The sex lives of Nigerian Big Men

By Tolu Ogunlesi

(originally appeared in NEXT in May 2010)

Is there anything a Nigerian politician will do in bed that will jeopardise his life out of bed? Anything? Marrying a 13-year-old girl? Keeping a string of mistresses who are all well known to the public, and to his wife/wives? Having enough children to fill a Boeing 737? Homosexual liaisons that are an open secret? A documented predilection for menage-a-trois?

Cash Daddy, the 419 kingpin protagonist of Adaobi Nwaubani’s novel, I do not come to you by chance, has important advice for his nephew, Kingsley: “The advice I always give young men is: once you start making money, after buying your first set of cars, your next investment should be a wife.”

It appears that Cash Daddy extended that advice to our Big Men. But in their case he didn’t say “a wife”. He must have said “babes” or “women”. Which explains why swapping stories about young women whose lives have been transformed by a chance encounter – or lingering liaison – with a Big Man has become a national obsession; immortalized in print by our weekly soft sell magazines.

It is an open secret which governor is stingy when it comes to settling his women (reluctantly dishing out no more than N5,000, no matter the service rendered) and which ones are Guinness-book philanthropists, spoiling conquests with London flats and Dubai holidays. As a nation there is no doubt that we are obsessed with the sex lives of our politicians.

The politicians on their own part seem aware of this, and are constantly making every effort not to let us down. They seem to have realised that the only thing which will get a male Nigerian politician into the limelight faster than managerial incompetence is the competence of his sexual life. Or how else would you explain ex-Governor and now Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima’s lavish Abuja wedding to a 13-year-old girl. He didn’t go off to an obscure corner of the planet to wed the girl and thereafter consummate the marriage, no, he chose to do it in Abuja, right there in the spotlight. I’ll wager that if Yerima knew anything about Facebook he’d have posted photos of the wedding in the days following, and tagged everyone from fellow senators to entertainment journalists.

If you don’t respect former President Olusegun Obasanjo for any other thing, at least you must acknowledge that in matters to do with the female sex, he is a heavyweight champ of sorts. In her tell-all book about her short-lived marriage to the man with the singular privilege of twice ruling Africa’s most populous nation, Obasanjo’s first wife, Remi, apparently the only woman he ever legally married, creates a picture of a man whose life was lived mostly below the belt.

Much of the book is a breathless recounting of episodes with Obasanjo’s seemingly innumerable mistresses, many of them married women. “I did not know my husband to be a flirt before our marriage… when I found out his philandering exploits, I regarded it as the unkindest cut for his breaking the sacred vow we took at the London Registry,” Mrs. Obasanjo writes.

As though not convinced that we fully understand her, she spells it out in full:
“My husband’s womanising knows no bounds.” And only a few years ago, Mr Obasanjo’s eldest son, Gbenga accused his father of sleeping with his wife. Nigeria and Nigerians appeared to respond to the young man’s accusations with a unanimous “Tell us something new jare!”

A reputation like that did not stop Mr Obasanjo from getting elected as Nigeria’s second civilian president in 1999. Neither did it stop him from pontificating in London last week about the “unbiblical” nature of homosexuality.

MKO Abiola’s well-known predilection for sex was not an issue when he was elected as Nigeria’s president in 1993. When Abiola died he left behind more than a hundred children, from dozens of women. (To Abiola’s credit though, it must be said that 25 of these ‘children’ failed a DNA test).

Abacha’s poor reputation – in life or in death – has nothing to do with the fact that reportedly liked imported prostitutes. And Sani Yerima’s adventures with an under-aged girl will not prevent him from standing for re-election into the Senate, or from being awarded ‘Senator of the Year’ by a ‘youth’ organisation in December.

But then again you want to ask: is there any point singling the political class out for what is generally accepted behaviour in society. Our Big Men are not aliens, they emerged from within us; they belong to a society that measures men by the power they have to choose and sample and reward and discard women. You only need to hear a struggling Nigerian mechanic or gateman boast about his three or four wives and mistresses to know that poverty is not man enough to dissuade a rampaging libido.

Few Nigerians will ever understand why American senators and governors get into hot water for their sexual behaviour. Had Bill Clinton been President of Nigeria; that now famous 1998 TV appearance would have been different. The wagging finger would have stayed intact, but the words would have been slightly edited:

“Ehen, I had sexual relations with that woman; did I tell you I will not marry her?”

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