April 6, 2024

The rise of Sycophancy, by Ugoji Egbujo


Ugoji Egbujo

Sycophancy works best with a narcissist in power. 

Surrounded by mediocrity as subordinates, worship becomes work. If the public is a longsuffering but excitable religious rabble, then the mixture is perfect. Scoundrels lick up and kick down. Goebbels made Hitler a god at the turn of nazism. He said the experience of Hitler transformed his consciousness. The audience swallowed it and came under the spell. He introduced the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute. A good sycophant is often self-abasing. His devotion to Hitler was only matched by his diabolical penchant for cruelty to those over whom he had control. Sycophancy produces autocrats. 

Gradually sycophancy walls off the self absorbed leader from realty. The damage is insidious. Ass licking displaces objective thinking. Criticisms soon become insolence before they become betrayal and treason. Once ensconced in high-pitch flattery, the leader develops delusions of grandeur, and the sycophants rise on the ladder. Amongst the rabble are another species of sycophants. They may like a few crumbs here and there, but they are not the power-hungry hyenas acting obsequiously for personal advantage. Poor they may be, but they don’t actively seek pecuniary benefits from the leader. In any case, they are often not in a position to demand any tangible benefits. But they enjoy a life of vicarious thrills when their chosen political deity triumphs or tramples on his opponents. 

Our leaders are blessed. The country is full of volunteer flatterers. If starvation seizes the land, they find data from Venezuela and Afghanistan to justify and normalize hunger. When a few start to eat , they celebrate our leaders for improving the situation. At individual levels, many have thrown away the capacity for critical appraisal and become megaphones for Whatsapp groups, dishing our group-think messages. Consequently, neither the ruling govt nor the opposition can be effectively scrutinized. Sycophants, having surrendered to be herded like cattle, are aggressively allergic to contrary opinions. Objectivity is despicable ambivalence because the sycophant has sold himself to blind devotion. With sycophancy, personality cults flourish as the citadels of virtue where loyalty is truth and kindness and patriotism.

A leader feeding fat on sycophancy becomes unaccustomed to dissensions and protests. Protesters are hired terrorists. The trade unions and civil society must lie low and lap up milk from his feet or be crushed. Opposition party politicians learn to put aside differences to worship the leader in the ostensible interest of national unity. When rain falls in their state, they praise the president. When they receive federal allocations, they thank him for his magnanimity. When the supreme court decides a case that favors the opposition, they gather to celebrate the president for not interfering with the supreme court and getting it to pervert justice 

The other day, the Chief Justice bowed before the president and showered encomiums on him in the open. The public cringed a little, but the outrage was generally mild. The public has lowered all expectations. A Chief Justice shouldn’t be seen praying like Taribo West for any politician. But at the highest levels of government, there are no more taboos. Sense of shame no longer exists, and everybody has the potential to be an otimkpu. The Chief Justice had to make himself small to inhabit the role. To him, he didn’t diminish his office or lose dignity because the country is “greater than all of us.” That is the mantra that allows such a sucking-up in the open. 

Sycophancy is rife, but when the Chief Justice attended a public gathering on the eve of the 2023 elections to advise other governors to emulate Gov Wike, some said it was a slip of the tongue. It was embarrassing. Because the Chief Justice couldn’t have been under the influence of any Sapele liquids, others said it was a joke. Regardless of the potency of Wike’s renowned hospitality, a Chief Justice of the federation campaigning for a politician in the open, even by our banana republic standards, plumbed the depths of sycophancy. But his lordship is not alone.

No department or agency is spared. The military used to be above the fray. But now, Generals often speak like politicians, showering cheap flattery on their senior colleagues and politicians in public like village MCs. These things used to be rare and obscene. Imagine a General declaring that a politician was a high performer before journalists because he wanted the minister to allocate land to his department. But the madness is worse in the states. 

In most states, the only institutions that can censure the governor, the state legislatures, have become praise choirs. So it’s not shocking that traditional rulers now grovel. Anyone who dares to criticize the governor becomes an enemy of the state. Arbitrariness reigns, so hierarchy is fluid. Nothing is certain. So people cower, and grown men lick asses. Those in powerful positions decide fates. And since they are nearly all fickle and carnivorous, the best tact is flattery. Others embrace sycophancy not to self-preserve but to show gratitude. Who will blame them? But they ruin their bosses with their lies.

The anomalous concentration of power in a few hands breeds sycophancy. In return, sycophancy debilitates leadership and damages its credibility. Before long, the intimidated or sleepy masses will awaken. A good leader must seek the truth. Attack dogs are often rabid. Fans can be mawkishly sentimental. A good leader must surround himself with people who can defy him, say it as it is, and walk out on him. The exaggeration and celebration of small things is the beginning of failure.