Goodluck's hat condition
Every evening since arriving in our village some days earlier - to think, he told us, about the growing threat from Boko Haram - Goodluck Jonathan, the President of Nigeria, entertained us with hat fashion, hat games, hat stories and even hat psychology.
He could not only describe in great detail various headwear, from the bear hat worn by Russians in Siberia to the Mexican Sombrero, but their history too.
On some evenings, he organised hat catwalks in his compound. In the glow of a camp fire, and lamps hanging from strategic points in his yard, models, including - to my great amusement - my mother, who had spent the day or days fashioning hats from various materials, strutted their stuff.
On other days, there would be games, the object of which was to throw a hat on to a peg placed some distance away. The winner got - you guessed it – a hat.
One evening, the Nigerian leader pronounced: “You can tell the character of a man by the hat he wears, and how he wears it.”
And then he added: “We all wear our hearts in our hats.”
He got a kick from the witticism, and he laughed hard and long.
What followed was an intriguing lesson in hat psychology: A hat worn low over the brow could denote a Casanova or wicked character; a bowler hat expressed self-assuredness or arrogance; a cowboy hat - such as Jonathan himself wore- was a mark of confidence and boldness; a Ghanaian kente hat or the one made from cloth to match Nigerian traditional wear signalled either self-assuredness or showiness; a wool cap showed the haughtiness associated with youth, etc.
The women in the crowd were a little flabbergasted and amused to learn that the colourful headdresses they sometimes wore on special days indicated a quiet sensuality.
Weak and shy
But what really intrigued us was his theory that wearing a hat of a certain style consistently, and meditating on what it represented, could change one’s personality, so that, for example, wearing and meditating on a cowboy hat could change a weak and shy person into a confident and bold one.
“I will let you into a secret,” Jonathan told us one evening, “I was very weak, but once I discovered the secrets of hats, I was able to transform myself into a bold and confident person.”
He paused a little while to take a generous gulp of the palm wine Old Nyati had made available for him.
“And now you can see the bold steps I have been taking to transform Nigeria.”
I saw an opening to have a conversation about that tragic country.
“Sir,” I said, “why is Nigeria, endowed with so much, yet amount to so little?” Goodluck, no doubt expecting a fashion question, reeled back, and allowed himself sometime to gather his thoughts.
Then using a hat analogy, he said that the leader a country “wore” determined the country’s fortunes.
“Look,” he said, “until myself, Nigeria had been wearing a lot of bad leaders.”
The analogy aside, I agreed with the gist of Goodluck’s contention that leadership - just as in the rest of Africa - was the single most important impediment to development.
Leadership in Africa had failed on two important counts: To Institutionalise democracy so that government was run transparently and for the benefit of the people; and to inculcate, by personal example, in public officials and the general public values and codes of behaviour consistent with operating a modern democratic nation- state.
Issues of poverty
Instead, what the leaders had done was the exact opposite.
First, they hijacked state institutions to enhance their power, thus building a system that ran the country like personal property of the president and his cronies.
Second, systems of accountability and sanctions were systematically dismantled. A culture of impunity for mediocrity, non- performance, mismanagement and theft seeped deep into the body politic.
However, Jonathan’s contention that he was changing all that contradicted the reality.
For instance, his handling of the growing threat of the Boko Haram terrorist group has been described as bumbling, and reactive as opposed to pro-active.
It has also failed to address issues of poverty and exclusion that contribute to the problem.
Goodluck’s administration, like its predecessors, too has failed to move forcibly against high-level corruption, a state of affairs communicated powerfully by his pardon of a state governor convicted of massive corruption.
But as I thought of these things, a hat fashion show had begun in the yard, and Jonathan, back in his element, was beaming with joy.
The President had abandoned our discussion of affairs of state at the drop of a hat.