate than the local rural population.
It is a matter that is truly organic, which question our humanity, consciousness and commitment to a better society. The more fluent we are in this language of abuse, vulgarity and hate, the weaker will be our capacity to produce good leaders, facilitate good governance and contribute to the emergence of a better tomorrow. It doesn’t matter what our claims are or how educated or informed we may be, so long as our language of engagement with politics is defined by abuse, vulgarity and hate, we can only serve as adversaries to good leaders, good governance and better society.
This is not only an issue that has defined inter-party contest, it also manifests itself in intra-party contest across virtually all the political parties.
Most times, the higher the potential for electoral victory, the stronger the manifestation. Often, we argue that it is also a reflection of absence of discipline, commitment to values and how all our parties and politicians are the same, surreptitiously to excuse our responsibilities as citizens to act as moderating influences.
May be on account of accumulated anger and frustration over the years, we have all demobilised ourselves from discharging our civic responsibilities. With politicians concerned only about today and citizens demobilised of all civic responsibility, how can tomorrow ever come? Does tomorrow even exist? Once we can’t produce good leaders, good governance and a better society, in whatever form, tomorrow will remain illusory.
One thing is very obvious, abuse, vulgarity and hate are also hostile and destructive to emergence and proliferation of responsive organisations. Emergence of good leaders, facilitation of good governance and a better society will depend on the presence of responsive organisations. Both in politics and the wider society, any organisation which competitive advantage speaks only the language of abuse, vulgarity and hate, its survival would be limited to the length of time it will take to expose the falsity and banality of its claims. The tenure of leaders will be proportionate to the survival duration of the falsehood that throws then into leadership positions. Such an organisation will have high volatile propensity, thriving on anger, conflict and violence. Issues of grievance handling, dispute settlement, reconciliation and peace building will hardly be priority.
This can partly explain dynamics in Nigerian politics. Over time, especially since 1999, political contests and competitions have been characterised by the reign of falsehood on account of which our parties and elected representatives are scarcely responsive. In fact, processes of candidates’ selection, as well as national elections, for quite some time, were barefaced lies resulting in violence, loss of lives and property. Processes of reconciliation, conflict resolution, etc. were non-existent in our parties. Virtually all openings for reform within our parties were blocked.
Between 1999 and 2015, when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in power at the national level and in many states, the progression towards more and more falsehood could be argued to be increasing in such a way that falsehood was produced at a rate faster than its tenure. This means that new sets of untruth emerged to consolidate existing ones before their tenures lapsed. More and new sets of abuse, vulgarity and hate targeted at wider sections of Nigerians emerged, which provoked more conflicts, violence and the attendant loss of lives and property. The reality of being the operative political culture and behaviour associated with the ruling PDP influenced conduct and behaviour of the opposition parties.
Without doubt, it could be argued that the defeat of PDP in the 2015 elections was made possible relatively because the tenure of the falsehood that gave PDP the authority to govern expired. The defeat of PDP wouldn’t mean the immediate disappearance of all falsehood associated with the era of PDP. It will take dogged effort to eradicate them. In the process of protecting and defending some of the falsehood based on survival instinct by both PDP and beneficiaries, new sets of falsehood could emerge. It will be consistent with the logic of having to tell more lies to defend a lie.
While it will be defeatist to continue to explain our political realities given the role of PDP and how the survival of its tenure relied on falsehood founded on language of abuse, vulgarity and hate, the regime of the All Progressives Congress (APC) will be producing new sets of lies if we are unable to take certain basic steps to terminate the life of some falsehood in our politics. For instance, is it possible for a party to remain electorally strong without internal mechanism for dispute settlement and conflict resolution? Can a political party really afford to ignore its leading stakeholders and move to decimate them on account of considered acts of intransigence? Can we even justify any claim as to whether the emergence of APC and its electoral victory in 2015 means that associated issues of authoritarian party leadership, unaccountable management, alienated membership, etc. have been resolved?
Salihu Moh. Lukman
Progressive Governors Forum, Abuja