March 4, 2021

Jonathan, the Owambe President

Owambe: A large, grandiose party thrown by Nigerians, especially the Yoruba, anywhere in the world, involves a lot of food, dancing, loud music, and spraying (Nigerian term meaning the act of throwing money on a dancing person). There are often numerous guests… divided into groups according to their aso ebi (uniform – some people might wear white and blue, some gold and red, etc.). These parties take days and sometimes weeks and months of preparations, and have been known to block entire streets and roads, especially in Lagos, Nigeria.

Owambe party comes with highly expensive celebration, materials, dress, aso ebi (uniform), bags, trinkets, shoes to match, plenty of food, drinks, which comes with money spraying of dollars over the hosts and the artists. The money spraying is not to the face any more; it is to the chest, neck of a woman, ridiculous. In one word we could call it grandiose party. It is a wasteful party. The word originates from Lagos, Nigeria

—The Urban Dictionary

To many observers, President Goodluck Jonathan seems to have long gained a reputation for being wasteful; his aversion for prudence appears too repeated and not worth rehashing in this piece today. Since ascending the Presidency, Jonathan’s Aso Rock has exhibited a most heinous administration of man and materials; he will go down in history as a president whose government metaphorised the culture of Owambe.

From the mangled fuel subsidy removal that began in January this year, and which led to outrageous revelations of rapacious corruption, something unprecedented in Nigeria’s troubling history, he and his men wind up 2012 with fancies that have caught their limited view in Aso Rock: the immodest need for a party hall.

The profligacy of this administration is an indication that one, their spendthrift attitude is pathological. This, of course, is not a justification of executive cluelessness, something not a few accused him of, but Jonathan who, last year, serenaded the country with a sob story of being born without shoes, seems to be surrounded with more money he ever imagined could ever possibly exist. Thus, the spendthrift habit is a way of confronting his intimidation. Two, he and his clique appear to work without well thought-out ideas — original or otherwise — and extravagance seems one way they convince themselves they are doing their jobs. Three, they have lost respect for Nigerians, obviously. Of course, this last point is hanging until we can determine if the Jonathan administration, at any point in time, ever gave a damn about Nigerians.

Like the Owambe party-ers whose engagement in mindless revelry is a worthwhile investment –never mind the amount involved — as long as it yields the dividend of bragging rights, the Jonathan administration invests in projects that reveal a shocking small-mindedness.

It is bad enough when people spend money to prove a point; it is worse when they do so to define themselves. Take a look at the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Bala Mohammed’s justification of a new banqueting hall for the Presidency: “We notice that it is inconvenient. It is not in tandem with what is outside the country; even smaller countries have better Banquet Halls near the Presidential residence…”

First, I think Nigerians owe the minister a lot of gratitude for revealing what Jonathan and his government members are up to abroad whenever they spend billions making endless foreign trips, ostensibly to shop for forever-elusive “foreign investors”. Now we know they go to study the countries’ layout of “banqueting halls”.

And I think the arrogance with which Mohammed speaks of “even smaller countries” shows that he is, like the Odewale character in Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are not to Blame, a butterfly who thinks himself a bird.

Let it be stated clearly that Nigeria can never achieve anything of import if all it seeks to replicate from developed countries are buildings. What they miss in all their travels, observing big and smaller countries’ “banqueting halls” is that architectural edifices don’t make a country great. A country builds itself first, and infuses physical structures with cultural and symbolic capital, not the other way round. Until they learn that things don’t make a country, a country makes things, they will throw one Owambe party after the other and wonder why they cannot rid themselves of their plebian state. Nigeria can spend all the money building one “befitting” structure after the other but will never be transported beyond her lowly state, remaining classless like an Owambe.

While you are still wondering why a country’s leaders insist on getting high on their own dope, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Labaran Maku, a one-time ardent student unionist, announced the intention of the selfsame never-get-it-well administration to build a centennial city ahead of 2014 that will supposedly serve as a memorial for the future generation of Nigerians. The proposed new city, he announced, would be located near Abuja and will be bedecked with “modern features” including a conference centre that will be “the first of its kind in Africa” and can host all global events within Nigeria.

If Maku had good friends, should they not have called him aside and told him his Guinness Book of Records mentality is embarrassing to Nigeria? What really does a conference centre, “the first of its kind in Africa”, do for Nigeria? Is this their best shot at restoring Nigeria to her former “Giant of Africa” state? By building a city with facilities other Africans will drool at? How does a country that cannot provide and maintain such basic amenities as roads, light, housing which other “smaller African countries” take for granted, for its citizens think hosting “global events” is a priority? How many “global” events can Nigeria currently attract when countries repeatedly warn their citizens about travelling to Nigeria? Maku reminds me of Jonathan when he lamented the state of the government hotel in Bayelsa awhile ago. He alluded to their goal of building it so as to attract people from all over the world to see this eighth world wonder; a structure that in a place like Dubai, will not even attract more than a passing glance.

Seriously, what is the obsession of our leaders with modernism without modernity? Does their leadfooted tango with contemporaneousness make them imagine structures will make a difference while conveniently ignoring the real structural issues they should be concerned with? Are they fooling themselves that they can transport Nigeria from her fourth world position to a first world country, without going through the certified due process of discipline, hard work, foresightedness and laying strong foundations by simply dancing their way through the route of Owambe?


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