Any public figure whose name we fail to agree on will always cause wahala.
Evan Enwerem? Evans Enwerem?
James Onanefe Ibori? Onanefe James Ibori?
Now we have Hammeed Alli! In a single edition of The Nation Newspaper on September 13, 2015, the headline reads “Hamid Ali” while the opening line of the same story reads “Hameed Ali”.
Names matter. When you do not get the name of public figures right, some catastrophic consequences arise. Ask the Washington regime of Mr. Donald Trump. They mixed up the spelling of the British Prime Minister’s name and ended up with a British porn actress!
Ever since President Buhari appointed Ogbeni Ali and he, in turn, inflicted himself on public consciousness, we have been spelling his name as chaotically as he has been acting in office. Is it double em and double el? We have been combining his consonants and vowels anyhow. It is almost like we are working our way through the 20 possible spellings of Ghaddafi.
I propose a division of labor. Some of you should try to determine the correct spelling of his name and get the Nigerian media to pay attention. Others should endeavor to put the current uniform imbroglio in proper perspective.
I propose to undertake mission 2 here.
Many of my friends have been arguing legalese and constitutionalese around this issue of uniform. I think this misses the bigger point.
Hammeed Alli rubs me the wrong way. He rubs me the wrong way because he imagines he is bigger than an institution of the Nigerian state. He rubs me the wrong way because he is a big man and is making sure he inflicts himself on public consciousness as a big man. He wants us to remember everything that comes with that terrain of meaning and sociality in Nigeria. Hammeed Alli rubs me the wrong way because he is an Oga at the top and he expects me to sneeze two times, stifle the third sneeze in my throat before uttering dazzol at the end of his name.
Hammeed Alli is bigger than an institution of the Nigerian state because he is a friend of the President. And he wants you to understand that.
What I think of the Nigerian Senate is immaterial. What I think of the Senate asking Hammeed Alli to wear uniform, danshiki, or bante is immaterial.
The overriding concern for me is this idea that there can be an individual bigger than an Institution of the Nigerian state just because he is a former military officer and a close friend of the President. That is not acceptable to me and we should not tolerate it.
We enable this unacceptable idea of the big man bigger than the state every time we find legalese and constitutionalese to explain that bottom line away. And there are linkages between things.
That is how the Inspector General of Police said the other time that he was waiting for the Emir of Kano to return from lesser hajj before he could act on something! Translation: the Emir of Kano is bigger than that particular institution of the Nigerian state. And like play like play, he did nothing till the Emir returned! I felt so violated in my citizenship! This is not a democracy. This is not a state. This is a jungle.
In a country where there is so much arrogance of power; in a country where we are trying to demystify and demythify power in order to restore the supremacy of the citizen, we must not tolerate the slightest hint of the big man.
The psychology of the Nigerian big man is atrocious. Our attitude should be: just who the heck is Hammeed Alli to be too big to appear before the Senate according to that institution’s instructions?
What we think of the Senate should not matter here. Some say the Senate is filled with corrupt crooks and that invalidates her ability to invite Alli.
Oho, so Alli is leading a public institution of saints? Is the Senate as corrupt as Customs? Nigerian corruption is a pyramid of fantastically corrupt public institutions. On top of this pyramid of stratospheric corruption, Nigerian Customs and NNPC share the gold medal. So what is this talk about the corruption of the Senate and what has it to do with what we are talking about here?
In Nigerian corruption, the Senate is a boy scout. Customs is a five-star General. So, let us stop this talk of corruption and focus on the issue: bigmanism. This issue is not about uniform. It is about institutions of state and the individual. When you make it about uniform, you are trivializing it to rationalize Hammeed Alli.
The focus on corruption assumes that the Senate will always be as hopeless and as corrupt as she has been since 1999. It assumes that the Senate will always be populated by orangutans as she has been since 1999.
You have to constantly own the right to project into a future when we would have won the battle and there would be real, 21st century human beings in a credible 21st century Senate who are there for their constituents. When this happens, what will you do about the precedent you are setting today – allowing a big man to be bigger than the state?
It is true that we have largely been ruled and violated by orangutans since independence and one of the consequences of that is the normalization in our national psyche of the travesty in which there are individual Nigerians bigger than the state and her institutions.
No matter how corrupt, dysfunctional, and useless such institutions currently are, our challenge is to win them from the orangutans, cleanse and re-purpose them for 21st century civilization. We are not called upon to use their current leprous condition as an excuse to play footsie with the egos of our big men.
The point is to dare to think beyond the limitations of our present challenges.