I have come to understand that, outside Nigeria, the country is respected and adored in many respects. Since I arrived Nairobi, the capital of The Republic of Kenya last December, every non-Nigerian I meet (I have met quite a number of them in Nairobi.) has one good thing or the other to say about my dear Nigeria. I have lapped up the clement comments with relish; once in a while I have had to confirm the complimentary views with copious examples or drive home certain observations with convincing instances. Some of these views are not so palatable but I had to rationalize them. For instance, my good friend, Betty, a legal practitioner with an office on Kenyatta Avenue whom I met one cold afternoon by accident (this is another story in itself) regaled me with her experience with Nigerians she met on her first visit to her husband in the United States. Hear her, ‘Every Nigerian I met on that visit was either the son of a military governor, the finance minister or a prince or princess or the first son of the landlord of Niger Delta.’ When I told her that I was an ordinary polytechnic teacher on a leave of absence, she refused to believe me, preferring to call me ‘oil Sheik.’
‘Lying about one’s status is not an exclusive preserve of Nigerians.’ I observed. She appraised ruefully me and shook her round her.
Nigerian movie is very popular and unique, at least in the African context. Some commentators and critics here in Kenya believe that, the trend of development in African movie industry is dictated and influenced by what is happening in Nigerian movie engineering. This much is confirmed by articles and write ups in Kenyan leading newspapers and magazines.
Nigerian actors and actresses have an astoundingly large followership in East Africa, if the enthusiasm I saw in Kenya, the prince of East Africa, is used as the yardstick. With the surreal contact they have made with the Nigerian actors on the celluloid, demonstrating their affinity with the Nigerian screen players include asking after or discussing them and their acting antics in manners that suggest more than the ordinary association: ‘How is Uncle Pete Edochie doing in Lagos? I just finished watching him in the screen adaptation of Things Fall Apart, he is simply fantastic.’ One commented. Another one cooed, ‘Kanayo O Kanayo and his brother Richard Damijo must be rugged,’ a female fan said. I did not bother to dampen her enthusiasm by telling her that the actors are not brothers in the sense she had used the word.
One elderly man asked after Chinedu Ikedezie and Osita Iheme. He described them as twin brothers. I nodded, implying that the duo are okay in Lagos. ‘They are finalizing their wedding plans; they are going to wed the same day.’ Another Kenyan fan quipped. I frowned impassively. The last of the exuberances of that the night was the one who asked me where Idumota lives in Lagos. I smiled as I explained the mix up to her.
One oddity I noticed was that, perhaps, apart from the VCDs I brought with me from Nigeria into Nairobi, all the Nigerian movies I saw in the shops in Nairobi are pirated copies. This tells more on the quality of checks and balances mechanism coupled with the effectiveness of the war on copyright infringement put in place by the Kenyan authorities.
Equally more popular than the Nigerian president are the Nigerian footballers. The exploits of Jay Jay Okocha and Kanu Nwankwo lead the pack followed by those of the likes of Joseph Yobo, Mikel Obi, and Obafemi Martins.
The sum total of this regard is that when Nigerians who are not actors, actresses or footballers find themselves in talking-contact with a non-Nigerian outside Nigeria, those Nigerians should expect the respect and awe with which the aforementioned classes of Nigerians are held to rub off on them. The Nigerians become the cynosure off all eyes, a fountain of intellectual information by the country perceived as the leading African country.
‘Lagos must be thrice the size of Nairobi.’ One confirmed. I didn’t contradict him. Rather I complimented his erroneous view. One misinformed us that Lagos, the capital of Nigeria is colder and neater than Nairobi, ‘Nigeria has a population of about three hundred million.’ He concluded his string of disinformation. I did not tell him that every censors carried out in Nigeria has been logically flawed as such Nigerians themselves are not sure of their numbers. I however told the gathering that Lagos is no longer the Nigerian capital. I did not inform them that, from the little I know of Lagos, the city is one of the filthiest communities in the world.
It was as if the monsters of corruption, tribalism, nepotism, misplaced priorities, poverty and other indices of backwardness bedeviling Nigeria do not bother the Kenyans. It is Nigeria so; Nigeria is king, flawless African King. I bathed in the encomium.
Such had been my experience in Nairobi until the night of Saturday, 19 May 2007.
I had gone to Ruaraka Inn for my usual measure of Guinness, listen to the usual ‘fresh news’ about Nigeria, corroborate the news with the usual trite and jejune instances and delude myself that all about Nigeria is well.
The first sign that things might not follow the usual pattern and that I might go home with a deflated ego was when our discussion veered off to politics and elections took the centre stage.
Bearing in mind that the Nigerian general elections were barely a month old and the heaps of irregularity and criminal rigging alleged by the local and international observers are still very much new in everybody’s consciousness, I downplayed the relevance of elections, hinting at the judiciary as the last hope of whatever misdeeds reported by the opposition and the observers. I paused and appraised my interlocutors for signs of objection, none was forthcoming; I went on to eulogise the Nigerian judiciary for the constancy of its fight against injustice, in whatever form. I sighed, waiting for the usual support but I was wrong: my audience this cold May night was of a different brand.
One of them asked me the election I was referring to, the one held or the one Nigeria is preparing for. I sighed again and frowned, ‘The next general elections in Nigeria are due in four years’ time; the Nigerian general elections were concluded on April 21. Nigeria has a president-elect who is due for swearing –in on May 29,’ I said with an unmarked pride. But Malombo, that is the name of the Kenyan, pulled a white foolscap paper from his folder and thrust it at me. With a deep frown, I collected the document: It was printed from the website of The Sun newspaper. The title reads: INEC electoral materials intercepted in Nnewi. I took my time digesting the contents of the paper. The news dated May 10, 2007 has it that security officials had stooped a car for routine check only to discover that its boot contained seven large bags stuffed with election materials—ballot papers, voters’ register, result sheets—which were meant for the Nigerian general elections held in April 2007.
Needless to say, my mind was split in two equal halves as implications of what I was reading dawned on me: one was actually reading while the other was speculating about my line of defence. I would not have found myself in this ugly corner if I had not been playing patriotism.
‘So,’ I said with a falling tone.
‘So’ Malombo’s tone was a rising one.
When I did not respond, he continued, ‘If your argument is that elections were indeed held in Nigeria, what were those election materials mentioned in the news doing in a car weeks after the results of the election had been released?’
I nodded slowly and managed a hollow, ‘This is an exception…’
‘What?’ The group of three shouted in unison. It was the yelp that attracted the attention of other gentlemen and ladies to the discussion at our table. ‘What did you just say?’ the smallest of the trio, almost a runt, who said his name was Mwai asked. While I was taking my time responding, he introduced his third colleague. ‘This is Amolo. We are all graduate students of the department of African Studies we are Kenyans on vacation. And for your information, we are comparing the political climate and culture of East and West Africa for our thesis so we have all the relevant information from all the interested parties in the sham that just happened in your country which you called elections.’
I sighed again and drank some of my drink. I desperately needed to distract the attention of these people; to introduce another relevant topic but it appeared it was a determined pack because Amolo, pointing at the sheet of paper which I still held limply, asked whether I still regard the content of the paper as an exception which should not be the rule.
‘Yes,’ I replied and explained, ‘What I mean is that we should not give the exercise a blanket condemnation. Some may not be credible but not all the aspects are bad.’
Mwai was smilling as he dipped his hand into his bag and brought out another printed material from the website of the Punch newspaper. The news said that large quantities of INEC election materials were found dumped in a bush at Otolo, Nnewi.
Just as I was handing the paper over to Mwai, Amolo handed me a book. I read the title – Mirror of a Fraudulent Election. The book states in frightening details all the electoral atrocities that characterized the April poll in my country.
‘How did you get this?’ I waved the book at the group, ‘it was launched on the 15th of April.’
Amolo said, ‘We are research students; if we are not in possession of this book then our search for the truth is not complete. In actual fact, we regard this book as the proof of the opposition that the elections were roundly rigged by the ruling party. We approached the organizing body, INEC, to provide us the evidence that the elections were not rigged.’
‘You see what I mean.’ I interrupted him.
‘What did you mean?’ The sarcasm in the question was heavy.
I guessed at what was coming but with a bold face I told him that INEC must have provided them with convincing evidence.
Amolo laughed derisively, ‘The unconvincing evidence from your INEC is the results of the elections.’
‘The flawed results?’ I breathed incredulously.
Needless to say my Guinness tasted like a mixture of water and sandpaper that night but I learned a lesson in human psychology: Human beings varied in their approach to issues concerning their wellbeing. The group I met on the night of May 19 was intellectual in orientation; its disposition, attitude, and reasoning are critical, sharp and well honed. With its marshaled points, I had no alternative but to succumb to superior logic. The group I was used to was docile gullible and complacent. Getting used to such behaviour can be injurious to one’s psyche.