Last Sunday, as we prepared for church, I checked my wallet to see if I had enough money to meet the usual offertory requirements. As I counted my paltry stack of notes, my wife jocularly called me “Khashoggi.” That was her cheeky way of reminding me to contribute more of our meager earnings to the Lord’s vineyard. Ordinarily, I would have replied with a joke, but for an inexplicable reason, that name awakened the anthropologist in me. I decided to ask about thirty people, mostly born in the 80’s and 90’s, if they knew the origin of the slang, Khashoggi. They must have thought it was dumb question to ask, and all said it meant someone with a lot of money, or as one put it, “someone with a lot of cash and swagger.”
I doubt if Adnan Khashoggi knows how famous he is in Nigeria. The infamous Saudi arms dealer and businessman will surely be more intrigued to know very few Nigerians know him, or can pick him out in a photo album, yet his name is instantly recognizable. One of our colloquial descriptions for a successful and wealthy person is the surname of a man known for gun running, money laundering and bribery. At the peak of his wealth, Adnan Khashoggi was one of the richest men in the world, worth over $4 billion. A lot of that wealth was linked to various deals like the Iran-Contra arms for hostages deal, Lockheed bribery scandal and money laundering at the behest of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Here we remember his yacht, Nabila, used for the James Bond movie Never Say Never Again. It is convenient to forget the yacht was later sold to Donald Trump, as a broke Khashoggi moved from one prison to another.
Like Khashoggi, Francis Arthur Nzeribe was a notorious arms dealer. He was known for his willingness to replicate real life version of the computer game, Call of Duty, in several African countries. In Nigeria, he is best remembered for the bloodless coup against democracy in 1993. The story of how Bassey Ikpeme wrote her judgment at midnight in Clement Akpamgbo’s chambers has been repeated over several hectoliters of beer, so it is befuddling how Arthur Nzeribe can still walk the streets of Oguta without a false moustache. To rub salt into our collective wounds, he was “elected” into the National Assembly as a Senator, representing Orlu constituency, and served two terms. Thankfully, Osita Izunaso spared us more agony, and defeated the self-acclaimed democrat in 2007.
Let’s move forward to a few weeks ago where I heard two former governors in the South West hailed as messiahs by the popular Yoruba musician, Yinka Ayefele. I doubt if Mahatma Ghandi or Lee Kuan Yew were ever praised with such eloquence. These men, who should be listening to the sonorous voices of mosquitoes in prison, sat pretty among the crème of the society. My biggest concern was an incumbent governor who witnessed, with a smirk, how his fraudulent predecessors were “ostracized” by society. No doubt, he is a wiser man after that experience; he won’t dare steal a penny from the public purse.
It is similar to how our Universities dish out honorary degrees, and traditional rulers fall over themselves to give chieftaincy titles, all to individuals who should be behind bars. We abhor corruption on the pages of the newspapers, yet we honour and accommodate corrupt family members and associates. Our monuments and streets are named after criminals, yet we want generations unborn to wipe the slate clean.
If you need proof the joke is firmly on us, look no further than the location of the EFCC’s Lagos office. For those who are yet to be invited, it is somewhere in Ikoyi on a street named after Festus Okotie-Eboh. But then again, what’s in a name?