In a most bizarre manifestation of chronic sycophancy – indeed a nauseating throw back to the Sani Abacha era – the wife of the president, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, is now almost deferentially referred to as ‘Mommy’ by that army of hangers-on with horned instincts capable of detecting the tiniest whiff of opportunity from any distance.
These people intuitively know just which buttons to press, which words to use and how to totally subjugate their humanity in dust as they grovel to ply the first lady with ever more absurd tales about how well Nigeria is doing under her husband.
How people that are older than the first lady – many of them with children and grandchildren – can manage to hold a straight face to call Mrs. Jonathan ‘Mommy’ is baffling. That accomplished Nigerians, including professors, senators, ambassadors and even a serving governor and his wife can also manage the same feat without cringing is also troubling.
But for those close enough to call the first lady ‘Mommy’ to now do so with an air of haughtiness, as if to commiserate with ordinary Nigerians who are not members of the inner circle, opens disquieting apertures into the tragicomedy of power, those on the corridors of power and the personalities that end up in power in Nigeria.
Simply ‘dropping’ the name of ‘Mommy’ – that is, hinting that one is somehow connected to, or has contacts with some minor personality at the outer recesses of the villa – is often enough to secure contracts, jobs and other opportunities from petrified officials who somehow pray that assisting Mommy’s candidates would help bring them to her notice and somehow push them up the ladder.
Credible stories exist of people who have lost large amounts of money – paid to touts who claim to be able to set up appointments with Mommy.
After all, conventional wisdom is that a mere 30 minutes with her with the right ideas can transform one’s fortunes for life.
And ‘Mommy’ so loves the power and privilege that come with the term that she is continuing with what amounts to a campaign for reelection (whether it is with, or without the approval of who, by implication should be called ‘Daddy’) is another thing. But those who saw how she closed down Abuja for an entire day, and follow her regular tours to various states know that with or without INEC guidelines, Old or New PDP, Mrs. Jonathan is digging her heels in to remain the Big Mommy until 2019.
Perhaps to lend credence to the saying that ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same, Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), which lost its mind in the rush to endorse General Abacha with its ‘Who the Cap Fits’ campaign has now again become a tool in the hands of Mommy and her cronies. Watching NTA network news usually reads like a protocol list: news about the president; then Mommy; the vice president; Old PDP, then some of the more rapidly pro-Jonathan governors and ministers.
In the same vein, numerous well funded organizations with very funny names are springing up by the day to pour opprobrium on whoever dares to have a different view about Nigeria’s political future in 2015 and beyond that does not include Mommy. That most of these groups, mostly unregistered can afford full page colour newspaper public notices indicate that the sources of their funding might not be too far removed from the same sources that sponsor Mommy’s very generous public engagements with ‘my fellow widows’, though her husband is very much alive and in robust health.
It is said that the most dangerous point in leadership comes when those in power cannot be told the truth anymore, or refuse to accept the truth even when it is right before them. Clearly, Mommy and her household have reached the point where blind, obdurate abhorrence for simple truths are covering the shades of whatever reason and decorum they might have had before tasting presidential authority, and then thoroughly abusing it.
Maybe one shouldn’t be so surprised; after all, even supposedly educated and sophisticated Nigerians are refusing to see beyond the prism of intrinsic intolerance or pent up prejudices and propelled, by greed, would do and say anything to catch a crumb Mommy’s publicly funded ‘generosity’.
From the crass opportunists, eye-service professionals and life-long yes-men who take pride in invoking ‘Mommy at the Villa’; from the for gratuitous groups who have forced truth to flee in the face of falsehood; from men and women who eulogize evil to bash around the bonfires of the banal, someone ought to find the courage to tell Mommy the truth.
And the truth is that power is a transient, dangerous thing that is better left to go when it wants to. In the end, power has always, and will always break the backs of those who ignore the danger signals: praise-singers.