What makes Lagos tick is the art of insults. Anywhere you go to you are greeted with insults. In Mushin the other day one fine girl told a man in black suit: “If you are a picture, nobody will look at you!”
A good friend of mine was pressing quite hard to win the love of a barmaid near Toyin Street in Ikeja only to get this reply from the barmaid: “I no fit love you dis man wey come Lagos for on top of lorry wey carry onions from Ebonyi State!”
Intra-ethnic and inter-ethnic slurs are all in the mix of the biting insults. From my Lagos shack I can only think of insults from near and far.
During his 70th birthday celebration General Ibrahim Babangida claimed that he managed to achieve much success with little funds while a certain regime achieved failure with so much petro-dollars. General Olusegun Obasanjo of course knew that Babangida’s darts were directed at him, and promptly replied thusly: “A fool at seventy can only go into his grave with his foolishness.” Babangida retorted by dubbing Obasanjo a “witless comedian”. Now both generals are united in battle against President Buhari who has just added June 12 insult to Democracy Day injury!
Back in the days of yore, eminent Nigerian politicians such as Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, SL Akintola and KO Mbadiwe knew how to adeptly knock out their political opponents with astutely delivered insults. In the Second Republic, Awo said that he could only hold a debate on the issue of education with Zik and not with Shehu Shagari because the man from Sokoto knew next-to-nothing on the subject!
The art of insults is of course a universal phenomenon, not at all limited to Lagos or Nigeria or Africa. Nancy McPhee actually edited a book aptly titled The Book of Insults.
British politicians have from time been masters in the art of insults. Former British Prime Ministers, Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone, were always at each other’s throats. Gladstone once said to Disraeli:’I predict, sir, that you will die either by hanging or of some vile disease.’
Disraeli instantly replied:’That all depends, sir, upon whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.’
Disraeli has this final word on Gladstone: “The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: If Gladstone fell into the River Thames, it would be a misfortune. But if someone dragged him out again, that would be a calamity.”
Winston Churchill was another gifted British insulter. A fine lady, Nancy Astor, said to Churchill in annoyance: “Sir, if you were my husband, I would poison your tea.” Churchill replied her in kind: “If I were your husband, I would drink it.”
The Labour politician, Clement Atlee, who defeated Churchill at the polls was described by Churchill as “A sheep in sheep’s clothing” and also as “A modest man, who has much to be modest about.”
The unfortunate lady, Bessie Braddock, once told Churchill that he was drunk, only for Churchill to tell the lady that she was ugly and would remain ugly forever when he must have become sober after the drunkenness! Churchill even took the matter as far as God, saying: “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”
The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw who was reputedly very ugly was approached by a beautiful young actress who cooed in his ear: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we got married and had a child with my beauty and your brains?” Shaw replied thusly: “My dear, that would be wonderful indeed, but what if our child had my beauty and your brains?”
Samuel Johnson said to an aspiring author: “Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.”
A wannabe author presented his handwritten manuscript to VS Naipaul for assessment and only got this reply: “You do have a fine handwriting!”
The American actor and comedian Groucho Marx was given the book Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge by SJ Perelman, and Groucho Marx said: “From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it.”
Let’s end the insults matter by getting back to good old Lagos where my friend Ochereome Nnanna got into big trouble for dissing the Omuluabi people as “sophisticated morons”!