[Sycophancy is never far from the surface in Nigeria's political space and the following essay from Obasanjo Era could have been written yesterday. Enjoy it.]
Those in my generation who loved pop music graduated from the likes of Aretha Franklin, Ottis Redding, Marvin Gaye, and Barry White whose singing touched your soul and made you move your body even if from your sofa. The next generation of the soulful balladeers had Whitney Houston as primus inter pares. When Whitney sings, other singers keep quiet. Who can forget what she did with Dolly Parton’s little-known and possibly less-admired “I will always love you” several years ago, a rendition that the lovable country singer acknowledged Whitney did much for.
The group, Boyz to Men, was an offshoot of the soulful ballad group, New Edition, of which Whitney Houston’s husband, Bobby Brown was the most famous. These were a group of Philadelphia, (Philly) Pennsylvania high school kids who got together during the late Eighties and after struggling for quite a while with some of the kids graduating and new high schoolers joining the group but before you could spell ‘M-o-t-o-w-n”, a group had been born. One of this group signed by Motown was Michael Bivins formerly of New Edition and the group chose the name ‘Boyz to Men’ which was from one of the hits by New Edition titled ‘Boys to Men.’ I liked the name ‘Boyz to Men’ although we would have to remove the ‘z’ and substitute the ‘s’ it’s meant to carry. As most younger people in their thirties and forties know, ‘bad boy’ Bobby did make a good marriage to songstress, Whitney Houston and went solo but instead of Whitney reforming him, she fell into his bad ways doing drugs but Whitney will always be Whitney, hopefully. All the above is by way of introducing the title of this essay.
It is a well-known fact that young kids everywhere in the world always like to play grown-up: little girls try on mommies’s make-up, shoes and clothes while young boys are not any different. I remember when we were young that pre-pubescent boys and those in their early teenage years in Nigeria would often apply methylated spirit because they believed it would stimulate hair growth in their chins and cheeks! Did it work? I do not know.
It must be mentioned too that the word ‘boy’ was racist and a put-down word by white America for black males, a derogatory term that dates back to slavery. A sixteen-year old white boy would address a seventy-year old black man as ‘boy’ and the African-American had no recourse. The African-American male’s dignity was trampled upon; in fact, he was treated as if he had none. We do not have to turn to America to see the use of this derogatory word. Thanks to British colonists who kept men with families as ‘house boys’ in ‘boys’ quarters’, terminologies that we’ve not only sheepishly followed but have improved upon by having ‘house girls’ who could be as old as sixty. It is easy to understand, therefore, the ambition and haste of these Philly boys back in ’88 to announce to the world that they were adult males who had left behind the idea of being ‘boys’.
Very recently, this column carried an essay on what I thought (and still think) was extreme sycophancy: using newspaper pages to congratulate office holders, especially governors. Titled ‘double congratulations and other sycophancies’, I was sure this type of behavior had reached its nadir. How wrong was I! In full page color ads, a group describing itself as “Your Boys” recently congratulated the president on his being “unanimously elected” as “The President of Africa.” Now, regular readers of this column know from the references I often make (even on this page is a fact that I was a fan of late Ottis Redding who died in ’67 or 68 and Marvin Gaye) that I am no spring chicken and when I see men in their forties, fifties, sixties and, possibly older describe themselves as ‘Obasanjo Boys’, I shudder.
This congratulatory advertisement baffled me more than any other because of the motley group of people who signed it. Although the PDP is probably the tie that binds, what else lies beyond the ambitions and goals of the signatories? Since quite a few of these men are lettered and very exposed, I am surprised they would decide to blow out of proportion the African Union Chairmanship unless the position is no longer rotational. Let me mention that I understand, of course, the implication of the fact that president of Africa is in quotes. All the same, it is a very strange ad and here is the full copy:
Congratulations “The President of Africa.” Addis Ababa, on July 6, 2004, African Leaders converged and unanimously elected President Olusegun Obasanjo as the Chairman of the African Union. He is also the Chairman of Peace and Security Council – Two topmost AU Positions. We are happy to be associated with your achievements both at home and abroad. Your efforts at ending internal wars in Africa and the economic development of the continent earned you these laurels.
In the middle of the page is a political map of Africa with the president’s picture right in the middle. Not being a political scientist, a few points are unclear to me:
Will Nigeria subsequently always be the Chairman, that is, will it never be the turn of Angola, Uganda or long-suffering countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia or Somalia? Simplified further, is this not a rotational post like all posts in such unions? If President Obasanjo ceases to be Nigeria’s political leader, will he still be the African Union Chairman? With regard to the “two topmost AU positions”, i.e. chairman of the Union as well as chairman of Peace and Security Council, would any other Nigerian as president of the country NOT have been entitled to these positions if it was not retired General Obasanjo? Here is a silly question: are Ambassador Esan, Professor Tunde Adeniran, et al, the equivalent of the so-called ‘Babangida Boys’, that is, will they, from now on, play the role that the General Adisas of this world played for Babangida – for General Obasanjo? And one final question, are we seeing the opening salvo being fired for the next Nobel Peace Prize?
These are strange times not only in Nigeria but in the world because everywhere one looks, there are questions staring those not well versed in international affairs and politics in the face. President Bush, for instance, just announced that he is a “peace” president! This is after sending almost a thousand Americans and thousands of Iraqi to early graves through the Iraqi misadventure. The deaths in Afghanistan are not being dismissed but the Talibans caused that and as far as I can understand, the world would have been safer if U.S. forces had remained full strength to rout Al Qaeda from Afghanistan but there was absolutely no reason for the deaths in Iraq. As the world has discovered, the greed of a few drove the world to the deaths of thousands. And now this man is calling himself a “peace” president. Pardon the digression.
Since no one is likely going to help answer my questions, I’m really on my own and I have tried to answer them as best I can. When the OAU metamorphosed into AU (or so I believe), most of the old order would probably transfer to the new organization. I note from the ad that the Secretariat is still at Addis where that of the OAU used to be. This would or should mean our president is sitting on the Chairman’s chair which will be check-marked against Nigeria since the AU, like the European Union, rotates the chair which just saw Italian Berlusconi end his country’s presidency (chairmanship). For instance, when the chairmanship rotates to poor and hapless Sierra Leone, can her president never expect to chair the peace and security council in view of the fact that his/her people have been involved in viciously killing and hacking each others’ limbs in the past?
Michael Bivins and his groupie in ‘Boyz to Men’ gave themselves positive makeovers, transforming themselves from boys to men. Now, what do we say of grown men making themselves over from what seems like Paul to Saul?
This is Nigeria; go figure that one out.
The Comet on Sunday, July 2004.