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Banki Pass Banki: Of Elite Excess and Atiku Abubakar

October 17, 2009

Image removed.No evaluation of Nigeria in the late 1980s and the 1990s would be complete without an obligatory engagement of the significance of the First Bank commercial of those years to the social history of the country. If you were in Nigeria in this period, you couldn’t possibly have missed this famous song that some pure genius composed to mark the 100th anniversary of First Bank in 1994:

 “I say man pass man,
banki pass banki o,
First Bank, na you be our bank
First banki o, na you be number one o
First banki o, una well done o
The bank wey balansi for ground gidigba o
First banki o, una do well o
Banki wey for hundred years dey support our economy o
First banki o, una well done o
People dey, experience dey, go come no dey dem matter
First banki, o una well done o”
Whoever pulled this brilliant commercial off the airwaves did First Bank and Nigeria a disservice. It should still be running. Along with Chief Zebrudaya’s performance in the new improved elephant blue detergent commercial, the First Bank gig is indicative of the boundless creative genius of the Nigerian people, a genius that is permanently frustrated – and often arrested – by the endless chicaneries of the nation-ruining politico-economic class to which erstwhile Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, belongs. More on Abubakar later.  For the purpose of this treatise, I am interested in the opening line of the First Bank song: “I say man pass man.” That Nigeria is a man pass man society is, of course, a moot point. What is often underexplored is the degree to which that philosophy is constitutive of the psychic make-up of the Nigerian elite, especially those who belong in the political and economic crème de la crème of a society devoid of enduring ethos.

In the last few months, I have devoted my Wednesday weekly column for almost exclusively to scrutinizing the benumbing ramifications of the concept of elite stupidity in Nigeria. And because elite stupidity in our country – especially among the Executive and Legislative rulership in Abuja and the state capitals - comes in multiple, overlapping, and simultaneously unfolding fragments that build-up into what the 20th century French thinker, Michel de Certeau, calls “the practice of everyday life”, it is easy for those of us in Nigerian peoplehood who have to bear the consequences of elite deviance and buffoonery to get so used to their daily enactments that we forget their sources. You get so used to visible manifestations of elite stupidity in the ways in which ribald characters such as James Ibori, Michael Aondoakaa, David Mark, Andy Uba, Vincent Ogbulafor, Tony Anenih, Bode George, and all the other looting charlatans in their circle inhabit the public sphere that you forget the invisible and much more pernicious origins of their behavior. Nigerian elite behavior – or more appropriately, misbehavior – must always be engaged as an independent and hermetically sealed mental universe with its own crazy protocols of discourse that sever it from the loom of our collective imaginary.

The fundamental severance of the mental universe of the elite from our own world does not mean that they can afford to leave us alone. At the material level, they maintain a permanent link to us by looting our commonwealth dry but that violent authorship of our deprivations (no light, no water, no food, no education, no roads, no health facilities, no nothing) is not enough to make the world of Nigeria’s rulership elite go round. The maintenance and sustenance of their world depend on the use of what the Cameroonian thinker, Achille Mbembe, calls the “promiscuous excess of the postcolonial state” to shock and awe us to psychological submission, hence the so-called inelastic capacity of Nigerians to take rubbish from the charlatans of Abuja, while continuously rationalizing things with that famous summation – God dey – instead of taking up stones to break a few heads and destroy a few sirened convoys.

With specific reference to Nigeria, what is this excess of the elite and how does it affect you? How do you surrender to the actualities of elite excess without even realizing it? Our collective submission to it happens at the level of language. Linguistic excess is the forte of Nigeria’s elite and that is where their violence is most lethal. The monumental excess of their discursive violence overwhelms the senses and freezes you into the sort of inertia that our oppressors need. Have you ever observed a rat’s behavior in the first few seconds of an unexpected contact with an unwelcome cat? There is that momentary freeze of horror and terror that immobilizes the rat at the moment of contemplation. That is the freeze that elite language of excess occasions in a battered people such as we have in Nigeria. That is why Umaru Dikko got away with declaring that he needed concrete visual evidence of Nigerians feeding from the dustbin before he could believe that things were bad in the country. The sheer outrageousness of the statement, the gargantuan excess and stupidity of the utterance, its very unbelievability dulled you into inertia. Did he really say that? Can any sane human being really talk like that? Before you came to grips with the depraved ruthlessness of the utterance, Dikko was already in London hiding from Buhari and Idiagbon.

Excess also plays a crucial role in what Okey Ndibe has analyzed as the impunity of the PDP – that political party I like to call a tragic mosquito on Nigeria’s scrotum. The actions and utterances of the PDP are often so excessive in their stupidity that the Nigerian people, who are the principal victims of this incubus, experience the freeze of the rat. While you are still grappling with the freeze of one stupidity (Ekiti –President Yar’Adua’s and Dimeji Bankole’s show of shame while campaigning there), they manufacture another one (Anambra: Tony Anenih’s and Vincent Ogbulafor’s recent coronation of Emperor Soludo) to keep you perpetually in shock. The same logic of freeze accounts for the endless verbal excesses of James Ibori, Michael Aondoakaa, David Mark, and other talkative enemies of the Nigerian people. Each sentence any of these funny characters unleash on the public space is often so unbelievably stupid as to freeze you to inaction. That is why David Mark got away with the unbelievable stupidity of his telephone utterance when he was Minister of Communication.

Today, hear James Ibori and his clowning merchants of casuistry, Tony Eluemunor and Areh Sunday: “were you ever convicted twice in London for any offence?” Simple yes or no question? Not so in Iboriville, hence the excessively stupid answer: “that question was addressed by lawyers in Kaduna”. And to Professor Bolaji Aluko’s simple question: would you hold James Ibori up as a role model for your own children?, Tony Eluemunor has spent a couple of months now recycling the same constipated answer: Prof, I am writing two books and doing extensive research to answer your question. This, of course, more than beggars belief. Characters like these fellas will get away with such statements precisely because the sheer unbelievability of it all numbs you completely.

Excess of language and its chief consequence of useable freeze, I believe, account for the nature of Atiku Abubakar’s prompt reaction to the inclusion of his name in the second list of those elite super bank debtors (glorified bank robbers) who are yet to find a final solution to the problem that is Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Nigeria’s evil elite will take care of Sanusi in due course. They can’t afford him. But I digress. Atiku Abubakar’s statement, which he hurriedly released to explain his own side of the story, is a classic of the genre of elite discursive excess that I have been exploring. He will probably get away with that explanation because it is so unbelievably stupid that we the people are dulled to inertia. Hear Abubakar: “the account in question was an old, dormant account to which my attention had not been drawn by my staff.  I have since resumed talks with the bank on the issue and the matter will be resolved. We will pay the outstanding sum as soon as it is agreed upon.”

Reader, you may need a glass of water here as we dissect this crazy statement. A dormant account escaped Abubakar’s memory because some incompetent aides forgot to remind him about it? So far so good. So, how much exactly are we talking about here? Chicken change: just one hundred and eleven million naira! Atiku Abubakar is in fact telling us that he borrowed more than one hundred million naira of Nigerian depositors’ money and forgot about it (old dormant account!) because his staff forgot to draw his attention to it! How do you forget one hundred million naira? Simple. First, you need to come from a man pass man, banki pass banki country where you belong in the rank of a rapacious rulership that steals only in billions when it is denominated in naira. That way, it falls beneath your status to remember trifle figures in millions unless your Personal Assistant reminds you. Second, the man pass man ethos of that country must be so outrageous that the elite can get away with borrowing and “forgetting” millions while a poor man in the same country could have his hands cut off for stealing a fowl.

Bear it in mind that in logic Nigeriana, Atiku is even still the good one o. As we say in Nigeria, di man even try sef. After all, he confessed to borrowing and forgetting the money. He even took the extraordinarily magnanimous step of promising that he would “pay the outstanding sum as soon as it is agreed upon.” Agreed upon is the clincher here. Now that Atiku “has tried”, the bank had better be on their best behavior during negotiations or Atiku may yet decide that he owes only half that sum or nothing at all and nothing will happen! Don’t forget: this is a classic Nigerian man pass man situation!  If Atiku is the good one, what about the others? From Tony Anenih to our friend Buba Marwa in South Africa, Atiku’s co-travellers on the debt gravy train have been behaving true to type – that is they have been behaving like members of Nigeria’s disgraceful rulership elite. They have been behaving like a bunch of Primary Five boys caught by the headmaster in the school’s orchard: none of them plucked the oranges and the mangoes! We didn’t do it sah! And why are these scurrilous characters doing this? Because they can! Because you, Nigerians, let them. Because they look at you and see the rat I alluded to earlier. Your posture allows them to echo Joseph Conrad: The freeze! The freeze!


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