The Politics of Telling Lies, Telling Truths
By OKEY ANUEYIAGU
Growing up, the first thing we learnt in our household was not to tell lies, and to always tell the truth no matter the consequences. Even when the lies were as insignificant, as in who dipped his or her fingers in the sugar jar for a little succulent taste of its sweetness, they drew dire consequences from our parents. I used to wonder why we got serious rebuking for such small, silly lies, but my parents took pains in reminding us children that it was not the weight or significance of the offence, but the gravity of the lies that drew the dire consequences.
I once told a lie to my mother that I thought was not that serious, and she flew into what was an uncontrollable rage. This particular lie was that I had brushed my teeth in the morning when it was obvious that I had not, considering the early morning stench from my mouth that flowed freely around the breakfast table. I found it then quite difficult and abstruse to understand why such a flimsy lie drew so much anger from my mother. Now, I know better. Being a parent to five children and expecting from them the same standards my parents set for me in the lying department, and in other endeavors, I have come to understand why we were expected and demanded to never lie and to always tell the truth no matter the consequences.
The act or art of telling lies and telling the truth has become a standard of measurement in our politics. It was long ago, and still is today, a yardstick adopted in the recognition of good and bad politicians. Historically, it was a virtue to find politicians who always told the truth; who never told lies. The American people, in this line, regarded their two Presidents, Washington and Lincoln, very highly, and they were famous mainly because they told their people the truth. Americans trusted these Presidents because truth to them meant trust. I am not sure that they felt the same way about Donald Trump.
One of the severest test of a great and an upright leader is his or her ability to tell his followers the truth even when the consequences are severe to their personal position of power and influence. To speak painful and inconvenient truth through loving words and compassion, to me, is the sign of true leadership and everlasting strength and vigor.
Today, our political leaders and politicians, and even our technocrats have not only turned to big liars, but have all virtually become lie-making machines. Lying has become second nature to them – it has become an appendage to the already convoluted politics mired in trickery, lies and deceits. They have perfected the act and art of lying that even when they are telling the truth, they are telling it by lying. When I watch and listen to them lie, without blinking or batting an eyelid, I begin to wonder if they didn’t have parents, or if their mothers did not raise them well.
I recall a very painful experience I had as a six year old boy growing up at home. My mother was an extremely successful business woman, and one of her thriving ventures was a large-scale bakery and confectionary industry that catered for patrons beyond the Kano metropolis where we lived. On one particular evening, I snuck in into her bakery house and stuffed my two khaki shorts pockets with very special pastries that she and her staff had prepared for very important clients. I escaped into my bedroom and began to devour my loot, stuffing my mouth rapidly. Suddenly, my mother walked into my bedroom and caught me redhanded; my entire face covered in sugar, flour and other juicy condiments. She asked me what I was eating, and with my mouth overstuffed and my pockets dripping with baking oil, I told her that I was eating nothing; I lied.
My mother was stunned and weakened at my blatant lie and the boldness and effrontery by which I told it, that she began to invoke the power of God on me. She did not curse me, but she was so shocked that she asked Jesus to have mercy upon my lying soul. I was ashamed of myself and filled with guilt that I could not sleep for some nights. Each time I attempted to shut my eyes, I would see the angry face of Jesus looking at me, and clutching a long horsewhip. I never got the whipping from Jesus, but I never lived-down the guilt of my sin and the lying that followed for a long while.
From these small but unflappable experiences, one is grateful that our parents tried to instill in us the attributes of being good citizens. I am grateful for these smallest things that made my life to be seemingly shaped from the inside out. Although I am not claiming perfection in the department of telling the truth, I constantly practice the gratitude of knowing the efforts of my parents in raising me right as being the keys to how some good aspect of my life unfold sometimes.
Today, as these political leaders, the politicians, the technocrats and our business leaders engage in the competitive duel of who tell better lies, how do they expect their children, our children to behave in this business of telling lies, and telling the truth? Where will they derive the moral authority and rights to tell these growing up, impressionable children, not to lie? When these youngsters witness us adults spewing dangerous lies every second, how do we demand of them to tell the truth? This is a grievous dilemma for us and our country today.
In our country, the most contemporary and belligerent ills plaguing and pervading all aspects of our life, is lying. The perfidiousness and impetuosity of this trend is alarming and deleterious.
Spiritually, once someone’s soul is taken over by the evils of lies, the person’s being becomes polluted and defective. Our politicians fit this mold so perfectly. They turn everything they know to be true into deadly lies. Once they are sickened in spirit, they turn into unrepentant, villainous and compulsive liars.
In “The Prince”, the great Philosopher Nicolo Machiavelli alluded to the importance of politicians behaving like foxes; to be cunning and to tell lies and habitually make it an obligation to always see honesty as an impossibility and an antithesis of the game of politics. Our politicians have copied this doctrine and put its practice and manifestation into praxis.
This short essay as heuristics as it may be, is intended to further teach us that we can live our lives in more honourable ways without laying a faulty foundation for our children to follow. Although I set out to tell this tale in as contemporaneous a fashion as possible, I am very aware and worried about the pernicious and harmful effects of telling lies in all spheres of our lives.
My writing focuses more on intuitively narrating the sub-human capacities and failings of our political class and elite in what they tell us, the followers – the common people. In fact, I strongly believe that our politicians and those who work for them have sold their souls to the devil. That their bargain with the devil, is to constantly in the line of duty to their bosses, undermine the public trust by telling mountains of lies at will. It has become common knowledge that one of the major requirements to qualify as a politician, or a staff to politicians, is the willingness to sublimate your conscience and become infinitively ready to delegitimize, or at the least, rationalize the truth, and when demanded of you, to outrightly lie.
Indeed, the extraordinary lies that we have been subjected to by our politicians from the past to today, and the level of its preposterousness have bumfuzzled the populace. With astonishing results, it is incredible to recount how easily these politicians have looked us dead in our eyes and lied with such maximal sangfroid, piety and aplomb. To understand the level of the barefaced lies these people peddle, is to become alarmed with a high sense of foreboding. Their lies are compulsive and exhibit such disdainful imperturbable penchant for denying the undeniable – like denying their father’s tribe and religion with a straight and bold face.
In our country, and indeed in the entire world, lying has become a powerful tool in the hands and arsenal of our leaders – in all sectors. This ugly trait has completely defined the character and behavior of our politicians and corporate leaders who misrepresent, bend, disfigure, dissemble, spin and destroy with such prevarication, the truth. They have no shame in lying as they hide under the dictum that lying is part of politics as long as you are not caught. But the willfulness by which these lies are told, has become a bulwark for the disregard of the consequences and complicity.
In order not to become a plaudit to these lying politicians, we must never confuse “Politics” with Lying. Both are mutually exclusive, although both possess a certain level of benignity as they compliment each other.
Now, let us consider some of the lies that have been told over many years. Where can one start? From the scurrilous to the ridiculous ones, the perilousness or wantonness of these lies, is what should worry all well-meaning Nigerians.
During one of the last elections, some bullion (money carrying) vehicles were filmed entering a politician’s home. Expectedly, there were uproars in the media with scores of people condemning this act. There were also valorous defence of this politician. My jaw dropped when I heard one of the defenders say on TV that the vans could have been carrying food and not money for the supporters of this politician. While spewing this lie, he kept a straight face and did not blink. Until today, no one has told us the precious menus that those money trucks were delivering or how the sumptuous meals were consumed.
I believe that one of the major reasons our politicians constantly lie to us is because they are all, without any exception, narcissists; from Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin, and onto Boris Johnson, right down to our many other past and present leaders. They possess arrogant, self-importance and self-entitlement characteristics. They believe, once in power, that they know it all. They then become exploitative and careless with the things they say and do; telling lies and not caring about the effects and consequences of these lies. These Politicians dwell in the practice of telling lies because they know that they have gullible and stupid followers, who once they are brain-washed, believe anything they are told. These followers often do not care about the truth because they are blinded by primordial tendencies like; religion, tribalism, race and ethnicity.
Our politicians are smart. They understand the deceptive position and power of the internet and the social media in information dissemination. The clique that “the internet never forgets” is the Politicians best tool. If a lie is told so many times on the internet, it becomes a credible source of the perpetration of a lie, as it grows into an irrefutable proof of its validity and authenticity as true.
The season for political lies and promises is around the corner. Knowing and not caring that the immorality of political lies and false promises destroy the trust factor between the politicians and the electorate, our politicians continue to lie and promise about what they will do once given yet another opportunity to be elected into office.
SEE SOME OF THE LIES FROM OUR POLITICIANS:
“We will build you new schools”
“We will give you free education”
“We will build you new roads and bridges”
“We will make the naira equal in value to the dollar”
“We will make petrol cheaper”
“We will change the constitution; restructure the nation”
“We will stop terrorism and kidnapping”
“We will return the kidnapped school girls”
“We will give you uninterrupted electricity”
“The only way to have stable electricity, is to vote out PDP”
“We will stop Corruption”
“We will only serve one term”
“Stone us if we do not perform”
“We will allow the other Zones to serve”
“We will conduct free and fair elections”
“WE WILL TAKE YOU TO THE MOON AND BACK”
These lies and promises have been with us for so many years. And when these lying thieves are caught in their lies, they, without any remorse or shame, counter by using the ever-familiar gimmickry in euphemisms such as; “I was misquoted; I misspoke; my words were taken out of context; you distorted my statements; overstated, understated, misstated, exaggerated, twisted, biased media”. All these have all become the lying politicians’ favourite words.
It is quite obvious that one of the determinants of political distrusts in our democracies is the amount of lies that politicians tell to the electorate. Trust in our political institutions are vital for the stability of our governments. When the Nigerian people begin to trust these institutions and the administrators, there will be an inclination for efficacious synergies between policymaking and proper moral civic behaviour. Trust entails that a person in authority (politician, technocrat, business leader) is responsive and will not tell lies, but will do what is right even without constant scrutiny or oversight. This by extension requires and demands that while seeking for the well-being of our society, the virtues of impartiality, transparency and the delivery of efficacy must be the watchword of our politicians.
Without much doubt, I believe that once our politicians stop their lying game, we will begin to see that there are theoretical and empirical evidence of a correlation between political trust and stable and reliable government with the populace becoming better and productive citizens.
Whereas my main focus is on lies told by politicians and their cohorts, I must add that we must denounce all lies; salutary or otherwise, or even noble lies told for the so called common interest, as intrinsically evil and against the doctrine of all religions. Philosophically, it is abhorrent to hide the truth as it is as bad as uttering a lie. Many philosophers have addressed the issue of lying, many stating that every liar invariably conceals the truth, but that not everyone who conceals the truth is a liar; for we often conceal the truth not only by lying but by being or remaining silent.
Are our politicians edifying this philosophical doctrine to avoid being called liars? Are they concealing at any opportune moment issues and matters that may seem advisable to hide; but never permissible to admit as lies, yet they spread by means of lies to the electorate? Yes, they do, but by the notion of virtue and monotheism, we must create, expose and explore the huge gap and dichotomy between politics, realities, lies and truths.
Yes, we must always aspire to tell the truth, as it will set us free from the morasses of lies and deceit.
•Dr. Okey Anueyiagu is a Political Economist