by Macdonald Ukah
It is just as well that United States Senator, Ted Cruz, eventually did the honours civility required of him and apologized for his utterly silly remark about Nigeria whilst attempting to leverage on the challenges besetting President Obama’s health care reform infrastructure a few weeks ago to undermine the White House. This writer recognizes that his categorization of Cruz’s comments as “silly” could even arouse debate, the sort that would revolve around the accuracy of Cruz’s references to Nigeria. After all, there truly have been and still are Nigerian e-mail scammers; the damage done by that nefarious collective on this nation’s image would continue to unfold in debacles not dissimilar to this one.
My contention is that Cruz’s comments are silly because he is supposed to be, well, a statesman. (Perhaps I forget that the preposterous drama he and his fellow Tea Party wackos in the United States legislature had wrought in the weeks leading up to that infamous speech in Texas essentially denies him any appellation remotely related to statesmanship.) It is a regular feature on the menu of political speechmaking to project humour, especially intelligent humour. And, depending on the context, statesmen could extend the frontiers of this literary license beyond national boundaries. True statesmen, however, realize that they are bound by an unwritten code of civility to watch what they say, lest they set off needless and absurd diplomatic spats. Tacitly insulting a domestic political opponent is one thing and might even make for good fun if the insult is elegantly delivered; insulting an entire nation is quite another. Ted Cruz failed to make this distinction and it may be immensely reflective of how unfit he is to be a Washington top shot. More about that later.
The swift move by the Nigerian diplomatic mission in the United States to demand an apology from Cruz is in order. Crucially, it is the most appropriate response that any diplomatic officialdom should put up given the circumstances. The corresponding offer of an apology by Cruz should do enough to sate the egos of the Nigerian nationalist instinct. Nigerians at home and in the diaspora were not coy about expressing their dismay by whatever medium they could. Certain segments of this angry constituency, perhaps temporarily forgetting the prevailing configuration of global power and the limitations they place on nations that do not belong in the higher echelons, demanded that the Nigerian officialdom do something, anything substantive to undermine the Texas Senator’s career.
Beside the quixotic nature of this demand lies the failure of those making the call to recognize that the blustering Senator essentially denigrated himself as he spoke. To any electorate operating at deeper levels of thought and perception, Cruz’s comments, alongside the antecedents that have made him popular in recent months, would offer a sufficient profile of him as unfit to lead. It should be somewhat disturbing then that he is already being touted as a potential flag-bearer for the Republican Party in the American presidential elections in 2016. But it isn’t, not to those who are acutely aware of the deteriorating conditions of global political leadership. Stacked up against their heroic predecessors, many of whom they quote copiously and mischievously to convey duplicitous messages, many of today’s world leaders are just not worth their salt. The malady is pervasive and global.
The underpinning arrogance that was betrayed by the careless remark offers rationale for an interrogation of humanity’s propensity for prejudiced profiling. That propensity remains a recurring decimal especially in the elitist conservative echelon of western society. This is the class that the likes of Cruz represent. But there were other pathetic actors in this spectacular drama sketch that remind us that the tendency for such profiling is not exclusively elitist.
Cruz spoke to a patronizing crowd. One can’t fathom that all those in that congregation were elitists. It was interesting to listen to the crowd as they gratuitously acknowledged Cruz’s epigram. The average congregant at that Texas gathering is bound to the likes of Cruz by the yarns of ideology, political opinion and similar tendency to condescend towards supposedly lesser civilizations. However, one distinction that could be made between Cruz on one hand and the crowd on the other is the wealth of information that each group possesses, information on which basis one might evaluate their roles in the drama.
Cruz is a political office holder and that accords him certain privileges, one of which is access, however limited, to comprehensive intelligence on the world beyond America’s shores. Those who produce this intelligence are adept at what they do; their intelligence briefs on the Nigerian condition would bother on more substantive issues than the criminal activities of a small segment of the Nigerian populace. That is a second reason why Cruz’s conduct on the matter is reproachable: he is positioned to know better than to magnify that small component of the Nigerian story whilst making a major political statement.
The crowd he spoke to does not however enjoy this privilege. They can raise their awareness on the dynamics of the Nigerian condition and thus modulate their responses to blusters like Cruz’s by leveraging on the components that constitute the impressive infrastructure of the Information Age – mass media, the internet, social networking. It however takes genuine interest to do this. Outside academic, missionary, non-governmental and mainstream political cum intelligence citadels, the required levels of genuine interest can hardly be found.
The message is the comparative ignorance of those in the crowd. This ignorance features regularly in the testimonies of those in the diaspora who return home to share their experiences in the West. “They don’t know jack about us” is a popular refrain you get from Nigerians who have been to these lands and returned when asked the relevant question. If it should be of any comfort, this phenomenon of ignorance sits oddly with the growing awareness in these parts of the world about the cultural construct of western societies, facilitated by the aforementioned horsemen of the Information Age.
Owing to the socio-cultural power and influence of western societies, especially America, mainstream media keeps us conscious of the mechanics of societal interaction in these societies, thus inundating us with more information about them than we care to ingest. One is more likely to find a precocious Nigerian teenager capable of naming all of America’s 50 states as well as their capitals and governors than he is to find an American youth capable of doing likewise in Nigeria’s case. Now that doesn’t have to bespeak superiority in the intellectual capabilities of the Nigerian teen over his counterpart. It is just a consequence of prevailing conditions in the global information exchange. Perhaps a growing counter-hegemonic current!!! The irony is that this current, if it intensifies, would have been generated by the technocratic elite of western societies, the ones who control corporate media and the internet and who continue to churn out products targeted at whetting the appetites of the global consumer society.
As for our domestic yahoo yahoo problem and its tendency to bring embarrassment upon the nation, we can only minimize the scourge, not eradicate it. The enterprise has grown out of the willingness of some to attain better material conditions and by sheer avarice in other cases. The former can be catered for if Nigeria begins to make broad-based economic advancements; the latter, I’m not so sure.
Macdonald Ukah is a graduate of Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is currently a Senior Research Assistant at Edward Kingston Associates, Lagos.