The Portrait of Nelson Mandela as a Nigerian Statesman

John Otim
John Otim: Editor of Nile Journal, Poet, Novelist, Critic.




Were Nelson Mandela born a Nigerian he would not have been examined let alone admitted and treated in a hospital within the borders of this great land. At the slightest sign of trouble a special plane will fly him to the best hospital in Germany, in Britain, in America or France. This is the Nigerian way.

Any Nigerian doctor, who dares approach him much less touch him would be subject to arrest. State Secret Security agents will grill the poor fellow: You crazed? So you want kill de man? Who sent you?

Even now as he lies critically ill receiving some of the best treatment and care modern medicine can offer within his own country, were Mr. Mandela a Nigerian not only would he be in a foreign hospital surrounded and cared for by kind foreign doctors and nurses, he would have commandeered an entire wing of the hospital. His insufferable aides would have demanded that the hospital address the great man only as Your Excellency. By now the aides would have combed the town in search of women.

In Abuja no government official would issue a bulletin on the progress of the great man. The only statement the government will issue is to deny categorically that the man has been hospitalized at all. Some overdressed overfed spokesman will appear on primetime television and with a straight face tell the anxious nation and the waiting world that His Excellency Dr Mandela went abroad on vacation. Nigerians love the game of hide and seek.

Were Mr. Mandela a Nigerian, now that he lies critically ill in a hospital bed, scores of competing pastors and imams would have taken to the airwaves to proclaim the message of God. Everyone should get to their places of worship at once! And pray and fast steadfastly! Discretely aides would pass round the collection basket.

But in South Africa people are praying too you say. Jacob Zuma just urged everyone to pray for the great Mahdiba you say. True but you miss the point.

If Nelson Mandela were a Nigerian he would have long been considered a fool for having struggled so long and worked as hard as he did. Whoever heard of a big man working? When by a simple decree the big man may make himself a major stake holder in such and such corporations and multinationals.  And sit back and watch the naira and the dollars flow into his bank accounts. Who is going to deny him or contradict him?

It does not befit a President, or a Governor, or even a Vice Chancellor to demean himself by working. Was the man not a traditional ruler by right of birth? And those silly shirts he wears! In Nigeria Mandela would not be permitted to wear them. For goodness sake how should we tell him apart from the mindless crowd? Thank God in our country we have dress code even in the universities.

If Mr. Mandela were a Nigerian, he will have enough cash of his own in multiple foreign banks to make the Forbes list of the World’s richest men ten times over. Only he would keep things quiet and not to go about confiding in Forbes as if he were some American. Leave that to Bill Gates and those South Korean upstarts seeking for attention.

If Mr. Mandela were a Nigerian He would own mansions and palaces in choice locations around the world where wives and girlfriends gathered from around the world would wait for him. He would own private jets, his own private army, and of course lots of exotic cars. What is money for?

If Mandela were a Nigerian, he would not be addressed simply as Mister. Leave that to Obama. Upon his release from jail the University of Maiduguri in northern Nigeria had the good sense to award the man an honorary doctorate degree. Since then our newspapers and newsmen have addressed him exclusively as Dr Mandela. That is our way; others may try to put us down but we are a generous and civilized people.

However, if Nelson Mandela were a Nigerian his status as a world hero and a dauntless freedom fighter would be in danger. They would be sure to put it to the ethnic litmus test. By the end of the process as sure as night follows day only his tribesmen and kinsmen shall consider him heroic . Others will pour scorn on him as a charlatan and a loser. Christ was right in many things but he was wrong on this one:

A prophet is not without honor except in his home town and among his own kinsmen

The good thing is that if Nelson had been a Nigerian, he would not have had to serve time in jail at all and waste away his life like he did. Listen! Our great and much revered traditional rulers and religious leaders would have gathered and gone as a body to the powerful White rulers of the land. They would have begged and apologized on behalf of Mandela. They would have denounced his unruly opposition to the wise and noble policies of apartheid. They would have pledged that henceforth they will see to it that the young man toe the line and respect constituted authority.

In the ears of the apartheid authorities this would have been music. In a great and grandiose ceremony carried live on BBC, CNN and Aljazeera the godfathers of apartheid would have released Mandela as the overdressed overstuffed guarantors of his surrender bathe in the lime light. What a victory this would have been for apartheid!

When Mr. Mandela made that terrible mistake, some would say fatal, of stepping down as President after only one term in office, imagine that! In Nigeria or even in Kenya (ask Mwai Kibaki if you doubt this) he will not be allowed to do that. His kinsmen and tribesmen would have stopped it. They will have hired witch doctors and medicine men to cure him of his madness. Which man in his right mind runs away from riches? Listen to the wisdom of an African Statesman though not a Nigerian as he discussed the merits of his long and continued rule:

After I have killed my animal do you expect me to walk away from the carcass?

A Nigerian Mandela would be something like a Robert Mugabe or any one of those demigods that pretend to go through the motion of elections every five years or so. A Nigerian Mandela would not be subject to any constitutional restraint. Most of his brothers in Africa are not. The constitution would be subject to his whim. Any clause in the constitution that runs counter to his wishes or cease to please him will be deleted.

To cut a long story short, if Nelson Mandela had been but a Nigerian, the man and his fame and his towering global stature would not exist. The world would not have heard of him! A Nigerian Mandela would have remained what they call in Lagos a local champ. This type of leader is plentiful in Africa. Nowadays you see them reflected in Nollyhood movies. God bless Africa!

*This article was inspired by Okey Ndibe's earlier article