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The ‘big man’ and the kwashiorkor child

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By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo

I am a big man, so I bark orders, talk at people, put them in their places. When I froth , they fawn . I get attention and give back indifference and insolence. That locks them into servility. I dish arbitrariness, it feels godlike. Reckless unpredictability leaves those around me nursing my moods, makes them live lives guessing my moves.

Starved girl
Starved girl

Mortals must be kept in permanent submission, however possible . When I condescend and throw a few jokes, I receive the big laughter big men get for whom they are rather than for what they have said. Flattery without end, it’s the Lord’s doing! My money and position make me wise and fit to be courted.

The big man is on top of his world. Fate is fickle. The kwashiorkor child , another cruel work of capricious fate, is hungry and dejected, wasting and wasted. He has been pushed by neglect , chronic malnutrition and deprivation to the valley of the shadow of death.

War , famine, natural disaster or genocide complicated by a government sponsored starvation have decimated many childhoods with that syndrome. The ‘big man’ and the kwashiorkor child are supposed to be at opposite extremes of the spectrum of life. But wait a minute.

Women insist all men are children not because they are mothers and men were once babies. But because they see men as tough on the outside and weak on the inside and given to impulsivity and tantrums. And a particular incontinence, that near general deficit in the mastery of libido, has many women feeling that men are handicapped, require continuing ‘toilet training’.

When the Nigerian man becomes afflicted by imagined or real success, he becomes a ‘big man’ . And becomes overly indulgent in all pleasures sensual , and discards self restraint. He becomes thoroughly incontinent. Leaking vile words, bad manners, arrogance , contempt and lecherousness from all orifices and pores.

The ‘big man’ may be the successful but he is definitely intoxicated by little achievements. The ‘big man’, unable to contain success, real or apparent , diminishes inside and becomes bloated outside. The spirit and the flesh are at perpetual war , Christianity says.

The big man enthrones the flesh and becomes a child pretending to adulthood. Only a child should suffer from the sort of naivety and vainglory that permit generous personal gratification to be derived from bogus, toy-like titles . A big man’s honorary doctoral degree, is forgotten and a hapless announcer must do penance.

The kwashiorkor child paints the pathetic picture of the pathology of the ‘big man’ syndrome. In the kwashiorkor child , the signs and symptoms of malnutrition, protein deficiency, are superimposed on the features of childhood neglect. So the child with haunted eyes and lean, withering muscles, manages yet a pot belly, a feature of many big men.

And swellings can mask tragedies . Don’t even these men refer to their protruding bellies as evidence of good living? The big man’s humility , patience , tolerance and manners are lean. But he has other offensive protrusions. Despite the success which he flaunts , he retains some oversized appetite for material acquisition and accumulation that borders on compulsive obsessive disorder.

Neither rodents nor ants can match their greedy tenacity. That mindless grabbing that sticks out like a kwashiorkor abdomen and that is made more grotesque by the backdrop of millions in abject poverty , the wasted limbs and disappearing buttocks of a prostrate kwashiorkor nation.

The kwashiorkor child retains fluid because he lacks proteins and the big man lacks character molding blocks of contentment and self discipline and he retains volumes of greed. The liver of the kwashiorkor child is enlarged because it is infiltrated by fat. The big man typically manifests what in colloquial usage is called liver ( large liver) because he has scant regard for rules and propriety.

He relishes in the impunity which the weakness of the criminal justice system permits and which his unscrupulousness appropriates. He has no regard for the consequences of his actions because the hands of the law stunted by corruption like that of the kwashiorkor child is too weak, too frail. In any case when the law becomes petulant and tries to claw at him, the nuisance is swatted off with some wads of naira.

The ‘big man’ walks into the church, feeling smug. Carrying on his head , his superciliousness from the world . He is malnourished , spiritually , but will get the front pews and prime attention not because the pastor recognizes that he is spiritually sick and needs the close watch the kwashiorkor child will get in a hospital.

And the pastor perhaps suffers from spiritual marasmus, common amongst pastors. He reads the sickly protrusion of wealth as divine blessing. So the big man sits in church peacocking but drowning.

The sermons are tailored to save him embarrassment, so the pastor will dwell more on God’s mercies and the idea that “ all have sinned” rather than the blessedness of righteousness and the vanity of earthly glory. Unscathed , not convicted, and perhaps soothed by the balm of tame sermons that glamourize wealth, the big man is effectively laundered by the church.

He is the envy of the congregation. He becomes the head of an important committee for money reasons. Contrition is redundant. Repentance is secondary , too rigorous. The church feeds on poor doctrine and is swollen, like the kwashiorkor child , only in its abdomen , in watery numbers.

With a flabby liver and soul , infiltrated by fatty materialism, the church catastrophically swallows many insolences of the big man, excuses his conspicuous shortcomings and exhibits him as a living example of God’s overwhelming blessings.

Because without power all that is left in church is motivational talk and social welfare, the despised kwashiorkor child perhaps has more to gain from a church deficient in spirituality than the ‘rich fool’.

The big man has ‘liver’ but lacks courage. His perversion, the audacity to trample on values , is pleasure driven. So the big man may be loud, tempestuous and disdainful of proprieties, he is as cowardly as the kwashiorkor child is weak.

He is fickle and flimsy and given to superficiality. The life he craves is that that is bereft of pain, deep thought , disquiet and sobriety. So he holds onto no principles except hedonism. Morality must be self serving because, for him, sacrifice is too abstract.

And perhaps , like the kwashiorkor child, he lacks tough skin. Kwashiorkor comes with a desquamative rash. When the big man encounters a little resistance , the sort that money can’t easily handle, he changes colour , blends in like a chameleon. Or he sheds his skin snakelike and slithers away. No cause is worth dying for , it would appear.

That is why they can switch camps with the ease with which eels dart around. And camps aren’t just political parties and and friends and wives but even faiths. They can switch from the front pews of a pentecostal church to the front squatting positions in a babalawo’s shed . They seek that coverage every where they go.

Many times they belong no where by belonging everywhere. Life is better if God doesn’t exist because there will be no further consequences . Taking a stand is often considered too risky , so he flirts with all known gods but believes in none of them. Many in Ogboni confraternity are ordained Bishops. All risk comprehensive insurance in that sort of ecumenism.

A grave problem for the big man is that like the kwashiorkor child he regresses in development and loses milestones that had been observed. Many who may have never parted company with folly but who had understood that parents must be respected, acquire the large heads typical of kwashiorkor and their parents become too small ,too outdated.

The kwashiorkor child suffers an arrest of physical and mental development while the big man suffers an arrest of moral and spiritual development. Wives hang around in fine dresses for photo ops and soak in contempt, insults and diverse forms of physical and psychological abuses.

They will deny they are not house girls perhaps because of the contract and or the children. But neither “suffering and smiling” nor endless moaning about the mean childishness of the man nor a resigned “siddon look” attests to the dignity a spousal status bestows.

For the ‘big man’, women are objects of pleasure and variety is the thrill . And because perception is everything, the anguish of these wives are known only to close confidantes. Loud opulence, cars , noise and general diffusion of ‘effizzy’ can mask such internal wretchedness.

If the traumatised wife gets infected , and becomes a ‘big woman’, an epidemic of woe is triggered. Someone once asked why Africa has many mean first ladies.

The big man is preoccupied with frivolities. His soul is lost to vanity. Whims become reasons, and he , blind from materialism, becomes a visionary. The community languishes. Rigour is abhorred . Crude exhibitionism becomes a culture and philanthropy exists for self aggrandizement. He will misuse “ to God be the glory” and misuse “giving back to the society”.

He will not read because it’s too much concentration , for nothing. The kwashiorkor child lacks concentration too. Jokes for simpletons and lighthearted banter will be preferred by both. The malnourished kwashiorkor child deserves attention , the society gives none. The big man is suffused with obsequious attention of a materialistic society and is made mad .

Last one. Both syndromes are common in underdeveloped countries where millions live in abject poverty. Like Nigeria.

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