Don’t be rich. Except if you want to spend most of your life piggybacking on depression. Truth is, poverty is a criminal form of sainthood. The poor are always right, even where they also cheat to survive. So, sometimes, for the sake of tributes in which kind adjectives are generously used, being poor is, after all, not a heavy cross. But know, o smiler, that to be poor in this part of the world is worse than being a fasting chef in McDonald. This is why the gluttony of the Nigerian Big Man is celebrated.
Big Man is not entirely disliked. He is a student of Prophet Solomon from whom he’s learned so many things. He doesn’t pretend to be Solomon though; his outward devotion to God is a mastered trick. He womanises and drinks expensive wines. He knows that he is a product of an evil system. His money either comes from being a member of the political elite or from being a beneficiary of political booties or opportunisms. The political elite are the most interesting class. The men, when elected, use taxpayers’ monies as though they are ancestral inheritances. And, out of office, they build mosques and churches with stolen money for which they are celebrated by the cheated society. That’s what smart Big Men do. While a former leader maintains his relevance through religious philanthropy, the wannabe politician who has only benefited from contracts awarded through corrupt processes prepares his prospects with carefully projected stunts. He pays journalists a million naira to cover the public presentation of a N500, 000 “project”. These tricks happen especially as the election year approaches!
Philanthropies are the reasons the Big Man syndrome is still alive and well. Whoever hurts or disparages a man who has built a mosque or church knows that his ticket to hell is already stamped. It is un-African to confront a “giver”. Power comes from Allah. It is the Grace of Jesus. And of course it is the Creator who rigs elections and gives Big Man the wisdom to embezzle public funds. So, you see, Big Man laughs whenever he reads your incoherent rants predicting Nigerian “springs”. Touch Alhaji X, Chief Y and Otunba Z and see what happens to your wretched life. Don’t say I didn’t tell you.
Big Man doesn’t sleep. His life is a circuit of fears. On one side, he panics whenever his bankers begin to wear false smiles. “Honourable, I’m sorry my bank can’t afford that amount,” he imagines. Pity. On the other side, he knows what awaits him among those battalions of poverty-humbled supporters who paint his photographs on their weatherworn houses to earn a wad from his largess. He knows that the photographs may disappear when the money giving is finished. He is not a fool. So he will visit his political opponent in dead of night to strike out a deal. “I’ll let you win this election, you can rig it,” he would say, for which the partner would nod with a certain assurance to reciprocate through a streak of contracts when he is “elected”. All Big Men are friends and family pursuing the same ends.
And if you think that salvation may come with the eclipse of this generation of Big Men, then you need to come with me to a Shisha Lounge at Asokoro. You may pass out on discovering the population of Big Man’s children in various ivy-league schools, and Euro-America’s mega elite schools. Their expenditure at those headquarters of intellectual capitalism can endow a new Harvard on Africa’s plundered soil. Wallahi, I don’t exaggerate. My friendship with Big Man’s children has given me an insight into the extent of our hopelessness. While the poor man’s child struggles through strikes and the torture of unmotivated lecturers to earn a substandard education, Big Man’s child is already a ghost worker at an important MDA. The histories of my friends are shared in confidences, but know that they are enough to stir up your hypertension. Some of them are overseas mainly as “business contacts” of their fathers. Like a forward pawn destined for the Eight Square in chess. What does that mean? They’re overseas to represent business interests to which the parents post money as payments for certain consultancy services or contracts. Do I need to spell out M-O-N-E-Y L-A-U-N-D-E-R-I-N-G?
The wisdom with which Big Man manipulates his people inspires a generation of paupers to also break their ancestral curse. This is the reason for the mad rush to riches. This is why corruption is blown out of quantifiable proportions. Corruption has since gone out of the borders of redemption. It’s now our culture. The Big Man syndrome is a likable criminality. A pauper who manages to build one or two bungalows now goes about parading himself as “Business tycoon” or “international businessman” to match the reputation of Aliko Dangote. It’s chic to be Big! A wannabe Big Man once told me that he was into shipping. I’d already started massaging his ego with an undeserved “Sir”, to cement our future together, before I discovered that he was just an ordinary store keeper at, erm, well, somewhere around Apapa Wharf! May God save us from us!
By Gimba Kakanda
@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)
Blueprint Newspapers (page 2; March 8, 2013)