Who actually wants Nigeria to get better?
“You know he’s from Badagry,” said the voice on the other end of the line.
It was Thursday last week, and in a few minutes’ time, a groundbreaking long-read I had spent months working on would be going live on my Substack website. The story was about Nigeria’s protracted passport booklet shortage, but its real star attraction was the unveiling of the person with the sole power to print Nigerian passport booklets as an indicted cross-border drug trafficker. I had released a little video trailer to promote the story and my phone had lit up almost instantly with calls.
This particular call was from the hometown, and its purpose was to appeal to me to take down the video and halt any planned publication. The reason? Apparently, the subject’s mom was the caller’s mother’s aunty, or something of the sort, and they were once schoolmates. They grew up together and he knew the man, and he was a good man etc etc. Long and short, I was to avoid publishing something that would stain one of our “ara ile.” Blood being thicker than water, and all that.
In my now-customary passive aggressive response, I politely declined, noting that the decision to publish and when to do so belonged to my editor and was not in my hands. As soon as I had disposed of the unwelcome caller with that excuse, I went straight to my Substack backend, removed the scheduled posting time and hit “publish immediately.” Yes, I lied to the caller. If he is reading this, I will paraphrase CBN governor Godwin Emefiele and encourage him to come out and fight me. I am in my metaphorical house.
Shame is free, maybe we should sell it?
What was really interesting about this call was that the caller genuinely either thought me an absolute fool, or worse still, believed his own ball of yarn. It was all a mistake, he wanted me to know. His friend was never charged to court for drug trafficking in the U.S., you see. I just needed to do more “resash” to confirm this. When I showed documentation showing very clearly that this was not true, he then wanted me to know that his friend was never indicted and that my story would amount to libel.
Again, I rapidly sent through a PDF of the indictment in the US District Court of New Jersey, and his response? “I haven’t finished reading it, but I didn’t see an indictment there.” Furthermore, he said, I did not “understand the issues.” A long, rambling speech ensued, covering everything from contracts awarded under President Obasanjo to hostile CBN governors, Nigerian Security Printing and Minting PLC, to jealous competitors who wanted the contract. To cut a long story short, this fellow was linked to the business in question, in addition to being a friend of its founder, and he was protecting his interests.
I did not bother getting into a back-and-forth with someone whose wallet size depends on his ability to pretend to be obtuse, so I used the excuse above and then went ahead with exactly what I planned to do. The reason this anecdote is appearing in this column today is because that experience raised a genuine question in my mind – who actually, genuinely gives a toss about “Nigeria” today? If in the face of exposure of such magnitude, the biggest priority to this fellow and the many others who called or tried to call, was how to “manage” the crisis and keep their money taps flowing – regardless of the degree of shamelessness involved – then what exactly is this place?
The black sheep
Instead, I fobbed him off and then did what I considered to be in the objective interest of the public. When this particular caller tried to call later that day, I simply bounced his call. What I would later hear was an account of how much of a chronic troublemaker I am, and how much trouble I cause for the family with my allegedly unguarded statements and loud public personality. If only I would stop being such a strong head and just listen to older people who know more than I do sometimes! An obligatory reference to my late father was inserted, with full knowledge of that being my sorest of sore spots.
My response? Nothing. Nothing at all. I would do it again. I will do it again, actually. Multiple times. Until an official meeting is convened to strip me of my Badagry-hood and my Hundeyin-ness, at which point I will merely double down on the path I have chosen. That is how some of us are built, unfortunately. My dad may have been meek, self-effacing and eternally unwilling to pick a public fight with authority, because said authority actually did good things for him and helped his life.
I have no such compunctions. What has Nigeria’s government ever done for me? What has the Nigerian establishment ever done for me? Was it how it killed my dad with all the grace and reverence of a broiler chicken accidentally squashing a cockroach while looking for grains of corn to peck? Was it how it flogged the living crap out of me and tear gassed me for protesting against police criminality last year? Was it how it forced me to flee my home for my life like a fugitive running from justice, simply because I did my job? What is there about the Nigerian establishment that should elicit loyalty from me?
You’re surely not serious.