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Thursday, September 26, 2013
Set in Lagos Nigeria, it was a dinner for the alumni of a great Nigerian institution, Kings College Lagos. It is no exaggeration that the school has produced some of the brightest and most successful brains in Nigeria as proven by the number of its ‘Old Boys’ who have been and are still in positions of authority in Nigeria at different levels in the public and private sector. So you can begin to imagine the caliber of people at this event.
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Nothing changed with his arrival, the very relaxed atmosphere remained same except the amplified chit-chat, back slapping and hysteric laughter that reminds you only of your school days. Sanusi brought on the side of him that seemed truly him. Then it was time for his speech among few others which I had looked forward to. I was not disappointed, as it was another deep, yet unambiguous speech. The humor was on point and so was his time management which gives hope that one day Nigerian leaders will learn to make short and smart speeches.
My eyes were busy searching the whole garden for his Mopol (Mobile Police) or ‘men in black’ who in the name of security would slap and shove anyone who dared to offer him a handshake. Not seeing any of that did not make me feel it was not a scene waiting to be played. As he walked off the mini podium, I expected the moment to come as few people in the audience who were excited by the humorous crescendo of his speech would want to get closer with a handshake. I saw a glimpse of the man in black but I was not quite sure since he was dressed in mufti, a truly black one.
Back to his seat and it was time to mingle. I walked up to him and as we exchanged courtesies with calculated smiles, the man in black showed up again! The plan was to prevent me from doing so as I had seen him do to many young people as the event wound down but Mallam Sanusi’s reaction was swift. "What is it now?" He screamed at his bodyguard in a manner that seemed like he was wooing a lady and I thought again "na shout be that?" Almost falling into deep thoughts he cut short my journey with another outstretched arm for a warmer handshake as I engaged him in a chat.
As Mallam Sanusi Lamido and I shared thoughts on few issues amidst my admiration for his oratory skills and refusal to be shielded from the people, I remembered my New-York to Lagos flight experience and how similar this could be to it. I expected the same airport scenario to play out as soon as he steps out of the venue of that gathering of old school mates where he was expected and somehow morally mandated to make himself accessible to all. So out of curiosity I found myself a vantage position to watch his departure and short walk outside the venue. Of course I was not going to make myself the scapegoat this time, so as I discussed with a friend, I kept an eye on him and his small entourage but all I saw were zealous security operatives trying to impress a man bent on enjoying his freedom as a citizen. Even the ones who were on other duty posts within the quiet housing estate followed him to show this nauseating kind of loyalty which only the Nigerian Police can define.
Perhaps I should be right to say Mallam Sanusi Lamido has proven it that sometimes it is not the so-called rich and powerful that we should blame for this shameful scene that plays out every time politicians appear in public but their security operatives who are always desperate to establish their man-in-charge status. Many times it is the policemen behind who are power-drunk on behalf of the men in power. Looking back at the face of ‘Oga Madam’ as her SUV drove away that sunny afternoon at the Muritala Mohamed Airport, I get the feeling those policemen may have been too fast for her to stop but then I just saw how such excesses can be handled with one calm word from a man who was not willing to be misunderstood.
With these totally opposite scenarios, doing a comparative analysis of the different social attitudes displayed by people in the leadership of Nigeria will drive any intellectual crazy if at all he or she manages to survive the process. I will not take that risk; rather I will toe the line of asking the question, what kind of power do Nigerian politicians try to show when they cannot control those security operatives who work for them? Why are policemen working for our leaders and politicians usually the reckless and sometimes lawless?
I am yet to send Mallam Sanusi Lamido that email I promised to send. Why? Well…
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Thursday, August 29, 2013
|Nigerian Embassy, New-York|
It was winter in New-York; she had visited the city to attend a conference at the United Nations headquarters as a member of the Nigerian National Assembly. I was doing a little shopping in Manhattan after visits to the UN and Nigerian Embassy, then we met through a friend she knew from home who also happened to be my host. We became friends albeit she was older. Her amiable personality was extraordinary and she needed company as she found her way through the city anyways.
We later realized that we were going to be on the same flight to Lagos in few days. We discussed a lot about Nigeria and American politics as we rounded off our businesses using our friend’s car for those few cold days. My brother and I shared our views on government policies and she defended the system with a rare naked passion for Nigeria to be better. I bet anyone would get that same feeling of hope we had as I often thought “how I wish all Nigerian leaders can think like this”.
As we stood at the departure lounge for those final goodbyes and battled with her excess luggage which ended not posing her much problems since we claimed to be together and the total weight was ok when spread on three travelers, she kept repeating “Ejima we must stay in touch o, make una call me o”. Sure we would love to have such quality person as a friend, so I thought as the air of her status as a member of the House of Representative or tag as a federal lawmaker never showed up in her attitude, let alone our discussions.
In a reciprocally down-to-earth manner with our new friend we took over vacant seats on the half filled plane as we ate, drank some red wine, relaxed on combined seats and tried to enjoy the long flight to Lagos. Trust the air hostesses to allow us enjoy our liberty; they were used to Nigerians and our free spirited communal lifestyle. We spoke endlessly of how much we could learn from America and its leadership and how the UN summit had changed her view of leadership and social impact.
|UN Headquarters, Manhattan NY|
I was tired of the flight just 8 hours into it, so as the wave of heat finally blew at me on arrival, I felt it was truly ‘Welcome to Lagos’. One of those moments you wish baggage claim did not exist as I was eager to just get home to crash, then her missing luggage issue showed up. There we all were, running up and down the airport to get things sorted but we could only leave with a promise from the airline that she would be called as soon as her bag was found. In about one week we had shared different sides of life together and the idea of us being friends didn’t seem out of place AT ALL.
Stepping out to be received by family, the reality of the Nigerian class theory stared at me right in the face. Before we could say those final words, gun carrying mobile policemen showed up from the sun and shoved my brother and I roughly away from her with the base of their rifles in a manner that reminds you of the middle-east police versus masses riots. They shielded her into a waiting SUV driven off quickly as if trying to escape a rain of bullets. Everything happened so fast like in well directed Nollywood movies. I stood there shocked to my marrow! This remains my realest ‘Welcome to Lagos’ and never the sudden switch to a hot weather.
|US Consulate, Lagos|
As I write this I still cannot understand why they acted that way and how she could not manage to stop them immediately. I kept asking myself, what or who were they protecting her from? The same people she needed few seconds ago? What happened to those lessons of accessibility we learn from western leaders when we go abroad? How come they could not stop her from being subjected to extra search at the JF Kennedy Airport? Where were they when she begged common citizens for help when her bag was missing?
That afternoon I realized one of the most bitter truths I have ever had to deal with, it does not matter if the streets of New-York put us on the same level as equal legal non-immigrants; as far as our own country is concerned we are not equal citizens, neither are we equal human beings. Sadly, that is the Nigerian theory of human classification and the manner in which the message was delivered to me still hurts. Naturally in my heart she slowly changed from being ‘Aunty’ into Madam or maybe ‘Oga Madam’.Follow Keni Akintoye on twitter: @keniknows