“Otimkpu” is an Igbo language which literarily means a praise singer or sycophant. And “Itimkpu” simply means praise-singing or sycophancy. In Nigeria it’s an industry. We have politicians, journalists, traditional rulers, contractors, supplicants and influence peddlers, musicians, businessmen and all sorts of people eking out a living through this phenomenon. But more is gained through it by politicians and political hangers-on. From the presidency down to the Chairman of a local government these people are everywhere massaging the ego of the ‘oga’ or madam and feeding him or her lies and with those sweet things (s)he would love to hear about their inflated popularity and achievements.
When Patricia “beautician” Etteh was having greed-inflicted problem in her imposed undeserved position as the Speaker of our lower House of Assembly one remembers her Press Assistant Funke Egbemode rising to the occasion by issuing many press releases which sought to put a spin on the embattled Speaker’s position in the house renovation scandal. Lies and half-truths after some cover-ups Ms Egbemode sought to paint rosy pictures of Madam Speaker debunking certain claims by her opponents and providing doctored official lines that never made any impact on those opposed to her continued stay in office.
In the end Etteh fell and Funke also lost her voice as there was nothing more to defend! She was more of a ‘contractor’ or lobbyist employed to defend the indefensible! One wonders where she is now, now that her principal has had to revert to the position of an ordinary member of the House. Ms Egbemode could be likened to an executive “Otimpku” much like Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala’s Press Assistant who doubles as his attack dog. The former writer based in England simply changed camps joining the Adedibu ‘Amala’ camp where his bread is buttered better.
The Imo State Governor Ikedi Ohakim, smarting from auto-allegations of assassins wanting to ‘kill’ him, was involved in a terrible exhibition of naked power in a Lagos road on a Sunday when his convoy almost ran over a harmless woman on her way to church with her children! After the ugly incident a concerned Lagosian informed Nigerians of the brutality exhibited by the Ohakim convoy only for Mr Steve Osuji to join issues with the concerned Lagosian in the ‘Guardian’ newspaper. He went to town with deliberate falsehood which sought to draw sympathy to Ohakim’s side. He described the woman involved as “an unknown woman” who was struggling the road for “a kilometer with the convoy” which to him constituted a “breach of protocol”.
When Mrs Elizabeth Udoudoh, ‘the unknown woman’, penned down her own version of events we all saw how crude Mr Osuji’s position was and how duplicitous the Press Assistant tried to be. Osuji is an executive “otimpku” whose duty, it seems, is to paint the Governor in good lights even if the reverse were the case. Politicians, non-politicians and praise singers in the corridors of power and elsewhere are making governance more cumbersome by their dirty games of praise-singing. Not telling it as it is or how it ought to be told constitutes a hindrance to transparent administration of man and his environment.
For Mr Osuji, obviously trying hard to present a good image of his boss whose anti-people side was exposed wrote thus: “it was simply a case of a woman who bluntly refused to yield the way to a governor’s convoy. It was a case of a woman feeling too big and couldn’t give a damn whether it was a governor or a god who was going in a convoy…” So for that reason of apparent non-deferrence to Osuji’s god of a boss she had to be brutalized the military junta’s way, right?
Governor Ikedi Ohakim came to power in Imo State miraculously after the PDP tango with Ifeanyi Araraume which led to his expulsion from the party. Araraume who should have won the Imo State Gubernatorial poll, having won convincingly the primaries, had his dream aborted by Obasanjo and Ahmadu “Chemical” Ali. In its characteristic manner of subverting its own rules the PDP citing some spurious “security report” against the former Senator frustrated his ambition. Enter Ohakim! Through the connivance of Maurice Iwu and other Imo forces Ohakim won and dedicated his victory to God but if by the executive recklessness exhibited in far away Lagos is anything to judge him by then he must have forgotten so soon how he benefitted from Araraume’s murky past.
In Benin City many years ago I once stood at New Benin, New Lagos/Mission Roads intercession when a convoy of cars escorting a certain high-profile traditional ruler back to his kingdom from Lagos passed by. There was a mild go-slow so the convoy slowed down. Suddenly well-fed bleaching men came down — with mobile policemen in tow — trying to force vehicles and their owners off the road. Anyone that showed any resistance was made to feel the effects of horse-whips! Since it was a military regime in place at that time the whole system was militarized and demystifying the gun was a huge challenge for Nigerians.
Around Andy Uba and his junior brother Chris there is a clique of ‘otimkpus’ (“renegades” if you like) including lawyers who still tell Andy that his guber woes in the Supreme Court could still be redeemed. The former notorious Domestic Affairs Assistant to ex-President Obasanjo was himself a senior presidential ‘otimpku’ in Aso Rock who used academic acquisition fraud to bamboozle ‘Baba’ into according him undeserved attention. Uba used high-wire blackmail to hold OBJ to ransom cornering his own billions of naira as they oversaw together the Petroleum Resources Ministry and other mind-boggling corrupt empire.
But by far the greatest “otimkpu” in Nigeria happens to be a musician in the east named Oliver De Coque. The bearded talented musician was once reportedly warned by the anti-graft authorities to stop his brand of praise-singing music or risk the consequences. This international singer transformed singing into an art of sycophancy which made him not only popular but rich! Any interested fame-seeking Igbo man who made money (most especially from dirty deals) approached him for a good number which he happily composed and released. Of course he smiled to the bank as the ‘contract’ was worth millions of naira.
However one of those he sang their praises (names withheld) allegedly breached the ‘contract’ by reneging on his side of the bargain. That man simply refused to pay the other remainder of the money he owed Oliver thereby ‘defrauding’ the Nnewi-born musician and his “Ogene Sound Super International”. Oliver De Coque shares the same land of birth with Dim Emeka Ojukwu but it bears emphasizing here that the likes of Oliver De Coque subtly supports illicit acts like fraud and drug running. Wittingly or otherwise boys take to crime to make it having as role models those who made it through illegal means whom Oliver eulogise in his popular high-life music.
But that does not in any way mean that Oliver is alone. In Yorubaland we have many of them who sing the praise of rich men for some naira notes. I once attended a concert in Water Parks in Ikeja Lagos many years ago and when it was time for “KWAM 1”, King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal to play the whole arena was turned upside down as KWAM 1 launched into praise-singing songs which got people, ‘Agbada’-wearing fellows, moving to and fro to show gratitude and appreciation with wads of naira notes!
In the north it is the same thing. We have local musicians who sing praises of the “mai-gidas”. In occasions like marriages, burials and turbanning of emirs they roll out their local drums and guitars and make money out of the occasion. “Otimpku” is a generalised thing in Nigeria and as long as money is worshipped and the source of wealth unquestioned there will be more and more fellows making money by giving false images of those they extol their criminal virtues.
Nigeria is full of base fellows. It is a haven for all manner of dishonourable and ignoble people. So there is no point saying that we are about to witness a change of attitude or mentality. So more “otimkpus” are bound to be produced by a society that has had hitherto-held values thrown overboard. But Nigeria needs lesser of them if we are to make real progress in our quest for a working nationhood.