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Splashing the Gs

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Just when we were recovering from the news of Linda Ikeji’s pregnancy, last week Falz hit us with This is Nigeria, his take on the Childish Gambino’s ground-breaking This is America video. Addressing Nigeria’s social-economic ills one scene at a time, Falz delivered cunning social commentary in his signature style.

For those who have not caught up on pages of criticial commentary, here’s a reminder that the video opens with speeches given by Femi Falana, Falz’s father, a lawyer and human rights advocate. In one speech, he talks about Nigeria operating a “predatory neo-colonial capitalist system” which was founded on fraud and exploitation which is bound to lead to corruption.”

Fast forward to two days later and Majority leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila breaking the Nigerian internet with news of his $120,000 gift of Mercedes G-Wagon for his wife Salamatu on her 50th birthday.

The lawmaker came under fire on social media because of the high value of the gift and the showmanship with which it was gifted. Accusations of corruption followed soon after as is often the case.

“Bad! How can you do that in such a country where people find it difficult to eat and pay bills? I’m sure there are people in his extended family who need help… Insensitivity, selfishness and ostentation,” said Marufh Bello, on Facebook.

Julius Ogunro added: “The question is: where did he get the money from? Is it his legitimate earnings? Or did he ‘scheme’ the system? Whatever the answer, it is very bad, and sad that a public official without any other legitimate earnings can afford such luxury. God help us!”

There was of course an outcry over Hon. Gbajabiamila N1.2m Gucci suit. On Twitter, Guardian Nigeria and Quartz Africa contributor Feyi Fawehinmi tweeted:

“Meanwhile that abomination worn by Gbaja cost $3,450. I guess it makes sense to dress like a wallet when you earn N13m monthly from public funds.”

On Friday, following the backlash on social media, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila release a statement which read:

“I took the decision far back to present her with a significant gift, she was totally unaware of, to convey in part, the debt of my gratitude to her for standing by me through ‘thick and thin’. I could never have been half the man I am today without her support and unbelievable understanding. Truly, the monetary value of any gift real or imagined, pales in significance when I consider how much of a ‘rock and pillar’ she has been to me.”

He continued that “Having said this, I understand and appreciate the reaction of the public. As a public official, one must be held to a higher standard. My action was not meant to offend sensibilities and I regret that it did.

“Being a leader in many spheres, I can very well understand the optics of it. But I would rather want it to be seen as what it is. An expression of deep appreciation and love for my wife of almost thirty years, rather than one of flamboyance.”

Far be it from me to offer an opinion on the complexities or the wheeling and dealings of Nigerian politics. The social media outrage seems to have been caused by the fact that someone high in public office celebrated in such a lavish way with such an extravagant lift, raising eyebrows and calling into question just how he may have used public funds.

When you go on a little cyber search there are records – because internet never forgets – of a Femi Gbaja who admitted to theft of his client’s funds while serving as an attorney in the U.S. State of Georgia. According to a 2007 report by Sahara Reporters, Mr Gbaja accepted payment of $25,000 as a personal injury claims and deposited those funds in his attorney trust account in January 2003. He failed to disburse the funds to his client; instead he withdrew the funds, closed his practice and left for Nigeria where he ran for elections to represent Surulere I Federal Constituency in the Federal House of Representative under the banner of Alliance for Democracy (AD) in 2003.

Granted, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila may have repented, never dealing in fraudulent activity again. However, with his chequered US history in mind and in the context of the temperamental economic climate in Nigeria, was it worth courting the ire of the nation? I realise Gbajabiamila claims he wanted the gift and the celebration to be private and things got out of hand when guests arrived before the delivery of the car. However, as a man in public office, I assume it wouldn’t be that difficult to pass a blanket camera phone ban in your own house?

Then again, this is Nigeria, where everybody is a criminal. Hon. Gbajabiamila may have indeed saved his hard earned cash for years to make a grand gesture for his wife’s birthday. After all, 50 is milestone and celebrating a woman’s 50th birthday would potentially require a man to have been around for at least 20 years. Long enough, possibly, for a man who is a lawyer to save up the kind of fortune to splash on a G Wagon regardless of public funds.

And then again this is Nigeria – where almost daily we celebrate side chicks for their Range Rovers, their Dubai getaways, their Louis Vuitton bags and Louboutin heels funded by the dirty dollars of shady sugar daddies. Is it really as big a deal when a man of law wants to spoil his wife?

As for his $3,450 suit and wife Sal’s outlandish ensemble, reportedly, by Molly Goodard. All the “money miss road” anonymous commentators, I ask you: How many mad-hatter outfits do we see sported on the red carpets across town night after night? In fact, leave red carpet, how many so called fashionistas or celebrities leave their home in broad daylight looking like a masquerade?


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FalzFemi Gbajabiamila
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