You don’t have to reach for your dictionary for the definition of the word bigmanism because you won’t find it there. Every one of us knows who a big man is but no one seems to know the origin of the popular coinage that has become a metaphor for pomposity, pride or shoulder lifting. Superiority complex also fits into the allegory.
What defines a big man is his status in the society. In this political era, a governor, a minister, a member of the National Assembly/State Assembly or a local government chairman/councillor is a big man.
Also referred to as a big man is a special adviser/senior special adviser, special assistant/senior special assistant to any of the big shots listed above. Also qualified to be referred to as a big man is a permanent secretary at the two tiers of government. A director-general, an executive secretary, a director, an assistant director, etc., is a big man.
In the private sector, a board chairman, a managing director, a chief executive officer, a general manager, a company secretary/legal adviser, or a board member is a big man (I have tasted board membership thrice in my lifetime, so I know what I am talking about).
The traditional institution is not left out. A first class, second class or third class emir or a chief is a big man. A district head or even a village head is a big man in his own right.
Also, take a closer look at the spiritual setting. A bishop, an arch-bishop, a general overseer, a pastor, a reverend, an apostle and a presbyter is a big man. Curiously, the bigmanism of men of God is not defined by the number of souls they win for the Kingdom of God but by the retinues of mobile/regular policemen that follow or swarm around them in public to guarantee their protection as enjoyed by the big shots listed above.
The huge shame in the case of these so-called men of God (someone recently referred to them as god of men) is that while they move around in company of fully armed security men, they print stickers and sell them to their followers, asking them to paste same on their cars and the doors of their houses/business premises as a guarantee for protection!
A story was told by a pastor of a man who ran into an armed robbery operation along Abuja-Lokoja highway some years back. When the criminals saw the sticker of the general overseer and his cute wife on the windscreen, they beckoned at him to pass. Another account from the pulpit was rendered about armed bandits that stormed a Kubwa neighbourhood in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. When they got to the residence of one of the folks in the area and sighted the sticker of one of the high profile pastors of a Pentecostal church he pasted on his door, the heisters simply passed over him and his family.
In Nigeria today, any big man that has no retinue of stern-looking armed policemen or soldiers guarding him and muscling people away from him will pass as a fake.
There are different categories of big men in this country. We have those whose bigmanism is transient. Then there are folks who have the status thrust upon them by virtue of their positions.
However, bigmanism is a syndrome… a psychological disorder (superiority complex) that makes afflicted men think that once they have attained a higher status, people around them, including friends and relatives, are to be avoided like a plague. Having attained the next level, the afflicted will cultivate new friends among the new class of people he has found himself in the belief that old things have passed away.
One key factor that fuels bigmanism is pride. The other factor is the security laager thrown around the big men. When a big man sees his security team fencing off “commoners”, he feels like God. His phones are always never with him. The PA manages the barrage of calls and chooses to play God, deciding which calls should be entertained and the ones to ignore. Oftentimes, the responses are “oga is at a meeting” if the calls are picked. At times, calls now regarded as nuisances are forwarded or routed into voice mail and text messages are ignored. In some cases, phone lines are changed. It is commonly said in this part of the divide that a friend in power is a friend lost. That is the naked truth!
Let me share this experience with you. Many, many years ago, a friend of mine was appointed as a commissioner for sports in the defunct Benue-Plateau state. One evening, we met at a function at the Jos Township Stadium. I was the sports editor of The Nigeria Standard Newspaper. After exchanging pleasantries, I told my commissioner friend that I would like to have an interview with him on his new assignment. His response shocked me. He told me that he would be touring the local government areas of the state that included the present Nasarawa, Taraba, Benue and Adamawa states, and requested that I accompanied him on the tour. Then it was my turn to shock him. I told him that as the sports editor, I would never be available for that kind of tour.
He leaned back and asked: “What do you mean?” If it were today, I would have asked him to leave Wadume out of our discussion. Wadume is the onomatopoeia of “what do you mean”. Remember my write-up on the recently captured notorious Taraba-based kidnap kingpin nicknamed Wadume?
I told him the best I could do for him was to spare one of the sports writers to accompany him on the tour and that while his constituency was the state, mine was not only the state and the nation but also the entire world which were home to sporting engagements requiring my attention. So, I was a big man too in my own right! He did not find it funny at all but he had no choice. At the end of the day, I could not even spare any of my reporters to cover his tour.
Barely two years after his appointment, Gen. Murtala Mohammed struck in a coup d’état and my man fell from power. Before his fall, we were not as close as we used to be before his elevation. One afternoon, I was driving along the streets of Jos, veering off to West of Mines from the Ahmadu Bello Way. Lo and behold, the pompous ex-commissioner was hanging by the roadside, carless! As I sighted him from afar, I began to shake my head as though the neck was no longer in control. I zoomed past him, even as our eyes locked, encouraged by the Scripture that says: “God hates the proud”.
A few years later, a friend narrated his own experience that was extremely more painful than mine. He had a close buddy from their university days. After their youth service, the duo came back to Jos and were staying in a one-bedroom flat. At a point, they lived on formula 1-0-1. Occasionally, they would “smoke” sugarless garri accompanied with roasted groundnuts at bedtime. Their shoes bore alignment you would think they had bow legs. Unable to bear the frustration anymore, one of them relocated to Abuja and secured a good job. As though that was not enough, he bagged a political appointment in Jos. All this while, he never bothered to send for his friend to join him in Abuja so that the good fortune could rub off him. When the news of the appointment broke, the friend rejoiced. He was soon to find out that his bosom friend had been afflicted by the syndrome.
To shorten a long story, he went to see his friend in his office and joined an arsenal of visitors at the waiting room. He filled a visitor’s slip and beamed with smiles as the secretary gathered other slips and went into her oga’s office. After waiting for a long while, the intercom rang. The friend adjusted his position on the seat, poising to scramble to his feet. But to his utter amazement, the secretary came out and announced to everyone that the oga had been summoned to the Government House, Rayfield, Jos, for an “urgent meeting”. He begged the secretary to go back and specifically inform her oga that he was among the visitors waiting to see him. He nearly fainted when the secretary told him that the oga went through the slips one by one.
However, one interesting thing about this syndrome is that once the afflicted return to square one, they are abandoned by their fellow high-profile friends. The bombardment of calls and text messages would dry up almost immediately, especially if they have nothing else or clouts left in them. That is one of the side effects of the intoxicant.
And what about bigwomanism? Well, that will be a story for another day.
My parting shot: If you are moving up in life, always remember that no condition is ever permanent!