By Muyiwa Olayinka
Everyone is a big man in Lagos once you have a vehicle, either a decent or rickety car as long as it can manoeuvre and withstand the rigorous traffic in the complex city. The spirit of bigmanism manifests in different ways. A big man can decide to start discussion at the centre of the road, be discussing with his friends and traducers despite the consistent blaring of horns behind him by other road users. It can also manifest when there are minor accidents like a dent or a scratch on the vehicle, if you live in Lagos you must have heard popular and catchy phrases like: Do you know who I am? I will show you who I am, or Are you bind? Can’t you see who gave you your driving license. All these altercations and showmanship will be done at the centre of the road oblivious of the long traffic it has caused.
Having laid this foundation, bigmanism goes beyond these ordinary common big men we witness on a daily basis.
According to Femi Aribisala, Bigmanism is a chronic national malaise in Nigeria. It is a disease whereby members of a highly visible segment of society are paraded as higher breeds beyond the pale of the law.
These big-men flout all conventions and break all the rules. They do whatever they like irrespective of the laws, rules and regulations that regulate the society. These big men are timber and men of calibre, men of affluence with good connections in high places, they are law unto themselves. They are found in both the private and public sectors.
Public servants and civil servants are meant to serve the public. From the top to the lowest cadre of the civil service, they draw their salaries and emoluments from the treasury that is funded by various sources of revenues including taxes paid by the citizens
They are expected to be civil in the discharge of duties and responsibilities. They are expected to be accountable to the public. They are not meant to lord themselves over or oppress the public
Unfortunately, this is not the situation in Nigeria. Most of our top public and civil servants are big men that steal from the public treasury and enrich themselves illegally. They have rewarded and compensated themselves handsomely by stealing billions of naira
These big men are called Very Important Personalities (VIPs) at social events, wearing big clothes, acquiring or paying for chieftaincy titles, driving around with expensive automobiles with arrays of cars and siren blaring cars in their tow. When they move around in cities like Lagos, it is called VIP movement with accompanying siren blaring cars disturbing and distorting the peace of the city.
I witnessed one of these harrowing and discomforting VIP movements on Wednesday 9th of June, 2011 while minding my business. I boarded a commercial bus from Oshodi to Ikorodu on this fateful day hoping to meet a scheduled appointment, a short journey that should not be more than forty-five minutes.
Shortly after descending the Oshodi bridge, having left the Lagos headquarter of Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) behind, we encountered a traffic snarl and were moving gradually until we came to a stop (from go slow to full stop). We could not continue the journey any longer. From seconds to minutes, minutes to hours, we were at one particular spot
All the vehicles that were caught up in this unfortunate traffic had to turn off the engines of the vehicles and wondering what might have gone wrong. Questions were bandied but no one was able to find the right answer.
Could it be that a container laden trailer had fallen and spilled its contents on the road and the LASTMA officials were making frantic efforts to remove and clear the contents?
Is there fracas between the street urchins (the agberos) and the reckless troublesome Lagos Danfo drivers, or they are having perennial issues with LASTMA enforcement officers?
Is there any building that is engulfed with fire and the Federal Fire Service personnel were trying to contain the situation?
These were questions left to imaginations with no plausible answers.
Rumours started flying inside the bus. It must be as a result of VIP movement. Some said it was Governor Sanwoolu but I doubted it because I have witnessed countless times convoys of Governors and they have not for once obstructed free flow of traffic.
I have been living in Lagos for more than two decades and I have witnessed VIP movements of super big men like the President, the Vice President and the Senate President.
I encountered and witnessed the VIP movement of Nigerian military President, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida while I was in the university and holidaying in Lagos. After being tied down against my will for donkey hours in the blasting sunny afternoon, I was compensated and consoled by barely catching a glimpse of him in the official stretched limousine Peugeot 505 car when his convoy rode passed where I was and he was beaming with his trademark gap toothed smile. It was a horrendous and tortuous experience, commuters had to trek long distances to get to various destinations.
Since then, I have learnt to avoid the axis when these big men visit Lagos by simply following and knowing their itinerary and being well informed. This tactic paid off when President Buhari visited Lagos during Governor Ambode’s tenureship to commission some projects and I had an appointment at the Island. Not wanting to go through another regrettable experience, I left home as early as 4am and hurriedly came back before the VIP movement began.
But in this particular case, I was aware President Buhari would be visiting Lagos the following day so I knew quite already that he won’t be in Lagos, but nevertheless I could not fathom why this endless waiting period? After waiting for almost one hour and thirty minutes, we heard siren blaring cars and outriders from a distance. It confirmed my worst fear that we were held for another big man to pass. Who could this VIP be?
Did I miscalculate Mr President’s visit and he changed his itinerary without my knowledge, or did the Vice President come in lieu to receive him. No answer.
The traffic eased gradually and we started moving. As we were approaching Anthony bridge inwards Oworonshoki, I looked to my left, there were no fracas or any fire accident. But to my right, I saw many police cars leaving the junction that leads to the bye pass to Ilupeju intersection. I guessed it was the Inspector General of Police Usman Alkali Baba, appointed a few months as our VIP. It was confirmed when I read in the news that Lagosians booed him, calling him many derogatory names when his convoys passed the area. It finally dawned on me that the Inspector General; a public servant, has joined the big men’s league that is entitled to VIP movement in Lagos. It means I have to adjust my list and include him among the big men and I need to know his itinerary too, abi?
Nigeria is currently grappling with major security challenges it has not experienced since independence. The national security architecture has virtually collapsed, it could not tame the monsters of kidnappings all over the nation, banditry in the north west, insurgency in the north east, communal clashes and flash points all over the nation, killings and senseless bloodletting resulting from farmers and Fulani herdsmen crises that are ravaging the country. In the midst of these challenges, the under performing and poorly equipped police officers are being used and assigned frivolous tasks of chaperoning a pot bellied and over fed Inspector General of police.
In Nigeria today where armed gangs, cult members and unknown men are having a field day killing innocent lives, it is appalling and depressing to see police officers playing the role of “house boys” to privileged VIP by carrying handbags, opening doors and holding umbrellas for Ogas and the wives of top public and civil servants.
The nation is currently at a cross road while the IG should be preoccupied with retraining and equipping his rank and file, he’s obsessed with being treated a big man or VIP.
Lagosians you ain’t seeing nothing yet. You better be used to more big men and VIP movements as other minions or government appointees can just breeze in and terrorise you with their presence in Lagos.
If he can do this without being cautioned and challenged, his colleagues in the army, navy, air force, customs and immigration can go the same route of this insidious and annoying VIP movement in Lagos
Folks don’t be surprised if the Commissioner of Police in Lagos should suddenly decide to give himself a VIP treatment and follow the footpath of his boss, be prepared to be bogged down for hours in an ever-ending traffic jam.
This is Nigeria, anything can happen