Forever Bowing To Massa

Sometime in mid-1993, at the heat of the crises occasioned by the criminal annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential Elections by the Gen Ibrahim Babangida junta, I had assisted a good friend, an American Professor of Economics, to make a success of the research he was conducting in some parts of Nigeria. Among his respondents were the children of a well-known industrialist in the South West whose vast business empire formed part of his research interest, and so, we had to go to the house of a certain professor in Ibadan, whose surname is the same as the name of the street he lives in, and whose wife is one of the daughters of the late business mogul.

The American professor had come with one of his former students, a ruddy, likeable young man. And as we prepared to leave, after the interview, the Nigerian professor, elaborately in love with his goatee and bowler hat, brought out his business cards to give to his visitors. As the Americans, characteristically, jumped up and enthusiastically moved forward to receive the cards from the exuberant professor (they always do it, even if they would throw them into the dustbin the very next minute), I had a strong feeling of restriction, so I stood where I was, still smiling, like the others. Then the professor brought out only two cards, which he happily and proudly presented to the white people, who thanked him profusely, as they always do, as if they had just received an invaluable treasure (never mind what they thought in their hearts). The man was blessed with a nice, more intelligent, but humble, gracious wife, who was equally warm to their visitors. The meeting ended on a very happy note, and we thanked the couple for sparing some time to talk with us.

As we left, I kept wondering what special advantage the professor’s business card could possibly confer on me. Incidentally, I had got several business cards from several important people during that trip, but not long after that, I practically forgot where I discarded all of them, because, I had no need of them. Now, if my white friends had noticed the professor’s flamboyant attempt to proudly underline his preference between white and black, they chose not to comment on it during our usually robust after-dinner “conferences” at the hotel. I also chose not to talk about it. It was an attitude I was quite familiar with, so it had since ceased to amaze me.

But I could not help recalling this incident recently, when I read the report that the United States has eagerly granted the request of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commissions (EFCC) to instruct its embassy in Nigeria to henceforth issue entry visas to only the Governors that had obtained clearance from it (EFCC). No doubt, it is this kind of request that the US would be too quick to grant, as that would afford them one more prized opportunity to demonstrate the unwillingness of Nigerian leaders to stop bowing, groveling and genuflecting before the “big Massas” in Washington!

Since I read the report, I have repeatedly asked myself whether America would be able to contain the uproar that would erupt if, for instance, there were a directive today in the US requiring any Governor wishing to travel to, say, Kuwait, Japan or Nigeria, to obtain clearance from the FBI?

Ordinarily, one would have been most grateful for any measures put in place to curb the excessive craving of our governors to hop about in world capitals at public expense, while the states they were “elected” to govern were left unattended to, but should we also sacrifice our national honour and sovereignty in the process? Are we saying that it is impossible to evolve a local mechanism, through our legal and legislative systems, to achieve the same results without extending some habitually rude American embassy officials the pleasure of denigrating the office of a Nigerian Governor? What then are our lawmakers getting paid for in Abuja?

While I do not begrudge the EFCC Chairman, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, his newfound powers, which now clearly exalt his office far above that of governors, I can only plead that we look beyond the current occupants of those positions, and protect the sanctity of the office of Governor in Nigeria. Even if we must diminish that office, shouldn’t it be more tolerable that we do it ourselves, than have some arrogant Americans do it for us? Indeed, if, as the cliché goes, we find it convenient today to chop off our nose to spite our face, we must not lose sight of the fact that it may be very hard to undertake any reclamation work tomorrow, even when we get the “right” people as Governors.

And assuming all other countries, even without any prompting from Ribadu, decide tomorrow to equally demand EFCC clearance certificates, duly signed by Ribadu, from any Governor sighted near their embassy gates, what would Nigeria look like before the rest of the world? No self-respecting nation leaves the management of its affairs in the hands of foreigners. This is one self-denigrating obsession we all thought had gone with the dark Obasanjo era.

This development would naturally call to mind the incident not too long ago, in which former Vice President Atiku Abubakar was thoroughly investigated and pronounced guilty in the media by several agencies, including the EFCC, during the Olusegun Obasanjo era. And when Atiku wrote Obasanjo complaining that the outcome of the investigations were not disclosed to him as is expected in any civilized setting, Obasanjo wrote him back to state, before a stunned nation, that the investigations were carried out at the instance of the United States, and that the outcome had already been dispatched to the American Government!

Now, what kind of president would raise charges against his deputy, and instead of showing them to that deputy, decides hurriedly to send them to a foreign nation? Some people had described that action as outright sabotage, while some said it was downright irresponsible. I am tempted to see it as some kind of overt espionage, if there is anything like that. What stops such a president from divulging some sensitive information about the country to Washington for self-serving reasons?

Now, even if Atiku had committed the most heinous crime known to man, shouldn’t a self-respecting government be seeking to handle it at home than serve as a groveling errand boy to a foreign government? Even if there was need to cooperate with the Americans to solve a crime in which a Nigerian was in involved, and that Nigerian happened to be a serving Vice President, shouldn’t the VP be shown the findings against him before they were dispatched to the US, so he could volunteer some form defense? Assuming Atiku was implicated in any way, does it serve Nigeria’s image and dignity better to have his case handled in Nigeria than in the US? How far should a people go to make fools of themselves before an embarrassed world? How long should our leaders, for totally self-serving reasons, continue to drag the nation down with them as they bow unceasingly before their Big “Massas” in London and Washington?

Well, should I be blaming a regime and its gaggle of confused experts, when even a professor in Ibadan had reason to feel that in the company of whites and blacks, only the whites were “qualified” to have his business card – I suppose his card is a confirmed ticket to paradise? Well, I know another Nigerian professor who was invited to a conference in Germany and when he looked at the organizers and what they were proposing to offer, he felt that the event was not worth his time and excused himself from it, only to hear later that his president was at the conference. Until we find ways of discouraging this “Colo-mentality”, and the continuous dredging up of all sorts of characters without any form of self-esteem to become our leaders and constitute our political elite, we would remain the laughing stock everybody.

Before now (and I hope the situation has changed), all it might take to interview the Nigerian president is just to flash an ID card introducing you as a “foreign journalist”, even if you write for a supermarket tabloid in the remotest part of Arkansas. Being white (and some say, a lady) is an added advantage. Yet, some distinguished “local” newspapers could try for ages to secure such an access without success. Why? They are not members of the “International Community” in whose company our leaders would always love to be caught. That explains why some very junior (white) officers of the London Metropolitan Police were able to receive instant distinguished access and reception at Aso Rock not long after they disembarked from their plane.

By the way, was it not here that the Federal Government sought to extradite former Governor of Baylesa State and Governor-General of the Ijaw Nation, Mr. DSP Alamieyeseigha, a Nigerian citizen, to Britain to answer to charges of money laundering before a British court. Well, the Britishers were in no mood to encourage such revolting folly, and so refused to issue a visa to Alamieyeseigha. We have all the laws in Nigeria to try a man who was accused of stealing Nigeria’s money, yet we felt we must take him to the “Big Massa” in London to handle him for us, since we were very unsure of ourselves and our laws, as we have eventually proved with the way his case was resolved recently. While every nation seeks to have its citizens tried in its courts and with its laws, Nigeria would rather take delight in having its citizens tried in obscure courts in strange lands. That is the meaning of Nigerian independence.

In fact this complex has come to stay with many Nigerians (no thanks to the paradigm of the Obasanjo years) and manifests itself in several embarrassing ways. Just watch any foreign TV station discussing African problems and hear what a Nigerian would say when he calls in to make a contribution. It is a familiar refrain. They only know to say what Obasanjo had taught them, namely, what is the “International Community” doing to arrest the crises in this or that region? On a particular day on Straight Talk Africa on the Voice of America (VOA), Mr. Andrew Mwenda, the Political Editor of Daily Monitor, Uganda’s leading newspaper, who was guest at the programme, had to retort by asking the Nigeria caller why we were so obsessed with what the so-called international community should do for Africans, when we should be sitting down to devise our own solutions to our problems. That’s it.

Enough of these endless genuflections before some Big Masters out there! If we manage our nation well, some of those nations would come begging to business with us. But with President Umaru Musa Ya’Adua, still struggling under the crushing credibility burden placed on his tender shoulders by the horrible elections that brought him to power, shall we soon see an end to this bowing and genuflecting before several Massas, when some misguided experts are there to keep telling him that such a preoccupation would guarantee his survival?

And as Ribadu, like a newly appointed “Senior Prefect” of some village Grammar School, continues to bask in the enormous “sovereign” powers which such a state of affairs now confers on him over state governors, is there any possibility we would soon stop bowing to Massa? Would we be condemned to a situation whereby our leaders would continue to intone by their actions, like a typical colonial era steward before his proud master, Oh, I like Massa too mush!

What a pity.

Written by
Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye
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1 comment
  • This is a well wrtiiten, well thought article. I really wonder the day the colonial mentality will evade us in Nigeris. Only God can help Nigeria.