I called an old friend several weeks back. I hadn’t spoken to him in a year because he was a busy man. He held the lives of millions of people in his soft, perfumed hands. A minnow like me calling him was the equivalent of a mosquito buzzing around you as you try to wash down your pepper soup with a good brew in a beachfront club.
You see, he was an Honourable member of the National Assembly. Last April, his people suddenly realized that those other names on the ballot were not typos. For some weird reasons, they stamped their thumbs on another name.
Now, my old friend’s been out of a job and out of mind. Since he didn’t have what you might call a career or a job before he went to the National Assembly, it’s tough to dust the old resume out and give it a brush up. How do you brush up a skill as “yes, man”? Son-in-law of the party big wig is not exactly something employers are looking for these days, is it?
I didn’t really want to call him. But, one of my current friends has been on me for months to call him on his behalf. He is a new member of the National Assembly and wanted to talk to a veteran and a die-hard socialist from the “aluta continua” days at the University of Lagos. My friend is still ambitious and idealistic. He wants to change the world. And, I feel he should do it before he sees the weight of his allowance and give his constituency one big, fat middle finger.
When I realized the budget was close to being passed and allowances disbursed, I made the call. But, I had a dilemma.
I didn’t know what to call the old friend. Do I say, “hello, honourable”? Or, “hello, ex-honourable”. I stuck with the Honorable. Nigerians like titles even when it doesn’t make sense. Pastors want to be called Bishops, a Senator frowns at you if you don’t add distinguished before his official title, high school graduates buy doctorate degrees and remind you they’re doctors and people stack up traditional titles the way you stack up old books. And, if you’re ever invited to an official function, bring a book. You may be able to read a few chapters while the speakers are “observing protocol”.
My friend sounded depressed and I don’t blame him. Tell me a man or woman who is happy to lose a job that comes with N42m in pocket allowance and I’ll show you a likely candidate for a weekend at an asylum.
I had held off on calling him because it’s tough calling a man when he’s halfway between being an honorable and a common man. It’s a tough for any man and this friend was not just any man. My formerly meek friend got into the National Assembly and grew an ego the size of the West African sub-region.
I worry about my old friend sometimes. What’s he gonna do when the fuel hike finally happens? Queue up with the average Sule? God forbid. The man was used to having several gallons of gas sitting in your courtyard. Some will call that a hazard. But, in Nigeria, sometimes you can tell a big man by the number of full gas gallons in his courtyard.
I worried what he did for Christmas. For most of the eight years he was in the National Assembly, I was told when Christmas came the man celebrated like he’s a blood relative of Jesus and his father. And, given the way he invents and reinvents himself; I won’t put it past him to have one of his cronies trace his genealogy all the way to Bethlehem.
“I pray I never have a Christmas like the last one again my brother. I must get a board chairmanship before the middle of the year,” he complained.
I said Amen and, just to be sure, I sent some money to one of those Bar Beach prayer warriors to go to war on the celestial prayer route and ensure this prayer gets to heaven and someone stamps an Amen on it.
I mean, what’s my friend going to do next Christmas if he’s still just an ex-Honourable, not a board chairman or special adviser to someone with a governorship budget or the man with the good luck himself? Does he borrow to restart his Papa Claus routine and let some manna drop on the villagers or does he stay in the city and send message to the village to let them know his “pastor has advised him not to travel”?
Tough choices for a former man of the people.
Finally, we got to the reason for my call, the advise for the old pal now in the National Assembly. “Abeg, tell am to bank some of that allowance. Forget the constituency until election time. And, abeg – tell him he needs a consultant and I can help for a small fee”.