By Farooq A. Kperogi
Former youth and sports minister Alhaji Saidu Samaila Sambawa, in an overly showy effort to impress the Kebbi State governor of his loyalty, shot himself in the foot—grammatically speaking, that is. He insulted Gov. Usman Saidu Nasamu Dakingari in his incompetent bid to employ a rhetorical ornament to characterize the governor’s style of governance.
“Let me tell you, there is no vacancy in Kebbi Government House,” he told the Daily Trust. “If anybody says there is vacancy there, we will face him, because as far as we are concerned, we already have a governor there and we are working closely with him to ensure that our people benefit from his peasant attitude to governance.” Hmm.
Certainly, there should be an immediate declaration of vacancy for the office of any state governor who has a “peasant attitude to governance”! In our ever more complex and rapidly globalizing world, a “peasant attitude to governance” can’t be of any benefit to anyone—well, except people like Sambawa.
A peasant is literally a rural farmer who owns or rents a small piece of land. In other words, the word refers to a rustic, small-time agricultural laborer. This conception, of course, excludes big-time, multi-million-naira, mechanized farm owners like Sambawa (remember his Sambawa Farms near Kaduna?).
It is obvious that Sambawa wasn’t referring to Gov. Dakingari as some lowbrow, small-scale farmer. He was engaging in what grammarians call a metaphoric extension of the meaning of the word “peasant.” But that is precisely where he insults the governor.
In its metaphoric extension, a “peasant” means a crude, uncouth, and ill-bred person who is deficient in culture or refinement; who is ill-mannered and coarse and contemptible in behavior or appearance. Synonyms for peasant are, “barbarian,” “boorish,” “provincial,” “unsophisticated,” etc. This metaphoric extension derives from the notion of poor, small-time rural farmers as xenophobic, illiterate, and fatalistic people who are hampered by a severely limited worldview because of their social, cultural and geographic seclusion from the mainstream.
The Oxford Dictionary says the use of the word outside its literal meaning of small-time rural farmer is “disapproving.” It renders its extended meaning as: “a person who is rude, behaves badly, or has little education.”
So, by logical consequence, a “peasant attitude to governance” would imply ignorant, illiterate, boorish, narrow-minded, xenophobic, intolerant, and uncultured style of governance. It’s a style of governance that would be terrifyingly vulgar and objectionably repellant in its superficiality, backwardness, and bigotry. Why would anyone want to torment the good people of Kebbi State with the perpetuation of an ill-defined but nonetheless loathsome style of governance such as this?
Well, perhaps, Samabawa wanted to convey the sense that the governor’s style of governance shows uncommon sensitivity to the needs of poor, rural folks in the state, but his intellectual and linguistic resources failed him. I don’t know enough about Kebbi State to either confirm or discomfirm this claim. In any case, it is not the business of this column to cross-check the factual accuracy of the predictably wild and embroidered claims of politicians and political jobbers. What is apparent, though, is that Sambawa’s grammatical miscue betrays a man who is straining really hard to be seen to be loyal to the governor. In the heat of such exhibitionist pretensions, the hemisphere of the brain that processes grammar and logic can shut down.
But, who knows, Samabawa’s characterization of Gov. Dakingari’s style of governance may very well be a Freudian slip that unintentionally divulges what Sambawa actually thinks of the governor. According to Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, a slip-up can sometimes result from the operation of unexpressed thought-processes or conflicts within us and can reveal deep-seated, hitherto suppressed motives.
In fairness to Sambawa, who can deny that most of our governors do indeed have a “peasant attitude to governance”? For most of them, governance is nothing more than a gateway to what Karl Marx called the primitive accumulation of capital. It’s an opportunity to marry more wives, spread the network of concubines, and generally engage in the vulgar display of wealth while being intolerably smug, ignorant, and indifferent or hostile to the modernization and development of the states that they “govern.”
It is the same peasant attitude to politics that actuates Nigerian politicians to routinely declare that “there is no vacancy” either in state government houses or in Aso Rock. This expression is silly on so many levels. A vacancy is an unoccupied position or job. To the extent that there is always a governor—or an acting governor—at any given moment in the life of a state, it goes without saying that there is always no vacancy in government houses. (Well, one exists right now in Aso Rock since Yar’adua is too incapacitated to function as president but has refused to hand over the reins of government to the Vice President).
But if by “no vacancy in government house” these peasant politicians intend to slyly communicate to their political opponents that the incumbent governors will get second terms by hook or by crook (perhaps more by the latter), they are even worse than peasants; they are disreputably slow-witted simps.
Liberal democracy has many problems, but one of its redeeming features is the periodic empowerment it gives ordinary citizens to renew or revoke the tenures of elected officials. But when peasant politicians in Nigeria rob us of even that little symbolic privilege and, what is worse, unashamedly brag about their unmatched capabilities to rig elections, encapsulated in such irritatingly infantile statements as “there is no vacancy in government house,” we are in much graver danger than we think.