Nigeria: Garba Shehu and the Consolidation of Mediocrity

1 December 2020
opinion

The "spokespersons", with Garba Shehu being the most garrulous and vapid of them, live in an Abuja dystopian cocoon. In his distorted reality, Shehu thinks that statements, rhetoric and propaganda can create the illusion of a perfect society sustained by misinformation, lying and oppressive controls.

It is difficult to decipher the alternative reality that presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, resides in. His grossly insensitive statement that the contract farmers recently slain in Borno State by the terrorist group, Boko Haram, should have obtained "clearance" before going to the farm is a very new low. His latest unguarded utterance has approached a ridiculous nadir that has left sensible people in a deep sense of bathos. Most people do not just find the comment highly offensive but they had actually hoped that it would turn out as fake news; however, it is real. No doubt, there will be a barrage of sophistry from paid hacks about context in the next few days, but this one will run. There are critical issues to be dissected. To start with, we need a hard look at the method of recruitment and selection, which favours and entrenches not a third- but more like a fourteenth-eleven. Garba Shehu's statement was made at the same time that a 39 years old Nigerian, Adewale Adeyemo, was named into a strategic position in President-elect Joe Biden's economic team. He joins a long list of path-hewing compatriots all over the world. Biden et al. are perennially in search of the best and the brightest, something which is a contradiction in terms for the political establishment in Nigeria.

The fielding of a fourteenth-eleven is a reflection of the collapse of the very concept of a political structure, as accentuated by the successive military interregnum in Nigeria. Prior to and from the 1940s, the nascent political formations and parties in the country built up cadres, induction frameworks and sifted the most promising into positions of authority. All that optimistic meritocracy is gone! The "political parties", reflective of "growth" without development structures, have become, in reality, vast patronage systems. With a stunted non-jobs creating economy, "politics" and "religion" have become the most realistic ways of self-accentuation and financial security. Many are tempted to compare this to Tammany Hall and Mayor Daley Chicago's Cook County politics. This is rather simplistic. Tammany Hall and Cook County patronage systems were still underpinned by philosophical and ideological justifications.

Garba Shehu and company also reflect a mindset, derived from the outcome of decades of military rule... The "spokespersons" have never transited out of the coercive information management mindset. The absence of human empathy in the reaction of Garba Shehu to the killing of the farm workers is a classic text book example of this mindset.

Today's careerists, jobbers and paid hacks are a reflection of the collapse of the party system. This has now been expanded into an economic area in the social media woven around "influencers", "disruptors" and so forth, funded by slush funds to intervene and direct the territory of the discourse in the direction favourable to their paymasters. Garba Shehu and company also reflect a mindset, derived from the outcome of decades of military rule. Information dissemination and direction under military rule is by coercion; in a democracy, it is based on persuasion. Nigeria's "Semi-Democracy" as The Economist once churlishly put it, is certainly problematic in defining a transition from authoritarianism into democracy. The "spokespersons" have never transited out of the coercive information management mindset. The absence of human empathy in the reaction of Garba Shehu to the killing of the farm workers is a classic text book example of this mindset.

The "spokespersons", with Garba Shehu being the most garrulous and vapid of them, live in an Abuja dystopian cocoon. In his distorted reality, Shehu thinks that statements, rhetoric and propaganda can create the illusion of a perfect society sustained by misinformation, lying and oppressive controls. Perhaps no one describes the actions of the "spokespersons" better than Frantz Fanon, as he put it: "Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn't fit in with the core belief."

As we count down to 2023, with a stalled economy and mounting security issues, Nigerians should expect more of this. The entire framework is authoritarian... The mindset of the spokespersons strutting around is a clear indication of a stalled democracy and an underachieving republic.

As we count down to 2023, with a stalled economy and mounting security issues, Nigerians should expect more of this. The entire framework is authoritarian. This forces one to ask about the compatibility of structures like "Ministry of Information", "National Orientation Agency", and so forth with a democracy. After the second world war ended in 1945, most countries in Europe and elsewhere were so scared about the unintended consequences of Ministries of Propaganda/Information that they not only scrapped them but actually passed laws to prevent their resurrection. The mindset of the spokespersons strutting around is a clear indication of a stalled democracy and an underachieving republic.

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, "Bamidele Upfront" for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo

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