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Wednesday, 9 December 2015

OPINION

Letter from Africa: Cutting Nigeria's 'big men' down to size

Adaobi Tricia NwaubaniIn our series of letters from African journalists, novelist and writer Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani looks at the impact of new economising measures in Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari, who came to office in May, seems bent on making public office less and less attractive to the average Nigerian "big man".


Beyond the unusually austere salary package for new members of his cabinet - in response to the country's worst economic crisis in years - he has given an instruction that should drastically reduce the size of every serving minister's entourage.
Few Nigerian big men walk alone: Such a typical highly esteemed and self-important person in Africa's most populous country goes around accompanied by a multitude of men.
They follow him to weddings and funerals and birthdays and book launches; they follow him to weddings and funerals and birthdays and book launches; they stand when he stands, sit when he sits, and depart when he departs.
In return, he takes care of their needs.
Nigeria at glance:
         Africa's largest economy and most populous nation
         Oil rich, but facing worst economic crisis in years after falling oil prices
         62.6% of its 170 million population live in poverty
         Average annual earnings - 1280 (£850)
Source: UN
You can often tell when a big man is approaching by the number of followers pushing their way through in front of him or those shepherding from behind.
You can usually tell when one is in the vicinity, maybe inside a restaurant or a hotel, by the number of men hovering outside, at the front door or the gate or in the lobby, waiting.
As soon as their principal reappears, they jump into action, surround him to his car, then shove their way into their own vehicles, which zoom off behind and in front of his.
Sometimes, the big man is travelling out of Nigeria, perhaps to a country where such exuberant displays of clustering may be greeted with raised eyebrows.
In that case, the retinue will stop at the airport lobby, watching solemnly as he jets off.
But when he returns, they will have regrouped, possibly on the tarmac, ready to resume their duties from exactly where they stopped.
None of this is particularly new. In many cultural groups across Nigeria, traditional rulers have been known to move around with a retinue that includes praise singers, who do nothing but blow their master's trumpet.
When I invited my friend, Rick, to an event some time ago, he reminded me that, by asking him, I was automatically inviting dozens of other people.
"Are you prepared for that?" he asked.
A year previously, he had transitioned from the young man my friends and I had known since our teens, to the new traditional ruler of his community following his father's death.
Old friend or not, his new status meant it would be unbecoming to appear at my event without his throng of followers.

But traditional rulers are not the only ones in Nigeria who now feel entitled to escorts.
Many business men do not walk alone. Neither do many politicians and pastors.
I once met a popular 419 scammer who would not sit down in public until one of the retinue of dwarfs who accompanied him had first sat on the seat to make sure it was thoroughly rubbed clean.
Like many age-old cultures in Nigeria, having large entourages has crept into our democracy.
'Abstemious character'
Government officials, male and female, are known to surround themselves with aides and special assistants, and personal assistants to aides, and personal assistants to special assistants, and special assistants to personal assistants, each of them suckling from the national treasury.
Some government officials employ scores of their relatives, creating for them roles that never existed before.
Even if these employees have nothing to do or no office in which to sit, they will at least come in useful for accompanying their boss to public functions, announcing his great importance by swelling his entourage.
President Buhari aims to curb all this, on the national level, at least.
Muhammadu Buhari at a glance:
         The 72-year-old is the first Nigerian opposition candidate to win a presidential election
         Military ruler of Nigeria from 1984 to 1985 until deposed in a coup
         Poor human rights record during that time and a disciplinarian - civil servants late for work had to do frog jumps
         A Muslim from northern Nigeria, he is seen as incorruptible

While inaugurating his new ministers, the president directed that they take on aides only from among the civil servants already in the government's employ.
This stance is hardly surprising, considering the retired general's famously abstemious character.
Economic factors facing the new regime, such as a decline in oil price and budgetary pressures, have made it essential to plug the unnecessary expenditure consumed by hangers on.
So this new order will definitely lead to fewer ministerial aides who do not work - and merely hover.

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Editor's Mail

Love the article on Gaddafi
We must rise above tribalism & divide & rule of the colonialist who stole & looted our treasure & planted their puppets to lord it over us..they alone can decide on whosoever is performing & the one that is corrupt..but the most corrupt nations are the western countries that plunder the resources of other nations & make them poorer & aid the rulers to steal & keep such ill gotten wealth in their country..yemen,syria etc have killed more than gadhafi but its not A̷̷̴ good investment for the west(this is laughable)because oil is not in these countries..when obasanjo annihilated the odi people in rivers state, they looked away because its in their favour & interest..one day! Samosa Iyoha

Hello from
Johannesburg
I was amazed to find a website for Africans in Hungary.
Looks like you have quite a community there. Here in SA we have some three million Zimbabweans living in exile and not much sign of going home ... but in Hungary??? Hope to meet you on one of my trips to Europe; was in Steirmark Austria near the Hungarian border earlier this month. Every good wish for 2011. Geoff in Jo'burg

I'm impressed by
ANH work but...
Interesting interview...
I think from what have been said, the Nigerian embassy here seem to be more concern about its nationals than we are for ourselves. Our complete disregard for the laws of Hungary isn't going to help Nigeria's image or going to promote what the Embassy is trying to showcase. So if the journalists could zoom-in more focus on Nigerians living, working and studying here in Hungary than scrutinizing the embassy and its every move, i think it would be of tremendous help to the embassy serving its nationals better and create more awareness about where we live . Taking the issues of illicit drugs and forged documents as typical examples.. there are so many cases of Nigerians been involved. But i am yet to read of it in e.news. So i think if only you and your journalists could write more about it and follow up on the stories i think it will make our nationals more aware of what to expect. I wouldn't say i am not impressed with your work but you need to be more of a two way street rather than a one way street . Keep up the good work... Sylvia

My comment to the interview with his excellency Mr. Adedotun Adenrele Adepoju CDA a.i--

He is an intelligent man. He spoke well on the issues! Thanks to Mr Hakeem Babalola for the interview it contains some expedient information.. B.Ayo Adams click to read editor's mail
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