(Excerpt from a public lecture I delivered in 2009)
“There is Elizabeth Udoudo, a mother of two children aged five and three years respectively. Sometime in February 2008, this woman and her children had the temerity to share the road with the convoy of state governor in Lagos. Permit me to enter some details on the psychology of Nigerian convoys for the benefit of our Canadian friends in this audience. That is what you call a motorcade here in Canada and also in the United States. Purely ceremonial here, the motorcade wears a human face and respects ordinary Canadians and extant speed limits. I have always argued that the convoy is Nigeria’s worst postcolonial tragedy. The convoy of the Nigerian government official is obscene ostentation, intimidation, unbridled arrogance, and abject alienation from the people. It is an isle of inebriation by power, an oasis of total lawlessness. In his convoy, the Nigerian government official – often an empty barrel also known locally as a “Big Man”, “Chief”, “Alhaji” or a combination of all three – is no longer human. The speed limit of his convoy is determined by how far the speedometer of each constituent bullet-proof SUV can go.
President Obama’s convoy comprises his limo, a decoy limo, one or two media buses and a few police outriders on motorcycles. That is the length of the convoy of a self-respecting Local Government Chairman in Nigeria. At higher levels, a respectable convoy should be at least one kilometer long. I am not going to tell you the price they normally invoice for an SUV. You will have a heart attack. I am not going to mention the soldiers and/or stern mobile police men wielding AK-47s and horse whips. I am not going to tell you that many Nigerians have been crushed by the convoys of our lawless and inhumane rulers over the years. The Nigerian convoy of course comes with the sort of siren blaring that you people here associate with the emergency services: police, ambulance, and fire engines. When you see a convoy and hear the wailing siren in Nigeria, you jump into a ditch or drive your car quickly off the road for the man of power to pass undisturbed by the people he is supposed to be serving. When the people of Nigeria eventually wake up, the convoy will be one of the first targets of their ire. It is one symbol of oppression that they need to take out. Violently if necessary.
My generous recourse to imagery here is to highlight the atmospherics of oppression in which the convoy thrives and also to give you a true portrait of Nigeria’s rulers and government officials since they wear a totally different persona and pretend to be cultured when they are here to interact with you in the West. Don’t ever believe what you see or hear when Nigerian government officials come here grinning from ear to ear. They are just acting for you or, as we say in Nigeria, they are “forming”. That is not who they are back home. They brutalize our people daily. If you belong with the little people, you’d better not mess with the convoy of a Nigerian government official – especially if you are a woman. Elizabeth Udoudo was driving and broke this rule that is so crucial to the architecture of power and democracy in Nigeria.
Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo state and his convoy would broach no such violation of the rules of engagement – by a woman for that matter! They stopped the convoy – even time stops when the ego of a big man is at stake in Nigeria – dragged her out of the car and proceeded to beat her black and blue in broad daylight and in the presence of her young children…”