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Of Mushin, VI boys and the crisis of leadership

Of Mushin, VI boys and the crisis of leadership
July 27
10:34 2020

In the annals of melodrama and pettiness that have characterized public service engagement in Nigeria, we descended to a new, repulsive and embarrassing low the other day. What was supposed to be a sober moment of inquiry into the mindboggling corruption in the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), was reduced to a clash of egos between Senator Chris Ngige, the “VI boy” as we found out, and his Mushin counterpart, Hon. James Faleke at the session of the House ad-hoc panel set up to investigate the suspension of the management of the NSITF on allegations bordering on corruption, notably, contract splitting.

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The drama was complete with the typical Nigerian “I am not your mate” syndrome. From what one could gather from the clip that went viral on social media, it was the deflation of the ego of the diminutive Ngige that set in motion a fight-to the finish of sorts exacerbated by an overweening Napoleon Complex: a theorized personality flaw normally attributed to people of short stature, and characterized by overly-aggressiveness or domineering social behavior.

Rather than focus on the substantive issues in the inquiry, Hon. Faleke,  who represents Ikeja  Federal Constituency in Lagos State, but almost  became the Governor of Kogi State few  years ago, in what would have been the climax of the Nigerian contradiction, went off the tangent by probing the parameters upon which the Hon. Minister won his re-appointment as the Minister of Labour and Employment.

“Honorable minister, you are a former Governor by the grace of God, you’re also a former Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. You served the first tenure as a minister, now is your second tenure…Will you say your appointment as minister was based on your membership of the party, or because of your personality, or because of your performance for the president at the election because I look at the results of the election from your Local Government, you scored 2,212 votes for the president, while the PDP scored 17,000+”, the lawmaker queried.

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Faleke’s thought process is both revealing and telling of the parameters of appointment of holders of public office, particularly by the Muhammadu Buhari administration. From the Faleke school of thought, public office should be a reward for job done at the polls (by whatever means), and not a merit-based exercise that gets the best man for the job as the Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Ebele Jonathan Aso Rock ensured with the cast of technocrats and eggheads that served in both administrations. And to put things in context, how such a petty and asinine consideration would feature in a session that was supposed to be investigative of the rot at the NSITF, is a taste of how politics has become the bane of Nigeria’s growth and development.

But if the ‘Mushin boy’ was petty, the ‘VI boy’ would dance in the market square, stark naked against what you would expect from a vaunted Victoria Island resident. He played the age card. Referred to all the members of the ad-hoc panel as his “junior brothers”, save Faleke, whom he acknowledged to be in his 60s, but not without the rider that he’s at least 7 years older than him, for context. He seized the opportunity of the moment to elevate himself to the Asiwaju, and took the ‘errant’ Faleke to task for dressing him down in such a manner, as he imagined he would not do so, to his mentor (referring to Bola Tinubu) whom he said to be at par with him and reeled out his political resume in contrast to the Asiwaju’s before an audience that was both amused and probably embarrassed too at how an official function had been reduced to crass exhibitionism of political power and relevance.

“I was a Governor with him at the same time. He was a Senator, I was a Senator. I am a 2-time Minister, he isn’t a 2-time minister”, he thundered with an air of inflated importance. But the climax was still to come.

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The interjection of Faleke, who like a good mentee tried to enlist in defence of his mentor whose head was being shaved in his absence, would set the tone. He reminded Dr. Ngige that the Asiwaju “won all his elections well”; a retort wrapped in an innuendo that alluded to the circumstances of Ngige’s Governorship of Anambra between 2003 and 2006 before he was sacked by a landmark judgement of the Court of Appeal in Enugu on the 16th of March, 2006 to herald the Peter Obi administration in the State. The judgement of the Court was clear: it was Peter Obi, and not Dr. Chris Ngige who won the election of April 19, 2003 conducted in Anambra State.

It is probably an ugly part of Chris Ngige’s political ensemble that he wouldn’t want to be mentioned, at least not in such forum; and it had a cataclysmic effect on him, as he threw every notion of caution and decency to the wind and turned up with a gun at a knife fight. He put Faleke on the same spot he had tried to put him: reminded him of how he almost became a deputy Governor and Governor at the same time in Kogi in an apparent reference to the melodrama that played out in 2015 in Kogi State with the death of Abubakar Audu who together with Faleke as running mate, was coasting to victory at the keenly constested elections before a chain of events altered the plot leaving Faleke in the cold.

He was not done. He descended into more pettiness and outright ad hominem, reminding the audience that he was a “VI boy” as against Faleke, whom he declared a “Mushin boy” in the usual way little kids in say, Primary 3 would banter, and this time employing vernacular for more punch.

“If you yab me, I yab you 10 times. I’m a Lagos boy. I’m a Lagos boy. You’re just a small boy in Lagos. Look at this boy. Mushin boy? Talking to a VI boy. I live in Victoria Island. Look at Mushin boy. From Kogi oh!”. And then signed off with what looked like a slur, “you’re Ogbologbo. I no get time for you. Just go. Kilonshe e?”.

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Whereas the exchanges were delivered with huge dose of humour that left the audience in prolonged laughter, it was nonetheless disturbing, if not depressing. It was arguably the worst scene to emerge from contemporary Nigerian public service engagement which by the way is renowned for its theatrics with many of them disturbingly emerging from the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly which had treated Nigerians to a fainting spree of the Managing Director of the NDDC, Prof. Daniel Pondei only few days before the Mushin-VI soap opera starring Hon. James Faleke and Dr. Chris Ngige.

As I observed elsewhere, the crass attitude exhibited by the duo is a microcosm of what obtains among public office holders across the country. I mean the so called Honorables, Excellencies and Distinguished: the inability to rise above base and narrow considerations in attending to otherwise official functions of state. To be sure, it was the same attitude that fed Senator Godswill Akpabio’s equally uncivilized utterances at a media outing recently where he brought the marital history of an accuser into the mix, instead of responding to the material allegations leveled against the managers of the agency of Government under his supervision. Elsewhere, only few days ago, a former Governor of a State in the Northwest was reported to have refused to comply with the Covid-19 protocols at an airport, on the ostensible reason that he was a “VIP”, in a clear case of insufferable arrogance. And you wonder how is it we end up with people parading oversized egos in leadership positions!

Beyond the politics of it, the spat also mirrors the emotional blackmail often exerted by older members of our society to people younger than them. This undoubtedly takes from the African tradition of according due respect to elders and people older than us. However this noble tradition it would appear has been exploited and overstretched by unscrupulous members of the ‘old club’. Thus “I’m not your mate”, or “am I your mate?” has become a veritable staple of putting people down, and sometimes censoring scrutiny as Dr. Chris Ngige showed in his “all of you are my junior brothers” statement”. The intent was clear: belittle and psychologically demean members of the ad-hoc panel while he rides roughshod of them, even though he was the one appearing before them.

That is not a good examplar of seniority as respect in any event, is to be earned, not extracted. The VI boy thus unwittingly proved why he was undeserving of any respect or official courtesies from his Mushin counterpart.

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Perhaps I should spare a moment for the admittedly inconsequential matter of political status of Dr. Ngige versus the Jagaban of Borgu. Pray, what in the name of Covid-19 makes this butterfly think himself a bird only because he can fly? Bola Ahmed Tinubu on whose pedastal the diminutive Ngige forces himself, it must be stated is in a class of his own and for all his foibles, merits a place in the exclusive club of Nigeria’s leading political icons: Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo, Michael Okpara, Aminu Kano to keep the list short. On the contrary, what is the place of Dr. Ngige in the Politics of the Igbo nation, nay Nigeria at large and how many leaders has he groomed in his near 20 years of playing in the mainstream of Nigerian politics? This overfed nza bird challenging his god to a fight must do well to call himself to order, as nothing but delusion of grandeur informs his attempt at equilibrating his shallow political stature to those of the towering Asiwaju.

Back to the matter. The debased and disoriented exchange between the Labour Minister and the lawmaker captures the dilemma of leadership in Nigeria. When we recall that what was on the agenda of the ad-hoc panel was the corruption in the NSITF and the alleged role of the Labour Minister in the scandal rocking the agency which was supposed to be a fund manager for the benefit of retirees in line with the provisions of the NSITF Act of 1993, but which fund has been poorly managed to the detriment of the beneficiaries over the years, then the sheer stupidity and tomfoolery of the encounter hits us.

That said, it is sufficient to sound it that those seeking public office must appreciate that public office is a trust held for the citizenry who at all times reserve the right to probe how such trust is managed either directly, or through their elected representatives. Consequently persons with oversized egos like Dr. Ngige who cannot stand being strictured on account of their bloated age, or political stature, are better off not entering the public arena, as they’re not worthy of holding a trust.

What is more, living in VI, being a former Governor and Senator or being as old as Methuselah does not confer immunity from accountability. Thus the reference to such irrelevancies by the VI boy to protest scrutiny in whatever guise, is the very act of childishness that raises serious questions of his temperament and comportment despite his exxagerated age.

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As for president Muhammadu Buhari, he must live with, and take the flak for having brought ant infested faggots into his administration which every other day eat it away while millions of Nigerians who neither live in Mushin or VI, continue to suffer the pain of his indiscretion.

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