Friday, September 3, 2021 12:02 am
By Chris Anyokwu
In 2018, Michiko Kakutani published a most timely book entitled The Death of Truth, and this coming at the height of the global brouhaha over what has now come to be referred to as post-truth. Post-truth (or fake news in street lingo) is a situation in which people deliberately put into circulation untruths, fibs, falsehoods, and the like dressed in the garish but seductive garb of truth. Post-truth gained traction under Trumpism, itself defined by the assault on truth, typified by bluster and inflated by lots of hot air. This ungainly phenomenon was appropriately incarnated by the then- president of the United States (POTUS) himself, Mr. Donald J. Trump, the Bully of Decorum extra-ordinaire.
The many travails of truth have not been helped or made lighter by the influence of New Media comprising micro-blogging sites and allied social networking platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp. A free-for-all arena of indecorum, indecency, immorality and irresponsibility, social media has exponentially facilitated the venal and invidious career of post-truth, thus forcing Truth itself to beat an ungainly retreat from public life. The field, therefore, completely open and rid of gatekeepers, untruth has been having a field-day, rampaging and bludgeoning the very temple of Truth and propriety. In our digital era, truth-telling is risky business, more so as everybody is intent on getting on the bandwagon of social hypocrisy with its accompanying corollary of political correctness.
The tragic odyssey of Truth, to be sure, antedates the contemporary dispensation going way back to prehistory, even to mythic time. Adam and Eve, humankind’s progenitors, in the Garden of Eden lied to God regarding what had transpired between them and Satan. Even the makeshift fig-leaf dress they used in covering their nakedness (read: Truth) as well as the more respectable animal-skin clothing God purportedly sewed for them equally betokens a “veiling” of the naked truth. Why so? Because truth hurts; it’s bitter and dreadfully upsetting and unsettling. Ask the guilty caught pants down in the act. In the same connection, therefore, the entire landscape of the Holy Writ is thronged and veined by the Ariadne Threads of the riddling interpenetration of Truth and Falsehood.
Consider the following: Rahab the Harlot’s lie that saved the Israeli spies in Jericho; Moses’ mother’s lie to save Moses and her family; Abraham lied that Sarah wasn’t his wife as did Isaac, his son about his own wife, Rebecca; Jacob deceived his father, Isaac, by claiming that he was Esau. How about King David’s deception in relation to Uriah vis-à-vis Bathsheba? In the New Testament, the stories of Judas Iscariot and Ananias and Saphirah stand out clearly as monumental parables on lying and duplicity.
A popular Asian proverb goes thus: “Tell the truth and run”. For to do otherwise is to court censorship, persecution or death as befell many personages in the past. Socrates was forced to drink hemlock by the authorities of his day because he was alleged to have poisoned the minds of the Greek youth through erroneous teachings and indoctrination. Plato thus remarked that “No one is more hated than he who speaks the truth”.
All literature revolves around the universal theme of appearance versus reality or the intriguing politics of perception. Paul de Man, the influential American deconstructionist, theorised on Insight and Blindness, drawing upon the mesmerising chiaroscuro of objective reality or the nature of Truth itself. The eternal dilemma over the calamitous consequences of truth-telling versus the reassuring benefits of lying has continued to stake out and frame the contours of the civic space within which politics and politicians cavort. It is thus this contestation over the ever-constricting space, the domicile of truth, between the politician (read: King, ruler, boss, employer, etc.) and the artist (read: poet, novelist, dramatist, musician, painter/sculptor, social critic, teacher, and journalist) that has pitted the man of action against the man of thought, brawn versus brain, force versus art. Examples abound in this regard. As earlier noted, Socrates leads among the ranks of artists. Others include Galileo Galilei, Joan of Arc, Ngugi, Soyinka, Osundare, Fela, Dennis Brutus, Okigbo, etc.
As a matter of fact, Christopher Okigbo says: “If I don’t shut up my mouth, I will soon go to hell” (Labyrinths). And, boy, how soon afterwards did he die in a most tragic fashion on the Biafra warfront in 1967! One grew up hearing of great newspaper and magazine commentators and columnists and later started reading them. One is talking about fine writers like Aiyekooto, Alade, Adebayo Williams (aka Tatalo Alamu), Dele Giwa, Onome Ovie-Whiskey, Ray Ekpu, Nosa Igiebor, Dan Agbese, G.G. Darah, Edwin Madunagu, Ama Ogan, inter alia. They were all in varying degrees distinguished by two main qualities of mind, namely excellent mastery of language and thorough analysis of issues untainted and unsullied by any form of partisanship, either of gender or ethnic/religious.
It didn’t matter whether the butt of their analysis, typically searing, satiric and deflationary as ever, was from the same village as the writer-columnist himself/herself. The pursuit of truth was the overarching object of their journalistic disquisitions. Every other thing was secondary. Of course, it’s now part of our nation’s folklore or history that some of these truth-telling warriors of the Word have had to pay the supreme sacrifice for daring to speak truth to power. Dele Giwa remains our eternal metaphor for the immolation of Truth, in this regard. But that was then, this is now, as they say. Everything has now changed. The first casualty of our current predicament is Truth. Religious houses and centres have long ceased to be sanctuaries of Truth but are now arenas of ethno-religious interpellation; they are merely architectural structures, some of them boasting tourist fascination where self-styled believers go for entertainment with God looking askance from a distance. In our times, social and political discourses are normally conducted via social media especially on Whatsapp platforms.
And there are a plethora of them – neighbourhood platform, club forum, school/faculty/department/class fora; you also have clan/sectional/regional, professional, ethnic and “ideological” platforms, whose entry qualification is the size of your wealth, how deep your pocket is; your financial clout. For some, your entry qualification requirements are your level of education, social connections, class and status. Yet, for others, it is your tongue, i.e., your dialect, not necessarily your language. After all, monkey and gorilla may claim oneness, but monkey is monkey, gorilla gorilla (apologies to Ola Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not To Blame). Interestingly, it’s these little-little things such as money, class, education, connection, status, dialect and language that have conspired among themselves to kill (the) Truth in Nigeria. Actually, this article you’re reading is a modest attempt at organising an obsequies for the departed Truth.
Needless to say, the reason for truth-avoidance in Nigeria is our desperation for access to Nigeria’s scarce resources at the centre – power-sharing, socio-political visibility, relevance, stratum mobility, ethno-racial supremacy and domination over other competing ethnicities, existential insecurity of the present and, more crucially, of the progeny. From the pulpit to the school lectern, the soapbox to the newsroom, the stadium to the BRT bus station, the beer parlour to the soccer viewing-centre, just name them! Truth is nowhere to be found. It’s gone missing. Murdered. Butchered. Waylaid by terrorists and bandits and wasted without ceremony. Its demise actually helps and aids the business of government as falsehood has taken on the aspect of truth and has been installed on the throne of Truth. What’s worse, the media, traditionally believed to be the watchdog of government, have lost their voice.
And whenever they manage to find their voice, they speak the language of ethnicism, of tribalism, of clannishness. Don’t take my word for it. Just try and follow the political discourses on the Whatsapp fora and platforms you belong to. What do you see? Fair, impartial and balanced analysis of emergent issues and “matters arising”? Do you not often question the credentials –political, academic, religious, reputational, etc. – of those so-called influential and highly-placed but cock-sure and self-opinionated members on those fora and platforms on account of their biased and extremely clannish submissions? Isn’t “truth” defined by these folk by ethnicity, gender, religion, class and money? Do we all tell the truth no matter whose ox is gored? Does the public read our so-called commentators, analysts, political thinkers, opinion leaders, and columnists in order to learn the truth about something? Doesn’t the public pick and choose what or who it reads based on the ethnic affiliation or/and identity of the writer, knowing full well that that writer will never see anything wrong in whatever his/her ethnic group or people from his/her ethnic group do? And, by the same token, that same writer is animated only by resentment and hate for people from other ethnic groups, no matter how wise they are. Whether you are reading a newspaper, a magazine or anything on social media, it is all biases, prejudice and partisanship.
Now people purportedly excavate ancient scrolls and moth-eaten parchments as well as superannuated documents of dubious authorship and authenticity allegedly indicating people from other ethnic groups over “the Trouble with Nigeria”, and the genesis of our collective tragedy. The standard fare, always, is that others are to blame for our troubles, not us, not our ethnic group. Our penchant for selective amnesia, for biased vilification of historical personages and our criminal silence on “our own people’s” malfeasances will be the undoing of us all.
The temple of Truth, therefore, must not be allowed to be defiled and desecrated by purveyors of post-truth, half-truths, stretched-truths, lies, disinformation and misinformation. Fanning the embers of disunity is not the way to go. Finger-pointing will only ruin us all. As Charles Dickens tells us in Great Expectations: “Bark is a good dog; but hold fast is better”. Members of the media, the so-called commentariat must uphold the cardinal responsibility of their calling as watchdogs. That means they must always tell the truth, regardless, if keeping Nigeria safe and secure is their wish. “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8: 32).
Chris Anyokwu, PhD, writes from University of Lagos