A Season For Sycophants: Their Tricks And Tactics

NIGERIANS would do anything to gain access to the corridors of power or the attention of the man of power. The contraction of the domestic economy resulting in the reduction of opportunities for meaningful employment and productivity, has created a situation whereby the easiest way to earn a living, good living at that, and be relevant, is to have access to government at whatever level. And so, with the conclusion of the 2011 elections and the inaugurations having taken place, the natural thing for many persons is to scramble for government largesse. We are in that special season when elected politicians make appointments: the President has dissolved the Federal cabinet, other political appointees have been asked to go home, boards will be dissolved, ambassadors will be recalled and new appointments will be made; in the states, many positions are similarly vacant.alt

The President in particular has enormous powers of patronage. He can appoint anyone to any position, as long as those persons satisfy constitutional requirements and do not run foul of the law, he can empower, disempower, make, unmake and turn a family of beggars into a rich family overnight. Governors and local council chairmen all have similar powers, even political appointees and certain categories of elected officials can equally bestow fortunes by appointing others as assistants or advisers. And so, the rush is on, and the desperation is large-sized.

Understandably, the President and some Governors have had to complain about the obstructive pressure from lobbyists who want something for somebody or for themselves, and who are pressurizing party members and chieftains to submit their names and resumes, and ensure that they get something juicy. Nigerians don't just want a political appointment, they want something "juicy"; that is a position where good access to the proverbial national cake is best guaranteed. One report says well-known PDP chieftains like General Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Tony Anenih as well as community and business leaders who are known to have the ears of the President are all under pressure to whisper into the President's ears. His ears must be full by now. Lobbying for political appointments is probably not a Nigerian invention, but its sociology around here is peculiar, in part as indicated, because government is the biggest source of patronage. There are no jobs out there, people are hungry, and the best place to be is inside government, where easy money is so easy to come by. What kind of job can anybody do to earn the kind of frightening millions that each lawmaker in Abuja goes home with every month?

With direct lobbying becoming suspicious, however, attention seekers, not leaving anything to chance are also adopting the strategy of flattery. In the past two weeks or so, there has been a huge suffusion of congratulatory adverts in the media. The President has been a target, the Governors too, new, returning and departing, and there have been adverts talking about the achievements of Ministers. You only need to read between the lines to know that there is a game of sycophancy afoot. Virtually every one of the adverts is in colour: colour adverts are very expensive, but they register better in print, and are impressive. A random check has revealed that most of the people placing the adverts are at the state level, council chairmen, some funny ethnic group forum/movement/foundation/congress, or friends of the governor, and particularly, contractors, and at the Federal level, the authors of the congratulatory adverts are friends, or admirers, or concerned groups or committees, and contractors. The adverts all have the same character, indicating their real motives.

The Governor Elect is praised to high heavens: "dear brother," the "visionary of our time," "the great leader"; "leader of leaders", "our dear son and brother", "a worthy son", "the revolutionary", "the chosen one"; "THE MAN in Rudyard Kipling's Odyssey", "a distinguished patriot", "Owelle", "Ochi Udo", "the paragon of democracy," "a man of the people," "a colossus", (well, everybody in Nigeria is a colossus of sorts!), or better still, "a quintessential leader" whose victory is "well deserved", with a "marvelous mandate", and is a demonstration of his "visionary leadership"; and he is hereby congratulated because his mandate is "the CLEANEST and most LEGITIMATE to be won by any President or Governor since the inception of Nigeria" (Ha Ha!). And if the elected person is a woman, she is described as a "woman of substance" (don't worry about this being a meaningless cliché, what matters is that it sounds nice), and she is told "gender is no barrier" (how convenient, say that to Sarah Jibril and Gbemisola Saraki!). And if the fellow's birthday happens to fall within this season, as in the case of Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State who turned 46 on May 27, ah, that provides the real opportunity for double-barrel sycophancy. Amaechi not only got congratulated on his "resounding victory", project developers, estate surveyors, engineering contractors (Amaechi is building a lot of roads and houses in Rivers state), party chieftains, council chairmen, and agency chiefs praised him for his "excellent developmental strides", and "his wisdom (in some adverts we are told this wisdom is infinite!), and his "mission...vision...strength"... The prize-winning advert is the one that talks about "triple Congratulations!" referring to Amaechi's re-election, his birthday and his emergence as Chairman of the Governors' Forum!

Felicitations and congratulations are two phrases that have dominated the media during this season. Naturally, most of the adverts have been targeted at the President and the First Lady, the two people who in the popular imagination are currently the most powerful in Nigeria. First Lady? Yes. I have seen adverts exclusively devoted to Mrs Patience Jonathan praising her to high heavens: "mother of the nation", "heroine of charity", "matriarch of our kingdom" (well, every woman is a matriarch of somewhere even in face-me-I-face you apartments!). If flattery can induce headache, by now President Jonathan and his Vice-President Namadi Sambo, whose photograph is usually included in the adverts, must be on some special medication. And I noticed something: in most of the adverts, the authors take special pains to ensure that there is no doubt about who has placed the advert.

The picture of the celebrant is of course included, but the authors also place their own photographs, to avoid any case of mistaken identity. Sometimes, the name of the author is even more conspicuous, and where it is by a group of persons, the names of all the persons who have contributed money for the advert is loudly displayed. Some of the adverts bear the signatures of the authors, even phone numbers! One man who was once privileged to shake the hands of President Jonathan used the picture as a poster advert, just in case anyone is in doubt that the President is his buddy (it doesn't matter that a President gets to shake the hands of so many people in the course of duty, including fortune hunters and charlatans dressed like responsible folks.) In this particular advert, the fellow tells Jonathan: "your victory at the 2011 April election polls is a national endorsement of your humility and sterling qualities of leadership." These days every Nigerian is a political scientist! This guy is even decent compared to others. Eni-B of ThisDay wrote recently about "Corporate Nigeria and Area Boys", and he is absolutely right. What he didn't add is that some CEOs now go about publishing every photo they get a chance to take with the President: the most obnoxious executive 419 that I have ever seen! Councils of traditional rulers are also part of this funny game: they are placing adverts welcoming new Governors, offering prayers and pledging support. Ole!

Some of the advert-authors are also quite prolific. One fellow placed adverts for four Governors (I am still counting!), and of course, he runs a certain SERVICES! He feels no sense of shame praising each Governor to high heavens. In his advert for the new Governor of Ogun state, he says for example, "democracy wears a new cap in Ogun State", with a picture of Ibikunle Amosun's heavily embroidered, skyscraper cap (well, Amosun should do a lot more than being known for his attention-seizing cap). A few adverts are downright solicitous, like this one on President Jonathan and Vice President Namadi Sambo: "you said 'One man, one vote'. Nigerians said 'Goodluck Nigeria'. We say 'one man, one house...' We challenge your excellencies to challenge us." Well, what do we say to such kindergarten drivel?

But consider this: another group tells President Jonathan directly to retain Hon. Kingsley Kuku "as your special adviser on Niger Delta and Chairman of the Niger Delta Post Amnesty Committee", and "not to listen to politicians who are lobbying" for the position! They conclude: "we ask this with all sense of responsibility, as we have on good knowledge that our Masters are satisfied with the output of Hon. Kingsley Kuku". Ah well, and this too: one advert signed by the 1985 Law Class of ABU Zaria says M. B. Adoke offered "uncommon courage and selfless service as the Attorney General of the Federal and Minister of Justice". Really? But how about Fidelia Njeze, former Minister of Aviation who took the matter into her own hands, and placed two colour adverts, back to back signed by herself, with her photograph, congratulating her state Governor, Sullivan Chime, and the President, with each advert dripping with sycophantic tosh!

A closer scrutiny further reveals how the horde of attention and position seekers varies their strategy in some instances. Persons who have lost their positions, Minister or Governor, are all suddenly showing up in the media under different guises; with the most perfect alibi being a birthday celebration around this period. Taoheed Adedoja who has been Nigeria's Minister of Sports in the Jonathan administration turned 60 on May 27- a committee of friends published his complete CV, describing him as "an erudite scholar, renowned educationist, seasoned sports administrator, and refined politician." Arrgh! People publish their CVs only when they are job-hunting and don't forget that President Jonathan in dissolving his cabinet told the cabinet: "some of you will return." Obviously, some of the Ministers are not taking things lying low. Their friends are telling us that they are the best thing to have happened since "the inception of Nigeria". Governors who lost their re-election bids are also not walking away. There have been stories in the media extolling their achievements in office, and perhaps the luckiest man in this regard is Adebayo Alao-Akala, formerly known as His Excellency, Governor of Oyo State. He turned 61 at the right time, on June 3 and so his supporters and friends rolled out the adverts. Their message, by way of summary is that Akala is a great achiever and a man that Nigeria still needs. Well, don't forget that there are strong indications that President Jonathan may also appoint some former Governors as Ministers, not to get them to do any serious work, but to rehabilitate and compensate them!

There is no doubting that President Jonathan and the serving Governors are all under pressure from lobbyists seeking political appointments. But there must be something about the character of our political leaders that makes them easy targets of sycophancy. They enjoy it. They love it. They take sycophancy for substance, for if it is not a good strategy, people will not part with millions of Naira, on radio, television, and newspapers just to tell a man that he is wearing a good cap or that he is a colossus. The only man who has no political appointment to give right now, and who got an advert praising him is probably Great Ogboru of the Delta DPP in an advert signed by "Deltans in Diaspora". One cynic insists however, that he could have placed the advert himself because there may be no such thing as "Deltans in Diaspora". But in every instance, you can be sure that the authors of the adverts will send copies to their targets, or ask that their attention be drawn to it!

One other strategy being adopted by desperate lobbyists is the organization of dinners and private parties for elected representatives. The invitations are already flying about. A special reception, a community reception, a meeting of friends, but you can be sure most people at such events have their CVs in their pockets: they want to be Ministers, Commissioners, Board Members, they want to remind the President or the Governor of old boys' ties; they want a contract if possible, if allowed, they would take their entire families along and try to ingratiate themselves: the husband is a building contractor, the wife can supply gift items or possibly join the First Lady's inner caucus- those women who follow every First Lady around, looking for something for themselves and helping to protect their husbands' pot of soup!

A female member of the National Assembly once disclosed that the problem with Nigeria is the people. According to her, Nigerians do not allow elected persons to do the work, they mount pressure on them, they besiege them for favours, including requests for appointments even when they are not qualified to be so recognized, the payment of their children's school fees, sponsorship of marriage ceremonies, holy pilgrimages, burial events, child naming and payment of hospital bills even when the entire community is aware that the ailment in question is gonorrhea! She is perhaps right. The ordinary Nigerian is desperate. He or she is, because this is a country where everything is in a state of desperation, and persons have been programmed to seek survival by any means. But if our circumstances must change, politics must become a vehicle for development, not underdevelopment. It is particularly terrible that local council chairmen, and heads of state-owned institutions, will use public funds to place congratulatory messages in the media.

If President Jonathan and the Governors are willing to do a good job, they'd have to step on people's toes, and insist on best practices, and provide good governance. It is so easy to please everyone, do nothing, and help desperadoes achieve their goals, but that won't be leadership.


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