Every wannabe from any remote village comes to Lagos to become an instant billionaire. The ambitious upstart may eventually get rich but he almost always ends up lost in Lagos like the lead character, Rabato Sabato, in Tony Kan’s Lagos novel The Carnivorous City.
The only way for the so-called billionaire to survive is to become a part of the government in power. Yes, there is no line of demarcation between government and big business in Nigeria. Most of the touted billionaires can actually be dismissed in what is known in Igbo parlance as “Otimkpu!” The businessmen are quite simply praise-singers of any government in power. Anytime they are wanted in Aso Villa they hop into their private jets to sing Ranka Dede!
Just check out the list of the bank debtors in Nigeria: It reads like the who’s who of these billionaires. In short, call them “Unoka” billionaires. For anybody who does not know of Unoka, it is necessary to read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart to get the gist of Okonkwo’s debtor father who drew lines on the wall to depict the many debts he owed instead of actually paying back the debts!
As things stand, any businessman who does not show up as a front in politics is promptly de-listed from the government’s formbook of approval. Elsewhere, business is about enterprise; here it is gauging the political barometer every new second. These ill-assorted billionaires spend more time flying in airplanes from Lagos to the seat of power in Abuja. Lagos big boys are puny servants of the men in power.
Living in the bondage of power, these fellows ought to hear the ancient words of Horace: “He will always be a slave, who does not know how to live upon a little.”
Christopher Reeve who acted the role of Superman with aplomb before becoming paralyzed said shortly before his death: “Some people are walking around with full use of their bodies and they are more paralyzed than I am.”
Enterprise ought to be rooted in opening up opportunities. What we have here is the courting of the government by these fronts in the vain hope of achieving monopolies of sorts. All sorts of waivers are offered the juggernauts by the government, a government that should be more interested in the common cause.
One of the more celebrated billionaires indeed told yours truly that he was so powerful that any time a past military regime deigned to devalue the country’s currency he was always informed well in advance! All he then needed to do to quadruple his billionaire status was to buy all the foreign currencies in sight before the currency devaluation date. That is how the rulers of Nigeria help to grow business in these shores – by multiplying the loot of their fronts at the expense of the entire people of the country!
When the government thus talks of the private sector one cannot but laugh. The so-called private sector is actually more public than the government. The billionaires advertise their going public in the manner in which you see any ramshackle so-called private school putting up a signboard to advertise itself as “Government-approved”. These billionaires wear their own signs on their foreheads. All their names should bear the suffix “GAB” which stands for “Government-Approved Billionaires”.
I started out by positing that the government-approved billionaires can be likened to what is known as “Otimkpu” in the eastern part of the country. The Otimkpu phenomenon soared during the infamous era of the 419 boom that characterized the disastrous General Babangida regime. A typical Otimkpu is a hanger-on, a glorified area boy who does nothing else save to sing the praises of the rich man of the moment.
They were well-celebrated in the music of the late Oliver de Coque. Our government-approved billionaires are exactly of this make, singing the praise-songs of all manners of “vagabonds in power”, apologies to my guru Fela, and smiling all the way to the so-called consolidated banks that have now all fallen apart and are retrenching workers in droves.
Their idea of business is simply to court power and serve as rent-seeking noisemakers. I have more respect for Iya Temitope, the local trader in Jankara market, than the business types who serve as lickspittles to those in power and cannot add any value to the mores of the nation. In short, I hereby stop wasting my very precious prose on them. Of course they are too beneath me to be dealt with in poetry.