Ben Murray-Bruce and the Glamour of Favour.
~ Pius Adesanmi.
A national teachable moment happened recently on Twitter between Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, Nigeria’s Area Father Plenipotentiary of commonsense, and Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, who needs no introduction. There is a background to that Twitter spat that most commentators have not critically examined. The said background is wholly rooted in the tragedy of our collective definition of Nigeria and our stubborn persistence to clinch to an understanding of nationhood and statehood in the 21st century that is inferior to how Askia the Great understood those notions in the late 15th century.
We must sympathise with Ben Murray-Bruce before exploring the background of his spat with Mrs. Ezekwesili. These are not the best of times to be Ben Murray-Bruce. The Bayelsa Senator is finding out in a very harsh way that it is impossible to be a national crusader for ethics, morality, and commonsense from the belly of the cesspool that is Nigeria’s National Assembly. Nigeria’s NASS is one of the most corrupt and irredeemable political institutions ever to bestride the African continent. In the two chambers of NASS are the most execrable African humanoids. As Senator Ben Murray-Bruce is finding out, nothing good can come out of the Nigerian National Assembly.
NASS is constitutionally and statutorily set up to be a crematorium of good and great intentions; an unforgiving grave yard for the angelic reputation. Consider the example of Ben Murray-Bruce’s commonsense crusade. It is crumbling under the weight of its own contradictions for a very simple reason: when you are a member of Nigeria’s National Assembly, commonsense is the very first victim of your situation. You may be honest; you may not have stolen a dime (very unlikely though); you may not have rigged your election, however, your legitimate earnings, allowances, and sundry perks put you above the pay grade of Barack Obama. Does this make sense? No, it doesn’t.
Your legitimate pay puts you above the pay grade of parliamentarians and congressmen and women in any part of the developed world. Yet, they do much more work than you and are answerable to constituents who are citizens in full civic sentience and will therefore not tolerate the rubbish that Nigerians take from you. You are basically the highest paid parliamentarian in the world and you put in the least hours for your constituents. Even the hours you put in are useless for being a Senator or a Rep does not require any cerebral effort from you in Nigeria. You need no intellect to be in NASS. You just wear your agbada and go and yawn and sleep for a few hours every day and watch your account swell every day. Does this make sense?
To be in the position to talk about commonsense at all, our friend from Bayelsa would have to remove the speck in his own eyes. That speck is where the context from which he connects daily with Nigerians. That speck, NASS, is wholly corrupt and indolent. That speck, NASS, is Nigeria’s greatest theatre of legitimate corruption by legislating immoral and amoral allowances which defy commonsense.
Has the Senator done anything about this speck beyond the perfunctory inaudible noise? No, he hasn’t and I do not expect him to. I am just trying to show him the inherent contradictions of his situation. That is why he is salving his conscience by promising Osun workers a cut and riding Okada from time to time to distribute pure water and Tetmosol to his constituents in line with the loot trickle down philosophy of Nigerian politicians.
You will notice that I have concerned myself only with the legitimate earnings of our Bayelsa friend which automatically exclude him and anyone in NASS from being in the same bracket with commonsense. Whatever is legitimate about him disqualifies him from being a spokesperson for commonsense for that role cannot be anchored from within the existential contradictions and ironies of NASS. NASS is antithetical to commonsense. NASS negates commonsense. You cannot crusade for commonsense on the platform of its existential negation.
Now, we all know that the part of the role and functions of a NASS member which devolves from legitimacy is less than five percent. The remaining 95 percent space in your life as a Senator or a Rep is occupied by everything we associate with politicians and government officials in Nigeria: corruption, patronage, and prebendal avarice. If the five percent that is even legitimate about you and NASS stand commonsense on its head, what does that make of the remaining 95 percent which falls in the province of the Nigerian way?
The second part of Senator Ben Murray-Bruce’s problem is the mediocrity of his context. He wants to be seen as Nigeria’s answer to Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau, and co: an urbane and cosmopolitan politician powered by 21st century cutting-edge ideas and ideals. Yet, as someone famously puts it on Twitter, his Obanikoro predilections are in tandem with the overall Baba Suwe level of his peers in the Senate. Hence, his attempt at cosmopolitanism are constantly overwhelmed by the prelogical mentality of the Orangutans who dominate the two Chambers.
This is why Senator Ben-Murray Bruce is heehawing for commonsense from the platform of a National Assembly where the predominant opinion is that granting gender equality to women in marriage will make of them lesbians and prostitutes in the 21st century! And the same week they emit these pre-Medieval ideas, they go on a spending spree like demented demons, buying jeeps in an orgy of spending which defies commonsense and the only thing we have heard from the commonsense Chief Priest is the feeble noise that he did not accept his. By the way, I saw a photo-op of Senator Shehu Sani with his own jeep. This is the man donating donkeys and camels to his constitutents. May Sango thunder Shehu Sani’s jeep!
It is in the context of all this turbulence on the commonsense front, when the Area Father of Commonsense, had wisely crawled underground to contemplate the ruins of his crusade – ruined by tragic contradictions – that Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili decided to call him out. The wounded Senator, a master of the knockout repartee, promptly advised the Bring Back Our Girls crusader to occupy her own Senator and stop bugging him. You are making your own Senator lazy by focusing on me, he opined.
On the surface, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce’s response to Mrs. Ezekwesili would appear to be a brilliant uppercut. I was even tempted to think that Mrs. Ezekwesili deserved it for not allowing a man to mourn the ironies and contradictions of his doomed commonsense crusade in peace. Doomed not because Nigeria does not stand in desperate need of commonsense but by the contradictions and hypocrisy attendant upon the Senator’s context and platform: right message, wrong bearer, diseased platform. However, if you look at it closely, the Senator’s response is silly and irresponsible. A man who has spent an entire year trying to curate a national image for himself as a pan-Nigerian spokesperson of commonsense is suddenly scurrying under the cover of representing only his constituents in the National Assembly when called out on the very basis of his own national crusade! Mrs. Ezekwesili made it clear that she was calling him out on the basis of what he has been projecting. Has he ever projected or given the slightest hint that his crusade was exclusively addressed to his constituents?
This is part of the hypocrisy that has undone Ben Murray-Bruce’s crusade. We must also advise him that it is called the National Assembly for a reason. If he wants to be answerable exclusively to his constituents, he is welcome to go to the Bayelsa House of Assembly – if Mama Peace approves of such a move. In Abuja, the laws and bills you are making (or not making as is the usual case) have a national purview. Besides, not all of us have Senators representing us. In my own case, Senator Dino Melaye has made it clear that he is representing only Senator Bukola Saraki in the Senate till death does them part. Okun people have no Senator currently representing them so don’t tell me to call my Senator. At any rate, I’d sooner call the boss, Saraki, than call his self-styled slave, Dino Melaye.
There is a second aspect to the exchange between Senator Ben Murray-Bruce and Mrs. Ezekwesili. There is a certain patronising and condescending tone in the Senator’s responses. You’d be right to surmise that he believes he is doing her a favour by even responding at all. This brings me to my earlier point about our tragic understanding and definition of Nigeria. We define and understand Nigeria as a chaotic association of favour doers and recipients of favour. It is not an accident that Nigerian Pentecostals constantly disturb God with endless requests for uncommon favour. They are taking to the spiritual domain how they have been shaped and defined by Nigeria.
We have conceptualised the social contract as a terrain of favour-doing in Nigeria. Nobody does anything for you because it is their duty and obligation. Rather, every secular transaction in Nigeria is a favour done for you by somebody drawing a salary to do precisely that task. Every Nigerian politician, from the president down to the local government chairman, considers every aspect of what he or she is elected to do a favour rendered to the people.
That is why your politician tars a road, digs a borehole, builds a gada or a culvert or a gutter and his aides gut the airwaves with noise demanding acknowledgement and appreciation from the people for the uncommon favour. This national mental malaise is not limited to politicians. Interactions among the ordinary people is also subject to the same affliction with civil servants being the worst culprits. There is no service you receive in any office in Nigeria that is not conceptualised as a favour by the service provider. Try obtaining any document from a ministry or a local government office in Nigeria. Everyone you come into contact with sees what they are doing in the delivery of that document to you as a favour.
Go to shoprite and the attendant who accepts your money is doing you a favour. Go to Mama Put and Sikira who serves you amala and abula believes she has done you a favour. Go to your ‘forganaisa’ and he doing you a favour by fixing your tire. Go to WAEC or JAMB, they give you your results as a favour. There is no sphere of life that is free from this disease in Nigeria. This is why Ben Murray-Bruce did Oby Ezekwesili a favour by sending her to her Senator. This is why I have done you a favour by writing this.
(Adesanmi is a current affairs/public commentator, and currently Nigerian resident professor at. Carleton University, Canada.)
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