African big men’s motorcades are an insult to the poor ruled

Monday January 22 2024

President Bola Tinubu waves at guests from a motorcade during his inauguration ceremony at the Eagle Square in Abuja, Nigeria on May 29, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


A video of Nigeria’s President travelling to his hometown over the Christmas period has been trending on social media. The motorcade has motorcycle outriders, massive SUVs with men in black riding outside the vehicles, police cars with sirens wailing, army jeeps full of gun-toting soldiers, buses for God-knows-what, trucks with more soldiers, and more police cars and army jeeps.

There are close to 60 vehicles in the motorcade. Lining the road are policemen and soldiers. The president’s car is surrounded by men in black running alongside it. They, in turn, are flunked by soldiers armed to the teeth. God — or the circus — has come to town.

According to some reports, a 60-vehicle motorcade was modest by the standards of President Bola Tinubu. After a trip to several European capitals, he reportedly travelled to Lagos in a 100-car motorcade.

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This jamboree surely cannot be for security reasons. Security can be ensured by a leaner, yet meaner motorcade. This is political theatre.

First, it is meant to convey power and prestige. Second, it is meant to mystify or deify the president. Third, it is meant to menace the populace.


The instructive irony of Tinubu’s Christmas excursion is that he travels through chaotic, impoverished, and unplanned towns and cities.

Incredibly, instead of citizens of these government-forsaken towns expressing outrage at this obscene wastage of their resources during a time when they are being asked to tighten their belts, they run after the motorcade, cheering in awestruck glee.

So, you have three incongruent images that explain Africa’s struggling, or failed, development project. One image shows decadent opulence of the ruling class. The second shows urban poverty and chaos. The last shows the obsequious reverence of the populace.

These three images, and the story they tell, are not unique to Nigeria. They are replicated everywhere in Africa. Presidents zooming through dirty, chaotic, unplanned towns in endless motorcades as impoverished citizens cheer in awe are a daily tragicomedy.

Some will say that countries like America also have huge presidential motorcades.

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Sure, the US president travels in a 50-vehicle motorcade.

However, America’s GDP is about $25 trillion. Its per capita GDP is $60,000.

Nigeria’s GDP is $450 billion. Its GDP per capita is a measly $2,000, making it a poor country. These are shocking figures for a resource-rich country with a population of 200 million.

Further, the US president’s motorcade passes through planned city streets and affluent towns. The point is that we cannot afford this wastage. We desperately need to use our scarce resources to build better roads, hospitals and schools, not to buy more vehicles for a never-ending presidential motorcade.

How do we reverse this ostentatious decadence of the political class? By re-situating God, oops, president within the democratic framework. By ceasing to worship the president. By demanding a stop to this vile abuse of power. By holding these gods criminally accountable for abuse of office.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator