Is there anyone out there who hasn’t watched the video clip? I mean the video trending on social media of the almighty Minister of Interior, Lt-Gen Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau (rtd) and his shoe shiner State Security Service (SSS) agent. In the clip, Dambazau was shown resplendent in flowing babariga, relaxing triumphantly at a public function as the clock ticked lazily away. An obviously poorly paid, lowly SSS agent with his service pistol protruding from its holster, who must “serve” with indignity to earn his pay, walked briskly to his boss, brought out a white handkerchief and stooped down to shine his Oga’s shoes in the full glare of guests in the middle of a public event.
The stark contrast in their physical sizes, opportunities and status tells the story of the tragedy of Nigeria more than anything else. The Oga is hefty, well fed, very comfortable, wears expensive attire, a designer watch and a pair of shoes to match befitting an “honourable minister” of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. His children are probably attending the most expensive private Ivy League colleges within and outside the country. And when you hear the siren howling at you to get off the road, it might be him coming. May God save you if you don’t clear for his convoy fast enough.
On the other hand, the SSS shoe shiner is lean, hungry looking and wears a two-dollar Walmart suit or worse still a second-hand suit probably bought for him by his uncle the day he came home with his letter of perpetual servitude to Nigeria and its “Ogas at the top”. He is a witness to the daily opulent splendour around his Oga but goes home to wallow in penury and lack. His children are in derelict public schools with broken ceilings, no windows, no doors where students sit on bare floors and in some cases, in the shade of trees to take lectures. His take home pay can’t take him home. Who knows – he had to tend to the minister’s shoes to get a promotion to the next rank.
Initially, I hardly knew how to react to the video other than to laugh it off as one of the defining character portraits of the average Nigerian government official. I quickly realised the humour of the situation; I had a good laugh about our culture of servitude and the horror of the behind-the-scenes chores of aides to Nigeria’s big men. The contradiction couldn’t be more so in this era of change.
I was watching the video again and laughing loudly at that attitude of servitude ingrained in a master-servant relationship in this clime when something interrupted my laughter. It was an atrocious and a despicable statement issued by one very ridiculous individual called Okeh Emmanuel, the spokesman of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in an attempt to justify the action of the security personnel and absolve the minister of blame. He should have kept quiet and prayed that the embarrassing episode fades from public consciousness instead of drawing more attention to it, thereby compounding the image problem for his boss.
According to him, “It is a diversionary tactic of the evil ones to cast aspersions on the personality of the minister. The honourable minister who was on a visit to NSCDC facilities at Sauka never beckoned on any of his aides to come and clean his shoes as alleged.” This is absolute hogwash!
He continued in an attempt to outdo himself in his bizarre justification: “Rather, if the ‘aide’ carried out such a function, it means it was done voluntarily without any iota of compulsion. The demonstration by the SSS personnel was a mark of respect for his principal since he was not compelled to do so.” So he has set a shining example of loyal service and dedication to duty? Tell that to the marines!
He concluded: “It should also be noted that a man of the calibre of the minister, who was one-time the Chief of Army Staff is entitled to aides that could help in ensuring that he looks neat at all times.”
I was appalled by this utterly stupid and ludicrous statement particularly the last paragraph. It is very possible that when Emmanuel penned those words, he was high on local gin called kai-kai or Sapele water and so didn’t realise what he was writing.
Otherwise, how could he not have seen anything wrong with a situation where a security agent is turned into a shoe shiner in public? I am very sure Emmanuel shines his bosses’ shoes at NSCDC as “a mark of respect” and makes them “look neat at all times”. If he doesn’t, it therefore means he has no respect for his bosses since doing menial work for one’s boss in public is the new standard for showing respect. All I have for the likes of Emmanuel is pity. And more than that, “pity for a nation that acclaims the bully as hero, and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful. ….”
“Pity the nation — oh, pity the people who allow their rights to be eroded and their freedoms to be washed away.” It appears our people have lost their sense of righteous indignation and have become dumb and numb to every outrageous abuse dished out to them by top officers of the state. To Emmanuel, I say, hold on to something good even if it is a handful of sand and save us the agony of this shameful and self-ridiculing statement.
Of course it could have been a lot easier to excuse Dambazau on the grounds that he was caught off guard by the action of an overzealous agent trying to impress his boss possibly for favours. However, the mere fact that he didn’t stop him and even casually raised the other leg for the agent to also shine the shoe has cast doubt on any defence he might have had, and feeds into the possibility that the agent was merely acting under orders of the “honourable minister”. Even worse, it was an abuse of office for him to subject a subordinate to such inhuman and degrading treatment – a treatment he enjoyed so much. Going by Dambazau’s conduct in that video, one is left to imagine and wonder how he currently runs the interior ministry or how he ran the army in his days as the Chief of Army Staff.
A megalomaniac of sorts, Dambazau is by no means the only official guilty of similar display of impunity. I first started to take notice of him when he was reported as one of the hangers-on around the president then to have barred the former Director-General of the SSS, Mr Ita Ekpeyong from a security meeting at the villa. President Muhammadu Buhari had just assumed office and had not even made up his mind whether or not to appoint his immediate aides. Yet, Dambazau felt confident enough, even without the authority of office, to bar the DG of the SSS from a security meeting. A sneaky feeling ran through me about this man then and has stayed ever since. Where did he derive such authority from other than that feeling of narcissistic triumph rooted in “we don’t need you, we now have our power back”.
Only recently, Dambazau was reported to have complained openly that the Inspector-General of Police (IG), Solomon Arase, had not attended any of his public events since he assumed office as the Minister of Interior. The question is: does Arase report to Dambazau or Buhari? I don’t think the IG reports to the Minister of Interior. The fact that the Ministry of Police Affairs has been merged with the Ministry of Interior (for purely administrative purposes) doesn’t mean the IG reports to the Minister of Interior on security. The minister cannot even interfere with the daily operations of the police on purely professional security issues such as crime and investigation. For the avoidance of doubt, the IG is a security chief who reports to the president just like Dambazau did during his time as the Chief of Army Staff.
Even if the IG reports to the Minister of Interior, did he expect Arase to suck up to him by making himself available at every event he attends as a mark of loyalty? Or maybe he expected the IG to carry his briefcase for him anywhere he went. Dambazau would do well by keeping his inflated ego in check and face the urgent task of delivering the much-promised change rather than see his appointment as an opportunity to showcase his power and ego.
We are truly tired of big titles; the indulgences and vanities of the bearers. All we need are genuine reformers, transformers, change agents and legacy builders; not leaders who turn their subordinates into shoe shiners. Nigeria has been held down for far too long by poor leadership from visionless men and women who take advantage of the gullibility of the people to ride roughshod over them.
Is it not instructive that since Dambazau was appointed minister, he has yet to unfold his agenda for Nigerians to examine and interrogate? What fresh ideas in terms of policy formulation, implementation and administration has he put on the table to better protect the people from internal security threats such as kidnappings, terrorism, pipeline vandalisation, etc? What will he do to improve the condition of the prison system in terms of decongestion of the hugely overcrowded prisons all over the country and improve the welfare of the inmates? How will the government better secure the prisons to minimise security breaches and breakouts? How will his ministry better motivate prison officers to eliminate corruption in the prison system? What is Dambazau’s thinking on immigration in this season of heightened terror alerts around the world?
At least, it has been revealed that a lot of Boko Haram fighters come into Nigeria from neighbouring countries – no thanks to our porous borders. What border controls is he putting in place to check this movement? Up till now, we have not been given any coherent policy direction by the man who appears to be more concerned with the state of his shoes just to impress those present at the functions he attends.
However, I have a word of advice for Dambazau. This is a democracy where the vulnerable ones must be treated with dignity and protected against abuse. There is still an opportunity for redemption that is if he starts to make better choices in earnest, instead of the embarrassing and graceless act of turning a state security detail or any other public official into his shoe shiner in public or in private. Haughtiness will not win him acclaim, but will earn him derision and scorn. That’s if he cares anyway.