By Magnus Onyibe
Uncharacteristic of a visiting President, the most cherished location that president Emmanuel Macron, the affable French President wanted to be was not Aso Rock villa seat of power in Abuja, but the “Shrine” in Lagos made popular by Afro beat maestro/civil rights icon, late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
President macron’s fascination with the ‘shrine’ may not only be owed to his memories of visiting the location when he was a young intern at the French embassy in Lagos in 2002, rather it may be because the ‘shrine’ symbolized resistance and dissent against bad governance and societal ills in those dark days of military dictatorship. In some ways, the ‘Shrine’ is the equivalent of the Speakers’ corner in Hyde Park in London where the British establishment and even the Queen of England can be criticized without consequences.
As a Frenchman, President Macron is familiar with political resistance as France was once occupied by Nazi Germany during the 2nd world war- a period in which organized resistance was raised to the status of an art.
Little wonder the French President easily connected to Fela’s Shrine which symbolizes resistance to socio-economic injustice .
In the hey days of the ‘shrine’, the late music maestro Fela, was the chief priest and all those who were dissatisfied with bad governance and could not speak out against the military juntas at the helm of affairs at that time, for fear of being clamped in jail, took solace in Fela’s ‘yabis’-a tongue-in-cheek manner of throwing jabs at public officers which was actually a sort of verbal political satire .
To a majority of the young and politically conscious people, attending the shrine religiously was akin to going on political pilgrimage. That’s because the ‘shrine’ with Fela officiating as the chief priest was so enlightening and therefore coveted that those who could not attend regularly or at all, made do with Fela’s songs with evocative titles such as ‘authority stealing’, ‘Zombie’ , ‘yellow fever’ etc which addressed societal ills in very profound ways.
Amongst other enchantments, Fela’s protest songs were some type of elixir for the angst of the masses as they enabled the populace feel or realize that although they were being oppressed, Fela was on their behalf venting his spleen on the authorities.
In other words, when the masses listened to Fela’s music on radio, television or from their music sets at home, it resonated with them as they found some succour in the belief that at least Fela was fighting their cause.
For instance the song ‘Authority stealing’ condemned public office holders engaged in financial fraud and corruption during Olusegun Obasanjo’s days as military head of state, while ‘Zombie’ was a parody of the military whom he accused of not having human soul as soldiers also known as ‘kill and go’ were infamous for brutalizing or killing civilians without conscience.
The song ‘yellow fever’ poked fun at people, particularly the female folks who were fond of bleaching their skin to look light in complexion, just as ‘suffering and smiling’ is a song which denounced the horrific public transport system of cramping commuters into tight buses.
As a man who empathizes with the down trodden, President Macron must have become a Fela devotee for the musician/ activist’s outspokenness about inhumanity to fellow humans by those in authority .
Being resident in Nigeria at the time that Fela waxed his soul searching songs, the French President had the opportunity to see and feel first hand, the ills that Fela was railing against.
And the offspring of the past French leaders that promoted the policy of ASSIMILATION, president Macron ‘killed it’ (to borrow the lingo of the youngsters) when he introduced himself at the ‘Shrine’ in flawless broken English language saying :
“My name na Emmanuel Macron, na me be president of France”.
In that very uncanny way, he proved that during his sojourn in Nigeria, he did not just pass through the country, but Nigeria passed through him.
With that self effacing introduction of himself in the language of the masses, (pidgin English) he disarmed cynics who might have been nursing the grudge that he was visiting the ‘shrine’ not for altruistic reasons but merely for the photo opportunity.
In any case, doubts about President Macron’s authenticity and a firm believer in just causes should have been erased long before he came on official visit to Nigeria.
The assertion above is underscored by the fact that within a couple of hours of a young African asylum seeker saving the life of a child who was hanging loose from the balcony of a high rise apartment building in Paris,(by scaling the high walls barehanded) the French President conferred the citizenship of France on the young African immigrant for his heroic effort in preventing the French kid from plunging to death.
I’m convinced that President Macron must have truly drank from the fountain of wisdom of his forebears who introduced and implemented the ASSIMILATION policy when France colonized Africa.
Unlike Britain that operated indirect rule system, the French preferred to absorb nationals of their colonies who were willing to become French citizens.
It is that unique and inspiring policy of assimilation which promoted integration of Africans into French society that’s largely responsible for the French National football team currently playing in the World Cup in Russia, being mainly men of African descent.
As such victory for France in the World Cup finals with Croatia on Sunday, would be Africa’s victory by proxy.
When President Emmanuel Macron completes his term of office as president of France and he is keen on serving humanity in another capacity, (especially since he is still very young) he would get the votes of Africans for the Secretary General slot in the United Nations, UN if he sets his sights on that post.
The assertion above is underscored by Mr Macron’s wonderful world view and his positive disposition towards immigrants which stand him on good stead to lead the world from the UN.
President Macron’s positive approach to immigration issues is quite the opposite of the policy of building walls to stave off immigrants being propounded by president Donald Trump of the United States of America, USA.
Apart from being a guest of President Muhammadu Buhari in Aso Rock villa and being hosted by Lagos state Governor Akinwunmi Ambode at the ‘shrine’, the French President had time to attend Tony Elumelu Foundation, TEF parley for two thousand young entrepreneurs from across 54 African countries who are being mentored and seeded with one hundred million dollars over a period of ten years.
Asked by one of the interns what was the secret behind his becoming president at the relatively youthful age of 39 and how he made the switch from the private to the public sector, without any air of superiority, the French President informed his audience that there was no template for success and advised his questioner to always strive to do whatever he is convinced is right.
Amidst back slapping and ‘high fives’ with Tony Elumelu who is also the chairman of UBA Plc and shared the podium with him, ( a gesture for which some French ultra conservatives may be thumping their noses or wringing their fingers in disapproval ) the audience which included the founder of Zenith bank, Jim Ovia were balled over by president Macron’s simplicity, sincerity and candor.
By every measure of civility and diplomatic protocol, the warmth that Macron exuded through his friendly gestures, by far outweighs all other initiatives that France has ever enunciated to humanize the French.
Despite the short length of time that President Macron had to spend in Nigeria, he squeezed in a luncheon hosted by Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote and also had time to confer the French highest national honor on Mike Adenuga, founder of GLO telecom and Conoil at Alliance Française- the French cultural centre built and equipped by the telecoms tzar and oil business mogul. I can bet that there is hardly anybody that met President Macron during his visit to Nigeria that would not be struck by his awesome and charming personality.
I have no doubt that the respect for fellow humans irrespective of color of skin, creed or status in life and the dignity that the French President radiates would rub off on French brands such as Peugeot, Total, Alcatel, BNP Bank Pariba etc in Nigeria and indeed Africa.