Jists, Jests, and Jabs: Nigeria’s Humpty Dumpty as a marketing teacher?

By John Ajayi

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again”

he above quatrain captures the haughty tomfoolery of Humpty Dumpty, a character in an English nursery rhyme, sometimes depicted as a riddle and one of the best-known in the English-speaking world. As a character and literary allusion, Humpty Dumpty has appeared or been referred to in many works of literature and popular culture over the centuries.

Over millenniums and across generations, characters in stories, poems, folktales and literature are, in one way or the other, found among humans of various cultures and races.

In his typical empty swagger and braggadocio, Nigeria’s archetypal Humpty Dumpty has been boasting of being a teacher of marketing in recent times. He has been pontificating about it with the arrogant airs of a countryside pedagogue. But, like the fallen, clumsy and clownish character, Humpty Dumpty, feigning the character of a marketing teacher can’t rebrand this fellow.

What’s more, various theories of the etymology of Humpty Dumpty have been advanced. Katherine Elwes Thomas, in 1930, posited that Humpty Dumpty is King Richard III of England, who was depicted as hunchbacked in Tudor histories and particularly in Shakespeare’s play.

In 1785, Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue noted that a Humpty Dumpty was a clumsy person of either sex.

Meanwhile, Punch, in 1842 suggested jocularly that the rhyme was a metaphor for the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey.

On his part, Professor David Daube suggested in The Oxford Magazine of 16 February 1956 that Humpty Dumpty was a tortoise siege engine, an armoured frame, used unsuccessfully to approach the walls of the Parliamentary-held city of Gloucester in 1643, during the Siege of Gloucester in the English Civil War.

In 1996, the website of the Colchester tourist board attributed the origin of the rhyme to a cannon recorded as used from the church of St Mary-at-the-Wall by the Royalist defenders in the siege of 1648.

The story given was that a large cannon, which the website claimed was colloquially called Humpty Dumpty, was strategically placed on the wall. A shot from a Parliamentary cannon succeeded in damaging the wall beneath Humpty Dumpty, which caused the cannon to tumble to the ground. The Royalists or All the King’s men attempted to raise Humpty Dumpty onto another part of the wall, but the cannon was so heavy that All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.

James Joyce, an Irish poet, novelist and a leader of the modernist avant-garde movement, used the story of Humpty Dumpty as a recurring motif of the Fall of Man in his 1939 novel Finnegans Wake.

In modern science, Humpty Dumpty has been used to demonstrate the second law of thermodynamics, which describes a process known as entropy, a measure of the number of specific ways in which a system may be arranged, often taken to be a measure of disorder. The higher the entropy, the higher the disorder.

As can be rightly inferred from our fairly well-researched history and histrionics of humanity, it can be safely said without any equivocation that every age or race has a way of creating its own Humpty Dumpty either fortuitously or otherwise. Dear readers, do not stress your imagination too far as we have our own Nigerian archetype Humpty Dumpty in the Nigerian marketing eco-system. Our Humpty Dumpty, though not a product of any of the Ivy League institutions renowned in this clime during his foundational education odyssey, he today parades himself as the best that can happen to our marketing pedagogy. He simply calls himself the marketing teacher whereas his modus operandi and claim to marketing leadership and management acumen leave much to be desired.

Lest we are accused of mischief, our Humpty-Dumpty has no doubt benefitted largely from the goodwill of well-built and iconic institutions and multi-nationals that never got to understand him until much later. There can be no doubt about the Humpty Dumpty’s career trajectory as an average intelligent, master hustler and loathful individual. Notwithstanding, his Humpty Dumpty nature has been his major hubris as he was never and has never been a successful manager of human and material resources.

Within the short career lifespan of our Humpty Dumpty, each time he gets mistakenly appointed to top leadership positions of blue-chip companies he had been privileged to work, then he gets booted out. Again, no thanks to Humpty Dumpty’s personae. Rise, to the topmost career ladder today, only to come down disastrously tomorrow?  This has distinguished him in the industry as a rolling stone that gathers no moss. It is no hidden secret in the industry where, so unfortunately he still carries himself about rambunctiously and shamelessly like the typical and proverbial Napoleon in Animal Farm by George Orwell.  For the uninitiated, Animal Farm is a beast fable in the form of a satirical and allegorical novella by George Orwell, first published in England on 17th August 1945.

The question on the lips of most members of the Nigerian marketing community is how to reconcile the incongruities inherent in the brand persona of this Humpty Dumpty. What good lessons can a bad teacher or leader with a short fuse teach? Is the future of the marketing profession and indeed practice in looming danger? Or is the situation symptomatic of “do as I say and not as I do”? To the poor unsuspecting and less informed audience of our Humpty Dumpty, how can they draw positive inspiration from this self-styled teacher? Well, hope may not have been lost after all as Nigerians have a cliché: “Do as I preach, and not as I do”. The danger here also is that such a psychological mindsetalways creates a disconnect between the teacher and his pupils.

Final note, our Humpty Dumpty presently sits on top of another organisation where he is yet to provide any impactful or meaningful leadership. Now, the general prayer and supplication is that he doesn’t end up living up to previous records of abysmal failure in leadership management. God forbids it, if this happens, it will be a tale foretold and would be much more calamitous.

Moral Take Away

Once we see the harm of arrogance, we are much more willing to practise humility. A humble person is someone who is always seeking to learn from others, no matter if they are experts or children. If you are trying to learn from people, you would naturally be respectful and polite towards them, and that leaves a good impression on others. Since a humble person is always learning and improving, they wouldn’t fall behind in their field or leadership position.

Arrogance is a very subtle but harmful trait that we all have. We might be thinking that we are impacting positively and making headway while we have rather become objects of mockery which can be regarded as a minor consequence. The major consequence is that we might be living in a fool’s paradise and continuously making the same mistakes because no one is willing to advise us. However, it’s either we are humble and learn or stumble and always have a great fall like Humpty Dumpty!



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