Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Letter from Africa: Cutting Nigeria's 'big men' down to size


In our series of letter from African journalists, novelist and writer Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani looks at the impact of new economising measures in Nigeria.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who came to office in May, seems bent on making public office less and less attractive to the average Nigerian "big man".
Beyond the unusually austere salary package for new members of his cabinet - in response to the country's worst economic crisis in years - he has given an instruction that should drastically reduce the size of every serving minister's entourage.
Few Nigerian big men walk alone: Such a typical highly esteemed and self-important person in Africa's most populous country goes around accompanied by a multitude of men.
They follow him to weddings and funerals and birthdays and book launches; they follow him to weddings and funerals and birthdays and book launches; they stand when he stands, sit when he sits, and depart when he departs.
You can often tell when a big man is approaching by the number of followers pushing their way through in front of him or those shepherding from behind.
You can usually tell when one is in the vicinity, maybe inside a restaurant or a hotel, by the number of men hovering outside, at the front door or the gate or in the lobby, waiting.
As soon as their principal reappears, they jump into action, surround him to his car, then shove their way into their own vehicles, which zoom off behind and in front of his.
Sometimes, the big man is travelling out of Nigeria, perhaps to a country where such exuberant displays of clustering may be greeted with raised eyebrows.
In that case, the retinue will stop at the airport lobby, watching solemnly as he jets off.
But when he returns, they will have regrouped, possibly on the tarmac, ready to resume their duties from exactly where they stopped.

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