Saturday, 21 May 2016

When sycophancy nurtures mediocrity

Pastor Kunle Omotoso
By Martins Oloja

I began to notice the power of sycophancy in shaping destiny of man in 2003 when a young but diligent Pastor, Kunle Omotoso of the Redeemed Christian Church, (RCCG) Central Parish, Wuse 2, Abuja was transferred to The Desire of Nations Parish, Jabi District Abuja. I was present at the send-forth party organized by the Central Parish parishioners then. Typically, at the impressive ceremony in the auditorium of the Provincial Headquarters of the church, all sorts of testifiers came up one after the other to say so many good things about the very diligent and gifted. He was credited with physical expansion of the church located behind the Globacom Head Office in Abuja. Pastor Omotoso, a civil engineer trained at the University of Ilorin, who had then been listed as a full-time servant of God, listened very attentively as church members were pouring encomiums on him and his very humble wife Peju, who never put on the garb of “Central Parish Mummy”. There were many testifiers to the gift of the lanky preacher and teacher who reads extensively and hates mediocrity in word and deeds. He was quite respected by many as a powerful deliverance minister.

He was widely remembered as a young but very organized pastor who brought Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo from London to Abuja for the first time through a programme he tagged “Turning Point” at the Eagle Square, Abuja in 2002. Anyway, it was a big surprise to the congregation when it was the turn of the celebrant, Omotoso to respond to all the praises heaped on him. Lo and behold, the creator of an influential magazine then Thank You Jesus, did not thank any of the numerous praise-singing testifiers. He scanned the pews at the expansive auditorium and spotted a woman he did not name and then told the parishioners that of all the good things said about him, there was only one thing he would to take away. He said the gift was a secret advice that a woman came to his office to offer before the ceremony. Omotosho who wrote two books (Goliath Hath Children & As a Man Thinketh) before he left Abuja revealed that the deliverable he would take away and would cherish forever was from the unnamed woman who told him two critical errors he made at the parish that he was leaving. He said the woman slipped into his office and looked him in the face and said pastor, you had done well in Central Parish but he needed to note two strategic management errors that he should not repeat in his new parish for his good. The servant of God who did not want to tell any other stories that could obliterate the essence and lesson of the woman’s wise counsel said he was very grateful to the woman who, according to him, would like him to excel in his ministry. He did not give any detail of the woman’s invaluable counsel. Today, Pastor Omotoso has become a big man of God in New York where he is the zonal coordinator of RCCG in New York.

I am persuaded that if our leaders at all levels would borrow a leaf from Omotoso’s disposition to listen to friends, school mates and aides about what they would not like to hear, Nigeria would be what God wants it to be: greatest black nation on earth. On the other hand, if we the followers too would like to swallow our vanity and tell our Omotoso’s – in power the truth about what they are not doing well so that they can improve our conditions, we all would be the better for it.

And here is the thing, the level of sycophancy everywhere we go has become so insufferable that the earth can no longer contain it. And I am beginning to see that the spectre of sycophancy in our midst is largely responsible for the influence of mediocrity in our public life that I discussed in this column recently. In the church, instead of the elders rebuking the pastors that have driven Jesus away from their church through improper and unethical behavior, we hail such workers of iniquity as “very anointed men of God”, though they have nothing to do with the God of men. In the communities, the traditional rulers who take delight in sleeping around with young girls and luring youth corps members in their domain are hailed as the gods that have come down to us in the likeness of men. No one is ready to rally men to remove the traditional rulers as ‘pollutants of the earth’. Most times, strong men from the royal family will proclaim, the kabiyesi (ka bio o si) can do no wrong: He is our son, our king, let him be there forever.

This is not even a seminal paper on the mocker called sycophancy. This is just a motivational town talk to advise us about some little, little foxes that are fast spoiling our vines. And sycophancy is clearly one of them. Sycophancy, simply defined as “insincere flattery of people of wealth or influence” is now worse in politics and public service in Nigeria where the scourge has become a powerful tool, an ominous culture that has evolved and permeated all spheres of our political life and it is threatening tenets and values on which the growth and welfare of the nation hinges. The craving for state contracts, appointments by Nigerians, excited by the readiness of government to dish out such largesse without regard to merit, prudence, and morality of the same over the years is largely responsible for the exponential growth of sycophancy as an industry. This has dealt a devastating blow on merit as mediocrity is now the order of the day. It stands to reason therefore that we managers and leaders at all levels should be conscious of the activities and wiles of the flatterers in our midst so that we can rise to a higher level of consciousness that will enable us to recognize our foibles.

The low-hanging fruits we can easily pluck immediately are these: as a governor, if you construct only one kilometer of road and your aides bring to you a ten million Naira worth of commissioning party memo, you should know that your aides are not interested in your progress. They are sycophants. The ones that bring memo on how to construct more kilometres are the good ones. The ones that tell you that all the citizens of the state are singing your praises because of one kilometer, are super sycophants. If you are a manager and your subordinates who keep coming to you about how people are praising you for your tough gestures, you should know immediately that they are artful dodgers and sycophants you should be wary of. But you should know that the risk analysts among your aides and friends who always sit down with you to tell you all the implications of your actions are genuine friends like the woman who dared to tell Pastor Omotoso the truth about his failings and frailties.

Again, even at the highest level of governance, when officers, aides and friends begin to take up advert spaces on television and newspapers to congratulate the president and military authorities for recovery of two Chibok girls out of more than 200 after more than two years of agonizing pains, then there should be awareness that there is a spectre of sycophancy around the state house. When newspapers’ front and editorial pages are full of praises of leaders and managers of the economy when the citizens are groaning from the implications of a mismanaged economy, then leaders and managers should be aware that there is a need for caution about the most dangerous genre of sycophancy – from the media. When watch dogs become lap dogs in a fantastically corrupt (sorry challenged) country (as a colleague put it this week), then the road ahead is really risky.

All told, as we have already identified mediocrity as part of our national crisis, we should not allow its twin brother, sycophancy to link up with it at the Eagle Square. As Chairman of this newspaper’s editorial board, Professor Wale Omole, a reading scholar and former vice chancellor put it bluntly at our meeting this week in Rutam House, we need to deregulate our minds for us to deepen understanding of what this convoluted deregulation is all about. In the same vein, all of us managers, leaders and followers should consider the danger of unbridled sycophancy to our national life.

Lest we forget, a military officer and author Colonel Douglas Macgregor blames the military for a sycophantic culture for failures in Iraq and wasteful spending in dubious weapons systems as he had noted, “It is a very sycophantic culture…The biggest problem we have inside the United States Army today – and in the Department of Defence at the senior level, but also within the officer corps – is that there are no arguments. Arguments are (seen) as a sign of dissent.. Dissent equates disloyalty…”

In this regard, sycophantic culture embraces both the military and civilian sectors of society. As Henry Pelifan put it in 2009 in this same context, the depth and pervasiveness in both sectors may well an indicator of political and managerial leadership more interested in gluing itself to influential groups having access to wealth and power than to the real interests of the American people…

Therefore, we the people should not abdicate our responsibility to our conscience. We need to speak truth to power and our leaders at all levels. From the church, the mosque and all arms of government, we need to tell those we serve and our managers the truth at all times. Sycophancy has never helped anywhere since creation. It helps only the sycophant. According to James Wolcott in the August 2015 issue of Vanity Fair, A successful sycophant “is also a skillful tattletale…dolling out information” that enhances his “resource value”. Oh sycophant, where is your testimony? For us in the news media, at such a time like this, if sycophantic material begins to form the bulk of our content development, there will be a serious disconnect with our customers, our readers, viewers and listeners. Let’s say no to the spirit of sycophancy. A culture of sycophancy will certainly be a blight upon our hope for a better tomorrow.

Inside Stuff Grammar School:

“Speaking the truth” Vs “Saying the truth”.

The intelligence unit of this school has also discovered confusion in the camp of some users of “speaking the truth” and “saying the truth”. Note that it is not good English when you ask someone to “Say the truth”. The correct sentence is:
Please, tell us the truth or “Speak the truth”.
It is wrong to “Say the truth”. You either “tell or speak the truth”.
Therefore, let’s “speak (the) truth” to power and “say no” to sycophancy.

By Martins Oloja

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