By Tolu Ogunlesi
Kim Kardashian on arrival at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos
The title for this article is inspired, obviously, by Dele Momodu’s ‘The Karenplificationof Africa’, written after Karen Igho won the 2011 Big Brother Amplified Show.
The piece itself is about Kim Kardashian, the American Reality TV star, whose primary claim to fame is her appearance in a sex video that leaked in 2007. She has since parlayed that fame, or shall we call it notoriety, into a series of gripping Reality TV shows, and a high-profile relationship with Mr. Kanye West. And a couple of millions of dollars in earnings, and 17 million followers on Twitter.
She was in Lagos two weekends ago, for Dare Art Alade’s Love Like A Movieconcert. Somehow, following the show, a controversy arose on the Internet — sustained largely by people who did not attend the concert, and were just depending on Twitter updates for their information. They seemed to be gloating — somehow the gist going around was that guests had paid N100,000 ($630) only to get a 45 second glimpse of Ms. Kardarshian.
British-Nigerian blogger Jeremy Weate, fed this view of events with a widely-circulated piece that insinuated that Kim-K — Weate reported was paid $500,000; even though there’s no evidence for this — had ’419ed’ Nigerians.
And then the British journalist, Marina Hyde, picked up on that ’419′ theme (leading to Weate accusing her of plagiarising him), in her column for the London Guardian.
Weate and Hyde apparently have no idea that before the concert, there was a dinner-and-photo-session with the V-VIPs, the holders of the N100,000 tickets. This went on for at least an hour and a half — the V-VIPs evidently got a lot more than the widely-reported 45 seconds of Kim-K’s time.
But that’s by the way. I found it intensely amusing to see two oyibo people fighting roforofo on the Internet over what is essentially a Nigerian creation: 419. I’m not sure why these people appeared to be crying more than the supposedly bereaved.
It doesn’t seem to have dawned on them that the sort of Nigerians who can afford to shell out N100,000 for a concert are not the sort to feel they’ve been “scammed” of such amount of money. Nigerians don’t operate that way. It is these same Nigerians who effortlessly pay N1m for a VIP table at concerts involving local artistes.
They’re the same ones who walk into a showroom in Victoria Island to pay N34m for a car that will be ridden on gully-ridden roads. (Last week, I actually saw such a car at a showroom in Lagos. NN34m! If there were no buyers, there’d be no sellers).
For me, however, the real story in all of this is what it tells us about the Nigeria we live in.
For purposes of full disclosure, I attended the concert. In fact, I attended as a VVIP, even though I clearly do not belong to that category of Nigerians. There was enough good luck on my head to qualify me for a free VVIP ticket.
(There’s no way I could’ve afforded paying even a quarter of that price for a concert ticket. The most I’ve paid for a concert ticket in my life was £36 (N9,000), for a showing of We Will Rock You at London’s West End, in September 2011).
Point One about Nigeria. The hypocrisy. I saw a newspaper report that said Nigerian families were disturbed by the presence of a “morally questionable influence” like Kim Kardashian, associated with a leaked sex-tape. I found that laughable, on account of the blatant hypocrisy.
This is the same Nigeria where parents shelled out thousands of naira last December for their kids to attend Chris Brown’s Lagos concert. The same woman-battering Chris Brown. At that event, Brown lit up a roll of marijuana, and smoked it briefly, in front of all those children. Days after the event, I overheard a conversation involving one ‘Big Man’, who took his teenage children to the show.
I heard him lamenting how disappointed he was that the singer would smoke weed in front of all those children. I found that hilarious: you pay up to $300 to see Chris Brown and then complain about his behaviour – didn’t you know what he was capable of doing before venturing?
Point Two about Nigeria: The startling juxtaposition of mind-boggling wealth and poverty. To Weate’s credit, he highlighted this when he said: “The Lagos elite blows money at puffery, while most of Nigeria suffers.”
This country is cursed with an elite for whom no amount is too much to spend frivolously, whilst 70 per cent of the population languishes in crushing poverty. Every now and then, I suspect we’re doomed as a nation.
I instinctively resist any attempt to cast Kim-K (as much as I don’t care much about her) as a villain in this case. With or without Kim-K, Nigerians will always be what they are — given to shocking displays of irresponsible spending. Money-miss-road-ness.
Any attempt to suggest, even as a joke, that Kim-K conned Nigerians totally misses the point. Being conned implies a passive gullibility that no one can find the Nigerian elite guilty of.
Our VVIPs are never the hapless victims of devious international stars; they always know what they’re doing with their money, and possess the resources to fund every obscene choice down to the last kobo.
A source I consider reliable (an African-American who told me there was no way in this world he would pay $600 for any concert in America) informed me that a Nigerian paid Rick Ross $150,000 to perform at a 10-year-old’s birthday party, during his visit to Nigeria last September. That might explain why Ross tweeted this, while in the country: “Nigeria is rich with oil. Generational wealth. I need some.”
We know that in today’s Nigeria, there’s often very little connection between wealth and legitimate work: the big lesson of the fuel subsidy scam is that the country is full of ‘contractors’ and briefcase-businessmen, who have made a science out of corruptly converting ‘connections’ into cash.
For this class of people, therefore, nothing is too frivolous to spend on; no amount too much to be spent. (Please note that I’m not saying everyone who pays N100,000 for a concert ticket belongs to this corrupt class).
We have fundamental problems in this country; our oil wealth, free-for-all, has, in our accountability-free environment, rewired our minds, such that it is impossible for us to see anything wrong with our attitude of ostentation amidst so much dysfunction.
Meanwhile, the pregnant Kim-K has since returned to America. She seems to have had a lot of fun in Nigeria (just like Rick Ross), tweeting as she left: “Thank you for the amazing time, Nigeria! I can’t wait to come back soon!”
And she will, trust me. She will.
•Ogunlesi, a journalist and blogger, wrote in from Lagos via firstname.lastname@example.org