Of Drink Problems and Disorderly Writing

By

Noel A. Ihebuzor

The caption of the article “If Jonathan has a drinking problem” is framed in such a manner as to convey some uncertainty. Reading it however, one is confronted by Mr Adelakun’s not too concealed confirmation that the Nigerian President has such a problem. Journalists have their sources and lay people like us are expected to lap up whatever they dish out. Who are you to doubt their sources when they present these sources thus “I have interacted with associates that have also interacted with Jonathan at close range and they say, indeed, he has a blooming relationship with a certain brand of wine.” It should not matter that the evidence for this very weighty accusation is of the type I describe as “I saw a man who says he saw a man who claims he met a minister who saw the queen.” Mr Adelakun has his sources and his sources must be accurate. To doubt is to be disrespectful and one must never disrespect journalists.  It is also risky to conclude that Mr Adelakun does not drink – after all, among the irate crowd gathering to stone the woman caught in adultery to death in the Christian Scriptures were certainly some of her regular clients. Those without blemish and vices can hurl stones at us lower mortals with our frailties and foibles. Journalists are the conscience of the nation and spot sins which only their fine senses can behold. I have nothing against this – every profession has a right to some self-deceit.

 

But my questions are these – must an op-ed whose clear intention is to nail a president and diminish him also trade in stereotyping? Could Mr Adelakun not have clinched his case against the president without resorting to conveying and reinforcing damaging, outdated, irrelevant, demeaning, inaccurate ethnic smears/slurs and generalizations? Are paragraphs 6-8 of his article really necessary? What is the import of these paragraphs? Beyond revealing Mr Adelakun’s own biases and ethnic affiliations, how relevant are these paragraphs to the poorly veiled and politically motivated expose on a man’s supposed drinking problem? I was hoping that Mr. Adelakun would stop and challenge the whole basis of stereotypes, show how dangerous, damaging, divisive and unhelpful they are but that hope was in vain because he needed stereotypes to caste his slur on the president and the president’s ethnic group. And, by the way, how accurate is this statement by Mr Adelakun – “Please note, stereotypes are not always devoid of reality but the problem is that they turn into self-fulfilling prophecies”. I am reluctant to challenge Mr Adelakun’s familiarity with stereotypes but if this comment reflects that knowledge, then that knowledge must be severely limited. Journalists should be familiar with the intimate links between stereotypes, prejudice, ethnophaulism and harmful actions, but not Mr. Adelakun.

 

And how more offensive can a journalist be in his comments on other ethnic groups? His insult on women from the SS is in very bad taste and deserves an instant retraction and apology.  And how more uncritical and biased can a writer be – the stereotype for the Yorubas is slick! Slick indeed! Notice the polysemy of the word “slick” and you will understand why he chose the word in this his sad role of purveyor of stereotypes. Slick! Mr. Adelakun’s effort itself is slick – could it be that this word which drips in deliberate polysemy is the best group descriptor for his people and the one he is most at peace with?

 

Having exercised his stereotyping wizardry in its fullness, Mr Adelakun then turns his attention to alerting his readers to the disastrous consequences of the president’s supposed drinking problem for the nation! But how convincing is Mr Adelakun’s effort to link this supposed problem to some governance gaps and goofs by the presidency? I find the effort unconvincing but overdone because of Mr. Adelakun’s quest for the over-kill. Over-kill has a trade-off in life.  That trade-off is balance. If Mr. Adelakun had adopted balance as one of his guiding principles, the arguments in his last two paragraphs might have been less puny. Assuming even that Mr. Adelakun’s accusations against the president and his people are evidence based, is mockery the mature and appropriate response to it?  It certainly is not. The abandonment of balance is clearly responsible for this grossly inadequate response. Balance would have encouraged him to remember that a mature and professional response to alcohol abuse, and to any substance abuse for that matter, is compassion and empathy, not the thinly veiled rejoicing and mockery one meets in his write up. Certainly to ask a journalist to recognize that substance abuse results from the interaction of public policy, biology, sociology and psychology and for him to reflect that recognition in his write up on such a sensitive issue is not asking too much. Indeed, it is to invite such a journalist to move beyond facile and simple narratives and to embrace depth. One does not need to remind Mr. Adelakun that the absence of depth in journalism leads to its death.

 

Journalists are the conscience of the nation. In this role, we lay people have certain expectations of them. Writing as if they were punch drunk is certainly not one of such expectations. Otherwise, we may also begin to suspect that journalists who display such traits either in their logic or choice of examples or lack of empathy could have even more damaging personal problems than those they “deign” to show up and castigate!

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