Viola Onwuliri: Omo Buruku l’Ojo Tie, By Pius Adesanmi
I am really beginning to like Viola Onwuliri, Nigeria’s Minister of State 1, Foreign Affairs. The first time I was moved to intervene positively about her in a public statement, our friends in India had just murdered a Nigerian. It was a mob job somewhere in India. And because, under normal circumstances, the life of the Nigerian citizen is not worth the fart of a hyena in the eyes of Nigerian government officials, I had expected the usual Nigerian state response to that tragic loss of the life of one of us in India: indifference, galling irresponsibility.
Mrs. Onwuliri surprised me. She summoned the High Commissioner of India to Nigeria and showed him pepper in Abuja. She raised hell over the matter. The Indian must have been more surprised than me because members of the diplomatic community in Nigeria – I know and interact with many of them – are not used to the Nigerian government caring about how they treat the Nigerian citizen in their embassies and in their countries. The Indian High Commissioner must have rushed to inform his government that a strange creature who actually cares about the life of the Nigerian citizen is now running the show at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja. I am giving Mrs. Onwuliri the benefit of the doubt. I am trusting that after putting the Indian High Commissioner in his place in Abuja, she has sustained the pressure to get reparations and justice for the family of our compatriot who fell in India. That is what serious countries do when you touch their citizen.
The Indian affair is not why I am returning to Mrs. Onwuliri in this column today. However, I must enter some qualifications and contexts before I get to the meat of today’s subject. While acknowledging any uncharacteristic good deed of a Nigerian government official, one must never forget the fact that every positive step sits on top of our gargantuan mountain of corruption and state irresponsibility. One must never forget the fact that on the rare occasion that Holy Ghost Fire succeeds in making the Nigerian government official serve the Nigerian people rather than serve the corruption machine of the 1% in the establishment as is their permanent wont, what we are acknowledging is that the said official is slightly less bad in the overall context of the Nigerian bad. Remember, it was this same Mrs. Viola Onwuliri who wasted the Nigerian people’s money on a Euro-American junket during Occupy Nigeria ostensibly to “explain government’s side”. In America she insisted on staying only in the most expensive hotels. But she met her nemesis in Omoyele Sowore in New York.
In essence, the Nigerian government official is to be understood and engaged along the lines of the proverbial Yoruba character, “omo buruku”, (bad child or black sheep of the family) who, contrary to all expectation, manages to come up with the infrequent good deed that is beneficial to the community. Hence, the Yoruba saying: “omo buruku l’ojo tie” (even omo buruku has his own day of good deeds). Infrequently in Abuja, Aso Rock people, a Minister, a Senator or a Rep takes a brief sabbatical from the corruption machine of the establishment and remembers the Nigerian people. That is the “omo buruku l’ojo tie” dynamic at work.
Omo buruku l’ojo tie. This philosophy was at work again recently in the sad case of Joshua Abdul-Azeez, a seventeen-year-old Nigerian citizen subjected to indecent and inhuman treatment by Egypt Air. If you are not familiar with the story of this young Nigerian undergraduate and Egypt Air, google it. Suffice it to say that Egypt Air messed up the travel itinerary of the boy from Nigeria to Ukraine, treated him like a slave and a criminal, and deprived him of food for three days. An arrogant official of the airline even tore his Nigerian passport in the process – and that is destroying a property of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
I don’t want to dwell too much on the treatment of this Nigerian by the Egyptians because I am doing an extended esay on the treatment of Nigerians by the rest of Africa. Let us just say that the boy was a victim of the familiar resentment of Nigeria and Nigerians across Africa on the one hand and the unhidden demon of North African/Arab racism vis-à-vis of sub-Saharan Africa on the other hand. Egyptian officials in Nigeria treated the boy and his family with supreme contempt. Such were their arrogance and racism that they even spat on the Nigerian media for reporting the matter – which they considered a minor issue. The dignity of a Nigerian citizen and the integrity of the Nigerian passport were minor issues for these insufferable Egyptians operating on Nigerian soil.
They forgot Viola Onwuliri. Like the Indians, they got a bitter and an unpleasant taste of her. She summoned the Ambassador of Egypt for a tongue lashing that gave me considerable satisfaction. The transcript of her furious speech to the errant Egyptian Ambassador is a pleasure to read. Let us quote her in some detail:
“Egypt and Nigeria are friendly countries and they have built this friendship over the years, but I don’t think we should allow things like this to happen… You (the ambassador) are worried about four pages of newspaper report on the issue, but I am surprised that you are not worried that a Nigerian passport was torn by an official of Egypt Air… I am surprised that you are not worried that a young boy, a Nigerian citizen, was left without food and water by an airline operated by your government… I am really surprised at you Mr. Ambassador… One Nigerian citizen is important to us and part of our multi-track diplomacy is that every Nigerian everywhere must be fully accounted for… The young boy in question was going back to school in Ukraine and he complained here that he was issued the wrong ticket… Did you (Egypt Air) employ people who cannot read tickets and issue correct codes even after complaints?”
Now, this is what I am talking about! This is how to do it! This is how to serve Nigeria. This is how to serve the Nigerian. What Viola Onwuliri has done here is to introduce the Indians and the Egyptians to a new perspective on Nigerian citizenship. This is one significant drop in the Ocean. That Nigerians do a lot to devalue that citizenship and feed the stereotypes which generate resentment (like shipping cash to South Africa for gun running and using the Nigerian state to cover up and own the crime) is no excuse for the Nigerian state not to have their backs at all times. Now that examples have been made of India and Egypt, it is my hope that career maltreaters of Nigerians in Africa will understand that Onwuliri is there to ensure consequences for gratuitous contempt.
Viola Onwuliri 2.0 brings me to the eternal riddle that is the Nigerian government official. We must ask the question: what did it cost Viola Onwuliri to serve the Nigerian people in the two cases listed above? The answer is nothing. Absolutely nothing. If it costs nothing to serve the Nigerian people, why do Nigerian government officials act like serving the Nigerian people is taboo? If it costs nothing for them to serve us genuinely, why do they serve only their own pockets and the corruption machine of the establishment? Anyway sha, if you see Viola Onwuliri, shake her hand for me, buy her a beer for me, and tell her that I hope her Oga makes her the substantive Minister in that Ministry.