If Mandela Were To Be A Nigerian

If Nelson Mandela were to be a Nigerian, he would
never be treated in a hospital within his
country. God forbid! At the slightest sign of ill
health, he would be airlifted to a hospital in
Germany, the UK, the US, France, or Saudi
Arabia. Any Nigerian doctor who comes close
to him – much less touches him – would
immediately be arrested and charged with
treason. An SSS interrogator would ask the
hapless doctor, “You dey craze? So you wan kill
de man?”
If Mr. Mandela were to be a Nigerian, not only
would he be in a foreign hospital, he would
commandeer an entire wing of the said
hospital. No government official would ever
give Nigerians updates on his progress or
prognosis. Hell, no! In fact, the only statement
the government would ever issue is to deny
that the man is hospitalized. Some spokesman
would insist that the old man went abroad on
vacation, to get some well deserved rest. You
see, Nigerian officials – from the president
down to the municipal chairman – are fond of
boasting that they’ve “totally transformed”
Nigeria, this or that state, or this local
government area or another. Yet the last thing
these human transformers would ever do is
take a vacation in the country they’ve
ostensibly transformed!
If Mr. Mandela were to be a Nigerian, a league of
pastors and imams would take to the press
each day to tell us what “God” allegedly told
them about the man’s condition. One pastor –
or imam – would say God told him to warn
Nigerians to pray interminably and fast
furiously to ensure the ailing elder’s survival.
Another would declaim that God confided in
him that Mr. Mandela did not hearken to some
divine instruction – and so was put on Saint
Peter’s list of guests to expect at the pearly
gates. Yet another imam – or pastor – would
declare that a clique of witches and wizards
had descended on the sick man, determined to
doom him. If he’s to survive, he must
personally contact the clairvoyant imam or
pastor to receive special instructions on how
to win the spiritual warfare.
Mr. Mandela is a man of comfortable means.
He made a modest fortune from advances and
royalties on books as well as earnings from his
work as a widely sought, handsomely rewarded
speaker on lecture circuits. He also received a
Nobel Peace Prize that came with a handsome
sum. In a word, he’s worked – and worked
hard – for his money.
Now, if Mr. Mandela were to be a Nigerian, he
would be considered a capital fool for working
at all to earn money. To work hard would
make him nothing less than a mumu, a
Nigerian parlance that suggests somebody is a
step or two worse than a fool. No, he would
simply announce himself, Obasanjo- or Anenih-
like, as a major “stakeholder.” And then,
pronto, some currency tap would start gushing
cash onto the deep pockets of his agbada.
(Which reminds me: if Mr. Mandela were to be a
Nigerian, he would not be permitted to sport
those silly shirts he’s seen in. With those shirts,
who’s going to be able to tell oga apart from
his houseboys? He must exchange them for an
endless line of lavishly embroidered agbada,
accentuating his image as a human god).
If Mr. Mandela were to be a Nigerian, he would have
enough cash stashed away in foreign vaults to
make the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires.
Heck, Nigerian civil servants who manage
pension funds are billionaires! Yet – like most
Nigerian billionaires – he would not be in a
haste to alert the editors of Forbes to the size
of his assets. Heh, it’s not worth the trouble;
who wants to be playing hide-and-seek with
armed robbers and kidnappers? He may not
confide in Forbes, but a Nigerian Mandela
would be the proud owner of numerous oil
blocks. He would be entitled to a “security
vote” that nets him, at least, a billion naira per
month. He would own mansions in several
European capitals and resort locations. He
would own private jets, his own private army
(otherwise known as thugs), a university or
two, a private cathedral or mosque, controlling
shares in several banks, and enough high-
priced cars to run an automobile dealership.
Mr. Mandela is an enlightened man, a towering
moral figure who commands respect around
the world, a lawyer, author and reader. Yes, he
has the stamina to put in the months and years
it takes to write a book. And he is capable of
staying still for hours or days to read book. If
he were a Nigerian big man, he’d love to have
a book or two to his name – but the content
would be cliché-riddled speeches written by
bored, ill-educated and often cynical
amanuenses. As for reading a book, perish the
thought! A friend of mine once told a joke
about one of Nigeria’s illiterate moneymen.
According to him, this mind-ravaged rich man
laughed at people who, behind his back,
whispered that he was unlettered. “I can read,”
said the traduced businessman. “I only care to
read the amount on my checks!” That’s what a
Nigerian Mandela would learn to do.
If the legendary Mandela were a Nigerian, he
would not be addressed simply as Mister. On
Mandela’s first visit to Nigeria, he was awarded
an honorary doctorate degree by – if my
memory serves me – the University of
Maiduguri. Since then, Nigerian newspapers
and magazines as well as broadcast media have
taken to addressing the global icon as “Dr.”
Mandela. In the Nigerian media’s imagination,
by bestowing the prefix “doctor” on Mandela,
they have somehow enhanced the man’s
standing in the world. What would the man be
without this generous beneficence from Nigeria
by way of Maiduguri?
It’s conventional wisdom in Nigeria that titles,
however hollow, matter. In many quarters, the
quality of a person’s mind is of no
consequence. What matters is self-
advertisement, buttressed shamelessly in the
adornment of antiquated, silly honorifics. So
we went from addressing people as Chief
(which has no meaning, really) to calling them
High Chief, Double Chief, or Double High Chief
– terms that inspire embarrassment on behalf
of those who flaunt them. If Mandela were to be a
Nigerian, he would be identified as Triple High
Chief (Sir) Barrister Nelson Mandela, GCFR,
Tigbuo Zogbuo 1 of Igboland, Aare Baba Dudu
1 of Yorubaland, Alhaji Magajin Biu 1 of
Hausaland, etc, etc. He would be overfed,
weaned off his sprite, sportsman’s physique.
With his kind of figure – a flat belly and all –
you can’t even aspire to become a local
government councilor in Nigeria! Day and
night, his staff and harem would ply him with
pomo stew, cow leg pepper soup, pounded
yam and egusi washed down with six bottles of
lager per session – until he’s appropriately
If Mr. Mandela were to be a Nigerian, his claim to
being a hero would be put to the ethnic test.
Only members of his ethnic group would
consider him an exemplary man. To others, he
would be an object of ambivalent response: a
hero today, a villain tomorrow, depending on
what he’s said on what issue.
If Mr. Mandela were to be a Nigerian, he would
never have spent more than one week in
prison. Why, the traditional rulers from his
district would have gone as a delegation to his
jailers, apologized on his behalf for his unruly
opposition to the apartheid machinery and
pledged that they would ensure that he show
appropriate respect to constituted authority.
He would then be released – cameras clicking
to capture the moment – to the “royal
fathers,” guarantors of his docility, quiescence
and submission to the powers-that-be.
If Mr. Mandela were to be a Nigerian, he would not
be an ex-president, but a president-for-life.
His kinsmen would have hired a dibia,
babalawo or malam to cure his “madness”
when he decided to step aside after only one
term as president. A Nigerian Mandela would
not be subject to any constitutional limits on
presidential terms; the constitution would be
subject to him. Any part of the constitution
that runs counter to his whims and caprices
would be instantly amended or – better still –
To make a short story long, if Mandela were to be a
Nigerian, then the man and his stupendous
moral capital would not exist!

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