By Toyin Falola
We’ve built a satanic mansion! Like millions of Nigerians home and abroad, the “video of the year” uploaded and shared on September 6, 2020, via Ovation Instagram TV, owned by Dele Momodu, made for genuine concerns on one of the many problems of the Nigerian state. To be clear, had this public display of extreme opulence been done by a businessman or anyone else but a politician/‘public servant’, I would not have to be concerned. And to be sure, given that I am no user of social media handles like Instagram, the breaking of the news by several news outlets was disturbing already. I wonder if I had seen the entire video in itself, and not just some pictures, what would I be writing here could have been worse. As expected, and rightly so, thousands of concerned and angry Nigerians took to their social media handles or in the comment section of some of these posts to condemn the scandalous display of wealth that cannot be accounted for. This is a man who had no gainful employment history that proportionately explains such opulence. Put aside the fact that he was a one-time House of Representatives member and a former Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, where had Dino assembled such wealth—that many Nigerian biggest hardworking music stars could not boast of? This piece, however, does not seek to answer this one-million-dollar question everyone is asking. I am just as stumped as you are. Neither is this piece, three weeks after the said incident, interested in re-awaking what is now a “dead matter.” The intention as well is not to lend my voice to the host of criticisms Dino already got.
However, within my field, something felt terribly disturbing. And disappointingly so. A graduate who had been unable to get a job (for three years) was interviewed, and according to him, he would like to be like Dino Melaye. Yes! Here it is, I got lost. Why would a graduate who wants to be rich not aspire to be like Aliko Dangote, Mike Adenuga, Tony Elumelu, Folorunso Alakija, and the long list of successful businessmen and women the country boasts of? But he wants to be like Dino Melaye, seeing him as a role model and a path to opulence. The answer is simple! Easy access to luxury.
That a youth who took his time to get “quality” education would wake up one morning, and after reflecting on the struggle of employment, think and conclude that ‘all way na way—I should be like Dino” (who probably had no lucrative job prior to politics) who in eight years could boast of this much wealth. If being an ‘Hushpuppi’ makes you susceptible to the law enforcement agencies, being a ‘Hushdino’ (in the coinage of The Cable’s Azu Ishiekwene) or ‘Dinospuppi’ under the ruling party affords you not just ‘immunity’ from them, but more interestingly you have them as your escort and protectors of yourself and your loot. I mean, how better does it get for one dreaming of a life of luxury by feeding on the poor and ignorant population? As typified in the above case and many others in the country, the impression this creates in the young graduates is disturbing. Dino Melaye’s satanic influence is destroying our youth generation.
And to this, I write!
Nigeria is no stranger to controversies, certainly. With a fairly extensive history of outrageous statements—mostly from public officials—from one accorded to a former military head of state in which he posited that Nigeria had more wealth than it knew what to do with, to another instance where an executive governor threatened to send “interfering” election observers home in “body bags,” or a two-time governor (1999-2003) who said he’s richer than Osun State, the Nigerian public space has witnessed a long string of untoward displays from people who should know better. But then, there are the scenes from viral videos depicting “honourables” climbing over a barrier to gain access into the National Assembly complex, of others attempting to clubber one another to death with furniture in the “hollowed” chambers, and of one physically assaulting a woman in a sex store in the nation’s capital. These are a few of the never-ending instances—some unprintable—that leaves one wondering how things got this bad and what the next show of indignity will entail. Of course, it is not precisely that these “performers” have grown more debased than their predecessors; social media has played an incredible role in giving these characters a platform to perform.
In this list of public officials embroiled in uncouth conduct is one repeated offender, Senator Dino Melaye, or ‘SDM’ according to his famous moniker. A regular candidate of crass materialistic and clownish ‘musical’ displays, Dino Melaye, has over the years made controversy his playground. Starting with the 2017 certificate scandals, especially his claim of having obtained degrees from Harvard University in the United States and the London School of Economics and Political Science—claims that have since been refuted—he has an accusation of battery by his estranged wife; a confrontation with a colleague, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, who claimed that he threatened to beat and rape her; and alleged complicity in the shooting of a police officer—that resulted in a seven-day police siege at his residence—to show as his medals of dishonour. However, these have done nothing to deter our “trendy” senator who wastes no opportunity to display his accumulated material possessions, from palatial surroundings to exotic cars and designer ornaments.
The latest of his dates with controversy was the recent tour of opulence covered and aired by none other than Mr. Dele Momodu, chairman of Ovation Magazine—which in some quarters has been labelled a “vanity photo album.” This particular episode shows our former senator revelling in his treasure trove while leading a visibly impressed witness in a chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ that reek of shameless concurrence. This act—which to the continuous amazement of Nigerians has not seen Dino Melaye squirming under the hammer of the nation’s ‘efficient’ anti-graft agencies—has been taken by some as further evidence of the many opportunities tied to public office, and also reaffirming their conviction to gain such offices and the spoils that come with it, or where else is the source of Dino Melaye’s accumulation?
Another such puzzling question as to the origin of Dino’s ‘riches’ is, why does he indulge in these periodic displays of opulence? To these questions, some Nigerians have provided answers reasonable enough to satisfy their curiosities, but since none is forthcoming from the horse’s mouth, the invented consensus favours government coffers and or magical tricks. What is, however, not in doubt is that the glorification of the materialism expressed in such a crass display of excessive and unbridled accumulation will have adverse effects on Nigeria’s young impressionable population.
The above is especially the case in a poverty-ridden country like Nigeria, competing on a racetrack with some of the countries with the world’s poorest citizens, high unemployment rate, and an extremely vast number of out-of-school children. You would recollect with me, in my piece on why the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government (FG) should sheath their swords and open the schools now, I mentioned the negative consequences of our current education system on Nigerian youths: the fraud they are being exposed to for lack of what to do, for the idleness imposed on them, and the frustration the perennial industrial action and the delay it brings to their programs. Beyond the ‘Yahoo-yahoo’ now is a new yahoo, arising from intimidation and oppression, and engendering a wrong role model. It further corroborates my paranoia with the ongoing ASUU strike and its possible multifaceted effect on Nigerian youths. Dino has only added more negative reasons to why ‘school na scam’ is a trend!
Traditionally, the adults within any group, by their (more prolonged and more diverse) experience, bear the responsibility of guiding the younger generation on how they can be productive and beneficial to themselves and the society that accommodates them. This is achieved more efficiently through observed behaviour and demonstration, not merely by word of mouth. In Africa, there is a famous saying, “what an elder sees while sitting, a child cannot see even from atop a palm tree.” A Tswana proverb reads, “the young bird does not crow until it hears the old ones.” These words of deep reflection convey the esteemed role accorded to elders as builders of society. Young people naturally seek to emulate what the elders whom they adopt as role models do. There is a reason why a young child does not attempt to wear its shoes on its head and the cap on its feet. Definitely, they watch their elders do otherwise, the way it is right, and imitate them. Therefore, it is the place of the elderly to be of the best possible conduct at all times or risk becoming an agbaya—a useless older person.
At forty-six years old, Dino Melaye qualifies as an elderly. After all, the average life span for Nigerian males is 46! More importantly, is it not said that “a fool at forty is a fool forever”? Dino Melaye is first an adult, then a father and a public figure (a former member of the House of Representatives and former Senator of the Federal Republic!). At his age and with his status, it should be expected that he can appreciate that actions beget consequences, or is that also too much to expect from a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Are we to believe that Dino lacks the essential cognitive capacity to tell destructive from constructive behaviour even when he shows very little evidence to the contrary? In any case, his insistence on a misleading lifestyle confirms a character that cares little for the consequences of his actions.
To the discerning mind, these are critical times for Nigeria, when no contribution or action can be considered too insignificant in turning the tide from a destructive course to a constructive one. In a society with a teeming number of unemployed youth feeling short-changed and showing a growing disregard for constructive virtues such as “the dignity of labour” and the “reward for honesty”—virtues established in norms that have over time provided what we have as “civility” in our daily social exchange— the prognoses are very dire. Hence the insistence on the right mentorship for the Nigerian youth cannot be overemphasized. Unfortunately, what we have are former football stars’ selling gambling habits, music stars selling drugs, alcohol, and sex, while politicians like Dino Melaye and their colleagues in the “social media industry” cap it all with their lure to a dubious materialistic lifestyle.
Living in a society with ill-equipped schools that barely stay open; where young people are exposed to all manners of danger, both from security agents and criminal elements alike; an environment where public amenities don’t work and money seems the only language people understand; a society where accountability is an absurdity and honesty is immaturity; one where the youths are starved for want of inspiring figures, surely we can appreciate the severity of the situation even without having the likes of Dino Melaye preaching their brand of success. Yet here we are, with the Dinos of this world-leading the pack and the Dele Momodus serving as willing conduits that transmit the message and contribute to giving it some air of legitimacy.
In today’s world where everywhere you turn is a stark reality of the inequitable distribution of the means of livelihood; a world governed by a predatory system that enables the wealthy/strong—driven by an inordinate individual quest for accumulation—to take from the poor/weak especially in the face of relative scarcity and dire want, and in an increasingly cruel world, Dino Melaye repetitively avails himself as a willing symbol of the irresponsibility that threatens to engulf us all. He has chosen to be in the face of the poor and oppressed, a constant reminder of that not within their reach. As if saying, “look, this is what we got at your expense,” and jeering, saying, “the poor cannot help the poor.” He is a threat to himself and those of his ilk, the elite—the privileged one percent—against whom he feeds the embers of hate that already thrives in the stark inequality between the rich and the poor.
One thing can be expected if we continue in this trend. There will be a reckoning if already it hasn’t begun. The spike in internet fraud perpetrated by young people whose energies should ordinarily be guided towards much needed constructive ventures points to an increased craving for the ‘fast life.’ Wasn’t much surprise when Dino Melaye appeared in the photos of the busted Dubai-based Nigerian fraudster Ramon Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi, what with the old saying that birds of the same feather still flock together. Are these not the elements Dino and his friends in government are competing with? Or is it the other way around? The Dino Melaye trademark represents cancer that is fast spreading in the psyche of the average exposed and socially battered Nigerian youth. We should warn our young men and women to look in another direction for mentorship as it is said, “not all that glitters is gold.” Dino Melaye’s lifestyle and habits portend a warning sign that the more the satanic mansions we build, the greater our troubles. But going beyond the rhetoric, can we?
While downing my quill to rest for another day, I must reiterate that everyone has a right to the way they live their lives. But Dino is not anyone. Not only is he a recognized politician, but he is also a former lawmaker who carries the life title of a Senator. The title, just as the position, brings not only dignity but also a huge responsibility in terms of what it means to the citizens and the model it presents to the youth. Uneasy lies the head with the crown; Dino should comport himself, as his ilk.
Rest my quill, till the need for your knocks!
*Prof Falola a University Distinguished Teaching Professor and Humanities Chair at The University of Texas at Austin is a Special Columnist for Nigeriancurrent.com