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Itunu Babalola: Even Abike Dabiri is not Abike Dabiri’s fault

“Stop talking like a civil servant and find a way!”

If I had a penny for every time I heard my dad say this while I was growing up, I wouldn’t be much better off than I am now, because a penny is frankly, not a lot of money. I would however, have a large collection of pennies. This was my old man’s go-to phrase every time he would see his kids making an excuse for not getting something done or looking for a way to get out of doing it – “Stop talking like a civil servant.”

The irony was not lost on me that the person who loved making this comment was once himself, a civil servant working at the highest levels of government in Lagos State, where he directly interfaced with military governors, cabinet ministers and heads of state. Why, I wondered, did someone who was made by the Nigerian civil service constantly speak so dismissively about his erstwhile colleagues in the public sector? Was the civil service really that bad? Were Nigerian civil servants really that feckless and incompetent?

Abike Dabiri: A snapshot of the Nigerian civil servant

In 2013, when I flew to Abuja to register for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) program, as foreign graduates were then required to do, I encountered the conceptual twin of NIDCOM Chair, Abike Dabiri. This lady, simply identified as “Hajiya,” was clearly upset that she was expected to work, and she obviously had better things to do and more desirable places to be. Us young brats constantly traipsing in and out of the office to write our names in a book and put our signature somewhere, were clearly offensive to her, and she would much rather not have been there.

Hajiya was not interested in actually helping us to get registered, which was her job. According to what her job role said, she was supposed to facilitate our registration and make the process smoother and easier for us. Instead, Hajiya merely tossed a few mumbled instructions at us, because God forbid we stress her by making her speak audibly, and it was up to us to either hear what she whispered, or guess what it was. Good luck to us, because she certainly would not repeat herself, hur-hur. All of this just to write a name and affix a signature. When it turned out that I did not have one of the documents which was required for no specific reason – my expired passport with my original UK student visa in it – Hajiya tossed my documents at me. “You can’t register today.”

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That was it. No explanation regarding why. No attempt to explain what I should do to rectify it, nothing. Just “Go away and stop disturbing me.” Anyone viewing the melodrama between Hajiya and myself that day would think that I was pleading with her for a favour while she was giving me an audience from the kindness of her heart. You wouldn’t realise that I was the taxpaying Nigerian citizen paying the salary that enabled her to sit in that chair and toss papers at me while mumbling under her breath and leafing through glossy catalogue magazines. That was by no means my first or last run-in with a Nigerian civil servant, but that day at Tigris Crescent, was when I made up my mind to frontally attack this nonsense whenever I got the opportunity in future.

Itunu Babalola: It’s not Abike’s fault. Nothing is ever Abike’s Fault.

Abike Dabiri-Erewa is no stranger to clout chasing. Having started a career as a reporter at NTA, she became one of the first of a wave of “younger people” to successfully trade in her social capital to a political godfather in exchange for the appearance of power. After her would come many more including the likes of Desmond “Olushola” Elliot, Tolu Ogunlesi and Ajuri Ngelale. Where she differs from even these names is the extent she is willing to go to make it clear that she is NOT interested in any kind of work, exertion, effort or sustained activity in pursuit of a goal that is not self-aggrandisement or personality-enhancement.

Some months ago, when a Nigerian lady Zainab Aliyu was arrested in Saudi Arabia with hard drugs in her possession, thus facing the standard Saudi sentence of capital punishment, the Nigerian government moved heaven and earth to ensure that Miss Aliyu was exonerated and returned to Nigeria inside 4 months. After this happened, there emerged an embarrassing media tussle between Abike’s NIDCOM and Geoffrey Onyeama’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for which of them could take credit for freeing Zainab. This was Abike on the hunt for clout.

A few months later, when I brought the story of Itunu Babalola, a wrongfully imprisoned Nigerian woman in Bondoukou, Côte d’Ivoire to national attention, Abike once again emerged to hog the clout spotlight. Within a few hours of my first tweet on the matter going viral and amassing over 10,000 retweets, she had put out 2 press statements and several tweets from her personal handle and NIDCOM’s handle promising all manner of action. “Fact-finding mission” this, and “escalate to the diplomatic authorities” that. It was so convincing that even I initially fell for the charade. Nigeria’s institutions were coming through for one of their own!

Then came April. May. June. July. August. September. October. Through this time, Abike kept on putting out public statements and pretending to be hard at work on a matter that I slowly came to understand was not in fact being addressed at all. I had bitten the bullet and agreed to communicate with her PA – by all accounts a despicable person and a Lekki Massacre denialist – for no reason in the end. Then came last Sunday, and finally Itunu died in Abidjan – 8 months after Abike put out a tweet claiming that she, Captain Marvel, was on the case. Her body was not cold in the mortuary yet before Abike resumed the media onslaught.

First came a press release claiming that Itunu’s death was not her fault. Then came the TV appearances where she variously blamed Itunu herself for her death, exonerated herself and implied that a “4 hour road trip” from Abidjan to Bondoukou was some sort of extraordinary exertion to make on behalf of a Nigerian citizen. Imagine being asked to do her job! Who do we think she is, our slave? Apparently, Abike Dabiri-Erewa is a baby girl for life. Her job – her real job – is to collect a salary, look pretty for the cameras and talk down on us occasionally from a great height. Like Hajiya at Tigris Crescent, the idea of being expected to work for her pay is frontally offensive to Madam Abike.

This column was initially meant to be a eulogy for Itunu Olajumoke Babalola, but I will not pretend to be in the mood to write yet another eulogy for yet another young, innocent Nigerian just looking for their daily bread. The purpose of this column is to congratulate Abike Dabiri-Erewa for successfully presiding over the death of someone she publicly promised to protect. It would be a real shame if the same fate that befell Itunu should befall someone that is important to Madam Abike.

But if it were to happen, I certainly would shed no tears.

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