The joke is told of a man who, having been a loud and intractable critic of the government, was then given a governmental appointment, at which point all criticism ceased. When he was asked why he no longer criticised the government, he responded, “Well, in Africa, it is considered rude to talk while eating.”
Perhaps nowhere is that tale more apt than in Nigeria, where criticising the government is often seen as the way to get into the government, and the silence from said critics is usually deafening. Take Reuben Abati, for example. Once upon a time, he was viewed as a champion of the people, his columns in the paper widely read. Then, he was appointed into the current administration, and silence. No longer did Mr Abati feel the need to champion the people, seeing as he was now on the other side of the fence, having a seat at the table, as it were. No doubt he quickly learned the required mannerisms for dining in such exalted company in order to remain in said company. Nary a clink was heard as utensils transported smoked pheasant (or whatever they serve) from plate to mouth, and Mr Abati soon grew the jowls of the landed gentry.
Indeed, it is the norm around here that only after your time at the table is done do you begin to talk about what goes on during that 12-course dinner service, and by then, people really aren’t interested in what you have to say other than to go, “Yes, we already knew that.” Even when the personage making statements is none other than a former head of state, people are more likely to dismiss disparaging comments as “jealousy” or “bitterness”. The anger that the largesse has ended is known to have upset many a post-dinner stomach.
Thus, when the then Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, began sounding the alarm about unremitted monies due to the federal government from sales of crude oil, his actions went down about as well as one would expect. Here was a man not merely talking while eating, but in full blown drunken boor mode. Bits of food spraying as he brayed, grabbed his host’s wife’s ass, disparaged the quality of the spread before him, and loudly demanded some roast chicken and potatoes instead of this pheasant nonsense.
Of course, the end result of such shocking behaviour is that he was frog marched from the premises by some guards and tossed onto the manure heap where he proceeded to snore loudly while children giggled.
SLS had, however, set a precedent: one could actually talk while eating. He got accused of attempting to embarrass the government (like this administration actually needed help in that department) and then things got weird with the hatchet article penned by a presidential aide which claimed SLS was sponsoring Boko Haram. Eventually, things settled down, and SLS became the Emir of Kano, and moved to a different kind of dinner service with very different rules. However, we should be grateful to him for the example he set.
And others are showing signs of following the lead of SLS. Senator-elect Ben Murray Bruce (or “Benny” as I shall henceforth call him) has apparently been hitting the gin before dinner, because he’s not yet at the table, and he’s already denigrating the state of the lawn, the flowers in the courtyard, ogling the bosom of his host’s wife, loudly remarking that some roast plantain and fish would be in order, and vowing that he will absolutely puke if anyone places caviar before him. I mean, it is bad manners to talk while eating, but it is surely worse to complain about the dish when the cloche hasn’t even been lifted yet! And he is making some people very nervous, judging by some of the responses he is getting. Hell, people are asking about his tenure as NTA boss and some equipment fund he supposedly pilfered. Basically, they are saying he is coming to dinner with soup stains on his clothes. Seeing as almost everyone at dinner has some stain on them it doesn’t actually matter, does it? I mean, the woman who bought bullet-proof BMW sedans each for more money than the US Presidential Limousine costs, is going to be a Senator too. If she isn’t covered in gravy, I don’t know who is. Anyway, it’s not like the Benny gives a damn – he isn’t shutting up.
I say long may it continue. We need more men like SLS and Benny in power, men who are not so awed by the fact that they’ve been allowed in the door that they are unable to tell us the truth about what goes on in the corridors of power. Men unafraid to tell us how our government has been subverted to serve the few at the expense of the many, and the few grow corpulent with the resources meant to stave off the starvation of the multitude. Men who can tell us the things they uncovered in office while they are still in office, instead of waiting for post-dinner brandy and cigars before belching and saying to us, “These people eat too much.”
We need more boors at this dinner.