Many Trumpeters, Same Chorus: A Review of Praise Singing In Nigeria’s Political Scene
By Dr. Princewell N. Achor
Many trumpeters, the same chorus is not in any way a guide to learn how to play the trumpet or manual for mastering the techniques in choruses and orchestra. However, the role played by a trumpet either as an accompaniment or lead instrument in special renditions and orchestra manifests itself when it synchronizes with other instruments and pitch levels. Whether a song is being trumpeted or hummed, the audience for which it’s being rendered will surely recognize both the tone and the lyrics, perhaps join in the singing (chorus).
It’s the above function of the trumpet or scenario that has been figuratively used here to describe a socio-cultural phenomenon, ‘praise singing’, which has characterized the contemporary Nigerian political scene. The scenario also mirrors the plurality of praise-singing groups that have emerged in the Nigerian political space. The praise singers are everywhere; they operate in different ways. They sing the same song anywhere you see them, sometimes with or without clear-cut objectives.
They can smooth the political terrain or mar it depending on their intentions and the target they want to achieve for their paymaster and/or benefactor. Some political praise singers have sung their master to doom while others have carefully sung their master to temporarily political limelight. What else have they not done!
The practice of praise-singing in the past Nigerian political journeys was generally modest until 1999. Since then, deeper and more widespread praise-singing activities are fuelled by unhealthy (political) rivalry, competition arising from the winning-at-all-cost syndrome, pull-him-down syndrome, and inordinate political ambition to outshine or out market political opponents.
Political praise singing is defined as the use of encomium-laden statements, words, songs, write-ups, gestures, signage, and insignia, etc to promote a politician or government programme for the purpose of attracting genuine or deceptive support from stakeholders. It also includes the use of encomium-laden statements, words, etc to either truly or deceptively portray the politician as an achiever or someone who possesses better human and leadership attributes. The above definitions indicate that the act of praise-singing can be preformed for negative or positive reasons, irrespective of who is promoting it.
For people of good conscience, praises and encomiums should be showered on people who are achievers, people who left in their trails and sand of history remarkable but people-oriented achievements. Critics also do not subscribe to praising loafers and ‘never-do-well’ politicians because of its image and reputational implications.
Two sides of Praise Singing
Praise singing has two sides, the good and the bad. Depending on the intentions of the individuals involved and that of their masters, singing the praises of politicians who are either holding elective or non-elective offices can be a very good political marketing strategy. If a politician has convincingly performed very well by delivering the dividends of democracy, they can be praised. In fact, positive political praise singing is all about promoting and celebrating politicians’ well-delivered people-oriented programmes and at the same time extol their brand personality and leadership qualities. Group and individual supporters positively
demonstrate their love for and solidarity to their man by adopting logical but ethical means of praise-singing.
Like pernicious propaganda, bad or negative praise singing is destructive, deceptive, and aimed at building a following. Negative praise singing is eulogizing or praising dim-witted politicians who have a negative image or reputational crisis as if they have done well in the responsibility entrusted to them. Even when politicians made minimal achievements their supporters, cronies and stooges blow it out of proportion in order to win undue accolades and recognition.
Negative praise-singing also comprises portraying a non-performer, docile and not-well-focused politician, office holder, or seeker in good light as having performed very well or possessing leadership qualities or meeting the parameters for measuring performance. Performance indicators or parameters are always visible and can be verified in the court of public opinion, particularly when the judges of this court are well-informed, knowledgeable in their various fields of endeavors. This crop of powerful and resourceful people have the ability to mobilize the masses for or against any act of political praise-singing. Once the motives behind any act of praise-singing are discerned, they can support or campaign against it. Yes, they possess such clout to influence the majority of the people.
Negative praise-singing has turned illiterate followers captives in the hands of their political masters. It’s gradually becoming a norm to celebrate politicians who loot the public treasury and laugh to scorn those who could not soil their hands in corrupt practices. Unfortunately, their kith and kin join in mocking such good politicians. Negative praise-singing demarkets the values of a politician.
Why Do People Engage in Praise Singing?
From all indications, praise-singing is both a developmental and behavioral issue. This perspective provides some theoretical frameworks that support or explain why people engage in praise-singing. The political and social sciences, especially sociology, psychology, and anthropology have provided us with current socio-ecological perspectives on behaviour and development.
These disciplines have attempted to explain factors that can influence an individual or a group decision to perform or not to perform a behaviour. The Fishbein and Hzen’s (1980) theory of Reasoned Action and Personal Behaviour; Albert Bandura’s s(1986) Social Cognitive Theory, and Bloomsbury et al(1986) Social Experience Model, all give us insights into the behavioural nature of praise singers.
The objective of this commentary is not to evaluate the socio-ecological perspectives or theoretical frameworks, rather it’s to draw inferences from them in order to facilitate understanding.
The art and act of praise-singing are both learned and inherent in people’s culture and beliefs. And I have tried to tangentially demonstrate that by introducing some of the behavioural and developmental perspectives underpinning praise-singing. From those perspectives, two things appear visible: behavioural capacity (i.e., knowledge and skills needed to influence behaviour), and outcome expectations (i e., Personal belief that if one behaves in a certain way then the desired outcome will result).
At the level of individual or personal behaviour, some individuals join the praise singing bandwagon due to the expected outcome that may result from the act, especially monetary and other intangible rewards. Others resist the urge to sing praises of any politician because of their personal belief/conviction (i.e. praises should be given to those who merit them).
Those who subscribed to this line of thought, visibly support that man whom the cap fits, through logical and ethical praise-singing. Their support has no strings attached, rather, it’s borne out of the personal conviction that the politician they support possesses leadership qualities and has the capacity to positively impact the society. They also show ill-feelings towards the politician whom the ill-informed crowd dishonestly celebrates.
Experience and observation have shown that respectable elder statesmen, opinion leaders, and molders also support ethical and logical praise-singing. This category of people exudes a special aura that naturally attracts the masses’ attention. They impart the society through their speeches, actions, and inactions, etc; once they identify with good causes, other right-thinking people tend to join them.
Peer group pressure, educational background, family background and income influence people who positively or negatively engage in political praise-singing. Peer pressure remains a dominant factor that fans the embers of youth involvement in political praise-singing. Once a Youth Organization starts singing the praises of a politician, there is the tendency that idle or unemployed youths would like to identify with their peers, without interrogating the reasons behind their action. This situation creates a bandwagon effect.
More importantly, if someone’s educational background or level is such that gives them the intellectual capacity to do a cost-benefit analysis of issues, they are likely going to support or praise politicians who have performed creditably well and mock those who have not. The cost-benefit analysis helps political observers to constructively criticize public office holders and political leaders.
Media and Techniques of Praise Singing
Media of praise-singing are legion and may include channels or ways through which people engage in praise-singing activities. They are classified into two groups: mass media aided or mass-mediated techniques and people-aided techniques. The former includes techniques that are activated via the mass-mediated platforms or mass media. Examples include sponsored Radio/TV news commentaries, jingles, documentaries, special newspaper/magazine features and articles, etc. As noted, praise-singing has positive and negative aspects; each aspect can be performed using mass-mediated and social media appeals.
In order to appeal to a greater audience, praise singers use sponsored commentaries, features, and articles to tell the story of their master’s political journeys, outings, successes, and potentials. Often times, promoters of negative praise-singing brazenly fabricate(lies) stories deceptively aimed at changing or supporting people’s existing belief and/or opinion about a politician. The writers of those journalistic genres and information subsidies deliberately distort facts and paint a good picture of their clients or paymasters. However, when the journalistic genres are used to demonstrate positive praising, the writers present facts as they are without distortions. Today, dailies are replete with features, commentaries, articles that portray both positive and negative aspects of political praise-singing.
The other group of techniques includes People-aided techniques, which are techniques that physically use people or a person to either show or canvass support for a politician or government programme. Examples include the use of testimonials, rented crowd, sponsored rallies and solidarity visits, courtesy calls, music, etc. It’s in the character of recognition- seeking politicians to associate and identify with celebrities, elder statesmen, and opinion leaders for the purpose of getting an unpaid endorsement for their political actions, inactions, and programmes. Politicians tend to leverage on the brand personality attributes of statesmen and celebrities to reposition themselves in the political market space and vote market.
Crowd renting is one of the commonly used praise-singing techniques. Dim-witted politicians use it to show off their follies or shore up their sagging image. The rented crowd always chant songs that visibly adore their paymasters, especially during rallies, and other social functions such as inauguration ceremonies. Unemployed youths, motorcyclists (Okada riders), in a few cases, students of higher institutions are usually the targets for crowd renting.
Solicited or sponsored solidarity visit is another potent praise-singing medium. It’s always used by dim-witted politicians to drum support from supporters and to wade off verbal attacks when accused of misappropriation of public funds or promoting unpopular policies. Agents of such politicians sponsor organised groups that pay solidarity visits; they cash in on such visits’ paid media coverage and publicity to praise their paymasters, perhaps tell a story that exonerates them from the wrongdoing they are being accused of.
Support Group/Organization is another people-aided platform formed by friends, admirers, cronies and stooges of politicians for the purpose of rallying support for them. A number of these organizations exhibit attributes similar to that of the rented crowd; they go all out to sing praises of their master, even when it’s evidently clear that their so-called friend had not done anything worthy of praises. A critical observation of a few of the support groups indicates that they use wedge issues to draw supporters from opposing political parties or candidates. For example, they promote the successes recorded by a politician(President, Governor, etc) in tackling an important political issue, which hitherto had remained intractable.
Music is another people-aided technique that has added a new dimension to the act of praise-singing. It’s one of the oldest praise-singing vehicles in Nigeria. Encomium-laden songs have been composed by musicians in celebration of politicians’ achievements and their political journeys. Such music or song always rent the air during rallies and special inauguration ceremonies. The lyrics are rendered in a way that extols the leadership attributes and achievements of the host. Some media stations, oftentimes use the songs as signature tunes during the sponsored political programme. The irony of this technique is that when used negatively, it can boomerang. So promoters or users of this technique must trade with caution.
Conclusion and Implications for Political Marketing
There has been a persistent call for researchers to adopt broad-based approaches to promote political products in order to attract maximum attention or stimulate stakeholders’ interest in the affairs of government or that of political actors. One area which has not been professionally explored by political marketing practitioners in this regard is the art and craft of praise-singing. Though activities that suggest praise-singing are rife in the political scene, but their marketing values have not been properly harnessed.
As observed in various sections of this article, praise-singing is learned and inherent in people’s culture. This has resulted to wrong use or misapplication of some of its techniques by politicians and their supporters.
Positive aspects of praise-singing should be integrated into the mainstream political marketing communication mix, while the negative aspects should be abhorred. Let the voices singing the praises of our politicians, government policies and programmes sing the same positive chorus of truth, hope, and zeal for nation-building. Negative praise-singing can not be a cover for bad leadership or insensitivity to the plights of the citizenry. Let us only shower encomiums to those political actors that have left in their trails visible achievements.
Dr. Achor is a PR expert, consultant, and political marketing communicator.