There is no doubt that Kaduna State governor Nasir El-Rufai embodies one of the most morbidly toxic strains of political intolerance in Nigeria. He exteriorizes his discomfort with opposition by literally wishing death upon his opponents or claiming credit for their death.
At a Kaduna APC stakeholders’ meeting last Saturday, he told political opponents that should they insist on fighting him, they would die like the late President Umar Musa Yar’adua did. “I had fought with two presidents,” he said. “Umaru Yar’Adua ended in his grave, while President Goodluck Jonathan ended in Otueke.”
Several groups in Katsina have taken this statement as El-Rufai’s self-confession of culpability in the death of the late president. This is, of course, an inaccurate interpretation of his words.
Apparently, El-Rufai cherishes the illusion that the late Yar’adua died not because he was sick, but because he opposed him politically. He imagines himself to possess supernatural powers that send his opponents to their untimely graves. This means, of course, that El-Rufai did rejoice when Yar’adua died since he thought he was responsible for his death, although not in a physical, corporeal sense.
It also means that he fancies himself as some invincible, immortal man-god who is beyond censure, and who deserves only worshipful admiration from everybody. This is dangerous and disturbing on so many levels.
There are at least three reasons why this should worry us. First, that someone of El-Rufai’s exposure and education thinks the hurt emotions of his punny, fragile, insecure ego have the supernormal capacity to kill political antagonists shows the depth of superstition and ignorance into which he has sunk. I confess that although I am not a fan of El-Rufai’s politics, I used to give him credit for clear-headedness. Now, he has shown that he has a pre-scientific, atavistic mindset that makes him indistinct from the unwashed masses.
Second, it betrays the shallowness of his humanity that the only thing he thinks his opponents are worthy of is death. That’s an outward manifestation of a disturbingly murderous inner disposition. In hindsight, this isn’t surprising. This is a governor who endorsed, defended, and even celebrated the brutal, cold-blooded, and unjustified mass slaughter of hundreds of Shiite Muslims in his state.
Third, it seems to me that El-Rufai is suffering the early onset of a condition some psychologists call “megalomania with narcissistic personality disorder.” He obviously has grandiose delusions that lead him to think that he deserves unquestioned obeisance from everyone. He also thinks he has a special relationship with imaginary supernormal powers that fight his opponents to death. Those are classic symptoms of malignant megalomania.
The American Psychiatric Association defines megalomania, which it also calls “delusional disorder, grandiose subtype,” as “delusions of inflated worth, power, knowledge, identity, or special relationship to a deity or famous person.” Mayo Clinic, a go-to site for medical research, defines narcissistic personality disorder as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
El-Rufai’s claim that Yar’adua’s death was the price he paid for opposing him politically, his oversensitivity to even the mildest criticism, his legendary lack of empathy (evidenced in his perverse love to remorselessly destroy people’s homes, the joy he exudes when people he hates die, etc.), and his exaggerated notions of his importance, for me, show symptoms of a man held hostage by megalomania and narcissistic personality disorder. And this man is scheming to be president. Good luck, Nigeria.
This isn’t the first time El-Rufai has demonstrated morbid intolerance of criticism. In 2015, he also told his critics to go die. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote about it in my November 1, 2015 “Politics of Grammar” column in the Daily Trust on Sunday titled, “El-Rufai’s Kufena Hills and Metaphors of Death in Nigerian Public Discourse”:
“On October 16, 2015, Kaduna State governor Nasir el-Rufai joined a long list of public officials who invoked bloodcurdling thanatological allusions to shut down criticism. ‘All of us in Kaduna State Government have sworn with the Qu’ran—Christians with the Holy Bible—to do justice and we will do justice,’ he said in Hausa during a town hall meeting in Kaduna. ‘We better stand and tell ourselves the truth. Everyone knows the truth. No matter the noise, the truth is one. And as I stand here, no matter who you are, I will face you and tell you the truth. If you don’t want to hear the truth, you can climb Kufena Hills and fall.’
“Falling from Kufena Hills is a chilling local metaphor for death. No one falls from a tall, steep hill and survives. That was why Sunday Vanguard of October 17, 2015 interpreted el-Rufai as asking his critics to ‘go and die.’ Although Governor el-Rufai didn’t directly utter the word ‘die,’ Vanguard’s interpretive extension of his thanatological metaphor is perfectly legitimate, even brilliant. It’s interpretive journalism at its finest. It helped situate and contextualize the governor’s utterance for people who don’t have the cultural and geographic competence to grasp it.
“Since anyone who jumps from the edge of a hill will naturally plunge to his death, it’s impossible to defend the governor’s choice of words with the resources of linguistic logic. Plus, text derives meaning from context. The video clip of the town hall meeting where el-Rufai enjoined his critics to go climb Kefena Hills and fall shows him in a combative and livid mood. He wasn’t joking. That’s why I think it is singularly disingenuous for el-Rufai’s media team to insist that their principal didn’t ask his critics to go die.
“El-Rufai’s intolerance of criticism is particularly noteworthy because he is famous for describing himself as a ‘certified ruffler of feathers,’ and his political rise owes a lot to his trenchant criticism of political opponents from the late President Umar Musa Yar’adua to former President Goodluck Jonathan. That’s probably why he thinks ‘the truth is one’ and only he is its custodian. All else is ‘noise,’ and whoever can’t stand the one and only truth that only he embodies is worthy only of violent death. This takes arrogant discursive intolerance and rhetorical violence to a whole new level.”
Can you connect the dots between his October 16, 2015 utterance and his September 16, 2017 utterance?
By Farooq Kperogi, Associate Professor of Journalism and Emerging Media at the School of Communication and Media, Kennesaw State University, Atlanta,