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Mudslinging and the dilemma of leadership in Nigeria

But just as even thieves insist on a dubious standard of honour in their craft, a silent rule of engagement does exist among politicians in…

But just as even thieves insist on a dubious standard of honour in their craft, a silent rule of engagement does exist among politicians in saner democracies to the extent that materials deployed to embattle the other party must not only be true and factual but also must be fair.  

In the United States, the country that prides itself as the standard bearer of civilised democracy, where mudslinging has graduated from an art into an industry, generous resources are routinely invested in investigations and researches to dig dirt that will form the bases to smear rivals. To engage the opponent with falsehoods even in this murky war is considered unethical and could portend unsavoury consequences for the culprit

In 2008 for instance, a Republican Senate hopeful in North Carolina, Elizabeth Dole had a clear lead in all the polls and was sure of victory until in one flippant moment she labelled her democratic challenger, Kay Hagan an atheist. But Hagan is a devout Baptist who doubles as a Sunday school teacher. The Hagan camp went in for the kill accusing Dole of employing falsehood to score advantage. The church going Carolinas were horrified at this dishonesty and voted the maligned Sunday school teacher instead. And even the Democrats, seductive as the option was, recoiled from making campaign capital out of the sexuality of Ms Cheney, a notorious lesbian and daughter of the then Vice President, Dick Cheney or Republican running mate, Sarah Palin’s licentious 17- year-old daughter who was busy attending to the carnal desires of another teenage boy, while mum and other republicans were busy grandstanding about moral values.

The ground rule is sacred: it must be true, it must be fair.  But if the muckraking Americans were ever to attempt to ply their trade in this country they are sure to be revolted by the savage and desperate improvements Nigerians have made into the enterprise. Here, barefaced falsehood is not only considered fair game, politicians, nay the society, see nothing wrong in orchestrating a phantom scandal against an opponent. The usual retort is “it’s all politics”.

In one of the eastern states in 2000, a godfather dislodged by the governor, formerly his godson, went to town with the allegations that His Excellency was a closet lunatic and casually cite the health challenges of the governor’s mum, a notorious psychopath as evidence of the son’s madness. And in Kogi in 2006 an otherwise loquacious  indigene now a distinguish gentleman attacked my boss, Governor Ibrahim Idris for holding an interreligious thanksgiving when three of his daughters miraculously escaped in a plane crash that claimed 107 lives with only six survivors (including Idris’ three daughters). This fellow charged that Idris was politicising his daughter’s survival- whatever that meant.

Indeed Idris has had the misfortune of being a serial victim of all the diabolical creativity of our local experts in the art of drenching the opponent in sheer indelible mud. Penultimate Sunday, a newspaper went to town with the farce that police had searched Idris’ house and recovered cocaine. It was the third time in three years that detractors will orchestrate a scandal against this gentleman and use the media as a “fall guy”.

In September 2007, an Abuja based newspaper published a full-paged disclaimer, purportedly issued by the Kings College of Commerce, Buguma, Rivers state, Idris’ alma mater, declaring that Idris was never a student there.  The advert was a forgery. Charles Amachree, the school’s principal who purportedly issued and paid for the disclaimer had never heard of, let alone seen, the newspaper that published the disclaimer. Amachree and Idris’ principal in 1964, Prof Goldie Barango-Tariah in a joint press conference denounced the desperation of politicians.

The sordid affair began to assume some semblance of coherence when shortly after, in spite of the sufficient repudiation of the ad, the Kogi ANPP governorship candidate, Abubakar Audu went to an Abuja high court to seek an order that will enable him personally arrest Idris and arraign him in court as a private prosecutor for the offence of perjury. A “justice” of the high court in Abuja granted the order before hurriedly vacating it the next day! But the damage had been done. The first order dominated the media all through the campaign for the re-run election which Idris still won convincingly.

Deploying a similar strategy, some persons already known, pushed a petition to the police to the effect that the American dollar was been counterfeited in a house in Asokoro Abuja, without disclosing the owner of the house. When a police team stormed the property with a search warrant and discovered it belonged to a governor, they made to retreat citing the governor’s immunity.  But Idris insisted the search must be carried out. This was to prevent a situation where detractors will mislead the public that he invoked his immunity to shield some shady deals in the property. The team led by an Assistant Commissioner of police searched the house for three hours and declared they found nothing incriminating and apologised to Idris.

But those who scripted the smear drama had all the loose ends of their plot well knotted. The mere fact that there was a police search in the house of a sitting governor was enough to spin a scandal. If he had invoked his immunity and prevented the search, it would have been worse. This is the contrivance they planted on a gasping newspaper with a fictional addendum. The newspaper gleefully published their malicious and mischievous misrepresentation even when they approached us and we told them the truth. And that was how a clean reputation built through several years of hard work was breached in one banner headline.    

And what are the remedies available to a man so unfairly injured in this country? A libel action which will remain in the courts forever? An exercise like this one that will convince only a few people, with most likely saying there is no smoke without fire, a Nigerian parlance for validating outrageous and improbable falsehood? Head or tail those unjustly smeared in Nigerian politics cannot win.

Such is the dilemma of leadership in a country where people disingenuously ape everything from the civilised democracies but lack the temperament to do it according to the rules. Worse still our watchdog institutions are not only slow in their growth to respond to these excesses but they are unwittingly available to be exploited and manipulated to achieve such diabolical ends.          

 

  Adejoh-Audu is Media Relations Assistant to the Governor of Kogi State

 


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