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Government-Approved Billionaires (GAB)

Posted: Jul 8, 2016 at 2:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

There is no line of demarcation between government and big business in Nigeria. Most of the so-called billionaires can actually be dismissed in what is known in Igbo parlance as “Otimkpu”! The businessmen are quite simply praise-singers of any government in power. It is therefore not difficult to understand that literally all the businessmen in Nigeria used to be card-carrying members of the so-called biggest political party in Africa, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Now they have all defected en mase to the All Progressives Congress (APC), the change magicians of the new day. These billionaires used to be “Jonathan’s Boys & Girls”, but they have now changed colours to become “Buhari’s Darlings & Lovers”. In the all-too-recent past, anytime there was any PDP fundraiser the government-approved billionaires were all over the place purporting to donate billions in furtherance of the old party’s 60-year planned rule over Nigeria. Change has come to town with the billionaires now singing APC praise-songs. Anytime they are wanted in Aso Villa they hop into their private jets to sing Ranka Dede!

Just check out the list of the bank debtors in Nigeria: It reads like the who’s who of these billionaires, a cultic group that must continue to grip the hapless country by the jugular in the endless game of rent-seeking, election rigging and godfather oaths. In short, call them “Unoka” billionaires. For anybody who does not know of Unoka, it is necessary to read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart to get the gist of Okonkwo’s debtor father who drew lines on the wall to depict the many debts he owed instead of actually paying back the debts!

As things stand, any businessman who does not show up in the newfangled APC bazaar, just like in the ancient regime of the PDP, is promptly de-listed from the government’s formbook of approval. Elsewhere, business is about enterprise; here it is gauging the political barometer every new second. These ill-assorted billionaires spend more time flying in airplanes to the seat of power in Abuja than in venturing into the vast countryside for business opportunities. Living in the bondage of power, these fellows ought to hear the ancient words of Horace: “He will always be a slave, who does not know how to live upon a little.”

Given the poverty all over the nation, these showy billionaires put themselves out at every turn to be celebrated. Not me; being a poor poet who has no time for wealth, social position and class I see all of them as actually being paralyzed and thus in perpetual need of aid; whence their pathetic embrace of transient power. Christopher Reeve who acted the role of Superman with aplomb before becoming paralyzed said shortly before his death: “Some people are walking around with full use of their bodies and they are more paralyzed than I am.” Of course any man who makes creative contributions to society as Christopher Reeve made until he breathed his last would always be more alive and kicking than palace placemen playing at entrepreneurship in the shape and size of Government-Approved Billionaires (GAB).

Enterprise ought to be rooted in opening up opportunities. What we have here is the courting of the government by these fronts in the vain hope of achieving monopolies of sorts. All sorts of waivers are offered the juggernauts by the government, a government that should be more interested in the common cause. One of the more celebrated billionaires indeed told yours truly that he was so powerful that any time a past military regime deigned to devalue the country’s currency he was always informed well in advance! All he then needed to do to quadruple his billionaire status was to buy all the foreign currencies in sight before the currency devaluation date. That is how the rulers of Nigeria help to grow business in these shores – by multiplying the loot of their fronts at the expense of the entire people of the country!

When the government thus talks of the private sector one cannot but laugh. The so-called private sector is actually more public than the government. The billionaires advertise their going public in the manner in which you see any ramshackle so-called private school putting up a signboard to advertise itself as “Government-approved”. These billionaires wear their own signs on their foreheads. All their names should bear the suffix “GAB” which stands for “Government-Approved Billionaires”.

I started out by positing that the government-approved billionaires can be likened to what is known as “Otimkpu” in the eastern part of the country. The Otimkpu phenomenon soared during the infamous era of the 419 boom that characterized the disastrous General Babangida regime. A typical Otimkpu is a hanger-on, a glorified area boy who does nothing else save to sing the praises of the rich man of the moment. They were well-celebrated in the music of the late Oliver de Coque. Our government-approved billionaires are exactly of this make, singing the praise-songs of all manners of “vagabonds in power”, apologies to my guru Fela, and smiling all the way to the so-called consolidated banks that have now all fallen apart and are retrenching workers in droves. Their idea of business is simply to court power and serve as rent-seeking noisemakers. I have more respect for Iya Temitope, the local trader in Jankara market, than the business types who serve as lickspittles to those in power and cannot add any value to the mores of the nation. In short, I hereby stop wasting my very precious prose on them. Of course they are too beneath me to be dealt with in poetry.


       Uzoatu writes from Lagos