Dear President Yar'Adua,
Ranka dede sir. Saanu da aiki sir. I hope this letter finds you well. If so, doxology. I am constrained to write urgently to intimate you with the frustrating conditions I've had to contend with since I assumed duties as Nigeria's Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa. You will recall, sir, that I had serious misgivings about being posted to this place but you reassured me that things would work out insha Allah. I must regretfully inform you, sir, that you were wrong. This place is hell and I don't know what I am doing here. The ways of the South Africans are indeed very strange.
The first serious signals of South Africa's backwardness and dysfunctionality became apparent when I landed at the airport in Johannesburg. I was profoundly shocked to discover that only two official vehicles from the Nigerian embassy and three embassy staff were on hand to receive me. This was a serious breach of protocol. When was the last time I moved in anything less than a motorcade of twenty five cars, heralded by AK-47-wielding soldiers and koboko-swishing mobile policemen sweeping civilians out of my way? I felt naked, empty, and vulnerable. I felt betrayed by those embassy boys who appeared to have forgotten how we handle matters of protocol for people of my standing in Nigeria. Obviously, I wasn't going to subject myself to the indignity of leaving the airport in a ‘motorcade' of two miserable embassy vehicles. I sat put and told the boys to organize. They finally found a solution by renting five cars from the Avis car rental outlet to bring the tally of vehicles to seven.
Needless to say your Excellency, I had to ‘manage' a convoy of only seven cars. Without siren! As if this outrage weren't enough, we had barely made it out of the airport when we found ourselves in one of Johannesburg's notorious traffic jams. Again, our boys from the embassy had no idea what to do - when we post these boys out, we must insist they visit Nigeria twice a year your Excellency. They are completely out of touch. Just imagine, I had to suggest to them to phone the Chief of Army Staff and the Inspector General of Police to send troops to come and clear the road for us. Rather than act, they sat there looking at me with eyes so wide open they almost popped out of their sockets. Then one obsequious fool explained that "things don't work that way here, sir". "How do you know, have you ever tried", I asked him.
I did not fare any better on my first day on the job, your Excellency. The first thing on my agenda was to present my letters of accreditation to President Thabo Mbeki. Regrettably, I left arrangements to our boys in the embassy. Their shoddy handling of the airport situation should have taught me a lesson! I had expected them to rent a white horse and a crowd of at least one hundred singing and drumming Nigerians to form a procession. I was going to ride the white horse through the streets of Pretoria, all the way to Union Building, with our people singing and drumming. You know, the way we do things back home. What did I get instead? The Ambassador's official car, a driver and one miserable aide! At my urging, they had to rent five cars from avis! If I hadn't insisted, the boys would have done untold harm to Nigeria's image as the giant of Africa by having her Ambassador drive to that ceremony in only one car. No policemen. No soldiers. No siren!
The humiliation continued when we got to Union Building. Only the official car with the Nigerian flag was allowed in. They wouldn't allow the rental cars in because they were not accredited. I told my aide to go and "see" the appropriate people only to be told by the rude boy that they don't "see" people in South Africa. How do you run a country where you don't "see" people? How do you get things done? Anyway, the ceremony went well your Excellency. The only disappointing thing is the simplicity of the surroundings of President Mbeki. Things were so simple you had no idea you were in the Presidency. They are not doing Africa proud at all sir. From what I saw, my estimation is that the budget that maintains the South African Presidency for a whole year is approximately the size of the weekly entertainment budget of a Nigerian Minister or Governor.
My second day on the job was even more frustrating, Mr. President. I was briefed that we had an application for a new plot of land languishing at the Pretoria city hall. There is an embassy expansion project in the pipeline. Apparently, the application has been at city hall for more than two years because the plot we want happens to be in a protected green area. My predecessors have had no luck with the Mayor. Pray, your Excellency, why deal with the Mayor when things could be accelerated the Nigerian way? So, I phoned the Mayor and respectfully and politely asked for the name and phone number of his Godfather. My intention was to "see" his Godfather and promise him an oil block allocation in the Niger Delta if he would prevail on his political godson to alter the Pretoria Master Plan and give us a plot in the green area. To my surprise, the Mayor told me that he had read Mario Puzzo's novel but had never seen the movie! These South Africans are unbelievably backward! When I finally got him to understand what I meant - after almost an hour of explanations - he laughed condescendingly and said "we don't do that in South Africa, Mr. Ambassador. We cannot alter the city's Master Plan". Unbelievable, isn't it? Have these people never heard of Abuja? So, what exactly do they do here? What is this idea of people getting elected to political office without Godfathers? I banged the phone on him. If I had continued the conversation, I couldn't put it past him to give me the extraordinary yarn that they also organize elections here without thugs, guns, and ballot box stuffing.
My nightmare in this country continued last week when I went to the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. One of our very useful boys - an unemployed graduate of the University of Ibadan who helped organize the shipment of arms and recruited cult members to help us capture the Oyo state government house for Alhaji Chief Alao Akala - has decided to quit the political scene in Nigeria and return to his studies. He emailed to notify me that he has an application for graduate studies at Wits. Could I please look into it? The boy served the PDP so diligently and I was inclined to help him. So I went to Wits last week to see the Registrar. She informed me that they did indeed receive the boy's application but he did not meet the minimum admission requirements for graduate studies at Wits. Duh, as if I didn't already know that before asking to meet with her! I asked if we could come to an agreement and opened the Ghana-must-go bag I had with me. Crisp bales of rand notes smiled from the bag. She screamed and sent me out of her office, claiming that she would have had me arrested if I didn't enjoy diplomatic immunity. As I did not want to return to Pretoria with the money, I made one last ditch effort. I phoned the University's information service and requested to speak with the Registrar's Garrison Commander. Predictably, nobody had any clue! I gave up on South Africa at this point. I mean, what kind of country is this? People get positions and appointments without Godfathers and Garrison Commanders. I don't understand. Your Excellency, there is really no place like home. All I would have had to do in Nigeria is place one phone call to any Vice Chancellor. The boy would end up in the Vice Chancellor's discretionary admission list with immediate effect.
Your Excellency, these unending insults and indignities are nothing compared to the stubbornness with which people address me here as Mr. Ambassador. Nonsense. I've insisted that they use the full list of my honorifics to no avail. Who would dare leave out anything from this list in Nigeria - Ambassador, Senator, Doctor, Chief Ahmadu Alli. Nobody here seems to understand that none of these items can be left out when addressing me. Mind you, to make things easy for the South Africans, I've even reluctantly left out all the items that would compulsorily come after my name in Nigeria - MON, OFR, GCFR, etc etc etc. Pray, if they can't get a paltry total of four honorific prefixes right, how are they going to contend with the suffixes?
Your Excellency, it is clear that I am not going to be able to stay here. I can't function. There system is completely upside down. May I humbly request to be posted to Cameroon or Benin Republic? They are our neighbours. Years of associating with us have rubbed off them. They know how things are done. They understand. If the slots in Yaoundé and Cotonou are not available, I won't mind the UK. The British are far more tolerant of the way we do things. They see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil in order not to endanger the oil flow. London is far more amenable to the Nigerian way than Pretoria. I should be able to function there.
Yours in service to Nigeria,
Ambassador, Senator, Doctor, Chief Ahmadu Alli, MON, OFR, GCFR, etc etc etc.
C'est tout simplement tordant de rire. Le pire c'est que c'est très triste en même temps et je ne dis pas seulement ça à cause de ce que cet ambassadeur sous-entend sur le Cameroun.