Saturday, 26 July 2014

The dangers of irresponsible ownership

To use Nigerian parlance: One small girl came to Nigeria and the president jumped to it. Three months had passed since the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls but it was only now that he consented to meet with their relatives. Others had been pressing the case, including a former minister and assorted ‘troublemakers’ who decided to occupy a small corner of a public park in protest against the government’s inaction, but it seems he considered them agents of foreign propaganda, and promptly sent hooligans to harass them. He is evidently ill-served by his advisers but then he presumably hired them to tell him what he wants to hear. Quite what this is nobody seems to know apart from remaining president come the elections next year, and his cringe-inducing performances on CNN and other international outlets have been well remarked.  One of these appearances apparently involved forking out $59,200 via an American PR firm, Fleshman-Hillard Inc., for the privilege. Now we hear that he has hired yet another such firm, Levick, at a rumoured $1.2mn to brush up his image.
Levick has so far only issued a one-paragraph statement in which it spoke about the ‘brutality of Boko Haram’ and its ‘cowardly tactics’ in its ‘terrorist campaign’, and insisted on the firm’s ‘mission’ to assist their paymaster ‘to rescue the girls’. They didn’t give details of their rescue plan but then one can understand their problem given that Oga is himself clueless - the word most associated with him in the media - as was evident in the op-ed Levick also arranged for him in The Washington Post, for which he (or, rather, we) purportedly paid $60,000. He needn’t have bothered.  After assuring the grieving relatives how much his ‘heart aches’ for the missing girls, being ‘a parent myself’ who knows ‘how awfully this must hurt’, he could only implore foreigners to come and save us from ourselves: ‘Terrorism knows no borders’, ‘I will urge the UN General Assembly’, ‘new international cooperation’, and other such platitudes.
Our genuflection before the foreigner even as we vociferously insist on our authenticity - legally raping schoolgirls, for instance, while denouncing same-sex marriage between consenting adults – is the measure of our hypocrisy, which is what makes us such easy pickings. Some commentators questioned the logic of paying foreigners exorbitantly for what we could do ourselves, what with all the Senior Special Assistants (duly capitalised) running around Aso Rock at Nigeria’s expense, but this is merely affected naivetĂ©, as if they don’t understand the raison d’ĂȘtre of Nigeria, as in, ‘Are you not a Nigerian?’ Others were surprised that Levick was simply trying to do what it was hired to do, i.e., help change the ‘international and local media narrative’. As narratives go, Jonathan’s ascent is as magical realist as the country itself.
And a narrative was what the Levick appointment quickly became. Even a statement attributed to Dr Doyin Okupe, the president’s No. 1 Rottweiler, was wrongly ascribed to the foreign interloper, as if Dr Okupe, who was said to have brokered the Levick deal anyway, was incapable of thinking for himself, which he then proceeded to do. Calling the #BringBackOurGirls ‘psychological terrorists’, he surpassed even his own asinine interventions in the public space on behalf of his master - ‘I check through the history of Nigeria, among our past and present leaders, the only one we call our Mandela is President Jonathan’ – by blaming the protestors for ‘contributing to poverty and violence in Nigeria’. Levick has its work cut out but they might want to consider the beast they are dealing with.
According to the American Kennel Club (to stay foreign), the Rottweiler is ‘a powerful breed with well-developed genetic herding and guarding instincts’. It is an excellent guard dog, fierce, loyal and with a good overall temperament. Unfortunately, ‘irresponsible ownership, abuse, neglect, or lack of socialisation and training’ can lead to ‘potentially dangerous behaviour’, which is understating it somewhat since they account for over half of all canine-induced human deaths in the US. Even at that, they may sometimes ‘behave in a clownish manner toward family and friends’ while being ‘protective of their territory’, reluctant to ‘welcome strangers until properly introduced’. Dr Okupe, who once incurred the wrath of Baba for his questionable behaviour – ‘I was there when President Olusegun Obasanjo physically beat and assaulted him because of his attitude and lack of honesty’– suggests that the ‘irresponsible ownership, abuse, neglect’ and so on and so forth done pass be careful by the time he was allocated his own kennel in Aso Rock.
Meanwhile, three months have now passed since #BringBackOurGirls were abducted to become slaves before Mr President, chastised by the small Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, finally got to meet with the relatives and the fifty or so girls who had managed to escape, self-help being the only recourse left to Nigerians now that government has actually ceased to govern in all but name. As might have been expected, the event – or the narrative, if you like – reflected the gap between perception and reality that would otherwise be bridged by American PR firms.
According to newspaper reports, the venue was the ‘cavernous’ Banquet Hall in Aso Rock with a banner proclaiming, ‘Special Meeting of the President with Parents of the Abducted Chibok Girls’. The chairs were decorated in green and white silk arranged to resemble the national flag. Some tables in a corner were laden with food. While the guests awaited Oga’s arrival, they were serenaded by the Brigade of Guards band. As one journalist put it, ‘a wedding reception could not have been more colourful’. So far, so tacky but no sooner had all protocol been observed than the assembled journalists were shooed outside, to be admitted three hours later in order to watch the band play the national anthem. Security was also on hand to ensure that none of the journalists got to talk to any of the invitees as they were ushered into their buses and driven back to their war zone.
I was going to say that Levick might advise its client that Nigerians just want to know what the hell is going on. Silly me! Nothing’s going on, not even lunch for the journalists.
© Adewale Maja-Pearce

Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,

and Dream Chasers. The House My Father Built, a memoir, will be
published later this year.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:





  1. When is the Revolution in Nigeria? We Nigerians tend to complain about the fucked up government, but we are too complacent and cowardly to initiate a revolt in order to liberate the country from inept and corrupt government.

    After many years of independence, Nigerians are still living in the dark without electricity, and infrastructural decay all over the country.

    Mr. Pearce, what is the solution to the madness of corrupt and inept government? Nigerians must be proactive in seizing back the country from Jonathan, IBB, Buhari, Tinubu, Saraki, Dangoke, Obasanjo, Danjuma, etc, etc...

    1. Civil disobedience which got off to a faltering start with Occupy Nigeria, and has now been extended with #BringBackOurGirls. In an early blog I did moot the idea of even boycotting elections. If everybody lays down tools then the government (such as it is) cannot function. The government (such as it is) is all bluff and bluster. There's nothing behind it. It will collapse within weeks.

  2. Thank you, Mr. Pearce. Keep up the great work!