By Kunle Adebajo
Prelude: I think I must have spent more time piecing up a title than actually writing this article. And I still am not satisfied with what I have come up with. Not sure if this is because the language is deficient, my vocabulary is insufficient or the subject is just too fuzzy for a fitting description. Nonetheless, please read on. I am sure you will soon get the drift.
How often we tell lies. In fact scratch that. Too often, we tell lies. And most times, the things we sacrifice on the altar of these falsities are just that – things. It is not humans like us that are usually the victims of our “ingenuity”, but abstract things. Other times, we also drag the dead and the old into our fabulous fibs. This is why the Yorubas say that it is only a liar who would mention the deceased as his only witness.
Exempting such mythical creatures as Santa Claus and such exploitable characters as Robert Mugabe and Donald Trump whose mouths are good enough for any outrageous “quote”, below – in no particular order – are perhaps some of the world’s greatest non-consenting accomplices in the age-old crime of being economical with the truth. Not sure there is a more truthful way to put it.
There is the story of an innocent pupil who once remarked that Mr Anonymous must be a really brilliant fellow, considering the tons upon tons of wonderful apothegms which he has to his credit. If we personify the concept of ‘anonymous’ – which in fact means someone whose name is not known or given – what we arrive at, perhaps, is the commonest victim of misquotation in the history of misquotations. Fortunately for him, he very often gets the juiciest sayings because they predate the invention of pen and paper.
2. Circumstances beyond control:
Yea! How easy it is to heap all the blame upon this poor guy: Mr Circumstances Beyond Our Control. His lot is so bad, he is mostly held responsible for the misdeeds of his twin brother: Mr Circumstances Not Beyond Our Control. Similar indeed to ‘Circumstances beyond control’ is ‘Logistics’, his brother from another mother.
If a programme starts three hours behind schedule, it is Mr Logistics. If the public address systems seems not to be working fine, blame Mr Logistics. As a matter of fact, whatever may be the problem with any event or activity, just automatically see Mr Logistics’ handwriting on the wall. No need to look any further. And please note that Logistics is never the same as the Head of Logistics Unit (or any similar official). That man is innocent and has done no evil. It is Mr Logistics himself who has wreaked all the havoc.
4. My grandfather:
Anyone who has lurked around the electrifying gardens of public speaking and collegiate polemics has certainly heard – if only once – the expression, “my grandfather once told me…” And anyone whose IQ is worth the gray matter enabling it sure as death knows that the bulk of such quotes are fabricated. Some who use the expression for special effects have never even met that their grandparents. They just figure every granddad or granny is an embodiment of wisdom, and should command respect by virtue at least of having kids who also have kids.
Good ol’ Traffic never ceases to come running in the aid of dishonest latecomers, even though the destination is just stone’s throw from the starting point. Sometime in 2015, I even heard a law student during a moot and mock competition say he and his co-counsel were late to the proceedings due to “traffic” (just to sound grandiose I suppose). This was despite the fact that all students had been jointly transported to the venue hours before. In megacities especially, Mr Traffic is always a great hostage helpful in an escape from truth. And in other places, one can bank on the limitless variants of the word’s import: traffic in front of the loo, traffic in the dream world, traffic at the ATM, domestic traffic with one’s spouse and so on.
6. Devil’s work:
They say the Devil finds work for an idle hand, but they forgot to add that he is also sure to afford an excuse for the deceitful tongue. I have lost count of the number of Nollywood movies – watched accidentally I must add – wherein the culprits always pass the buck to poor Mr Devil. Whatever the crime – rape, armed robbery or even murder – the Devil, not the gods this time, is always to blame. If the Devil could really control our actions and be responsible for our wrongs, then
not only would the world be more chaotic, there would be no need for Criminal Courts. A Professor once said to a gathering of which I was part that, “if it was destiny for the man to maim the Imam, then it is also destiny that he dances to the music of fair retribution.” In the same vein, the same Devil who caused the criminal to commit an offence is equally capable to cause the court to mete out due punishment. Not so?
God just has to top the list, doesn’t he, especially when we consider the burgeoning army of fake prophets and preachers of the Gospel according to Saint Prosperity. They say God told them so and so when the truth of the matter is that the credit in their hearts is too low to even connect to angels, let alone God Almighty. If at all God would tell them anything, it would be something close to: Go to hell! People do all sorts of things in the name of God nowadays. Students beg one another in the name of God and cheat. Beggar-Fraudsters plead in the name of God and swindle. Even terrorists cry God’s name before blowing themselves up, as if to say that their death is a testimony to God’s immense power. God must be really patient.
8. Your stepmother:
This one is common among seers and diviners. We have grown used to the stepmother stereotype, that quack diviners have no other card up their sleeve. You can easily predict their predictions before they finish sighing: “Oh oh! I can see it clearly now. Ahn ahn! What a pity! You have a stepmother, don’t you? Yes? Aww… it is her. I am afraid it is your stepmother who is doing you…” While this thoughtless permutation may work well in the olden days, its efficacy has greatly reduced now that Monogamy is in the driver’s seat, and Pa Polygyny in the boot.
9. A wise man:
This also is very common in public speaking circles. Particularly when the contest is impromptu, you hear statements like, “a great thinker once said…”, “a wise man once remarked that”, “my teacher once told me”. Certainly, Messrs Wise Man and Great Thinker have suffered greatly in the hands of college debaters, as – if they existed – history never recorded them to have said the words claimed. Once a speaker cannot easily recall the individual who made a statement, he reflexively forces into A Wise Man’s mouth, no matter how foolish the words. More often than not, in fact, the wise man who really owns the said words is the one staring blankly on the podium.
This is here, really, because I have nothing else to add and I desperately wish to have up to ten items. However, Mr Nothing might as well fit beautifully into the category if we take a deeper look. How many times have we asked someone, usually a lady, what is the matter and Mr Nothing is kidnapped and brought into the conversation? “What is wrong?” “Nothing.” “Why are you crying?” “Nothing.” “Why are you breaking up with me?” “Nothing.” Annoying, isn’t it? As a friend of mine used to say back in high school whenever he wanted to introduce a speech, “a frog does not hop in broad daylight without a reason.” And so, whenever Mr Something or Mr Everything have done a thing wrong and have caused you sorrow; do not falsely point fingers at poor Nothing. Two wrongs do not make a right, remember?
‘Kunle Adebajo is a final-year law student from the University of Ibadan, and may be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org