Before the arrival to prominence on the Nigerian political scene six years ago of Professor Ben Ayade as Governor of Cross River State, the art of deploying jaw-breakers and tongue-twisters in political dogfights and governance had been on the decline in Nigeria for decades.
Perhaps many years of military rule had something to do with it. Soldiers did create some bombastic phrases of their own during their cumulative 29-year rule in Nigeria. The most memorable of these were created during General Murtala Mohammed’s six-month rule in 1975-76.
Most memorable was Murtala’s stern phrases during his speech to create seven new states and a new federal capital in February 1976. He ended the speech this way, “This government will not tolerate indiscipline. This government will not tolerate any provocative demonstration or celebration, by any individual or group, in support or against the creation of states in any part of the country.”
Earlier in the same speech, discussing the outcome of the probe of Gowon-era military governors, he said, “Of all the former military governors and the Administrator, East Central State, with the exception of two, were found to have grossly abused their offices and were guilty of several irregular practices. Those of them who wore uniforms betrayed the ethics of their professions and they are a disgrace to those professions. They should be ashamed of themselves! They are therefore dismissed with ignominy and with immediate effect!”
The 13-year interregnum between First and Second Republics; the 8-year interregnum between Second and Third Republics; the inconclusive nature of the Third Republic, with its 30 civilian governors, a rump National Assembly and a military President; as well as the 6-year interregnum between Third and Fourth Republics, ensured that our politicians forgot that the tongue is a major weapon in politics.
These gave rise by 1999 to a new breed of essentially colourless, technocratic politician with more money than vocabulary. I cannot recall many colourful phrases that anyone deployed in Nigerian political combat or governance between 1999 and 2015, until Ben Ayade came along. Since then, his annual budget speeches have been heralded by one bombastic title or another.
A story in Daily Trust’s Sunday edition summarised Ayade’s seven annual budget titles. They include his 2016 Budget of Deep Vision; the 2017 Budget of Infinite Transposition; the 2018 Budget of Kinetic Crystallization; the 2019 Budget of Qabalistic Densification; the 2020 Budget of Olimpotic Meritemasis and the 2021Budget of Blush and Bliss. Last week, Ayade unveiled his 2022 Budget of Conjugated Agglutination. One critic quoted Shakespeare and said Ayade’s budgets were “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
In fairness to Ben Ayade, he is only trying to revive the lost art of bombast which used to electrify Nigerian politics. As pupils and as students in Nigeria up until the early 1980s, colourful political actors fired our imagination with memorable phrases to remember for a lifetime. The champion wordsmith of that era, the master of bombastic language in Nigeria’s First and Second Republics, was Dr. K. O. [Kingsley Ozuomba] Mbadiwe. To him was attributed popular phrases such as “man of timber and caliber,” “political juggernaut” and “political caterpillar.” Soon after 1983 elections, reporters stopped K. O. Mbadiwe at the State House in Lagos and asked him about what was then described as NPN’s “landslide victory.” Mbadiwe said, “No, no. It is not a landslide victory. It is a political earthquake.”
The other champion of language abilities was Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule, Danmasanin Kano. Extremely dexterous in both Hausa and English, Maitama dazzled audiences by saying the same thing in ten or twenty different ways, sometimes breaking into a song and dance as he spoke.
At the beginning of Second Republic politics in late 1978, when Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe announced that he was joining NPP, politicians all over the country rushed to condemn him, saying he should remain a statesman. Zik answered all of them with one article titled “Fire for fire.” One of his loudest critics was NAP leader Dr. Tunji Braithwaite. Zik said when he joined Nigeria Youth Movement in 1940, he was a young man but NYM’s leader was the elderly Rev. Braithwaite, Tunji’s uncle. If they had asked him at the time to retire on account of his age, Zik said Rev. Braithwaite would have quoted the Bible and thundered, “O ye, generation of vipers! Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
There was a round of bombastic fireworks in the New Nigerian newspaper in 1980. Saying Zik was always fond of bombast, its famous Candido column quoted a remark that he made when he was Senate President in 1960. A senator drew Zik’s attention to a procedural mistake, and Zik replied, “Thank you very much for drawing our attention to that lapsus lingua.”
UPN’s National Publicity Secretary Abdulkadir Young-Sidi however wrote to draw Candido’s attention to his mistake. He said, “There is nothing like lapsus lingua in Latin. The correct phrase is lapsus linguae. But since your mistake was not deliberate, it is attributable to lapsus calamis.”
Candido responded with a long, bombastic quote from a British colonial officer who, in the 1950s, appealed to Nigerian politicians to moderate their use of bombastic language. I am recalling it from memory, so pardon any possible errors.
The Whiteman said, “In espousing your esoteric cogitations or in articulating your superficial sentimentalities, please beware of platitudinous ponderousity. You should eschew all conglomeration of flatulent garrulousity, jejune bafflement and asinine affectations. Let your conversational communications possess clarified consciousness, a compacted comprehensiveness, a coalescent consistency and a concatenated cogency without any trasonical bombast. You should shun double entendress, purent jocosity and preposterous profanity.”