When Shehu Mahdi appeared on ARISE TV a few weeks ago and made some outlandish claims of how Bagauda Kaltho died with the involvement of the American government, some applause went up.
Mahdi’s rhetoric built on demagogic purpose was missed by a large section of Nigerians who found it intoxicating and fit for public discourse. It was little wonder that editor and columnist, Achilleus Chud-Uchegbu, took Mahdi’s claims seriously and expressed surprise that the media was yet to interrogate the allegations against the American and Nigerian governments over Kaltho’s death amidst other finger-pointing.
It was an opportunity for those with unexplained angst against journalists to take to arms. A certain Vincent Ezechukwu derisively referred to the media as the “4th Envelope.”
Also, one Onyeka Christopher Chukwudi, tellingly alleged that “majority of journalists in Nigeria are unfortunately complicit in the decay of our nation!”
For these and many more who saw Mahdi as a “hero” and an “Apostle of Truth,” they would not have hastily reached such conclusion if they had read J. Justin Gustainis’, “Demagoguery and Political Rhetoric: A Review of the Literature.
Gusttainis argues that “A demagogue can only succeed in an atmosphere of free speech and free expression, since…demagoguery is intimately bound up with rhetoric.”
Finding a fertile environment to air his constitutional rights, but in breach, Mahdi was espousing his demagoguery laced with rhetoric and a whole lot fell for it. For a people in constant search for populist ideals and heroes, it is easy to fall prey to individuals such as Mahdi until they turn around to be your nightmare.
And that is exactly the fate of those who hailed him for his initial conspiracies. Long before Mahdi, there was the Athenian general and politician, Cleon. He rose to the apogee of power after the death of the master orator, Pericles.
Though a member of the Athens elite himself, Whedbee, Karen E. in “Reclaiming Rhetorical Democracy: George Grote’s Defense of Cleon and the Athenian Demagogues.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 34.4 (2004): notes that: “Cleon (in)famously pioneered the use of populist, demagogic rhetoric to manipulate Greece’s ignorant masses and sway the mob to his unethical ways of believing and acting. According to his critics (in particular, Thucydides and Aristophanes), Cleon was a deeply unscrupulous rhetor, eschewing truth, making impossible promises, and using emotionally charged arguments to win allegiance to his views and win power for himself. In short, Cleon pandered to Athenians’ basest prejudices and desires in order to advance his own ambitions. And although many subsequent rhetors have competed vigorously for the title, Cleon remains the “prototypical ‘bad guy’ demagogue.”
So, Mahdi like his forebear Cleon, riding high on his media appearances went full blast a few days back before Christians of Northern Nigerian origin with his rhetoric of hate, half-truths and deep division.
In the despicable outing, Mahdi employed demagogic rhetoric skills of persuasion, argument, politics, public speech, affect and emotion was at his best. His audience sat captivated with one or two nodding in rhythm as he falsely claimed that Northerners – both Christians and Muslims – are being discriminated against in the South East, South West, and South-South, hence, southern candidates should not be voted for by northerners
It is gratifying that there have been swift rebuttals to Mahdi’s demagoguery even from his “own.” Of note is the response of the Coalition of Northern Elders for Peace and National Unity, CNEFPNU.
In their riposte, the CNEFPNU described the disposition of Mahdi as “distasteful, provocative, and capable of inciting ethno-religious tension”.
It is instructive to state that as citizens, there is the urgency to be slow in robing individuals in heroic and messianic robes for some flowery propositions that suit one’s taste.
Now that Mahdi has served the Wotowoto Generation a pot of beans as they say in Nigerian lingo, they are learning the hard way and soon too.