Once upon a time, there reigned a king in Israel, whom the Lord deliberately gave a blank check to ask whatever he wanted. This king was so loved by God that, even, what he did not ask for, he was given. His name is Solomon, whose wisdom was rated higher than normal. Yet, he was led down to the path of destruction by praise singers. The same fate befell Rehoboam, his son! Though he had the greatest opportunity to rebuild the bartered image of the dynasty, what King Rehoboam did as well as what he did not do to ruin the essence of his reign are already in the archives of the historians of antiquity.
Who are generally referred to as praise singers? Why do we need them and how do they, most often, end up doing the society the greatest harm? Well, the questions above bring to mind the job of certain sets of peculiar people in the Yoruba socio-cultural setting. Commonly referred to as royal courtiers, they are found in the palaces, singing and drumming for kings. If and when the king hasn’t come to his court in the morning, or chooses to delay his outings for some reasons, the lot falls on these courtiers to use the talking drums to tell him that, since ‘a sick bird cannot be caught in its nest’, his subjects are already around, awaiting his royal presence. This is the routine, even, if the king has been bitten by COVID-19.
If there is any lethal weapon that is so sure and quick to destroy integrity and sentence a leader to his early grave, that weapon must go by the name, “praise singers.” Commonly referred to as ‘cousins to Mr. Anything’, their trade turns the page away from the real issues of significant importance and responsible leadership. If not well-managed by their ‘unwitting clients’, praise singers truncate plans and induce reality deniability. The aftermath effects of praise singing are like driving drunk: if you don’t get killed, you might end up killing somebody else. So, blessed is that leader who is wise enough to surmount the ‘a o m’erin j’oba’ folkloric appeals while sitting on the throne set on landmines.
In many ways, praise-singing helps to blind the eyes of the leaders to their mandatory responsibilities and the burden of public service. When leaders ignore the truth; when they refuse to pay attention to the town and what’s going on in the society, they end up misbehaving. However, for those who are witty, and are conscious of the interpretation of the norms of the people, caution will always prevail. Impliedly, while praise singers have their key roles firmly ingrained in the cultural norms and value system, those who embrace and use them must be well-grounded in those very norms and values. Otherwise, derailment is a sure bet, as the life and time of the late Senator Abiola Ajimobi has now shown!
The reality is that praise-singing cannot be remedied because our society’s socio-cultural norms allow for it. From the musician in Lagos, to the politician in Ijebu-Jesa, authentic, time-tested, cultural norms and values are no longer in existence and nobody can be held accountable. In our very eyes, Nigerians have become wedded into the intrigues of lofty ideas that are so sweet on paper but so hard to feel by the people. While the praise-singers cannot but do what they believe will fetch them their meal tickets, the beneficiaries of their vocation cannot but subscribe to their lies, because those are the stuffs that help propel the insincerity of statistics and the foolery of illusion of imagined approval from the unwary masses. The people are hungry and are philistinic. As such, they are gullible! Like the proverbial Esau, everybody just wants to eat without caring a hoot about what becomes of the fate of the country. To the praise singers, it doesn’t matter the source of the money; what is important is that ‘Foko’ is alive and aerated. (‘Foko’ in Ibadan was the seat of Olubadan’s Palace in the ‘60s). It is the search for this competitive edge that has now led us to norms that are in complete contradistinction to western culture. The implication is that it fuels underdevelopment because the focus of leadership is shifted. The man being praised also becomes mindful of his over-bloated ego; and the society is worse for it! It is a chain reaction; and it will always be a recurring issue, producing the same results, until the chain is broken.
Given these narratives, it is unfortunate that old values seem to have given way to new-but-unhelpful norms. The praise singers will do what they have to do because the driving force is their belly. That they perform the act for which they are renowned in this kind of fragile and unpredictable socio- political and economic milieu is even inevitable. A typical praise-singer is an individual who has conducted no statistics to know that, truly, his man is the people’s choice. Unfortunately, the beneficiary is also foolish to believe! It even makes him or her to misbehave, derail and misgovern the more, because his or her actions or politics will not be based on scientifically verifiable facts that are helpful to the society. Instead, they will sync with the praise-singer’s proclamation! Obviously, that’s where impunity sets in. That’s what has affected the leadership of politics and political administration in Nigeria that it has always expected gratitude for services rendered while actively involved in public service. What makes it so bizarre is that they expect the same courtesy to be extended to those in their circle, even, their concubines. Regrettably, this has not only gone a long was in expanding the frontiers of entitlement culture and greed of the elite, it has also raised the bar for the ‘iniquity of inequities’ in our society.
It is troubling to note that the more we attempt to interrogate Nigeria’s multiple-but-identifiable problems, and attempts are made to solve them, the more new and intractable ones are discovered; and the enveloping ecology of a troubled society remains. So, what’s the way out of this failed social process that has turned dear country into a forest of frustration and conspiratorial manipulations? Well, the solution is for the society to recheck. Instead of patching up social problems and treating the symptoms, not the disease, requisite Cultural Revolution has to start, right here, right now!
May the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, heal our land!
Abiodun KOMOLAFE writes in from Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State