State dinner, inauguration dinner, any dinner, I have an idea what to expect. I was hoping for a pre-dinner gathering of who is who where we would share reasonable introductions and discuss the political atmosphere. I was worried about what to wear. I gave no thought to the dinner while preparing for my trip. I focused on the lecture. I decided I was going to wear Lapaya to the dinner on seeing the very regal Aisha Buhari in one. Luckily for me, my friend Mallami Adekunle Kayode always buy me one, on each of his trips back home from Switzerland. I had no extra one with me, and I considered it bad form to repeat the one I wore the day earlier. I called Lagos and told my cousin to send me two Lapayas from my closet and courier it through a courier outfit at MMA2 on the next flight to Kaduna. By the time I made up my mind it was a few minutes past 1:00pm. The last flight to Kaduna was scheduled to leave at 3:50pm. It was a public holiday right? Hmnnn… My cousin got there at 3:17pm. They had closed the manifest, my Lapayas couldn’t be sent. No more flights to Abuja either. He went back home. My mum, and a few friends convinced me to wear Iro and Buba and support it with a veil. I had veils in surplus. Besides it is my signature look anywhere in Nigeria whenever I want to stay incognito.
We were ferried in a different car to the dinner venue. Sam, an aide of Governor Rufai, was very dignified, polite, courteous, deferential and professional. He took us in, through the security gate, straight to the “high table.” The table setting was pedestrian. It lacked color, coordination and finesse. It looked like what an apprentice event planner who absconded after two days of training would put up. The tissue paper looked like you could see tree branches on it. The folds were unartistic, my grandmother couldn’t do worse. The chafing dishes had no chafing fuel underneath them to warm the food. The salad was exposed! The meats were covered with aluminum foil. The only good things were the cutleries. They weren’t even silverware. We were lucky not to have those spoons light enough to slice the tongue if mishandled. They were stainless steel. A man and woman questioned who sat us down at the table until Sam told them we were guests of the Governor. They were not polite, I think they were deliberate in their crudity.
Thirty minutes later, the high table was swamped. Everyone felt they should be given a chair. Seated behind us were about hundred people. I saw ladies as young as 21 seated behind us. It was rowdy, a security nightmare. No checks were conducted on us before we entered. We just entered! And so it was for all those people seated beside us. We just kept calm. In between, my friend who was in Eko Hotel for Ambode’s inauguration was pelting me with tantalizing pictures via whatsapp! I was getting angry, and getting hot and flushed from the inside. I tossed aside my veil while Pius and I engaged in meaningless banter. We kept wondering what happened to our friend. Is money the problem? Lack of know-how? Organization? What? Our friend had the best education, exposure anything anyone could hope for. What went wrong? We asked ourselves so many questions. I knew I could do better than what was on display. Children’s harvest in my parents church is better organized than what they called the inauguration dinner. The governor came in, national anthem was sung and we sat down to the program. A lady read a poem no one listened to. She got no applause for a well written poem. Poem ni ale? Aseju ni yen now? Poem at night? That is pushing the envelope…hehehe. I got a break with the cultural dance. There was a remarkable similarity in the beating of the drums, the rhyme and the dance. I would not have missed a single beat and wiggle if I came down the stage to join them as a Yoruba woman. They had talking drums, the pitch and amplitude was not as clear as Yoruba Gangan but the similarity is striking. They left the stage and Mallam Rufai spoke for less than five minutes. He appealed for understanding and shared sacrifice. He told the audience, his government will not share money and neither will they tolerate waste. He said they will work 20hours a day, 7 days a week to get the job done. He told them, some of them will be offered jobs that will not pay much but he enjoined them to accept the offer in the interest of Kaduna State.
It was time to eat and Kasala busted! Someone told us to proceed to the service table and boy it was rough! Everyone wanted to go at once. There was no plan, no method! The pushing and shoving was comparable to what I experienced in Balogun market three weeks ago as I shopped for a party outfit. I saw the governor pushed a little. We wanted to go back to our seats, we couldn’t. It was a regrettable evening. We finally got to the line, the flatware was Melamine! Holy Mother of Macarroni! Melamine!Kaduna state house could not afford bone China? Even ceramic plates would have been better! The melamine plates has huge florals suggestive of prole taste in an environment that is expected to host the creme de la creme. I concluded I’m beyond surprise anymore. The food was expectedly cold like a dog’s nose, dry and tasteless. I was embarrassed for Kaduna State. I ate the little I could and drank some juice from the pack in front of me. Immediately the crowd in the general area ate, they started leaving while the governor was still seated. It was unbelievable! By the time the national anthem was on, the crowd had thinned out significantly. I have never seen a thing like that all my life. Before I looked up, people had grabbed my drinks and cleared anything found on the table that is edible or can be taken away. As I stood up, one gentleman helped himself to the chicken on my plate. The Governor left and we followed. It was a tasteless event. If that crowd we were in were targeted, we would all have been dead!
We got back to the hotel wandering if what we saw was not a trick. Were we wrong or hallucinating. The ceaseless pictures from my “tormentor” in Lagos proved I wasn’t delusional. We went to bed disappointed. Eager to get to Abuja and create our own excitement and enact the high point of our visit by ourselves.
Saturday, May 30th. The Governor came to bid us farewell. I wasn’t there because I stayed in a different hotel and the arrangement was for Pius to pick me up on the way out. He was very embarrassed by the turn of events, I was told. His explanation revealed the secrets and the puzzles fell into place. The inauguration events was organized by the outgoing administration. Not once did they ask Mallam Nasir or his team how he wanted his inauguration presented. The Hall of the Holy Oven was chosen to embarass him. He said Asaa Pyramids hotel and several other places had better halls with superb air conditioning and decor. This was at variance with what he said publicly. Apparently, he did not want to rip the old administration. I disagree with that political inaccuracy, he should have just apologized and moved on. There was no need feeding us with inaccurate information about Kaduna. The Yero administration created and managed the events in their own image. It was the wickedness of their failure that they projected on the incoming government so early. They starved Mallam and his team of invites. For the dinner, his wives did not get invites for their friends and threatened a boycott. The crowd seated at the general area were 80% PDP folks. He apologized for everything.
Who is Yero? I got an earful! Before I could write this final piece, Philip Ikita beat me to it in his comment to my earlier update…”On your disappointment about the disappointing observations of an old regional capital, I want to tell you that Kaduna lived up to the billing of the old capital until the petty scoundrel Namadi Sambo took over. Before Namadi, if you had any projects listed in the annual budget, you could be almost absolutely certain it would be there by year end. During Makarfi’s time as governor, my rep of 4 years from 2003-2007 kept promise nearly 100km of road were built from zero level rural roads to tarred roads. Each year, my legislator assured and it happened. In those years, as program manager of a governance project targeted at about 4 northern states, I researched and sought to get experienced bureaucrats that could build capacity in budgeting, the SSGs in my target states repeatedly pointed to Kaduna and Kano as the only states that followed and implemented budgets with reasonable responsibility (Katsina got a mention too). For the others, according to one of my SSGs, governor wakes up and simply awards this and that contract whimsically, it was never on the budget! Patrick Yakowa tried to restore the proper process before he died – only for the ‘accidental’ Mukhtar Yero came to plunge,state into a sorry state of affairs, lorded over by the despicable Namadi Sambo.” I heard these many times from Kaduna natives during my visit.
For me, it was an eye opener. I enjoyed the trip nonetheless and I look forward to return visits. I’m glad I wasn’t wearing Lapaya. Imagine one ugly step on a loose Lapaya wrapped around my neck! Our Facebook friends and followers made us the most influential visitors in town. In my facebook family I saw the value of influence over power. I will take influence any day. I felt so good seeing my friends in flesh and blood. That was good enough for me. I can’t mention you all, but for the Kaduna trip, you made all the difference!