By Donu Kogbara
THE point at which an old year draws to a close and a new year beckons is always a good time to reflect on the state of the nation and on the way in which we conduct ourselves as individuals.
I have long felt that shameless sycophancy is worryingly prevalent in our society and that the widespread penchant for relentless arse-licking is one of the things that holds Nigeria back from the greatness it can achieve…in the sense that VIPs who are capable of being pleasant, willing-to-learn and professionally effective are actively encouraged, by obsequious aides/cronies (and cringeing citizens in general) to be downright dictatorial and incompetent.
Dictatorial and incompetent
I grew up in a family that was headed by a VIP (my late father was an ambassador, bank chairman, minister, etc); and I remember daddy telling me that he never allowed himself to fall into the trap of believing the oleaginous praise-singers who constantly flattered him, even when he made mistakes or failed to fulfil his potential!
My father preferred people who told him the truth. But he was rare.
Speaking truth to power is almost a criminal offence in this country, even if the truth is uttered deferentially and by someone who genuinely cares about the VIP in question and wants to help him or her succeed…or to avoid disaster and disgrace.
Typical Naija VIPs are aggressively allergic to constructive criticisms and honest discussions that challenge them to consider alternative opinions, inconvenient facts and other peoples’ feelings.
And I blame the entire society for pampering VIPs to the point where they lose the ability to think and behave optimally…and cannot tolerate intelligent debate or treat their fellow human beings well.
OK so VIPs are put on pedestals all over the world. But Nigerians are especially prone to overdoing the whole pedestal thing.
When I was a young UK-based journalist, we called our bosses by their first names, were encouraged to share our ideas with them, weren’t penalised if we disagreed with them and sometimes socialised with them very informally in bars and restaurants.
But we still knew that there was a chasm between their status and our status. And we were careful not to overstep boundaries. At the end of the day, there was a limit to the egalitarianism we enjoyed.
But I didn’t experience the penchant for unconditionally deifying folks who are above one in the pecking order until I moved to Nigeria. And it happens in both the private and public sectors…and extends beyond obvious power centres like government.
Anyone who happens to be in a position of authority is treated like a can-do-no-wrong genius-monarch-saint by those around them. And I think it is fair to say that too many Nigerians – including far too many journalists, by the way! – carry on like conquered serfs.
My friend, Ademola Henry Adigun, a development expert and ex-banker, recently posted the following ruminations on his Facebook page; and I couldn’t agree more with his observations or conclusion:
During my brother’s church wedding, I noticed with dismay an occurrence that challenges many in leadership.
Returning from signing the marriage register, the families left first. Then the senior pastor followed. Photographers were attempting to take pictures of the couple…[when] an appointed or self-appointed aide rudely…in the way you see politicians being guarded…used his body to block all of them. He was paving way for a pastor who was in no way being impeded from passing.
At Obafemi Awolowo University, I used to watch in amusement and disdain how [students] treated the heads of fellowships.
They would behave like slaves. The young pastors would often let [the adulation] get to their heads and would walk with an air of authority, commanding, intimidating and blackmailing their co students. Their word was law. Many exploited sexually many of the “sisters”.
The same group make it to church outside campus and demand servitude from their followers or do not discourage it. They show nothing of the humility of the Christ they claim they follow…
That servile attitude is why politicians assume they are gods…Why many here think by demanding leadership and accountability, you are insulting elected officials. Why many confuse a president with a king and why many governors are emperors.
I am Yoruba. And if there is anything that tribe is known for, respect is one of them. So, I subscribe to that. But I do not subscribe to making gods of men or leaders.
I have only used the church as an example. Certainly, being subservient is a character of the average Nigerian [within many other contexts]. Some CEOs even have designated lifts.
I recall my first memo to the chairman of a bank…I had to be taught how to write “my prayer is” and all that crap. I do not think the man might have minded, but…as is the case in all work environments, there were those who thought him a king and not a leader that he prefers to be.
Don’t raise your kids to be mumus. Teach them to be respectful not docile. Nigeria will gain!
OK, so I hope that today’s column has been thought-provoking; and I wish you all a very happy new year.
May you put any mistakes you made in 2019 behind you. May you become a better person and be forgiven by anyone you have offended. May your dreams come true. May you go from strength to strength. May you end 2020 triumphantly.