Little Things That Matter

0

“Let all things be done decently and in order.”

– 1Corinthians 14:40

Ever attended any event populated by top government officials, party big wigs, the CEOs of blue chip companies, their royal majesties and highnesses, the ex-this and ex-that, the contenders and pretenders to wealth and riches, in short Nigeria’s political, business and royal elite accompanied by their sidekicks – wives, concubines and everybody in-between? Did you notice the chaos, the absence of decorum, the indecency, the noise, and the child-like indiscipline? For years we have agonized over Nigeria’s failure to take off, development wise; the country’s inability to meet its potentials despite it being abundantly blessed with human and natural resources. For the nation’s present and past predicament, we have, like President Muhammadu Buhari, looked for someone or something to blame. But we seem to have forgotten those little things that matter – personal discipline, self-respect, decency, humility, and sense of order. These are defining characteristics that are mostly absent in the social lives of our political and business elite. Any wonder why the country has been so continually messed up? How can a group of politicians most of who have little or no self-esteem, no social grace, and whose personal conduct so belittles their high offices possibly birth and superintend over an orderly society?

To understand the point I’m making, permit me, dear reader, to show you the typical conduct of the cream of the nation’s elite at the post-wedding dinner Africa’s richest man Alhaji Aliko Dangote organised in honour of his daughter Fatima and her husband Jamil Abubakar. Without a doubt, the organization was superb. Whoever was the event planner did an excellent job in the hall décor, logistics, security, sitting arrangements, and general comfort of about 2,500 guests. Simple yet classy, the dinner, which held at the Banquet Hall of Eko Hotel and Suites, Lagos was a reflection of the personality of the chief host and bride’s father, Dangote. For an event so well organized, the only minus was the indiscipline of a cross section of the guests – members of the ruling class.

To be fair, the organisers did have an understanding of the vain nature of Nigerian men of power and influence. They therefore took the pains to lay down some ground rules in an advisory attached to the Invite. One, to minimize traffic congestion at Eko Hotel, guests were advised to park their vehicles at nearby Eko Atlantic where shuttle buses were available to move guests to and fro the event venue. Indeed a bus lane was specially carved out for ease of movement of the guests. Two, guests were advised to go through a security check at the Eko Atlantic car park where the Invite was exchanged for an arm band, and a tag indicating a table number was issued for ease of sitting at the event venue. Three, politicians and public officials were requested to leave their security aides at Eko Atlantic since there were solid security arrangements from the car park to the event venue. Four, top public officials were enjoined not to allow their aides follow them to the event venue. Five, guests were advised to take their seats at 7.30pm.

As it were, every item on the advisory was obeyed in the breach, the culprits basically those on the top end of power, wealth and influence. It was either they didn’t read the advisory, or they felt its contents were beneath their status and office. State governors (not a few) were driven to the event venue in their convoys of several vehicles that were parked indiscriminately, blocking the right of way, creating a traffic congestion foretold, and making movement difficult for the shuttle buses, the hotel occupants and some other clients. Some state governors and not a few top politicians expectedly arrived late; they separately walked into the event venue with their individual crowd consisting of a battery of security aides in addition to other assistants, official and unofficial. It says a lot about our leaders sense of propriety that long before the arrival of the latecomers, the Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, immediate past president of Tanzania Jakaya Kikwete, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and several foreign dignitaries were quietly seated. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as special guest of honour did not arrive until about 9.00pm and the event could not officially take off until his arrival. There is something fundamentally wrong in the structure of our governmental administration that turns an otherwise decent man into an object we have always decried. The widespread practice of public officials, particularly politicians, not keeping to time and thereby disrupting the take off of an event is especially galling. It is disrespectful of the event organisers and the guests. When a programme that shouldn’t ordinarily take more than two hours is made to last four or five hours because of the late arrival of some government top shot invited to kick-start the event, the impression unwittingly created is that the guests have nothing productive to do with their time.

Long before Osinbajo arrived, Laz Ekwueme, an 82-year old musicologist, scholar, teacher, composer and culture icon stood on the stage for hours singing with, and conducting his, National Chorale orchestra. For the kind of elite guests in that hall, there was the expectation that Ekwueme and his orchestra would be performing to a captive audience. However, they might as well have been playing in an empty hall. Few people bothered to watch the performance. Fewer still cared to applaud in appreciation. Majority of the guests, the nation’s choice political and business elite, were milling around like market men and women, moving round the hall, talking at the top of their voices, completely unaware of the orchestra on stage, and not allowing the music, a fusion of African choral works with classical rhythm, soothe the minds of the few guests enjoying the performance. In some other civilized society, the meet and greet and networking session is done during the cocktails. Not so for the Nigerian elite. Though there had been cocktails in a different hall between 5.30 and 7.00pm, people were still milling around the main hall hugging, pecking and backslapping when, as a matter of decorum, they were expected to have taken their seats.

That was the situation when the vice president arrived and the comperes were trying to get the guests seated for the programme to start. Compere IK, for almost all of 30 minutes, as politely as he could in the circumstance, pleaded and wooed and harried and cajoled the guests to take their seats for the event to start, that the vice president was in the house. IK could as well have been talking to himself. There was no indication anybody was listening to him. Then he resorted to subtle blackmail, that Gates and other foreign guests were watching and asking if that was how we conduct our affairs in Nigeria. Whether that line was real or the compere’s creative invention, it cut little or no ice. It was akin to asking a class of four-year olds to be orderly. It was only when IK began calling out names, notable names, in some kind of naming and shaming, that some sort of orderliness became noticeable.

Thereafter, IK pleaded with the herd of mobile policemen and state security service personnel, standing behind their principals (governors, senators, ministers, party leaders, security chiefs, etc.) and blocking the view of other guests, to find somewhere to sit. Not surprising, those being addressed stood there deaf and dumb. At this point, Compere Ali Baba, having apparently lost his cool, impatiently took over from IK and addressed the security men in a not so friendly tone. It was difficult to say whether Ali Baba’s approach elicited the desired effect. The situation, however, reflected poorly on their principals, as the organisers, having envisaged this, urged guests in the advisory the contents of which I had listed at the beginning of this piece, not to come into the Banquet Hall with their security aides. But then, how do you recognize Nigerian men of power and means without some security aides, in uniform or black suit, standing behind their seats more for status symbol than any issue of personal safety!

A foreigner in that gathering could not but leave with the impression that Nigerians are a noisy and unruly lot, a people lacking in self-respect and personal discipline, and who do not appreciate beauty and order. We should be worried when those who pass off this impression of the Nigerian are the cream of our political elite, men and women who initiate laws, who formulate and implement policies. “Good order”, writes Edmund Burke in Reflections on the Revolution in France, “is the foundation of all good things”. Can a class of political elite who revel in chaos possibly enact laws and formulate policies for the good order of the country? Wouldn’t that be a miracle of giving what they do not have? Is it any wonder this cartel of political elite cannot envision Nigeria in 10, or 30, or 50 years and put structures in place to make such vision a reality? Any wonder why nobody seems to be thinking of tackling the education and health of the burgeoning youth population in the short and long term? Any wonder why a state governor would advertise in a newspaper the list of public workers whose salaries were paid and celebrate that as an achievement, or a legislator commission a pit latrine as constituency project? How could this rabble of a political elite envision and birth a nation worthy of respect?

 

For David Mark

It was sometime in June 2008. One year as senate president, some friends had put together the selection of his speeches in a book and arranged a public presentation as an anniversary present. As a friend of the house, I was asked to review the book at an event the late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua was the special guest of honour. Having received a copy of the book a little close to D-Day, I found out it was very poorly edited and badly produced, and therefore unbefitting of David Mark as a man of class, nor worthy of his office as senate president. I was caught between playing the hypocritical friend by dressing the book up for what it was not, or being true to myself. I opted for the latter and by the time I was through with the review, nobody bothered to pick up a copy. Although Mark found the review unpleasant, he accepted it gracefully. Outside of his response to my review at the book presentation, he never had any reason to refer to the issue again. It is a mark of his maturity and large heartedness that the incident never affected our friendship. Some politicians who could not rise above pettiness would have taken the review as enemy action.

Throughout his eight years as senate president, Mark didn’t allow the pressure and perquisites of office deny him the pleasure of laughing at himself. In an article on this page, “Those the Kidnappers Need” (July 19, 2010), Mark was one of five top government officials I suggested the kidnappers should go after in order to make easy billions in ransom payment. I wrote then that a N5 billion ransom on his head wouldn’t be too difficult for his colleagues in the National Assembly and some state governors to pay for his freedom. He, however, called to laugh at my suggestion, that as senate president he thought his valuation would have been much higher. At very difficult periods during the Jonathan administration, Mark led the National Assembly with maturity, playing a delicate balancing game in supporting the executive arm while ensuring the independence of the legislature. And he did that quietly without making noise.

In his years in public office as military governor, minister and senator, Mark has lived with his own quota of controversy, the most easily remembered the statement attributed to him in the 1980s that “telephone is not for the poor”. There is also the often-bandied story that he was one of the military officers who opposed the swearing in of the late Chief MKO Abiola in the series of events leading to the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. As he joins the septuagenarian club and becomes an elder statesman, the nation’s history would be better served with Mark capturing his military and political sojourn in a memoir, and putting in perspective the veracity or otherwise of the controversies associated with him.

Meanwhile, I wish Senator Mark a very enjoyable 70th birthday and many more years in the service of the nation.