The Oga at the Top in us

One learns something new about Nigeria every day. Apparently there is a governmental outfit called the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), it sounds like a uniformed service; I am not sure that it knows what it does, not that you could tell from its website (www.nscdc.gov.ng) but more on that later. Well, so one Mr. Obafaiye Shem, Lagos State “Commandant” of the NCSDC decided to grant an interview to Channels TV, my favorite Nigerian TV station, one that gives me hope that things might change for the better in Nigeria (witness here, the stellar work they did in shocking the world with gory visual of a dilapidated Ikeja Police College).

oga at the top1

Well, it is now part of Nigerian folklore, the interview did not go well; actually it was an epic disaster. This video clip shows Shem trying to bluster his way through a seemingly simple question: “What is your website?” Every Nigerian on earth seems to have watched the clip so I won’t ask you to watch it. It was an awful interview and Shem blew it big time. A trained professional knows to simply say “Great question, I don’t have the answer to your question but I will be happy to provide the response later.” No, not this Nigerian civil servant, he hems and haws, claims that only his “Oga at the top” can authorize release of this super-secret website address and after relentless badgering by smirking, skeptical TV hosts, he blurts out a lie on national television: www.nscdc! And he ends with a flourish, ‘Dasall!” Yep, that’s all! That’s all!

And the rest is history; the ignorance of Shem the “Commandant” remains viral on social media, Oga at the Top! T-shirts are selling like hot cakes and several musical pieces have been birthed by creative Nigerian youths. This is a hilarious time for the Nigerian community online and on the ground. Shem was the visual embodiment of the pejorative that Nigeria is fast becoming: Here comes Nigeria, our masquerade, all decked out in the colors of borrowed plumage, of the ostrich. Fingers pointing here and jabbing there, feathers rising in protest to show her yansh, Nigeria, bullshit merchant. #MyOgaAtTheTop! Yep, faced with a looming immolation by young Turks, the hapless guy decided to bluff his way past the road block in a scene reminiscent of the confrontation between the leopard and the tortoise in that hilarious fable in Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah:

Once upon a time the leopard who had been trying for a long time to catch the tortoise finally chanced upon him on a solitary road. ‘Aha,’ he said; at long last! Prepare to die.’ And the tortoise said: ’Can I ask one favour before you kill me?’ The leopard saw no harm in that and agreed. ‘Give me a few moments to prepare my mind,’ the tortoise said. Again the leopard saw no harm in that and granted it. But instead of standing still as the leopard had expected the tortoise went into strange action on the road, scratching with hands and feet and throwing sand furiously in all directions. ’ Why are you doing that?’ asked the puzzled leopard. The tortoise replied: ‘Because even after I am dead I would want anyone passing by this spot to say, yes, a fellow and his match struggled here.’” (pp. 117-118)

Let me concede that the video is quite simply hilarious. I have it on repeat and I keep watching and laughing and wondering about the chutzpah of our people. But lost in all that mirth is the unprofessional conduct of the journalists who served as hosts during the interview. What happened is just not done in respectable journalism; this was a gotcha, a high tech lynching. There is precedence for this. In 1988, George Will, the revered conservative American journalist, a bit peeved that America seemed to be taking the Reverend Jesse Jackson too seriously in his campaign for presidency decided (in my opinion and that of many) to embarrass him by asking him this technical question on television, “As president, would you support measures such as the G-7 measures of the Louvre Accords?” (The accords were technical agreements employed the previous year to stabilize exchange rates.) Of course Jesse Jackson did not know the answer and he looked pretty stupid on television. George Will suffered a backlash that endures to this day with many suggesting that his obtuse line of interviewing was racist (read one example here). The late African American journalist, William Raspberry asserted that Will seemed eager “to embarrass the candidate rather than to flesh out his policy position.”

Back to the Oga at the Top interview, both sides seemed unprepared for a substantive interview. Everything on that set smelled of mimicry, from the attitude of the hosts and guests to the faux set – the West is an asymptote. The attitude brays, This is how they do it in America, to be successful we must try to do it like them. The interview came across as a Nollywood comedy with Shem the guest as the best comedy actor of the lot with the hosts playing overwrought supporting bit parts. What happened here is also a conversation about generational disconnect, the older generation still has the power but is increasingly comically disconnected and long in the tooth when it comes to accountability and technological advances; the younger generation, on the other hand, long used to being ignored, abused even, has the new knowledge base.  They see the older generation as mostly bullshit artists, conmen who are busy running the country aground. The older generation in turn sees the young as smirking upstarts too quick to try to embarrass their elders. There is mutual disdain and disrespect between the flawed generations.

In my view, the hosts were guilty of embarrassing their guest. It seems to me unusual and unethical to keep badgering a guest for information, especially when you have clearly made the point that the guest does not have the information. In any case, professional interviewers do their homework; for such an important agency, the website’s address should have been obtained beforehand and scrolled across the screen for viewers.  When it became clear the guest did not have the answer, the polite thing to do would have been to move on. You could see in the eyes of the hosts and in their body language that they were sure the man was full of shit. They saw blood and went for red meat. It bears repeating: That interview was a cringe-worthy exercise in unprofessional journalism. It was not a good moment for Channels TV.  This was a high tech lynching of a clueless Nigerian civil servant by smirking leaders of a younger generation only too happy to humiliate a visible symbol of all that they have grown up to hate.

oga at the top2And so, what is the website of the NSCDC? The man gave the wrong answer, half of the address: “www.nscdc. Dasall!” He was technically wrong. But there is a real sense in which he was right. Have you been to the NSCDC’s website? It is disgraceful; the website is awful, just awful. It should actually be pulled down until someone can come up with a professional site. Yes, the real scandal is the state of the website. The website www.nscdc.gov.ng is a riot of mediocrity loudly advertising the sad fact that Nigeria does not respect herself, does not take herself seriously. Grammatically challenged sentences jostle with each other for bragging rights in Grammar’s Hall of Shame. There is no doubt that this pretend website was built at great cost to Nigeria by a semi-literate relative of the”Oga at the top” of the NSCDC. Go over to the website and see for yourself, many of the links take you to sites that are “under construction” in addition to the occasional broken link. This is consistent with the shoddy websites of virtually every Nigerian public institution I have ever visited as I chronicled in the essay, Viewing Nigeria through a web of broken links. What is wrong with our people? A well-prepared journalist would have done the research first and confronted this guest with hard questions about the sorry state of the website. No, we like to embarrass ourselves before the world.

Like our government, the website is a lurid investment in pretend processes and structures, empty portals with no indication when, if they will ever be filled with substance. And the website is comical in its shoddiness. There are several pictures of a well-fed “officer” on “a peace-keeping mission” – in Italy of all places. Apparently, Italy is a hot bed of insurrection; he is dressed in battle fatigues posing in what looks to me like a shopping mall. Estacode! If Jon Gambrell of the AP writes a snarky story about this buffoonery, Nigerian intellectuals will come out with their sharp pens screaming racism, whine, whine, whine. If you don’t respect yourself, what do you expect foreigners to do?

Shem had no business knowing the address of the website, because like most things with the Nigerian government, it is a pretend structure, no one goes there, except to “share money”, there is nothing there for anyone who is serious about knowing whatever the NSCDC does. It is just another website aping what happens elsewhere. All the website says is that NSCDC is of questionable value to Nigeria and Nigerians. That may well be the truth. Yep, Nigeria has carved for itself a shameful reputation as a rogue nation governed by rogues and managed by rogue civil servants. Our rulers and civil servants are ruining Nigeria through management by mimicry, all sizzle and no suya.

Let me observe that there is something really perverse about ridiculing a man for mangling the address of a website in the same week that the president of our nation proudly conferred a presidential pardon on a convicted criminal wanted in pretty much every serious country outside our borders. We are not a serious people; our outrage melts into mirth because laughter is an easy medicine for managing our condition.  By the way, we should also learn to respect each other. If that guest was white, you would see all the hosts falling over themselves to ask soft-ball questions, fawning and showing all their white teeth in obsequious subservience. But then, to be fair, the white person would have come prepared to respond to soft questions. I tire sha.

oga at the top 3So why did we laugh so hard at the man’s discomfiture? Well, a few years ago, the most visual example of the caricature that Nigerian public education makes out of our beautiful children burst forth in the form of Rita, the kokolet of Koko Mansion. Rita managed to mangle every sentence that her lips uttered. Her video also went viral and the cruelty was something to behold. Many who laughed at Rita had managed to escape the gulag that was her lot in the public schools of Nigeria. Many who laughed at her were educated abroad from looted funds that were meant for the education of children in Nigeria’s public schools. Rita probably “graduated” from one of the public schools in this awful video documenting our decaying public schools, home only to the truly dispossessed.  We enjoy berating victims. As for this Oga at the Top video, we laughed because perhaps it helps us deny that the man in the mirror is us.  When we see Shem in that odious video, we see us, and like those young journalists, we recoil and shudder – with disgust and self-loathing. The cackle coming from us, the hoots of derision are for us, this is what we have become. Yes, for those of us who yell at Western journalists for only telling the single story about Africa, this is what they see, the mimicry that makes them mock us. This is what they see. We are who we are. I salute Nigeria. I salute “Commandant” Shem. I salute us.

22 thoughts on “The Oga at the Top in us”

  1. “Oga”That commandant does not represent Nigeria at all, I want to commend the grammatical weight of your writeup but please don’t associate Oga at the top with Nigerians pls, Nigerians are intelligent.

    1. Obiora, you are on point. Write up is brilliant, but I disagree with with his analysis on some aspects about treating the white man differently, and total condemnation of Nigeria.

  2. This is the harsh truth/reality. even while laughing so I hard, I knew there were many underlying lessons to be learnt. we have a long way to go.

  3. Very well constructed and articulated. You have hit the nail on the head…We have come a long way on the wrong road! We are the man in the mirror…

  4. “Let me observe that there is something really perverse about ridiculing a man for mangling the address of a website in the same week that the president of our nation proudly conferred a presidential pardon on a convicted criminal wanted in pretty much every serious country outside our borders.”

    This is precisely what I have been thinking. Mocking the man for his televised gaffe turned into a diversion by the twitter elite from the most serious issue of the week. What is more serious, forgetting the name of a fairly useless government website that very few people really access and blustering about it, or pardoning a robber who has stolen billions from Nigeria’s masses? I’m sure Jonathan and co. are blessing Shem for distracting those with the loudest voices away from the issues that really matter.

    As Elnathan John puts it, “[…]Nigerians only have this resolve for public embarrassment in matters that don’t matter. Like bad English, like a premiership team that never wins trophies, like a public servant that needs his oga at the top to verify what the website of his office is. Not things like atrocious governance, corruption or outright disrespect for the Nigerian people.” http://www.elnathanjohn.blogspot.com/2013/03/pardoning-sinners.html

    Thanks, Pa Ikhide, for this brilliant piece.

  5. Biko go and watch “hard talk” on the bbc. If there is anything this country needs, its precisely this kind of journalism. Next time they will give the post of PRO to someone who is suitably qualified.

  6. It almost comes across as though you didn’t watch the whole interview, the journalists asked questions that were pertinent to the issue that was necessary to bring up- why Channels TV viewers kept on being misdirected to scam websites and what the agency was doing to tackle this.
    From what I watched, it wasn’t this ‘lynching’ you refer to and once they asked a couple times, other than the “That’s amazing” statement, they moved on.

  7. My “Oga at the top” Ikhide, before I watched the clip, I had worried that the Channels team may indeed have ‘lynched’ the Commandant. After watching it, I don’t think they did.

    The issue at stake had to do with a recruitment scam where potential employees were being fleeced at some website. ‘Commandant’ could have easily ducked the question but he didn’t. My take is the Channels team were as surprised as everybody else the way he went about it.

    I ignored the clip for many days, regarding it as the usual frivolity that somehow manages to ‘catch fire’ while important stuff barely registers with our people. But see what’s happening now: Serious people like yourself and the likes of Ken Amaeshi are writing about “Oga at the top” albeit from a very different tangent.

    The important thing for us all, I think, is that there is the recognition of something being broken. Perhaps, perhaps, after we’ve all finished laughing, we can start looking for ways to fix the embarrassment that is now our country.

  8. A refreshing perspective on ‘The Oga on Top’ issue but I disagree with your opinion that the journalists were unprofessional. The crux of the interview was to address the employment scams rife in the NSCDC. People who are given websites to register their names after paying a sum of money and they later find out everything was fake. Therefore, the question the interviewers asked was very crucial to the interview. Unprofessional would have been challenging him – ‘how come you don’t the website of your organisation?’
    Truly, ‘Oga on Top’ syndrome is a sickening mirror of our nation. In the throes of pain that we all feel we often need a therapeutic release and that’s what Shem Obaifaiye has given to Nigerians in the past week.

  9. Oga at the Top is now claiming that he was not suspended and his wife went to Channels TV to protest according to Linda Ikeji’s blog. Maybe the comedy of Oga at the Top (Part 2) has just begun. Ha ha ha!

  10. If the interview is viewed from the context of Shem coming to clear confusion on an online NSCDC employment scam, then I think it would be hard to say the man was lynched or that the Channels crew was unprofessional.

  11. I humbly disagree that it was unprofessional for the journalists to “badger” Oga Shem into giving an answer to the website question. Up until he gave his “answer,” I wasn’t sure what his motivation for not giving a straightforward answer was and they helped me answer that without a shadow of a doubt. That was their job and they did it. They could have and should have done away with the sarcastic “that’s amazing” comment after, but I’m willing to forgive that.

    Now, earlier in the interview when he was asked what was being done about the fake web outlets that were defrauding job seekers, and he gave an answer — a talking-points answer, but an answer nonetheless — the interviewer most closely seated to him said categorically “that’s not enough!” Twice! thought THAT was extremely unprofessional. It was their job to ask the questions that would help their viewers draw their own conclusions, but not to actually make those conclusions for the viewer.

    My 2 cents…

  12. Well-written article Pa Ikhide.

    However, I don’t think the Channels TV hosts were unprofessional at all in their handling of the interview. I felt they remained calm throughout the interview, and even when they repeated the questions, they made it clear that it was for the benefit of viewers who would be watching.

    When the Commandant was trying to bluff his way out of the “what’s your website” question, the lady even clarified by saying they wanted to know the general website and not the one for employment. I don’t think it’s the job of journalists or interviewers to cover up the ignorance of a guest on the show. Rather, the guest should have come prepared for the questions that are likely to be asked.

    From the discussion, it was obvious they were talking about fraudulent recruitment websites. I would imagine that if a representative of the NSCDC was coming on air to talk about the recruitment websites, shouldn’t they have sent somebody who knew what a website is? I suspect they didn’t take the issues seriously at all, so they just sent someone who ranks highly but had nothing intelligent to say.

    Anyway the whole sorry mess has exposed us to the levels of ignorance, laziness and unprofessionalism at the top of our civil services. The question now is: will our leaders learn from this? Will they start taking their roles seriously? Will they start training their staff properly so that they can keep up with technology and communication? Will they realise that we now live in a world where people are actually expected to be good at their jobs?Time will tell.

  13. I can’t say how relieved and vindicated I am with this piece. May God reward you for saying exactly what I was thinking and bringing to fore the shortcomings of the host. As a broadcaster you don’t badger a guest rather when you find out that he is in murky waters, you guide him. Help him navigate. But alas those chanels guys felt it was okay to draw blood and in the process brought them selves to ridicule. It is really sad but shows that the host were unprepared for the show.

  14. I am left shame-faced, my tail between my legs so to speak, because like most Nigerian people, I initially could not see the wood for the trees; I didn’t see the other side of the story like you have so aptly and concisely presented it, written with such skillful craftsmanship! Well written, very well written. I now stand thoroughly chastised. Nigeria we hail thee!

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