Saturday, April 6, 2013

My Oga at the top Redux

My Oga at the top Redux
By Tunji Lardner
Poor guy; Obafaiye Shem, the Lagos State Commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corp (NSCDC) , whose meteoric rise to digital media fame on account of a truly comical interview on Nigeria’s Channel TV must rue day he stuttered the words ‘my oga at the top.’  In a truly classic display of evasion in the face of pointed questioning and craven obsequiousness to his Oga at the top, jabbing his fore finger heaven wards, he unwittingly created an Internet phenomena, even as he spawned an instant cultural meme and wrote his words forever into the Nigerian urban lexicon.  The full story of the actual scandal he was ineptly trying to explain away and the extent of this viral contagion can be explored further in the links below:
Scandal Reports and the background:
August 25, 2012
February 17, 2012
Senate investigation:
Consider that the Lagos State Commandant of the NSCDC has a Facebook page:
The Channels Interview (a snippet):
Website: (Under construction already!) (Domain name speculators)
Facebook pages:
Music Videos:

To some readers an explanation of the meaning of the word ‘meme’ might be necessary.
Meme [meem] noun: a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes. In the digital world, this cultural item can go ‘viral’ as was the case here. Now, the meaning of the word ‘oga’ so familiar with Nigerians and other Africans as a distinctly Nigerian cultural trope requires some effort. The easiest transliteration is to equate ‘Oga’ with the boss, the big kahuna, the capo, the master, the big shot, the shot caller, de man, (as in ‘he de man’), you get the idea. Another variant is the ‘Oga pata-pata,’ as in the Boss of all bosses, or as my Sicilian friends would say ‘Capo de tutti capi’ a.k.a. The Godfather.
It is a safe bet to assume that when Commandant Shem was referring to his ‘Oga’ at the top, he was referring to the personage of  Dr. Ade Abolurin the Commandant General of the NSCDC ensconced like most other ‘ogas’ in that most hierarchical of cities, Abuja, where our own boss of all bosses, the President  resides. In sticking to the time honored script of publicly pledging loyalty and fealty to his immediate ‘oga’ on the hierarchical and mostly patriarchal totem pole, Shem was simply delegating upwards the task of revealing his agency’s web address, ordinarily a fact that should reside in the public domain. However his conditioning like most public servants was not to advance the public good, but to propitiate the gods of the civil service and damn the public’s right to know.
However in this rare instance, the public’s right, specifically the digital public’s right to know pushed back hard. In unwittingly creating Nigeria’s first real digital meme, Shem’s ‘my oga at the top’ faux pas, was in actuality the collision of an analogue thinking monolith with a digital generation whose domain the World Wide Web.  Shem and his numerous ‘ogas’ will have reasons to fear in the near future if these digital natives push home their advantage on all fronts to bring thieving politicians, inept and corrupt civil servants and irresponsible governments  to  heel to the tenets of open, transparent and accountable governance.
It was also a battle between the rigid, mafia like hierarchies where all knowledge is deemed to reside in the mounting stacks of different ‘ogas’ embedded in the civil service machinery and the newly evolving paradigm of flatten inclusive hierarchies of distributed knowledge and participation in which the collective wisdom and input of all stakeholders are deemed necessary for successful decision making as well as successful outcomes, in a word good governance.
The relentless social media parodies about ‘my oga at the top’ also signals the digital unmasking of the analogue Nigerian ‘big man-oga’ masquerade in the digital public square. For too long the myth of the invincibility of the Nigerian ‘big man’ and by extension that bogus self referenced titled of being ‘The Giant of Africa,’ has gone unchallenged in spite of  the declining quality of life for most Nigerians over the last five decades.  I would argue that to understand the Nigerian ‘oga’ mythos is to delve into the pre-colonial patriarchal system that existed in most indigenous cultures, which eventually evolved in the post-independence era into the African ‘big man’ archetype; the one man that kept fractious tribal sentiments in check, even as he, perforce of his personal strength, wisdom and political acumen kept these fledging states together. A critical look at the very mixed legacies of the various African Big men since independence suggests that they wound up doing more harm than good to their various countries. Even so, in Nigeria today the ‘oga syndrome’ persists in spite of all evidence to the contrary, he or she is typically an insecure but powerful office holder or authority figure, lacking in humility and compassion, more style than substance, and the benefactor of the grand patronage machine of the state. The technical word for this client-patron relationship is ‘clientelism,’ and its popular manifestation is the asymmetric power arrangement between ‘political god-fathers’ who are patrons to clients, who can be political aspirants, or simply  down trodden unemployed young Nigerians, desperately seeking  jobs, as was the case in the NSCDC fiasco. Since it can be safely argued that most big men or ‘ogas’ got to where they are today, not on account of merit, but  by simply riding the patronage machine  to the very top of their incompetence, the net negative result for us all is the triumph of mediocrity over meritocracy.  
Femke van Zeijl, a very insightful Dutch writer living in Nigeria put it so bluntly and so clearly when she wrote that; “ Nigeria is the opposite of a meritocracy: you do not earn by achieving. You get to be who and where you are by knowing the right people. Whether you work in an office, for an enterprise or an NGO, at a construction site or in government, your abilities hardly ever are the reason you got there. Performing well, let alone with excellence, is not a requirement, in fact, it is discouraged. It would be too threatening: showing you’re more intelligent, capable or competent than the ‘oga at the top’ (who, as a rule, is not an overachiever either) is career suicide. It is an attitude that trickles down from the very top, its symptoms eventually showing up in all of society, from bad governance to bad service to bad craftsmanship.”
In trying to think of a way out of this infinite regressive loop of mediocrity, while the logical place to start should be the very top with our ‘uber-oga,’ our own ‘capo di tutti capi,’ or more colloquially, our ‘Oga pata-pata,’ Nigeria again defies conventional logic. As it is, we can’t presently start from the very top to begin to change things, because it seems that our ‘oga at the very top’ also reports to his own ‘ogas at the top.’ ‘Das all.’

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