A cult of personality or personality cult occurs when a leader uses and, in most cases, abuses the mass media to create an almost god-like self image. This phenomenon has its roots in the age-old principle of the divine right of kings whereby monarchs were extremely revered due to the belief that they were appointed by God and God alone. Due to this "divine appointment", the citizenry's obeisance to the monarch was expected to be absolute. Indeed, due to the unfettered adulation that many monarchs (and their dynasties) enjoyed, a number of ancient civilizations such as the Aztecs, Incas and the Roman Empire went as far as to refer to their monarchs as god-kings. In personality cults, the leader is portrayed as omniscient and infallible - a myth that is further reinforced by lackeys and hangers-on who daily shower the leader with large doses of obsequiousness. Although the leader's influence can be used for altruistic purposes, the 20th century has witnessed tyrannical and despotic personality cults best typified by the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Mobutu Sese Seko and Robert Mugabe. Common denominators of their rule include a plethora of flattering portraits of the leader in government buildings and major streets in addition to literary works/publications that highlight the leader's myriad of virtues and achievements. The abysmally sad truth of the matter is that there is precious little difference between the most extreme and destructive personality cults in history and those that have emerged in "democratic" Nigeria over the past decade. The pattern in this country goes something like this. The President comes into power, by fair means or foul, and immediately grants his imprimatur for him to be portrayed as the "Father of the Nation". With the help of his aides, he sheds his human form for an ethereal alternative after which his aides immediately get to work to cordon him off from ordinary Nigerians - the very people whose interests he swore under oath to defend. It quickly becomes a tacit rule for the President not to be challenged or criticized. The motley crew of shameless "Yes men and women" that he fills his cabinet with create a monster who believes, like the autocratic Louis XIV of France (whose rule spanned the 17th and 18th centuries), that he is the State. Any President of Nigeria must understand that he is not and can never be the State. Nigeria is the exclusive preserve of all Nigerians……….the operative words being "ALL NIGERIANS." In that respect, Nigeria is no different from any other truly democratic country on earth where every single man, woman or child has the right to question, challenge or criticize its leader. Ironically, the greatest service Yar'adua has done to Nigerians so far was trying to ingratiate himself with them by labeling himself a Servant-Leader at his inauguration. Unfortunately, labels fade and eventually fall off. The President's undemocratic actions have resonated much louder than his words. If the President is not delivering on his promises and the expectations of the citizenry, we have the unfettered right to speak in unison and demand that he relinquish power. We have the right to do this as vociferously and, if necessary, as offensively as possible. Irreverence is justified especially because millions of lives and livelihoods are at stake. If the President cannot take the heat, he should darn well stay out of the kitchen. Just ask British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Earlier today he was on the receiving end of a relentless grilling by a panel of financial journalists/economic experts in London during a live television broadcast. The panel took Brown to task on the economic difficulties presently besetting the British and global economies. With only a long mahogany table at Number 10 Downing Street separating him from his interviewers, he was accused, point-blank, of being personally responsible for the financial distress being experienced by major UK banks due to faulty economic policies that he initiated while Chancellor of the Exchequer. One of the interviewers actually suggested that he should resign for his supposed failings with regard to the British economy. As far as brutal interviews go, this was top-notch stuff. At times it looked like, if given a choice, between continuing to be subjected to the barrage of criticism from the panel or standing in the middle of a Texas highway during Hurricane Ike, Brown would have opted for the latter. Although visibly uncomfortable by the extremely critical nature of the interview, he took all the verbal punches on the chin and did his best to defend himself. One thing that we can be sure of is that neither Brown nor his handlers will threaten, blacklist or sanction any of the interviewers or the organizations they represent because of the Prime Minister's harrowing experience at their hands today. These kinds of frank interviews are commonplace throughout the Western world for the simple reason that their journalists, whether they are interviewing the leader of one of the most powerful nations on earth or the CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation, do not conduct themselves as if they are in the presence of their Creator or someone to whom they are eternally beholden. The journalists have to buy food in the supermarket like the next man, to educate their children like the next man, to pay their mortgages like the next man, the right to know how their country is being run and the right to vent their frustrations about their leaders like the next man. I look forward to the day when Nigeria's political class (from the President to his underlings), like their American and European counterparts, can be parodied (and urged to resign) in the media without media operators fearing reprisals from the government. Before the President's (man)handlers feed us with some codswallop that such behavior is a threat to Nigeria's national security or to the integrity of the first family or the first lion, the reason that a number of such satirical programmes have developed cult followings in their respective countries is that (apart from being very funny) political power is ultimately, as it should be, in the hands of the people. If the brigands who are presently polluting Nigeria's political space fail to grasp this simple truth and refuse to fall on their swords when they do not meet the people's expectations, the people have a right to push them onto their swords.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters