Why all the insults?
In bye-gone days Nigerians were held in high esteem for their diction and command of English, but somewhere along the line we threw away all the natural restraint and civility inherent within the language. Nowadays Nigerians always add a second unnecessary and insulting sentence whenever trying to make a point.
We insult ourselves with relish and abandon because quite inexplicably we believe that adding insults are necessary in order to be taken seriously. For example while an Englishman would simply ask the question “didn’t you hear?” the Nigerian would add “or are you deaf!” This habitual second insulting sentence commonly takes the form of either a question (e.g. “Are you stupid?”), or a statement (e.g. “You don’t have sense!”), however quite comically there are many Nigerians who don’t even know how to give advice without adding an insult (e.g. “turn it the other way, mumu!”).
Wikipedia defines an insult as “an expression, statement (or sometimes behaviour) which is disrespectful or scornful” and may be either intentional or accidental, factual or untrue. Although what qualifies as an insult is determined by both the individual and the social situation, generally speaking people insult others because they dislike them, are jealous of them or are in a frustrated mood which incites them to spread offence.
As the polity heats up with Senate leadership court matters, the fallout from Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) investigations and detentions, the Abia State governorship tussle, the upcoming Edo State elections, and the PDP leadership crisis, the rate and variety of insults have increased drastically. Regrettably a whole generation of Nigerians has been brought up to believe that insulting people is necessary as an impressive show of personal power, wit, verbal ability, mental acuity and toughness.
Social research on the other hand suggests that hurling insults is often an indication of flawed reasoning concerning the character or motivation of others. For example in a nation where mass unemployment, robbery, 419, and kidnapping have become common place, one would expect gainful employment to be commended, yet ironically many Nigerians are insulted on account of their job. Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) staff, Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO), Traffic Wardens and Police Officers are insulted daily because whenever they stop vehicles and demand particulars, drivers feel that all they want is money.
Meanwhile PHCN field-staff who aren’t responsible for epileptic power supply, issuing over-inflated bills, or authorizing mass disconnections routinely receive insults if not curses from fed-up consumers. Undeniably insulting each other has become part of our daily routine. The Nigerian political class has elevated insulting opponents to an art form and integral part of their response to all queries. They just don’t like anyone who thinks differently from themselves and believe that “political opponent” means “enemy” who doesn’t want you to have your way. Unable to articulate any sensible manifesto, our politicians ignore substance, insult their opponents and attack their character.
Students of philosophy and logic will recognize this as a wellknown form of fallacious argument called “argumentum ad hominem” (argument against the man) which is done to impress friends and supporters, and sometimes even the people who are being insulted! On many occasions insults are used as a pre-emptive measure in the belief that since attack is the best form of defence, it’s important to insult your opponents before they insult you! Researchers use the term “verbal derogation” to characterize things people say that are intended to belittle and offend others.
There is no excuse for our politicians to involve themselves in such behaviour because it only indicates their general poor spirit and ill-nature. The role of political leaders is to lead us towards having a good life, and insults can never be a step in the right direction. Anyone accepting political office should understand that opposition and insults from uncouth, ineloquent individuals come with the territory. Instead of returning insults or worse still engaging in physical combat, politicians should set an example for society at large by replying in a controlled manner.
They must learn that when insulted they should not incite passions, but rather act as if what was said didn’t bother them. At the end of the day the pain an individual feels after being insulted is really just a symptom of their bloated ego. At some point in time, everyone one of us becomes the target of insulting comments. It would be nice if we lived in a world without insults, but since we don’t, our politicians should realize that they can benefit from listening, because it allows them to gain insights into the mind-set of those doing the insulting.
Expecting all political actors to refrain from dishing out insults may not be within the realm of possibility, but encouraging the more refined amongst them to refrain from using insulting language and also to handle opposition and insults in a civilized manner, will definitely improve the quality of our political discourse and eventually lead us to a better society.