Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Nigeria - Everybody's Pet Hate

Akua Ohene

Love her, hate her, but ignore her you cannot. Her middle name, after all is EXTREMES and that is why Nigeria would feature and often dominate all discussions about the African continent. When the rhetoric of the country's politicians gets into full flow, Nigeria is not only the star of Africa, she is the guiding light of the Third World!..

Why any sane person would want to carry the intolerable burden of the Third World on her head is difficult to decipher, especially when the country cannot even seem to be able to carry Lagos successfully. But then Nigeria can't bear to think that she might have a challenger to leadership.

The vexed question of how many Nigerians there are is difficult for non Nigerians to understand until you realise that it is a question of pride to them to be able to keep something under wraps to shock the world. If there is a successful census in Nigeria, part of the enigma would disappear, the speculation would cease and maybe even the fascination of the foreigner might diminish. It is a more tolerable evil to endure the endless problems that come with not knowing how many of you there are.

How else could Nigeria claim to have added a new and entirely baffling phenomenon to political analysis. In elections everywhere else in the world, voters' registers hardly come up for mention but the voters register alone in Nigeria has attracted more discussion than anything else. Could it all just be part of the leadership syndrome?

If everything worked in Lagos, if you were able to ring next door, the way you can dial Oslo without any difficulty, where would the tension and frustration that is part of the attraction of Lagos be?

The great city would be in danger of becoming any other old city in any part of the world, and that simply won't do.

What ever would everybody talk about if NEPA was transformed into an efficient outfit and electricity supply became something to be taken for granted. The booming trade in stand-by generators would have to end. The unpredictable element would have been removed. And Nigeria thrives on being unpredictable, the lights must go off just as the party is coming to a climax. and speaker gets into high gear, there must always be something to bring a man back to reality you know; if the Governor didn't get locked up in a lift once in a while, he would begin to think her were a god.

Once out of that lift, we treat him as a god, mind you, you prostrate on the floor just to say hello and you praise him to the heavens. There is the danger he would start believing these things, but if the taps should run dry when the wife of the couple he had flown in from the Bahamas, his guests want to go to the bathroom, he is brought down to reality.

Nobody talks about the impossible in Nigeria. Chief Arthur Nzeribe the self-proclaimed millionaire who came to fame in the UK in 1981 with his offer of £1 million to help build up Brixton soon after the riots of that summer typifies the "incroyable mais vrais" in the Nigerian.

As a candidate for the senatorial elections a journalist had the temerity to ask him what he would do in the unlikely event that he should lose the elections - commit suicide, of course, that is what! one suddenly had visions of election night spectaculars as the returning officer declares the winner, the losing candidates all empty a little vial of cynaide into their mouths, and their supporters oh well, they will make their peace with the winner at least for the moment.

But in case somebody thought Chief Nzeribe was just bluffing with his threat of suicide, he then did the next best thing on hearing the news that his party's candidate for the governorship in his state had won the elections, he promptly fainted at the feet of the newly-elected man!

And you thought there was going to be a casualty only if he lost the election, well you reckoned without Chief Nzeribe who when he finally came to jump into his helicopter and proceeded to "spray" Nairas thousands of them among a most delighted crowd - the electorate to be at his own elections.

But you can relax, Chief Nzeribe is very much alive and well, he won his elections. One got the distinct feeling that his opponents for the Senatorial seat, sent up prayers at the start of the day for Chief Nzeribe to win the elections they surely did not want to have. the dead man on their conscience - you never know, the Nzeribe family might very well take it that a possible winner had been responsible for the death of their son.

You were well aware that he had threatened to kill himself if he should lose and you still went ahead and won, you caused his death!

If you think that is a far-fetched scenario, you should read the letter Governor Mbakwe sent to the administrative Secretary of the Federal Electoral Commissioner (FEDECO) when he thought the helpless man was going to declare his opponent as winner when the Governor was sure he had won. “... if you try and do this, (declare someone else the winner) it is a matter between your family and mine”.

And while political pundits and the head offices of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and the other losing parties in the election were bemoaning the size of President Shagari's win and there was talk of the dangers of a one party state because the NPN had such a big majority, stranger things were happening in Kwara State.

Five candidates in the Illorin/Asa senatorial constituency, belonging to the UPN NPP, GNPP, PRP and NAP announced three days before the senatorial elections that they were standing down in favour of the NPN candidate - Dr Abubakar Saraki! Well, FEDECO thinks otherwise, so like it or not Dr Saraki's competitors will have to go on the hustings and convince their supporters not to vote for them.

These are not just matters between families, they are very literally life and death matters and when it comes to the death part, they prefer the fire.

If extreme is the middle name for Nigeria then somewhere in the pedigree there must have been ARSON. When in doubt, when it irritates or annoys you, burn it down!

You disagree with the drivel coming out of a particular radio station, why burn it down and see whether they can continue to send out their lies, the little matter of the station being public property notwithstanding.

This love of fire had its most spectacular demonstration early this year when the NET (National External Telecommunications) building was burnt down. This building, variously described as the tallest building in Lagos, Nigeria, West Africa, Africa and probably the Third World was burnt down in spite of the fact that the whole country had been full of the threat to burn it down for months before the event.

Thank God though that Nigeria had the money to restore the building - what else would exasperated girls have to use to dampen the enthusiasm of loud-mouthed men.

"I want to marry you. I will buy you a car, I will build a house for you I will buy a flat for you in London, you can travel by Concorde wherever you want to go, you know I own 15 buildings in Ikoyi, I have helicopter, I even own controlling shares in the bank you work in".

Mister, do you own NET?

Guaranteed to stop all conversation.

talking drums 1983-09-12 Inaugural edition Nigeria elections and confessions - Ghana Executions and Confessions - Chad neglected desert war