How South Africa Treat Governor Amaechi and Peter Obi

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A  very perceptive and politically conscious reporter from this newspaper, Mr Taofeek Babalola, sent a curious despatch from Johannesburg, South Africa on how that southern African country treats its Very Important Personalities (VIPs). (By any standard, a governor in Nigeria is a VIP). That despatch was published in this newspaper’s sister publication, Sporting Life, on Monday, and it reported the movement of at least two governors who attended the final game of the Africa Cup of Nations football fiesta. Nigeria defeated Burkina Faso to lift the trophy after 19 years of waiting. The report mentioned two important points about the Nigerian dignitaries.

One was that the governors, though regarded as VIPs alright, still had to join the queue at the VIP section in order to gain access to the main bowl of the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg. The governors, Rotimi Amaechi and Peter Obi of Rivers and Anambra States respectively, had to remain on the queue for several minutes, according to the report. Hear the reporter: “Unlike in Nigeria where top executives enjoy preferential treatment at public events, the governors who were waiting by the side gate with the hope of gaining access without observing normal protocol, were told to join the queue formed by other ticket holders.” Now, it is perhaps possible that the governors were not exactly expecting the sort of preferential treatment they were accustomed to receiving in Nigeria, but the reporter was sensible, seeing the comportment of the governors, not to give them the benefit of the doubt.

The cheeky reporter also noted that no siren wailed anywhere near the stadium. Everyone, including VIPs, approached the stadium as humans, not demigods. The reporter needn’t remind us about the horrendous wailing of sirens that accompany or herald top Nigerian government officials’ movements, including the minions who wait on them or run errands for them. He needn’t remind us how many people have been elbowed off the road here to their untimely deaths by homicidal protocol drivers and staff, often with no chance of redress. And he needn’t tell us how state officials consumed by an overwhelming and vexatious sense of self-importance regard less privileged Nigerian citizens as subhuman.

But it was clear the reporter had the good sense and presence of mind to draw a parallel between how South Africans, a fellow African country, regard their important personalities, and how the more obsequious Nigerians esteem their rulers. By sending the report back to his newspaper in Nigeria, the reporter was indirectly asking Nigerian officials to borrow a leaf from South Africa. He should have spared himself. Any cursory reader of Lord Frederick Lugard’s Dual Mandate will understand why asking Nigerian leaders to plant their feet firmly on terra firma is a waste of time. It is in their nature to act haughtily; just as it is also in their nature to denigrate their fellow countrymen. They won’t be fulfilled until they emphasise that class distinction and make it much huger than it really is. And if anyone thinks Nigerians will change, that person must be chasing chimeras. Ask Lugard whose contemptuous 1914 amalgamation exercise Nigerian leaders have unreflectingly begun to celebrate.


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