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Published On: Thu, Dec 25th, 2014

Gutter language in campaigns: Will it ever end?

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By Ochiaka Ugwu

The lack of civility among politicians especially when we approach election year only reinforces the wide held view that the political culture in the country has sunk to such crude levels that it might be impossible to bring it back to normal. With the political activities set in tone, it has been one accusation or another from the two major political parties positioning itself to win power in 2015. That is the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). While the Boko Haram brouhaha struggles to bring everyone to its feet, political leaders are busy with their adversarial games, running each other down with press conferences, newspapers and posts on social media and elsewhere. Sometimes the cynical nature of the exercise is so evident that there’s hardly any point detailing who said what and when making it impossible to associate the piece with anybody.

The beginning of gutter language in campaigns in this political dispensation could be linked to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, when he told a bewildered campaign audience in 2007 while campaigning for the late former President Umar Musa Yar’Adua that the election is a do or die affair for them in the ruling party against the opposition. He went on to warn the opponents to see it as war. The language muted by Obasanjo no doubt created political tension in some quarters with many opinion leaders condemning it in totality by asking the Otta born general to guide his utterances. One however may wish it ends with that political milieu, but it was resurrected by President Goodluck Jonathan’s Chief Propagandist, Dr. Doyin Okupe. Okupe fired the first salvo when he said that critics of the President needed to be examined by psychiatrists.

Okupe said this while reacting to the statement by a former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, in which the ex-VP raised the alarm over the activities of the members of the violent Islamic sect, Boko Haram, in the North-East. The Adamawa born politician had alleged that if the activities of the insurgents were not quickly curtailed, they could overrun the entire region. He also took a swipe on the leadership of the country, wondering what it had been doing to curtail the criminal activities of the members of the sect.

As this was not enough, Okupe went on to say that Goodluck Jonathan is like Jesus Christ which many considered blasphemous against our lord and saviour. Okupe said while speaking on a live programme Sunrise Daily shown in Channels Television that people do not understand the burden this president is bearing. He’s like Jesus Christ. He’s bearing the burden of everybody.

What is most worrying about it all is that respectable old school leader like Okupe who was a chief image maker of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) in 1987 shedding his inhibition about being abusive and vitriolic. But it is said that people deserve any government they have so, must we blame the politicians for the lack of grace and dignity? No. They are only responding to the changing attitude around them and making adjustments or still, they are conforming to reality on ground. Their actions and inactions are just the reflection of what is happening in the larger society. If the language of politics is changing, it is due to the demand from the people the leaders have to cater for. The choice is uncomplicated: you address to the lowest common denominator or you go redundant.

In the age of proliferating media, specifically social media, unpleasantness sells and correctness has few audiences. On television, rival political participants are expected to rip each other apart. If they don’t, anchors have to create a situation where they have to pounce on each other to attract viewership. The social media is mostly brutish, unruly enclave where quick emotions score over intelligence. To offend is the quickest way to get your opinion across. The consumers of the new media are the young and the opinionated with a healthy disrespect for fine points in communication and polite conduct. They are the demographic profile the country proudly flaunts.

With the electorate getting younger and faster, with their reactions that is, politicians have to make adjustments, get real time. Leaders and party spokespersons are quick to be ready before the camera, quick at quoting great men of history, quick at disputing facts, quick at spinning a yarn and backbiting in an uncomplimentary way. The same applies to the leaders on desperate moves to win office. There is no more holding back words, no more pulling a punch and no time for decency. Nigeria politicians operate in a consumer-driven market, their responses, thus, are shaped by the expectations of the consumers. No quote and no allegation against a rival are likely to be remembered after a day, by which several other such allegations and quotes would have taken over. Politicians on television these days are spectacularly unconcerned about being caught on the wrong foot or having a made a U-turn after making an emphatic assertion on some issue or person. It simply follows from the realisation of the reality that nothing really matters. The populace is too fickle to make a big fuss about it or even judge from the critical analysis of their reasoning.

Nigerians in unison would want to do away with this kind of diatribe and would not hesitate to call on the Judiciary to deal promptly with people who use vituperative language in political discourse. To many, it is an intention to deceive by underscoring issues and tilting towards sentiment. Courts should brace up to deal with someone who had used insulting language against individuals in a matter of few days.

It should be noted that people exploit our not-too-good judiciary system to vomit all kinds of unkind words against individuals in political conversation because such cases could last for many years in court. There is every need to develop a mechanism that will address the culture of insult that had engulfed the political space and which tended to undermine the country’s democratic process. We need reorganize the system to enable politicians to focus on ‘politics of issues’, which will address the critical needs of the people.

In the end, like they say, we get the politicians or leaders we deserve. Because both the president and the governors did not fall from heaven or ‘planet Mars’ they are part and parcel of human society and their action are just a manifestation of human possibilities. They are made after our attitudes. If there’s a demand from them to be decent, they would be so. But that demand is unlikely to come. We expect them to be fools and entertainers. So foolish entertainment is what we get.

When will gutter language end to give way to the much needed issue based politics that we desire? Is it going to end anytime soon? It could only get worse after the old breed of politicians with some respect for civility is gone. Let’s blame ourselves for what we get. But we can surely stop it only if we wish.


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