General Abacha needs a PRman

Posted by By at 30 January, at 08 : 23 AM Print

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From my Archives

A satire by Femi Akomolafe


Russia, Winston Churchill once quipped, is a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma (or something like that). Nigerians must be feeling the same about their military ruler, General Sanni Abacha. Since he took power close to two years ago, the strongman has held only three press conferences. He has refused, steadfastly, to engage in shouting matches with his numerous and vociferous opponents. He has refused to bandy insult with both local and foreign critics. Speeches, exhortations, and condemnations from the U.S. president, the Catholic pontiff, the Nigerian Nobel laureate, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Carter Center, has not elicited a response from the phlegmatic president.

Nigerians love shouting. They are loquacious. Every Nigerian has an opinion and is never afraid to voice it. Among the things that mystified Ghanaian JJD in Lagos are the shouting matches. Imagine yourself a Ghanaian from, say, Dunkwa-on-Offin – nice folks there too, who just landed in Lagos. What confronts you but a picture of hell on earth. Rulers and leaders are shouting on the ruled and the led. Soldiers are shouting on mobile (anti-riot) police who, in turn, are shouting on the regular police who, in turn, are shouting on the traffic wardens who, in turn, are braying on drivers. The drivers are cursing the driver-mates, ‘Abi o nse were ni?’ The mates are replying in kind, ‘Oga mi, ori yin o pe o.’ Parents shout and rave on children. Husbands are shouting on wives, ‘Asewo…’ Wives are retorting sharply, ‘Olosi, oloribuku, oko iyawo…’ Children are shouting on the nannies and the house-maids. House hands are shouting on the utensils and the pets. Boyfriends are shouting on girl-friends and girl-friends, re-tying their wrapper will shout back, ‘Emi, emi….’ Shakara Oloje.

Let’s get back to the present story.

What is exasperating Nigerians is not that General Abacha has locked up most of his opponent – they can deal with that, it is simply that the General is not saying much. Actually, he’s not saying ANYTHING. Behind his imperative dark-glasses, General Abacha is a study in taciturnity. His sphinx-like countenance is a PRman nightmare. General Abacha cannot win a Public-Relations contest, and it is doubtful if he even cares. For enlightenment, I went to the posh neo-classical mansion that houses the offices of the Nigerian High Commission in Accra.

The ‘Maiguard.’ was sitting on his won bench under a Nim tree. He has a beautiful Fulani face. His long robe was neat, with dashy embroidery. He was nursing his worry-bead – the thing the Moslems use for their prayer.

The sky was blue and clear. The sun rays, where they penetrated the canopy strewn by the trees, were harsh. The mid-noon wind slashed into the trees. The leaves were rustled; they groaned and cried out in happy ecstasy. The heavens were happy. Birds chirped delightedly on tree-tops.

The guard watched me approach with little interest. He was fingering his beads. His lips moved in silent incantations. He appeared to be in direct communication with invisible, supernatural spirits. “Zannu d’aiki.” I shouted a greeting.

“Sonnu kade, megida.” The guard replied. His tired, impassive eyes were on me. As I came nearer, I saw his long Tuareg sword lying close beside him.

“Master dey?” I asked him.

“Master, e no dey.”

“Which master no dey?”

“Which master you want?”


“I like your style,” I said, watching his imperturbable expression.

“What you sey?” He wanted to know. His dark, impassive eyes never leaving me.

I left him and walked the long, graveled drive-way to the reception. Behind the huge desk and the communication things sat the Yoruba girl. A true born-again, Jesus freak lady who appears to spend more time trying to save more soul for Jesus than she spends doing what she’s paid to do.

“E nle.” She greeted me. As usual, she was dressed like a fashion-casualty. Today, she wore a faded, severe gown that looked like an inheritance from a great grandmother. Various spiritual tracts were scattered on her desk. On the wall behind her desk hung a picture of what she once told me was the picture of the ‘Last Supper.’ A white Jesus, a halo of light on his head, was surrounded by about a dozen or so white guys. In the picture, Jesus raised his hands blessing in what appeared to be bread. A white dove was captured in mid-flight.

“E ku ise.” I replied her. It is Yoruba for ‘Ayeeko.’

After blessing my soul, she sent me to the office of the spin-doctor, officially-titled, Press Secretary. A heavy-set man, built like Frank Bruno, Mr. Okonkwo, as he’s called by everyone who knows him, rose from his seat with exaggerated promptness. He greeted me with unnecessary fanfare. He wore a fine Igbo attire complete with an Igbo Fez cap, the type made popular by Nnamdi Azikwe. Mr. Okonkwo always cut to me the picture of a character from Chinua Achebe’s book. It is not only in the name.

“Kedu.” I greeted the man with the bulging biceps.

“Odinma. How body?”

“Body dey fine. How’s your family?”


“And work?”

“Fine.” “And the part-time girl-friends.”

“What!” Mr. Okonkwo wanted to know. His Adam-apple throbbed with confusion.

“It is infectious,” I said to the PRman after sitting myself in the chair facing him.

“What’s infectious.” The spin-doctor wanted to know.

“The taciturnity. The mono-syllabic answer. The dead-pan expression. The capo countenance. Everything.”

The PRman looked at me as one would look at a demented relative. Pity and concern shone in his Igbo eyes.

“Everything.” I blurted out mysteriously.

“‘Everything,’ what everything?” Mr. Okonkwo was still mystified by my enigmatic outburst.

“General Abacha, do you think he’s Nigerian?”

A look of bewilderment crossed Mr. Okonkwo’s face. He tried in vain to mask it. “I wonder…” He began but I cut him short. “Stop wondering,” I bellowed at top voice, “You didn’t answer my question.” I accused the PRman who was still regarding me with great pity.

“I was wondering what manner of madness strikes you to start casting silly aspersions on the bona-fidelity of our president.”

“Mr. Okonkwo,” I cried with passion, “I do no such thing. I asked because the man is so un- Nigerian!.” My voice was vibrating with emotion.

He regarded me coldly, “How so?” He wanted to know.

“The General doesn’t talk much, to begin with. See what I mean?”

“Is that a crime?” The PRman tone was sarcastic.

“For a Nigerian leader, yes. It is a capital crime to have a Nigerian leader who doesn’t say much. In a country like Nigeria, it is a treasonable offense.”

A deep frown masked the PRman’s face. “Don’t tell me that you’ve not been imbibing the Ghanaian stuff-akpeteshi- or what do they call it again?”

“I am as sober as Funke out there. What makes the General tick, you guys must know a thing or two?”

“Search me. You’re forgetting that every man has his own personality and that no two personalities are entirely the same. General Abacha simply has a different temperament from your average Nigerian. It is true that he’s cut from a different mold than the past leaders we’ve had in our checkered history. Don’t forget that he’s an infantry general.”

I needed some clarification, “Meaning what?”

“Meaning that he’s an infantry general.” Mr. Okonkwo explained.

“Thank you,” I replied.

“You’re most welcome.”

“Do you think that the General will ever change.”

“To what?” The Press secretary was curious.

“Remove his dark glasses which make him look like a Mafia don. Put some smiles on his face. Look less like the wrath of the gods. Bandy insults with his opponents. Shout back at his critics. Slug it out with the journalists. Roar at the clergymen. Bellow at the foreign critics. Get a competent PRman. That sort of things. You see all the works. He should look and behave more like a Nigerian.”

“And you believe all those things will result in better governance. Do you know what they say in my part of the world?”

“I don’t see how they could make the situation worse than they are. Anyway, tell me what they say in your part of the world.’

“Empty drum makes the loudest noise.”

“That saying, it may interest you to know, is not native to your part of the world. They say the same thing where I come from. Are you going to tell the general to get a PR man?”

“A PR man?” The Press Secretary regarded me quizzically.

“Yes, a Public Relations Man.”

“I know what PR means. I am asking you what on earth for?”

“To make a Nigerian leader look and behave like a true-blooded Nigerian.”


About the Author 

Femi Akomolafe is a passionate Pan-Africanist. A columnist for the Accra-based Daily Dispatch newspaper and ModernGhana, and Correspondent for the New African magazine, Femi lives in both Europe and Africa and writes regularly on Africa-related issues for various newspapers and magazines.

Femi was the producer of the FOCUS ON AFRICANS TV Interview programme for the MultiTV Station.

He is also the Man and Machine Coordinator at Alaye Dot Biz Limited, a Kasoa-based Multimedia organization that specializes in Audio and Video Production. He loves to shoot and edit video documentaries.

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