By Afe Babalola
Over the last two weeks I have discussed the issue of lie telling and when it may or may not amount to a crime to tell lies. In conclusion I will now discuss the issue of the seeming penchant for politicians, particularly in Nigeria, to tell lies.
The February 2019 general elections are some months away. In preparation, many parties have conducted primaries to select their candidates in the various elections into the State Houses of Assembly, House of Representatives, Senate, Governorship etc. With the conclusion of these primaries, the candidates are now expected to hit the campaign trail with their numerous promises in a bid to win the votes of the electorate. Politicians will have no qualms promising the absurd and outright impossibilities to a populace which though already weary with the poor performance of politicians, is yet to show a real preparedness to hold them accountable for their failure to make good on previous electoral promises.
In the coming weeks, politicians will promise millions of jobs, the construction of schools, the rehabilitation of roads, the revamp of the educational sector, the overhaul of the medical sector, all of which on the surface appear to be doable and indeed expedient save only for the absence of any intention to achieve them.
In the case of education, promises will be made to build more schools, free schools and free food when the existing schools continue to be starved of funds for payment of salaries and repair of buildings. Many roads across Nigeria are at the present moment in deplorable states. Yet instances have been recorded in the past in which a road which is totally impassable to any form of motorised vehicle is recorded in the files of the government as having been rehabilitated or reconstructed time and time again.
Even before winning the primaries of their parties, many would have already falsified documents relating to their eligibility to stand for the elections in the first place.
To be certain, the phenomenon of lie telling by Politician is not particular to Nigeria. It pervades the whole planet so much so that academic studies have been dedicated to study just why Politicians lie. In his article entitled
“Six Reasons why Politicians lie”
Jim Taylor Ph.D. stated as follows:
I’m constantly amazed by how often politicians lie and then, of course, their unwillingness to admit that they lied. The euphemisms that politicians use for what is, in many cases, bold-faced lies are legend. Politicians misspoke. The biased media misinterpreted what they meant. Politicians’ words were distorted, misrepresented, twisted, exaggerated, or taken out of context. They overstated, understated, or misstated. But, of course, politicians never lie, at least that’s what they say. Yet, the unvarnished truth is that politicians do lie about things substantive…The $64,000 question that is constantly asked is: Why do politicians believe they can lie and not get caught?
He then identified the six reasons why Politicians lie as:
- Many Politicians are narcissists. Narcissists are Narcissists are arrogant, self-important, see themselves as special, require excessive admiration, have a sense of entitlement, and are exploitative.
- Politicians know their followers will believe them, even in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary.
- People don’t want to hear the truth.
- The Internet never forgets.
- Cognitive biases.
- If a lie is told enough times, people will assume it is true.
There is however another school of thought that argues that it is necessary for politicians to lie if they are to be able to manoeuvre within the political and leadership settings they have found themselves. Arguing this view in his article titled “Why Politicians lie”, Dr. Ichak Adizes stated that:
“The theme of lying politicians is not exclusive to the USA. In the fifty-two countries in which I have worked, I hear the same complaint: “We cannot trust our leaders. They are evasive. They hold back from telling us the truth, etc.” So why is it a global phenomenon that politicians lie?
Because they have to.
I got this insight from working with prime ministers and presidents of various countries, while at the same time working with CEOs of very large companies. Leaders of major conglomerates and of countries exhibit very similar leadership styles: They are evasive, play their cards very close to the vest and do not share information if they can help it. They use big words to obscure their real intentions. They often “lie,” skirt the truth, too.
The higher you ascend up the hierarchy, the more political the environment becomes. Those you are interrelating with have their own interests—be they personal, or of the unit they manage—and there is a struggle between all these interests. As a leader you have to maneuver between all these pressure groups and powerful individuals, and survive the maneuvering.
If you are truthful about your intentions and make them known, you are giving information to those who want to unseat you, who want you to lose so they can gain. You lose the capability to maneuver politically. It would be like a military leader making his battle plans known to the enemy during a war. And folks, up there in the organizational hierarchy, whether of a country or a corporation, it is a war.”
The view stated above accords with my position that there are instances where lie telling may not amount to a crime and where it is absolutely necessary to do so. However the truth is that lie telling by politicians in this part of the world has become so pervasive that a need for caution has arisen. As stated by Dr. Taylor, when a lie is told over and over again people begin to assume that it is true. Furthermore and again as stated by Dr. Taylor, in this age of the internet, it is very easy for a lie to remain permanently on the internet to the extent that many will view its existence on the internet as irrefutable proof of its truth.
Links between lies and lack of trust
The point must also be made that there is something inherently immoral in deceiving the electorate to vote based entirely on lies. Such occurrences inevitably lead to a breakdown of trust between the government and the governed. It accounts for the attitude of many Nigerians, long imbued in them even prior to independence, that the government is not to be trusted and that anyone in government is entitled to his or her share of the “national cake”. Explaining this, Martin Meredith in his book, “The State of Africa” stated as follows:
“The misuse of public funds in Nigeria had deep roots. During the colonial era, many Nigerians regarded government institutions as olu oyibo – whiteman’s business, an alien system that could be plundered when necessary. Government’s business is no man’s business, ran a popular Nigerian saying.
Explaining the practice, Eghosa Osaghe, a Nigerian academic commented: ‘there was thus nothing seriously wrong with stealing state funds, especially if they are used to benefit not only individual but also members of his community.
Use the power and resources
Those who had the opportunity to be in government were expected to use the power and resources at their disposal to advance private and communal interests.’ The attitude prevailed with the coming of independence. The state was regarded as a foreign institution that could be used for personal and community gain without any sense of shame or need for accountability. Plunderers of the government treasury were often excused on the grounds that they had only ‘taken their share.’ What added to the problem was the notion that the government was in effect, a reservoir of ‘free money.”
Therefore, as the elections approach I urge Politicians to consider the effect of their lie telling. While it may win them political office, it will make them loose the confidence and trust of those they govern and on the long run, the country will be worse off for it. I only hope that the fortunes of the country and the need to preserve it are factors that will one day resonate fully with our politicians.