Originally published in my NEXT column in December 2010
By Tolu Ogunlesi
The Nigerian Big Man is essentially a man (or woman) who derives his power from the (relative) powerlessness of those around him. A Big Man may or may not have a Big Stomach, but a Big Ego is sine qua non. And of course, money. Loads of it, often acquired illegally. Big Men also prefer to move in groups; something to do with a fine appreciation of the advantages inherent in the deployment of a mob mentality.
Early this year a band of Big Men rose to prominence. Going by the name “Federal Executive Council”, they decided to hold the nation to ransom during the crisis that followed the disappearance of President Yar’Adua. On Wednesday January 27, more than sixty days after the President vanished, they rose from a meeting to declare that “the president is not incapable of discharging the functions of his office.”
An even more powerful mob (in terms of its capacity to maintain a murderous grip on Nigeria) is the one known as the “Governors Forum”. Abandoning their constitutional duties they turn to clandestine meetings, seeking to manipulate whoever is President. They’re always selfishly wanting something: a share of the Excess Crude account, the right to produce the Vice President, or President…
Then there is the mob that has been in the news lately. They go by the name “National Assembly”, and like to think of themselves as “Honorables”, but everyone knows that is a private joke gone public, and that if you’re looking for ‘Honour’, the farther you move away from the premises of the National Assembly, the more likely you are to stumble into her.
These people apparently swore an oath to faithfully divide Nigeria’s commonwealth amongst themselves (‘so help us God!’) – through increasingly inventive schemes: Constituency Allowances, Furniture Allowances, Contract Awards. Their houses are always in need of refurbishment, their cars in need of replacement; their office carpets and printer toners have the shortest life-spans this side of eternity.
As a friend put it in a Facebook status update: “Never in the history of Nigerian political endeavour has so much been paid by so many to so few.” But the truth is that no one pays this mob, they pay themselves, and exactly how much no one has the foggiest idea.
Arguably their most striking characteristic is a prickliness in the face of criticism. Which is puzzling, because one would think that all the money they feed on would at least thicken their skins. But no, this is one petulant bunch; think “Nigeria’s most prestigious kindergarten” and you wouldn’t be far from the truth.
This is why Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi’s encounter with this mob – in which he accurately labelled it a drain on the country’s economy – should go down in history as one of the most memorable moments of 2010. As is customary our Machiavellian mob instantly fished out its favourite poison – a fermented mix of blackmail and bullying, bearing no expiry date – and is now obsessed with getting Lamido to take a sip. It has queried his character; wondered aloud if he’s enjoying his job.
An unfazed Sanusi responded in words that should be pasted in every government office, every school building, across Nigeria: “My name is Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, not ‘Central Bank Governor’. I enjoy my job but if you want me to quit, I will honourably quit.”
Of course that answer must have flown right over the heads of our distinguished mob – a bunch for whom “quitting honourably” is an abomination; for whom life would be hopelessly incomplete without the “Senator” or “Honourable” prefixing their names.
Sanusi brought a smile to my face. My ‘Nigeria’s Persons of the Year’ List is taking shape. Sanusi is in, joining Dora Akunyili, who, you will recall, declared, most memorably, in the heat of the Yar’Adua constitutional crisis: “I am the Minister of Information for the Federal Republic of Nigeria but if you ask me, I have no information about this matter.”
I have chosen to ignore Akunyili’s “Naija” misadventures (blame it on boredom) and focus instead on her ‘greater good’. I will also be the first to acknowledge that Lamido Sanusi is not a perfect man. I think he sometimes talks too much; far too much for a Central Bank Governor. And then there are those bow-ties, but let’s leave that for another day.
Nigeria however doesn’t need perfect men and women. No. To give an idea of what Nigeria needs, I will quote from the article I wrote (“Wonder Woman”) praising Dora Akunyili, after she broke ranks with the Federal Executive Council earlier in the year:
“At this hour, this minute, we need more people speaking truth to power, especially from WITHIN the corridors of power. There are enough of us outsiders trying our best, screaming from the rooftops and marketplaces and newsrooms, from the Facebook status updates and twitter pages.”
Speaking truth to power, from the inside. Sanusi (Central Bank Governor; grandson of a former Emir of Kano – what could be more “Northern Elite” than that?) – a man who should be the archetypal Establishment Man, has chosen to stare our rapacious Lawmakers in the face, without blinking. I doff my hat.