The Rightness of Name Calling

Last week, while many Nigerians continued in the struggles of this economic era, the Nigerian internet alley went agog with reactions to an article by The Economist. The reputable magazine had referred to former President, Goodluck Jonathan, as “an ineffectual buffoon”. This name-calling set the stage for the week’s fireworks.

Let me start with some backstory about Mr. Jonathan, better known as “GEJ” or “Goodluck”. He held the reins of power from 2010 to 2015, for a period wrongly summed as “six years” by many Nigerians. As a president from the oil rich poor minority, he held sway over a country of diverse tribes and interests, in a setting similar to that of the popular series “Game of Thrones”. Whereas the Nigerian economy was rebased in his tenure, with his administration getting credit for what may not have been due to his policies, the average Nigerian barely felt the impact of Africa’s largest economy. The Boko Haram debacle served as his nemesis, severally calling his leadership acumen into question. Perhaps, like Lord Eddard Stark in the aforementioned series, GEJ was rather too trusting and unable to stamp his authority. However, to some (maybe many) Nigerians, he is a good person whose concession of defeat likely saved many lives.

The Economist in an article fittingly titled “Crude Tactics”, while talking about the present Nigerian government, said:

“The government has cracked down on corruption, which had flourished under the previous president, Goodluck Jonathan, an ineffectual buffoon who let politicians and their cronies fill their pockets with impunity.”

Although many Nigerians may agree with the last part of that sentence, especially in the light of ongoing legit revelations and overblown propaganda, the use of “ineffectual buffoon” is a cause for concern. I hold The Economist in high regard, and therefore find it hard to accept that the editors could not find another word or phrase to describe GEJ. Maybe someone chose those words in the hope that unrequested incitement will help publicize the article. If this was the case, then from the standpoint of effectiveness, it was a brilliant move as it brought the article to the attention of millions who otherwise may not have heard about it. However, from the standpoint of corporate respectability, it showed poor judgement.

For whatever it is worth, Goodluck Jonathan is a former president of Nigeria, not some pseudo-independent island off the coasts of nowhere. The sovereignty of Nigeria ought to accord some form of respect on him. I am in no way supporting the massive theft that occurred under his watch. No matter what he may or may not have done, someone at The Economist should have had the decency to avoid this brazen insult. Can The Economist do this to a former US President, or to any bellicose nation reputed for sponsoring terror plots? Howbeit, The Economist is not completely to blame.

On one hand, generations of Nigerian leaders have failed to show why Nigeria must be respected. Respect is either commanded or gained—never begged for. The moment one has to beg for respect, or remind others that one ought to be respected, a problem is apparent. Many Nigerian leaders office holders make corruption their modus operand, loot the public purse, transfer stolen funds to foreign destinations, and then stand beside more responsible foreign leaders to smile at flashing cameras. Some of those foreigners smile with their Nigerian counterparts while hiding disgust behind clenched teeth. This disgust may have shown itself in The Economist’s reckless blunder.

On the other hand, Nigerians have not shown the world reasons to respect Nigerian leaders. In the run-up to the last elections, GEJ was called all sorts of denigrating names. Similar discourtesy was extended to supporters of his party. Now that he is out of office, the name-calling has not ceased. Some detractors go as far as calling him a “pig” (PDPig). Across the aisle, the name-calling is also present. Before the election, Mr. Buhari was called several discourteous names. Now that he is president, some detractors go as far as calling him a “dullard”. The Economist may have been monitoring the internet behaviour of Nigerians and felt that it was safe to insult a former president so vilely, since it is a norm for Nigerians to receive insults. Whichever way, the buck stops on the table of The Economist.

We cannot form the habit of insulting people, and then feign offence when others imitate us. That is plainly self-righteous hypocrisy. While we advise office holders to behave in a respectable manner, we should learn to respect them. At the very least, if we find the actions of some office holders so repugnant that we feel we cannot respect them, we should respect the offices they occupy. JJ Omojuwa tweeted, “…I believe the Buhari administration should look at ways of preventing further acts of name calling from the Economist…” I think the best way is for Nigerians to learn the meaning of “respect”. Name-calling is never right.

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