Give any Nigerian living in Nigeria a small post and it goes into his head. He immediately invents paraphernalia of office to boost his self-image. The formerly unknown transforms himself into a star, wielding his new post as a weapon of domination and oppression of those who knew him yesterday as just one of them. He lives and breathes his new status. He changes his wardrobe and swagger. He becomes haughty and arrogant. He inserts layers of advisors, aides, security operatives between him and his environment. His phone becomes too heavy for him to carry. His eyes become glazed; he cannot see his immediate surroundings again.
This overrated sense of self is a national disease. It cuts across the whole sphere of our national life and the most afflicted of the disease are political and religious leaders. A General Overseer (GO), hero-worshipped by his congregation that has been cowed into submission by their physical, economic, social and political environments, adds a small “d” to his acronym. He becomes and plays GOd. He celebritizes himself. He is impossible to see or to speak with. Between him and the people are many aides, junior and senior pastors and security staff. They glow in their subservient roles to the GOd of Man. This is not about heaven; it is about gleaning from the celebrity status of the Big Man of the Church. Since there is no script to their roles as servants, they act as their spirit commands them. When the GOd travels, his convoy of police escort, vintage vehicles and pastors acting as thugs is a menace to other road users. These thugs threaten violence on other road users who do not hearken to their sirens and convoy. The road must be cleared for the GOd or hell will be let loose on the transgressor in form of punches, whipping and verbal violence. My son-in-law suffered this in the hands of some servants of a local GOd a couple of years ago, on a Sunday afternoon and on a wide road, free of traffic. His offence was that he did not clear off the road in good time for their high-speed convoy to pass.
I have seen convoys of some Vice Chancellors and Chief Medical Directors of University Teaching Hospitals too. They all have the same aggressive attitude to other road users. They blow their sirens even in the night when the roads are free. This overrated sense of self has nothing to do with level of education. It is simply a primitive ego drive to impress an imaginary audience.
The most afflicted of the disease are our elected politicians and government officials. This group of human beings is probably one of the worst set of elected and public officials in the world in terms of raw display of oppressive public relations. Local government chairmen, governors, Ministers, parliamentarians at the state and federal levels, permanent secretaries, and heads of parastatals become a strange breed of slothful individuals once they get elected or appointed. Their temporary position is like curare. It weakens all their muscles. They cannot talk; they can only speak through an aide. They cannot carry their phones; another aide has to carry the phones for them. They cannot write; their pens suddenly become very heavy; aides write and tweet for them. Their bags are carried by policemen. Their shoes are cleaned in public by employees of taxpayers. They cannot carry their own umbrellas when it rains. They can no longer hold their brooms to sweep away the filth around them.
And it is sheer horror when these elected officials move from one part of the city to another or in-between cities. They disrupt the traffic. They push off other road users into gutters. They maim and kill the taxpayers with whose money they acquired those vehicles and pay themselves salaries. The scenario they play each time is reminiscent of that of a warlord with his bunch of cutthroats driving through a hostile environment.
I have often asked myself the following questions: Where is the big man rushing to? Who decides the size of the convoy? Why does an elected official have such a phobia of the people that employed him that he has to scare them off the road? Is the elected official sleeping while he is being driven at this senseless speed? Who is he trying to impress? Under which rules does this madness operate? I have no answers to these questions. There is no logical reasoning to justify this strange behavior of our officials.
Official visits of these elected and their unelected spouses to some other parts of the country are nightmares to the hosts. The official visit paralyses the city. It stops all economic activities and taxpayers who depend on their daily earnings for feeding their families go to bed hungry for the duration of the visit. A bad reminder of a raw display of an overrated sense of self was the visit of Patience Jonathan to Lagos a couple of years ago. Patience paralyzed a city of over eighteen million people to fuel her ego. People complained, but our elected officers have not changed their ways.
Just yesterday, 15th December, Punch Newspaper under the headline,”How Buhari shut down N’Assembly for 2017 budget” reported that “Administrative and commercial activities were paralysed at the National Assembly Complex Abuja on Wednesday when President Muhammadu Buhari visited the complex to present the 2017 Appropriation Bill…” Why should the visit of the President paralyze other peoples’ legitimate routines? Is the President aware of what is going on around him? Does he realize that his aides are alienating him from everyone? In which constitution is it written that economic activities of taxpayers must stop when the President is visiting a neighborhood? Who is behind these ruthless rules? What are they trying to prove?
I do remember that President Buhari, on coming to power, said he would not be worshipping at the Abuja Central Mosque because he did not want to disturb Friday traffic and bring hardship to road users. That was the President people knew and elected. A considerate person. What has changed?
Nigeria has this uncanny ability to transform the simplest or most insignificant activity or intention into its most horrific, nightmarish and unimaginable form. The idea of ferocious security and multiple aides apparently originated from the military era. The military structure probably demands this. Nigerian elected civilians and government officials, have not only kept this military tradition, but have also transformed it into its most hideous version. And in order not to be left behind, church leaders, heads of government and private corporations, bankers and many other self-imagined VIPs have followed suit.
Whatever reasons they may have, this behavior is far from civilized. It gives the wrong impression of desirable public conduct to young Nigerians’ impressionable minds.
It is not only school children that need lessons in Civic Education…