In the above photo we can see kneeling before the First Lady of Akwa Ibom State, Mrs Ekaette Akpabio, the usually imposing State Commissioner for Works, Don Etim in her husband’s executive cabinet, while conversing at a public event. While many Nigerians predictably may see this image as innocuous and just “one of those things” it is all by itself an embarrassing if not egregious image of Nigerian democratic politics.
Body language is an important component of politics, modern or ancient. Leaders, politicians, executives, administrators, have to project personal self-images of dominance, confidence and competence to the public especially in a democracy. Images of submission, obsequiousness, desperation and helplessness are the stuff “failure with the public”. Even in trying times those in government are supposed to look independent, able and self-respecting.
The narcissism of the Nigerian patron is well fed by a constant supply of kneeling downs and prostrations. Even the family of patrons especially wives also enjoy the narcissistic supply from clients usually reserved for the patron himself. Many governors and other elected officials may not be directly blamed for this dominant ritual since it is a part of a structured “pecking order”. The prospective governor before the election primaries has to kneel down or prostrate to his kingmaker and when he enters office then enforces it on those who seek his favour. It becomes a game of power.
We often here about present and future presidents, governors, senators, representatives, ministers, commissioners and other political VIPs kneeling down publicly before their patrons or godfathers usually for support or forgiveness. Below we could see former permanent secretary of Delta State, Tony Obuh, publicly kneeling to win the support of Delta kingmaker, Chief E K Clark, in seeking support in his botched gubernatorial aspirations last year.
Former president Olusegun Obasanjo is “kneel down democrat supreme”. Known as a no-nonsense and unforgiving man, the only thing his confidants suggest to those seeking his support or forgiveness is to go to his Otta farm to prostrate (lie down) to him begging and swearing never to do anything thing that will offend him ever gain. Countless governors, ministers, senators have been subjected to this ‘ritual’ at Otta farm since 1999 and it was even suggested to President Goodluck Jonathan when he had a falling out with Obasanjo. However, the number one citizen refused and is paying the evident in former’s many antics against him.
All definitions of democracy begin to fail when the necessity of elected officials to kneel down to their patrons in the view of the public becomes paramount. It totally discounts discussion, dialogue and voluntary participation in politics as the hallmarks of a working democracy. Why would the public support such?