Pius Adesanmi: The Nigerian Big man and the fear of ordinariness

by Pius Adesanmi

He waltzes into the lounge in Amsterdam carrying all of the six capital letters with which Nigeria spells BIG MAN on his head. He stops at the door for an imperious survey of the lounge, two aides fussing and grovelling and making themselves small and inconsequential around him.

Even before I lift my eyes from the magazine I am reading to behold the unfolding spectacle, I already sense and smell danger from afar.

In nature, every animal in the food chain is equipped to sense and detect a predator from afar. Five decades of being animals of prey in the food chain have equipped Nigerians with everything they need to smell the only predator they have: the Nigerian government official. The way an antelope smells a lion is the way an ordinary Nigerian smells a government official from afar.

The smell hits my nose. I look up and I see him surveying. This one is definitely a Nigerian man of power, I say to myself, my sobolation mode now fully activated. Nigerian government officials are my favourite subject of study. I study the carriage of this one and determine that he is very close to the top.

I try to place his face. I draw a blank. Definitely not a Governor. Not a Senator. Not a Minister. Perhaps he is one of the miscellaneous directors of miscellaneous portfolios in the Villa, I say to myself. The unmistakable smell of Abuja wafts across the lounge. The Abuja of power. Maybe this is one of the troops sneaking in and out of London to see Baba on our public wallet, I surmise again.

The aides are a pathetic sight. They are doing everything political aides do in Nigeria: making themselves floor mat; making themselves carpet. Even in an airport lounge in Europe. The party of three is starting to look ridiculous. Oyinbo people are starting to look up, wondering. I can surmise what is going on in the minds of the Oyinbo people. What is all this drama over entering an airport lounge, finding a seat, and getting yourself some food?

I smile. The Oyinbo people do not know that this Nigerian big man is experiencing the nightmare of Nigerian big men outside of Nigeria. The West has a way of ordinarying you and Nigerian big men have a pathological fear of this ordinarinization. That is why they are always in a hurry to get back to Abuja. The Nigerian people recognize them as Gods and that Hegelian master-slave recognition is the sum total of the psychological DNA of the Nigerian big man.

In Europe, that recognition is not there. You are just as ordinary as everybody else and this triggers all kinds of emotional and psychological reactions in the Nigerian big man, with very comical and dramatic results. They try to perform to force the recognition. If this clown at the door had entered any room or any scene in Nigeria, they would have stopped the flow of oxygen to “recognize his presence.” Nobody is seeing him here and he is making a fool of himself.

Finally, he and his aides settle for seats not very far away from me. They still haven’t noticed the only other black man in the room and tha augurs well for my study and observation. The aides rush to get him food and drinks. Another stupid behaviour. I remember Rotimi Amaechi visiting the office of Sahara Reporters in New York when he was a Governor. Omoyele Sowore takes him to a buffet just opposite the SR office. It is an African buffet and Sowore has taken yours truly there a couple of times. You pick your tray at the entrance and you move in line picking what you want. Amaechi’s aides grabbed trays to serve their boss. Sowore would have none of it. Your boss is my guest. I brought him here. I am paying. He must serve himself. This is how you make monsters of these guys in Nigeria. Amaechi finally backed down and served himself.

I remember this story now as I see this one here struggling to resist being ordinaried by Europe. As the aides are grabbing his food, he starts to answer calls. He answers nearly 5 calls in 5 minutes. Every single call heavily interlaced with “Your Excellency”. Everybody can hear him, his decibel level is Nigerian. Add to it the fact that he is a big man. That is triple the level of the usual Nigerian decibel. The Oyinbos are amused.

I look at him in pity and thank God for my life. With all the looting, all the stealing, all the corruption, here is he struggling for recognition, struggling against the ordinariness of Europe, having to share the same lounge space with an ordinary University teacher.

He has had to steal his way to the airport lounges of Europe. I read books to the airport lounges of Europe. Between now and September, I will be crisscrossing the African continent like I do every summer, giving back to Universities on the continent. So, I will be meeting his type nearly every two weeks in the lounges of Europe. This is the season when I serve them to my readers with commentary.

If you are a millennial reading this, I am telling you that you do not have to aspire to the routes travelled by these people to the luxurious airport lounges of Europe. You can get here via other routes of integrity. I am here.

The rules don’t even allow them to fly business anymore in most government departments in Nigeria but they still do it. And many of them still do it with aides who carry their phones and briefcases and serve them food in the lounge. See Oga here.

Despite all his drama, nobody is looking at him or recognising him and he is suffering from it. I am much more important than him right now in this space. If I so much as introduce myself to anybody here as a University teacher, that will command immediate attention. This Nigerian big shot and his aides are totally inconsequential here.

So, millennial, do not be drawn to the routes that this Yeyenatu Nigerian official took to climb in life. This is a globalised and globalising world.

Take routes that the world will respect.

You can get to the places they get to without doing what they do.

I have a flight to catch.

As I am stepping out of the lounge, I see his aides anxiously pointing in my direction and whispering in their Oga’s ears. They have finally noticed and recognised me. I wonder what they are telling him. Oga, we have to be careful o. We may end up on social media or Sahara Reporters.

The recognition they could not get with all their theatrics, books finally forced them to confer it on me.

Millennial, keep reading.

Bata re a dun kon ko ka.


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