Sonala Olumhense: Between the insulters and the insultees

by Sonala Olumhense

Patience Jonathan

Mrs. Jonathan did not specifically say her husband was coming home in tears every night, but clearly, her appeal was made because the “insults” were inflicting some unhappiness. 

Patience Jonathan, Nigeria’s First Lady, is right.  People should not insult her husband, President Goodluck Jonathan.

My dictionary defines an insult as “to treat, mention, or speak to rudely; offend; an offensive or contemptuous remark or action…to treat with gross insensitivity, insolence, or contemptuous rudeness.”

You notice, right away, that my word experts are clear that anyone and everyone can be insulted.  And action, just like words, can insult.

That is why gestures, such as rolling of the eyes or hissing, can serve as the vehicle for delivering an insult, but an insult is more effective when the object sees, hears or reads it.

When an insult comes to the attention of the insultee, the result is a feeling of injury of some kind.  Insults are about feelings.

Mrs. Jonathan did not specifically say her husband was coming home in tears every night, but clearly, her appeal was made because the “insults” were inflicting some unhappiness.

In other words, unhappiness is what the relationship between an insulter and an insultee is about; just as praise might elicit the opposite emotion.

It is possible that the unhappiness meter in the First Family may have become more than a family matter in the past few weeks because last week, Marlyn Ogah, a spokesperson for Nigeria’s State Secret Services, nailed to the wall a chilling warning.

“’We will henceforth apply zero tolerance to those who insult President Goodluck Jonathan,” she was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

The only reading of her warning is that those who commit this “offence” might start to disappear.  The SSS is not known for a tradition of intelligence-gathering or security of state (witness Nigeria disappearing into chaos) let alone fair and judicious prosecution of political insultees.

Beyond this, it is unclear Ms. Ogar had the authority from the SSS to make the proclamation that she did.  If so, the SSS is guilty of dubious and devious criminal intent under the Nigerian constitution, which provides for freedom of expression.

Under that supreme law, an insult is not, and should not be, a death sentence, with no recourse to a court of law to determine whether a comment about a public official constitutes an insult or not.

But let us be clear about Nigeria circa 2014: the popular comments that are possibly being interpreted as insults of Mr. Jonathan include descriptions of his cluelessness, incompetence, and ineptitude

I cannot claim for a fact that these are the words that bother the presidency and its applause-leaders.  I have made the charges myself, and it seems to me that the problem is in reading the words in isolation.

Read within the context of contemporary Nigeria history, it is an insult of those who describe Mr. Jonathan in these negative words to say, in effect, that they do not know what they are talking about.

Those of us who supported Mr. Jonathan in 2009, arguing that the leadership of Nigeria should go to him as vice president, located our principled advocacy in the context of the constitution, not in the person.

In 2010, Mr. Jonathan gained the presidency, and in 2011—with the support of many who are now his critics—won a new four-year term that he is about to conclude.

The problem seems to be that the president and his supporters interpreted his ascension to power as an end in itself.  His critics, who now face being eliminated or muzzled by the security agencies, are saying he read the wrong tea leaves, or read the tea leaves wrongly.

They are saying that he has proved incapable of the presidency, and has betrayed both the office and popular expectation.

Actually, some of his critics have been saying that for some time, but it has taken the story of the abducted Chibok girls for the matter to make any impact on the president.  Sadly, that is because the abduction saga became a disastrous international public relations nightmare for him.

In Mr. Jonathan’s four years, he has normally preferred the propaganda of office to the performance.  He has often conveniently forgotten that respect is earned, not claimed.  That is the trend that the administration continued last week when presidential adviser Doyin Okupe told the BBC that the blame for the abduction of the girls should “fall squarely on the Borno State Government.”

It perpetuates the administration’s denial narrative, championed by such people as Mrs. Jonathan, Asari Dokubo and Okupe, that the girls were somehow never abducted.  That attitude was responsible for the government doing nothing on the abduction for nearly three weeks, by which time it was too late.

Rather than face that music, the administration is continuing the propaganda that the chaos in the country is owed to a subterranean attempt to topple him. “People want to take power from President Jonathan by all means, at all cost, using every method possible, including money,” Okupe told the BBC.

This is part of the Nigerian tragedy.  Okupe should never have been invited to the government in the first place, giving certain ethical questions he never discharged, if Mr. Jonathan were interested in higher and better.  He illustrates the problem brilliantly.

But we must never tire of setting the record straight, which is that as a leader, Mr. Jonathan has put in an atrocious shift.

Is he responsible for Boko Haram?  No.  Is he capable of combating Boko Haram?  The answer is also: No.  He continues his “Transformation Agenda” fiction, but he has simply not demonstrated the capacity to lead, let alone transform.

Mr. Jonathan’s biggest contribution to Nigeria’s unfolding tragedy is that in his four years, he has boosted corruption, encouraged mediocrity, and nurtured hopelessness.  Not only has he failed to fight corruption, he has declared it to be “exaggerated.”  He has rationalized stealing in office as being different from corruption.

He has also enthroned indolence, and it is this very fact that exposed his government in the case of the kidnapped girls.

This is the Jonathan philosophy that has made Nigeria the laughing stock of the world.   If anyone were looking for an insult, I would point at a leader who exposed his country to such an outrageous one.

The reason for the offensive against “insulters” is that there is also in the Jonathan era the failure to understand, or accept, that the world has changed.  Gone is the era when an amateur information manager armed with a cache of cash could buy off bad publicity in the middle of the night, or purchase a favorable one.  Today, information is far more democratic.  You either get it right, or you are going to get it.

True, an insult can be made by words or by action.  But you can only transform by action, that is, by performance.  Today, a leader whose performance receives a failing grade will find a lot of open disapproval, openly expressed.

That is even truer when hundreds of other people’s children are abducted, and a leader fails to absorb the human outrage.

This, therefore, is the biggest insult of all: Mr. Jonathan’s attempt to supplant our common humanity with his desire for office.  If he thinks people are being disrespectful, I do not think he will have long to wait for someone to read him the verdict of History on the great sadness he has inflicted upon our essence as a people.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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