The New Face of Sycophancy

When Tomichan Matheikal said, “History is replete with blunders written by sycophants”, he must have had Nigeria in mind. A school of thought argues that history always repeats itself. Truly, the Nigerian political sphere is a prime example of efficient recycling—there is nothing new under the sun.

In the run up to the 2015 General Elections, Nigerians were fed with adverts on different media that portrayed then President Goodluck Jonathan as the best thing that ever happened to Nigeria. Apparently, the propagandists backing this deluded distortion of the truth lived in a parallel universe where Nigeria was a land flowing with milk and honey, a flow single-handedly engineered by the quiet GEJ. Some of the arrowheads of these groups had access to the president, and accordingly, fed him with sweet mistruths, swelling his head to Cloud 9, while his legs effectively lifted from Aso Rock to Otuoke. Such is the potency of sycophants.

Sycophancy did not start with Goodluck. Throughout history, sycophants have perfected means of staying glued to authority figures in order to get juicy slabs of meat. For the not-too-moral who ascribe to Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power, sycophancy is a sure route to the top. Even the bible could not avoid an illustration on sycophants. It tells of a king goaded into war by a gang of prophets, only to face death instead of the promised victory. Coming back to Nigeria, the power of sycophancy enabled some persons to organize a “Two Million Man March” to show solidarity for the much despised despot, Gen. Sani Abacha. This shows that sycophants live in utopia, not earth, making this new iteration a sad tale.

President Muhammadu Buhari campaigned on the aura of change. His coming was to change all the evils of the past, supposedly, including sycophancy. Late last year, as his government began to take a hit from several quarters, a motley crew of internet defenders arose to cool some of the heat. Using #iStandWithBuhari, this group did all it could to portray the best (maybe photoshopped) of Buhari and silence his “wailing critics”. The #BringBackOurGoodluck campaign of the ousted regime surely inspired this set. Still taking tips from the existing playbook, the social media campaign metamorphosed into a physical rally in Lagos, purportedly to show the passionate love of Nigerians for Buhari.

“Fraud Alert: #iStandWithBuhari is registered as a business name, soliciting over a Billion Naira from public…”
—Kayode Ogundamisi (@ogundamisi)
23 Mar 2016

If #iStandWithBuhari remained a social media thing, not much attention may have been paid to it. Craving more reach, it copied #BringBackOurGirls to aggroup as a real life organization with a national coordinator and all the paraphernalia of association. With this move, the group has become sycophancy redefined, not like Goodluck’s time, but exactly like Goodluck’s time. This is sycophancy duly packaged for Buhari.

The leaders and sponsors of this group, if asked, can provide copious reasons for its existence. Explanations would range from showcasing Buhari’s achievements, to defending him against unreasonable criticisms, to “fighting corruption that is fighting back”. Whatever reasons may be proffered; they obscure the real drive—plain selfishness. Sycophancy is a business tool to enrich none other than the sycophants. It’s very simple—sing the praises of a king, and reap the rewards of a friendly king. This is why professional praise singers still have jobs at social events.

The latest iteration of the #iStandWithBuhari campaign shows how much the campaigners have lost touch with reality. At a time when even erstwhile passionate cheerleaders of Buhari are asking serious questions, a group is clowning, pretending to represent the interest of Nigerians. How can Nigerians be happy to stand in the midst of a worsening economic situation and fuel queues that seem the new normal? Nigerians may not necessarily be angry with Buhari, but they cannot be said to be happy enough to stand with him. Those standing under the scorching sun are obviously thinking not with their brains, but with freshly minted naira notes.

President Buhari should learn from history and avoid mistakes that have overthrown dynasties. A dose of reality in form of meaningful feedback and constructive criticism is beneficial for progress. Even when criticism is destructive, an attempt should be made to see if there is useful feedback wrapped in the pile of trash. Feeding on sycophancy is carcinogenic for any leader. Buhari, please be wise! The road from Abuja to Daura is shorter than that to Otuoke.

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