By Busuyi Mekusi
The tongue, as part of human body parts, is a tiny flexible muscular organ in the mouth, but centrally important to if and how the human agency would perform certain oral functions, as they relate to; movement of food around the mouth, tasting, and moving to different positions in the mouth to moderate air flow from the lungs, in order to produce different sounds in speech making. The ingressive and regressive airs and the structure imposed by the tongue are complementary elements that dictate the pace in the scientific study of speech. As important as the phonetic relevance of sounds are, the place of tone in social construction could add up to other extra linguistic features to determine the veracity of the group of words that are produced in a communication. The tongue has a place in biblical allusion that, as little as it is, it has the power of life and death, and is a ruder to the body, which could be used to either unite or scatter a kingdom, empire or nation.
Other than the foregoing characterisation of the tongue, and beyond the capacity of the holder of any form of power to exercise authority through the use of the tongue, it is also seen in spirituality as an instrument that is open to enhancement, in order to guarantee the declarative and performative content of a word, or group of words. To this end, it is believed, for instance, among the Yoruba that a tongue incised for spiritual potency could be used to procure compliance to an instruction from a co-interlocutor, against his/her desire, ordinarily. It is believed, therefore, that Máyeùn (do not alter the words) could be used to secure love acceptance, monetary favours, material benefits, etc., notwithstanding the original or ordinary disposition of someone. The process is achieved through supernatural manipulations, as a spiritually-coated tongue would produce sounds believed to produce superlative effects, through extraordinary connectedness between awón and òrò (tongue and word).
Reflective of oratorical prowess, particularly the speech act of sustaining arguments and securing conviction, the tongue could also be seen as embellished, as found in the description of someone having a ‘sugar-coated tongue’. The use of sugar in the expression is to draw from the symbolism of its sweetness and irresistibility, to denote the artistic prowess of speech making that one is endowed with. Art of public speaking, or the unique effective deployment of the tongue by public speakers, has given some political personalities mileages, across different periods and climes. Over times, we have people like; J. F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill, Bill Clinton, Barrack Obama, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Obafemi Awolowo, Maitama Sule, Chuba Okadigbo, etc. As the quality of mind of Nigeria political actors diminishes by the day, there is also a dearth of creative use of the tongue in public speaking. As Nigeria judges use their tongues to condemn and justify in acceptable and controversial judgements, the President of the 10th Senate of Nigeria, Godswill Akpabio, has not been slack in using his ‘sugar-coated’ tongue, very constructively.
The eight years of Akpabio as the Governor of Akwa Ibiom state afforded him the opportunity for public inscription and influential positioning, particularly as a credible force in his former political party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). His membership of the 9th Assembly was not without glamours and glitz, as his outspokenness was one of the indices that also paved the way for him as the President of Senate. Like others in his shoes, the Senate is not a retirement home for Akpabio, at least for now, as his headship of the legislature continues to put him in the public glare. As soon as the 10th National Assembly was inaugurated, throwing upon the Senate the responsibility of screening part of the ministerial nominees sent to the Senate by PBAT, and forcing them to stay in Abuja against their desire for the moment, Akpabio was caught on camera telling his colleagues that he had sent prayers to their accounts, apparently talking about money sent to the Senators’ bank accounts.
Some Senators considered the utterance of Akpabio to be uncomplimentary, with the redness of the eyes of some Senators taken to be indicative of the possible shortness of Akpabio’s leadership, due to likely insurrection. Ali Ndume, the cantankerous Borno Senator and Chief Whip of the 10th Senate, has been vociferous in calling Akpabio out; including the rebuffed advice he attempted to give to Akpabio recently, citing Order 54. Notwithstanding what some watchers consider to be simmering smoke in the Senate against Akpabio, he has continued to use his ‘coated tongue’ creatively and constructively, as not just a holder of position of authority, but a leader that knows his onions within the Nigeria political firmament.
The attempts to scandalise the Senate President was re-echoed recently by the sex-toy Senator, Elisha Abbo, who blamed the former for his removal from Senate by the Court of Appeal. They must stop assaulting the sensibilities of Nigerians through their suggestive facts that the judiciary is tied to the aprons of the executive arm, and some powerful individuals. Moreover, Akpabio must not forget the banana peels in the National Assembly, and the fact that someone’s enemies are people of his household.
Akpabio’s prophecy about the fixing of the dilapidated Lagos-Ota-Abeokuta road, and the assurance of government attention, rekindled how the tongue could assume effective communicative deployment, both with a sense of immediacy, and futuristically. The rich entourages of Akpabio and that of Dapo Abiodun, the Governor of Ogun State, were said to have been held in the traffic of the Lagos-Ota-Abeokuta road, which has since become an albatross, even defying the attention of Obasanjo, one of the frequent users, as President of Nigeria. They were said to be going to Ilaro to attend the grand finale of the week-long 2023 bi-annual Yewa Cultural Festival, where Akpabio, accompanied by many other ranking Senators, was to be conferred a chieftaincy title. Identifying with the pains of the users of this frustrating road, Akpabio, in his speech at the event, assured the people that the 10th Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria would get the list of what they needed, and sweetened his speech with the declarative opinion that “from today, I prophesy that your roads are done.”
Prophecies are supposed to be predictions, and statements of what would happen in the future, that are made by a prophet under divine inspiration. They are also public interpretations of scriptures. Therefore, the decision of Akpabio to migrate to the realm of spirituality in his speech might be a systematically consciously evoked attempt to reinforce the force of his assurance on the fixing of the roads. The awe in Akpabio’s dispositions was analogous to that provoked by the biblical Saul who was found prophesying with other prophets. The humorous personality in Akpabio must have taken the better part of him to leverage on the act of prophecy, that has been variously abused in political discourses, as a caricature to relate with the Yewa people. Either seen as a force of power denoting the future, or emblematic of the probability of most ‘political prophecies’ in Nigeria, it was obvious that Akpabio’s words were seasoned with salt, and uttered with a ‘sugar-coated’ tongue.
Beyond the prophetic public speaking of Akpabio, the sorry states of roads across Nigeria are annihilating to a people in economic distress. Federal roads, like that of Akure-Ado, Akure-Benin; Ipele-Ido-Ani, and others, are sources of pains and sorrow to users. Akure-Ijare road is an example of roads belonging to states, but which could also be taken to provincial domain of federal attention, because of the link with Ekiti State. The need for true federalism and devolution of more resources from the centre to sub-nations is an imperative call that must be heeded soon. The idea of the representatives of a far-removed federal centre dolling out projects that are often poorly executed to remote fringes must be stopped. We are waiting for the reliability of the new national experimentation with concrete roads that Dave Umahi, the new Minister for Works, is pushing so hard, haven succeeded with it in Ebonyi as Governor.
Arguably, corruption remains at the centre of Nigeria’s lack of development, and we hope the newly-confirmed chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ola Olukoyede, would not use Akpabio as an example in the anti-corruption fight, but would be bold enough to ask him questions, if he falters in his duties, as our institutions and laws must not be subjected to the whims and caprices of individuals.
As things are, we need more of Akpabio’s prophecies to fix the many Nigeria roads that are in a sorry state, and better the lots of Nigerians as the economy bites harder, leaving the poor with near-skeletons as relics of their old robustness, just like the skeleton of the big catch of fish that signposts the failure of the fishing success of Santiago in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.