In a nation where ranka dede and Baba Rere are the norm, it would seem improper for mere citizens to question the respect given to affluent public figures, especially those with loaded pockets like Ibrahim Babangida. For too long, Nigerians have accorded troubling respect to ascribed rather than achieved status. People respect rogues with fat pockets and pour encomiums on those who have done nothing other than steal public money.
Let's just sweep the landscape with our imaginary eyes - who are the most esteemed in the society? Are they not the Babangidas, the Arisekolas, the Chris Ubas, the Sarakis, and the numerous 419 conmen who litter the legislative and executive chambers? Yes, they are the certificate fodgers and people like Babangida who could not collect his secondary school leaving certifcate for over 20 years. We can hardly disagree that if one takes a typical Nigerian town today, those with bulging pockets are more easily recognized and respected, whatever the source of their wealth may be, than academicians and honest public servants.
Take someone like Alao Arisekola, the Ibadan man of no known profession. He is hardly literate, but has always lurked within the corridors of power, faking clout for constituencies that are non-existent. But he is so good at it, he gets paid heavily all the time. His title of Are Musulumi of Yorubaland (Leader of Muslims among the Yorubas) is a jargon that exists only in his mind. Who awarded him the title, over whom, when and for what purpose? As someone from the Are Musulumi's part of the country, I wonder where his domain is, and which people he actually speaks for. The opportunist has somehow been able to amass wealth with his ascribed status. He made billions during the regime of Sani Abacha to last him a lifetime. People like him are many and honored, but for what?
Unlike in the past, Nigerians of today have little respect for worthy achievements that matter. If a person leaves Abakaliki and returns five years after to tell his kins he lectures at a College of Education somewhere, and if his pockets are not filled with cash, he gets no respect, and he will certainly get no wife should he want to marry at home. However, if during his sojourn, he engaged in armed robbery or 419 and returned home with a Lincoln Navigator, the town will welcome him as a king.
Our value of human achievement is exceptionally distorted. Ordinary folks care less for achieved status in academics, the arts, public service and the like, except it yields substantial returns of Egunje. Traditional rulers routinely award chieftaincy titles to people of questionable character, and ignore those who have immense achievements that are not measurable just in monetary terms.
We Nigerians are becoming our own greatest enemies. We are shooting ourselves down by lifting up those who should should be shamed, and suppressing the praises that really count. The whole purpose of social recognition is to encourage generations to focus on positive and laudable feats, so that human mind is geared towards greater achievements.
During a recent visit to Nigeria, some streets in urban centers are now known for producing great con artists of young men, who in their early twenties ride in Lexuses and brandish expensive bling blings. No one knows about the other guys who have graduated from the universities and are struggling with jobs that pay only the living wages.
When personalities like Babangida get praised on the streets of Nigeria and great military officers such as General Ishola Williams are anonymous, we have a big problem at hand. Babangida is reported by the World Bank to have lodged about 25 billion naira in Western financial institutions alone, whereas General Williams lives on his meagre pension. Where could IBB have got that staggering amount from except from our national treasury? Yet, instead of questioning him, we praise him. He is the Turaki of this, Otunba of that and Eze of another. This rogue is honored just like the young swindlers in our urban centers.
We must begin to challenge those who stain us as a people and nation, and bring them down before they bring us down. If worthy achievements are not raised above ascribed ones, our development will be stalled in all dimensions.