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Managing success with grace

By Donu Kogbara

Last year, I was approached by a young man who was looking for a job. When I checked out his CV and references and heard his intelligent answers to the difficult questions I asked him, I concluded that he had a good character and sophisticated brain…and would be very useful to anyone who hired him.

So I contacted a VIP friend – who was always telling anyone who would listen that he didn’t have enough competent staff – and told him that I’d come across a young man who was definitely talented. Strangely, given his constant complaints about the “inadequate” human resources he had at his disposal, my friend reacted very unenthusiastically. But I managed to persuade him to meet the young man.


When the youngster went to the VIP’s Abuja office on the agreed date, he waited all day but didn’t see the Oga, even though he was in. The secretary told him to return the next day. But the same thing happened the next day. And the day after.

When the youngster told me that he wasn’t making any progress, I advised him to be patient. So he kept going back to that office, again and again, for 2 weeks.

At this stage, I called the VIP, to beg him to see the youngster. But he did not take my call, so I sent him an email and text. He did not respond to my text or email, so I told the youngster to forget about the VIP, reimbursed the money he’d spent on transport and apologized for wasting his time and raising his hopes.

Shortly afterwards, I bumped into the VIP at a function and asked him why he had treated the youngster – and me – so shabbily. He shrugged unrepentantly and coldly informed me that he had been busy. I shook my head in disgust and walked away.

This incident didn’t particularly surprise me because it is normal for Nigerian VIPs to misbehave and lavish arrogance and unkindness on those who approach them!…even when they owe favours to those who have approached them.

Yesterday, a businessman I know sadly told me that a Governor he had helped was totally ignoring him. They had been classmates at school and the businessman had donated N5 million to the Governor’s election campaign fund at a time when the Governor had been a mere gubernatorial aspirant who was very short of cash.

I hear depressing stories like this almost every week from various people and have had several bad experiences with Nigerian VIPs myself. And all I could do was wearily console the distraught businessman and tell him that philosophically accepting this betrayal and moving onto pastures new was the best way forward.

But I do wonder why so many Naija VIPs are unpleasant. Most of them are OK when they are doing ordinary jobs, then suddenly change when they achieve success.

I have VIP friends from other countries. Some have become senior officials of their home governments or international organisations like the United Nations and European Union. Others have risen to the top of the private sector and are now running banks, oil companies, etcetera. And NOT ONE of them has changed.

The British historian, Lord Acton, pointed out, as long ago as 1887, that “power corrupts…” So this thing about people changing for the worse when they become powerful is nothing new and isn’t country-specific either and must be universal.

But some nationalities are more prone to the power/corruption syndrome; and ALL of the foreign VIPs I have known for years are the same now as they were when they were less successful. And, to be fair, some Nigerians also don’t change when they do well and continue to be nice to their friends and the world at large.

But the majority of Nigerians who have acquired VIP status quickly become grandiose, inconsiderate and ungrateful when opportunity knocks.

It’s as if they undergo personality transplants as soon as they cease to be regular citizens and get their hands on money and influence.

This is why a Nigerian sage (whose name I don’t know) once wryly observed that “A friend in government is a friend lost!”

There are exceptions to this rule. But not many or enough!

As a matter of fact, even the sidekicks of VIPs – Personal and Special Assistants, for example – often become much nastier, alongside their masters and madams.

Even modest amounts of power drastically change some dignitaries or dignitaries’ aides beyond recognition; and they totally rearrange their social circles and conduct. Even when they retain old chums, they rarely treat them with respect.

And because they treated so many people so shoddily when they were riding high, they are ruthlessly and contemptuously deserted when they leave office.

Sure, Nigeria being the kind of place in which former VIPs are allowed to doggedly cling onto defunct titles ad infinitum, they will always be known as Senator This, Honourable That, His or Her Excellency and so on. And they will forever be acknowledged, to some extent, and invited to sit on high tables at weddings, etc.

But the Homes of Has Beens who weren’t gracious when they were powerful – homes that were once full of desperate supplicants, sychophants and “well-wishers” – rapidly empty out and quit being thriving, crowded meccas when the individuals concerned quit working at the pinnacle of our society; and the only company they can count on when they have been booted out of office is their families and REAL friends (who’ve been woefully neglected but choose to forgive and forget).

The inability to manage success graciously is a serious moral flaw. As we embark on a brand New Year, one can only pray that more Nigerian Big Men and Big Women learn how to overcome this flaw, control their egos and become less obnoxious!!!


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