DESPOTISM AND SYCOPHANCY: TWO OF A KIND
Despotism and sycophancy share some strange similarities. Despotism flourishes on sadism and the propagation of one's overweening egotist tendencies, which are usually products of a self-indulging love of oneself above others, while sycophancy evolves from flattery propelled by servility. Also, both draw from a deceitful and chameleonic undercurrent of self-fullness to further a particular self-serving agenda.
Despots can also emerge out of a morbid fear to lose power, which they usually get by force or through what is generally referred to as 'act of God.' This type of despots initially operates under the pretext of promoting an agenda that will foster national peace and progress while, in essence, they are feathering their nests and promoting their personal self-succession plans. However, despots find ready culprits (or allies) in sycophants who serve either as their ego-massagers, tale-bearers, praise-singers, fortune-tellers, clairvoyants or hagiographers. In fact, there is a visible class of sycophants that poses the most danger. They are called the professional sycophants. They have a quirk, queer style of selling themselves to their would-be patrons. We can use our own environment to locate them. They are found in every aspect of the national economy and are ready to deny even their birthright to curry favour. You may not go too far to find all over the country, especially now that the elections are drawing closer.
They are very ruthless and egocentric. All that matters to them is their own interests. They care no hoot about the interest of the nation let alone the interest of a single individual whom they leak his boot provided their bread is buttered. To underscore their level of deviousness they abandon their victim the moment he runs into any trouble.
Those who engage in sycophancy do so out of share expediency, which, in the end, benefits them.
Despotism and sycophancy flourish in debased, lawless, impoverished societies, where the power of the people to assert themselves is greatly minimised or even non-existent. Nigeria incidentally, can now boast of a large army of sycophants parading themselves, in some cases, as patriots and nationalists. They are ready to support any person that has the capacity to pay in cash or kind.
In the past 1000 years, several despots had arisen who left in their wake despoliation, desolation, destruction, deaths, and other forms of crudity and bestiality. Top of the pack were Tamerlane (1336-1405), Ivan the Terrible, Maxmillien Robespierre, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, Francois Duvalier, Nicole Ceausescu, Idi Amin and Pol Pot.
It is necessary to comment briefly on the tenures of these notorious despots, to drive home the evil of despotism. Tamerlane was a Turkik Mongol. He engaged in ruthless savagery at recurring frequencies -massacring an entire population, plus over 80,000 residents of Delhi. He left annihilation wherever he went and built towers with human skulls. Ivan the Terrible, as the name portrays, was the first Czar of Russia and mounted the saddle in 1547. The early part of his reign was devoted to the expansion of Russia. But this later gave way to a more ruthless and vicious Ivan. His sudden change in temperament was attributed to psychiatric instability. Ivan was notoriously linked to killing his son and heir, including some of his several wives out of anger.
Maxmillien Robespierre of France presided over a reign of terror and the dark side of the French Revolution that buried the democratic ideals and ethos and instituted in their place tyranny and highhandedness that sent many innocent citizens to their early graves through the guillotine. Over 40,000 were killed in the process with about 300,000 others imprisoned without legal trial or representation. Next was Josef Stalin who was leader of the Soviets from 1929-1953. He promoted with some megalomania and repressiveness his own version of Communism, which entrenched fascism and absoluteness in administration and caused the death of more than 20 million people through the excruciating life in labour camps, summary executions and starvation.
The emergence of Adolf Hitler was greeted by mixed feeling. A product of seizure of power in Germany Hitler earned a reputation as a 'most chilling tyrant.' His ultimate aim was to bring the entire world under German control and this led to resistance from several countries, including Britain. His involvement in the genocide that left over six million Jews dead still evokes a deep feeling of hate and loathsomeness from the relations of the victims. Many Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals and communists were known to have been executed by Hitler to satisfy his thirst for blood and power. Interestingly, he died in hazy circumstances. Some reports said he committed suicide.
Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao Tse-tung), as maximum leader of China, undertook several experiments that spelt doom and catastrophe for his country. His penchant for intolerance for dissent and opposition was remarkable. The Great Leap Forward economic plan was an abysmal failure. All that it left in its trail were famine and blood-bath that extinguished between 23 million and 30 million lives. Several thousand of suspected class enemies also were also felled.
Francois 'Papa Doc' Duvalier's tenure brought untold hardship and a harvest of deaths to the people of Haiti. Over 60,000 of them were brutalised and killed in the many cases of abuse and brutality that was like a signature tune in the political life of Haiti at the time.
Nicole Ceausescu earned a place in the Hall of Infamy going by the terror he unleashed on the people of Romania. He introduced neo-Stalinist Police State that had zero tolerance for opposition and dissent. He squandered billions of dollars of state fund in meeting his endless self-glorifying indulgences. Human rights abuse under his tenure ranked highest in the East bloc. The end of Nicole was tragic - what a way for a despot to die for his many sins against humanity!
Africa produced a sizeable number of despots. They included Idi Amin Dada of Uganda, who seized power from Milton Obote in 1971 and unleashed a reign of terror on his people for eight years before being chased out into exile by protesting nationalists. He died in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on August 16, 2003 at the age of 78 years. No wonder he was styled the 'Butcher of Uganda.' The number of innocent persons that fell to his totalitarian autocracy ranged between 100,000 and 500,000.
What of notorious Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, who succeeded Mengistu Haile Meriam - successor of the feared Emperor Haile Selassie? He ranked number three in the world after China and Cuba. Zanewi - known for his zero tolerance for freedom of speech - operated with the same lunatic ruthlessness as Emperor Nero of Rome, using the notorious Agazi Special Security Force to hound and kill innocent citizens.
A few other despots existed or still exist in Africa. They include Gaddafi of Libya, Omar Bongo of Gabon, Mobutu Sese Sekou of Zaire, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
I did not forget to mention Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Fidel Castro of Cuba. The atrocities committed by them will be chronicled by history in the foreseeable future.
From the ignoble past of these despots one fact becomes easily discernible and that is that they end tragically. They did whatever they liked but in the end paid the bitter price. This simply tells us that no matter how long evil-doers may live they will ultimately be destroyed.
My worry over what is happening in our nation today is that I do not know how many Nigerians have paused to ponder the endemic wave of sycophancy sweeping across our political space, the evils they portend -even to the point of threatening our current democracy? Indeed, only a few concerned Nigerians have openly condemned this sickening development that is gradually but steadily getting ensconced in the psyche of our people - consciously or unconsciously - and making them lose their sense of honour and integrity so long they get what they want.
As you read this piece, charlatans, hagiographers and boot-lickers have taken over the political arena, taunting their gimmicks and seeking who to recruit. Like vampires, their sense of reasoning is beclouded by greed and convulsive impetuousness. All they are interested in achieving is relevance, even if this is done at the expense of our fledgling democracy.
They were visible on the political landscape in 1998 when they set up over 500 pro-Abacha groups to 'force' him to shed his military toga and assume the leadership of the country as a civilian president. The campaign reached a feverish pitch when a five-million-man march was staged in Abuja - drawing the young, the old, the cripple, the blind, and all manner of persons. Almost 99.9 per cent of the campaigners could not adduce any clear-cut reason for trying to draft him into the race. To show their deceitfulness they flaunted all kinds of imaginary propositions. While some of them even vowed to commit suicide, others threatened to go on exile if he refused to declare his interest publicly to run. As weird and obnoxious as some of these declarations were, some gullible persons believed them.
To compensate them for their foolhardiness, they were offered huge monetary rewards with a promise of juicy government contracts, which was the major reason for their involvement in the first place.
The same scenario played itself out in 2007 when the same discredited and shameless persons lined up behind the tenure elongation agenda of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. As expected, they disappeared into thin air as soon as the agenda hit the rocks. This is their stock-in-trade.
The irony of it all is that a majority of those on the same mission in the present dispensation were the same people that goaded Abacha to contest as a civilian president and Obasanjo to go for a third term.
You may wonder why I refer to these campaigners as vampires. What difference does it make if I call them vampires, considering the deviousness and ruthlessness they bring into their tricks? As vampires suck their victim's blood until he dies, so also do political sycophants milk their victims until they fall into self-destruct.
Since despots are usually produced by a self-serving and hagiographic clique that is bent, even to the detriment of the nation, to mortgage decency and candour - to achieve its egocentric agenda - it then means that they are ready partners to leaders that want to perpetuate themselves in power or promote their egoistic and fanatical designs.
It is true that these maximum leaders would not have got away with the atrocities associated with their regimes if a few disgruntled elements had not pandered willingly to their promptings and cravings. After all, it takes two to tango. This explains why the British say: 'One swallow does not make a summer.' The Nigerian Pidgin version of this idiom, 'a tree does not make a forest,' paints a better picture of the analogy I try to draw. The renowned British author, statesman and poet, Edmund Burke, got it right when he said that all it took for evil to thrive was for good men to do nothing.
Yes, how many good men and women can we find in our nation today that can measure up to Burke's postulation? He spoke in an era when those who were expected to speak up against the evils in the society rather chose to be numbered among the perpetrators of the same evils. Almost all of us are gradually being turned into cacophonic praise-singers, boisterous cymbalists and dubious charlatans - who believe that the future of our nation lies in the hand of a mortal, without sparing any thought for all the sermonising we hear daily about the transience of life.
It is nauseating to see supposedly responsible, respectable men and women, including the vulnerable youths, engage in this national charade. They walk about with an offensive, putrefying trademark, 'Politics for money.' Ask them what their ideology is and you will be stunned by their lack of analytical depth and easy-virtuousness. They ply their trade with the ultimate target of fleecing their victims. These victims normally end up tragically and ignominiously. Their place in history is permanently obliterated by infamy, while they languish in the cold bowels of the earth with a grimace of dishonour in their miserable, grotesque faces when their end comes.
History has never recorded where a despot has been accorded a place of honour in the hall of fame. Idi Amin died in exile. King Saul killed himself. King Nebuchadnezzar was turned into a strange beast. Adolf Hitler died unsung. In fact, the list is endless. When these men found their way into power little did they know what fate held in store for them. They trod the power firmaments like colossuses while extinguishing with brutality any opposing voice.
Having examined the lives of despots above, it is easy to see a common feature - arrogance. Their reasoning was interfaced with a demonic mindset, which made them feel that they were larger than life, but they forgot that the line between life and death is thin. Saul, for instance, was afflicted by psychiatric unstableness that tormented him continually. God used this ailment to unsettle him in order to fulfil his plan to make David King of Israel. All the plots by Saul to kill David were thwarted by God.
I wonder who could have believed that Hitler would ever be subdued by any human force. He held the world by the jugular and built a formidable army with which he carried out his numerous belligerent exploits across the world. But the day his cup was full, God pulled him down. This became a lesson for mankind.
Corrupt and self-seeking politicians in Nigeria are emboldened by the allies they find in a few equally conscienceless Nigerians who serve as malleable tools in their evil hands. But I want them to re-examine themselves and turn a new leaf before it becomes too late.
Let me sound it loud and clear to those nursing the ambition to enthrone a regime of despotism or anarchy that there will be no space for them to perpetrate their evil plots. Nigeria is too complex for any one person to attempt to run over all of us at the same time. Those who tried it in the past met a brick-wall.