By Pius Adesanmi
Elite disconnect – the existential prison which creates the delusion that life, for 180 million Nigerians, is exactly what your life looks like on luxury private jets and yachts, royal suites of five-star hotels, villas and chateaux in the choicest parts of Abuja and Lagos, government house, etc. You have hardly ever met anyone who does not exist inside this bubble. Those who live outside of it but come in to provide you daily domestic services as aides and servants are required to filter what they bring to you from the outside world.
Elite disconnect is a medical condition.
Your world is reduced to a bubble. A bubble of perception. An existential bubble.
The worst case of elite disconnect in recent memory comes from Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the current Emir of Kano. As Central Bank Governor, he was on President Jonathan’s side of the oil subsidy argument before things fell apart between the two of them; before he said some very rude and condescending things to and about the President; before the President tried to destroy him to teach him a lesson; before fate rescued him from the heavy price he would have paid for rudeness and condescension to an elected President.
Before all of these things happened, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi had wondered aloud what the fuss was all about when people claimed that the high cost of petrol was having a disastrous impact on their ability to use their generators. Generators use diesel, not petrol, Sanusi had quipped.
Although he later apologized, the damage had been done, the point made. A member of the elite was so disconnected from what 99% of Nigerians call life that he had no idea that not everybody used the sort of diesel-guzzling soundproof Mikano giant generators they use in his closeted bubble of privilege and luxury. He had no way of telling that in the Face-Me-I-Face-You rented apartments of Oshodi and Mushin, the small I-Better-Pass-My-Neighbour generators of the little people run on petrol and not diesel.
Elite disconnect is not limited to how it manifested itself in SLS. Disturbing signs of it are already apparent in some of the public utterances of President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo. The effects of being closeted in Aso Rock, receiving only filtered rosy news about the rest of Nigeria from aides, are beginning to show. Last week, I was at the 2015 edition of the Ake Arts and Book Festival, one of Africa’s biggest literary festivals organized annually in Abeokuta by the novelist, Lola Shoneyin.
The country I saw was one in which pain, poverty, and lack are still very much the defining features of the daily lived experience of the people. Inflation is through the roof. By the time I bought N5000 airtime and drank a couple of beers and pepper soup, I had blown my first N20, 000 within minutes of landing in Nigeria. Yet, Governors are grumbling about N18, 000 minimum wage. A Nigerian is expected to live for a month on less than what I had blown on beer and recharge card within an hour! Electricity is next to none existent. And fuel scarcity had nearly brought life to a complete halt.
Yet, the very week I was in Nigeria contemplating these things and gnashing my teeth, Vice President Osinbajo was at the graduation of Senior Executive Course 37 of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPPS) in Kuru, where he declared, echoing his principal, that Nigeria has now “entered its glorious era.”
Glorious era? Whatever it is that President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo are drinking in the Villa, I certainly want part of it for their definition of glorious era would be patently funny if it weren’t so tragic. But I cannot have what they are drinking. What they are drinking is a brew called separation from reality. They are not lying when they say that Nigeria has entered its glorious era. They genuinely believe this because that is all that they see about Nigeria in their filtered bubble. That is what elite disconnect is all about. I doubt if their daily itineraries even allow them to see the fuel queues.
As Vice President Osinbajo was delivering the great news of Nigeria’s glorious era in Kuru, President Buhari was on his way to Iran for a meeting of gas exporting countries. What will be lost on the President in Tehran is that all the other Presidents he will be meeting cannot speak of a glorious era in their countries if the people were unable to get petrol and gas.
If elite disconnect manifested as lively ignorance in Sanusi’s instance and cute cluelessness in President Buhari’s and Vice President Osinbajo’s instances above, it comes across as crass arrogance and unbridled entitlement in the case of Diezani Allison-Madueke, immediate past Minister of Petroleum. She is battling cancer in London. I wish her well. May her creator and medical science heal her. Illness is usually a humbling occasion for sober reflection. Not for Madam Diezani. She has granted an interview to Dele Momodu to absolve herself of any wrongdoing in her service to Nigeria. That is fine.
The concluding part of that interview, now published, is a voyage into elite disconnect and hubris. Mrs Diezani basically makes a case for why Nigerians ought to be grateful to her for the routine of obeying the law and rules and doing her job by not wasting funds after they had lost the election! It is the sort of constipated, nonsensical, and condescending reasoning that has made supporters of the last order insist that President Jonathan be awarded a Nobel Prize for conceding an election he lost. So, what global prize do we award Diezani for not stealing or wasting money she could have stolen or wasted after the election? Mrs. Diezani clearly doesn’t get it. She doesn’t get it because of elite disconnect.
Can President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo do something about their own incipient elite disconnect? Yes they can. They must defy their aides – political aides are the unpatriotic lot who separate their principals from reality in Nigeria – and pay immersion visits to the real Nigeria from time to time.
Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El Rufai, once told me a story. He was very emotional when telling it. He visited every village in Kaduna during his gubernatorial campaign. In one village, he ran into an old friend he had not seen since they were in elementary school. The friend is a poor village farmer now. El Rufai gives him one thousand naira. The friend marveled at the sight of the naira note and told El Rufai that he had heard about 500 and 1000 naira notes but had never actually seen any in his life.
El Rufai told me that it was a humbling experience to be in the presence of a Nigerian who had vaguely heard about the existence of such naira denominations but had never actually seen them. It was an emotional moment for the governor and he told me it was something that will always have a direct bearing on his view of governance.
There are Nigerians in villages who have never seen a N500 note because they have never transacted business in anything that would involve more than the N200, N100, and N50 denominations. When was the last time President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo met and shook hands with a Nigerian who has never seen a N100 note? That Nigerian exists. He is in our villages and urban slums. To prevent elite disconnect, you have to cut through the crap that your political aides feed you about Nigeria’s glorious era, you have to break protocol once a month and go in search of such Nigerians. They will keep you grounded.
If you search hard enough, you will find a Nigerian who has never seen a N50 note.
You are his President and Vice President.
Try telling him that Nigeria has entered a glorious era.