How Macron Humanised France during his Nigerian Visit – 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 “Afrika Shrine” in Lagos made popular by the Afrobeat maestro/civil rights icon, the 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’ symbolised resistance and dissent against bad governance and societal ills in those dark days of military dictatorship.
In some ways, the ‘Shrine’ can be said to be the equivalent of the Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park in London where the British establishment and even the Queen of England can be criticised without consequences.
As a Frenchman, Macron is familiar with political resistance as France was once occupied by Nazi Germany during the 2nd World War, a period in which organised resistance was raised to the status of an art.
Little wonder, the French President easily connected to Fela’s Shrine which symbolises resistance to socio-economic injustice.
In the hey days of the ‘Shrine’, the late music maestro 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, for fear of being clamped in ail, 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. 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 , listening to Fela’s protest songs was some type of elixir or soothing balm on the bruised psyches of the masses as the music enabled them to feel or realise 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 course.
For instance, the song, ‘Authority stealing’, condemned public office holders engaged in financial fraud and corruption during Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo 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 brutalising or killing civilians without conscience.
The song ‘Yellow fever’ poked fun at people, particularly the female folk who were fond of bleaching their skin to look light in complexion just as ‘Shuffering and shmiling’ is a song which denounced the horrific public transport system of cramping commuters into tight buses.
As a man who empathises with the downtrodden, President Macron must have become a Fela devotee for the musician/ activist’s outspokenness about inhumanity to fellow humans by those in authority.
Also, being resident in Nigeria at the time that Fela waxed his soul-searching songs, the French President must have had the opportunity to see and feel firsthand, the ills that Fela was railing against.
And being the true offspring of the past French leaders that promoted the policy of Assimilation during European colonisation of Africa, 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 also 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 Macron’s authenticity as a firm believer in just causes should have been erased long before he came on the 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.
Unlike Britain that operated indirect rule system, the French preferred to absorb nationals of their colonies who were willing to become French citizens which awesome and the reason former French colonies are still tied to its umbilical cord.
It is that unique and inspiring policy of assimilation which promoted integration of Africans into the French society that’s largely responsible for the French national football team that won the World Cup in Russia, being mainly men of African descent.
As such, the victory for France at the World Cup is Africa’s victory by proxy.
As reward for his care for humanity, when 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 be guaranteed the votes of Africans for the Secretary General job in the United Nations if he sets his sights on that post.
The assertion above is underscored by Mr. Macron’s wonderful worldview and his positive disposition towards immigrants which stand him on good stead to lead the world from the UN.
Above anything else, President Macron’s positive approach to the immigration issues is quite the opposite of the policy of building walls to stave off immigrants as propounded by President Donald Trump of the United States of America.
Apart from being a guest of President Muhammadu Buhari in Aso Rock and being hosted by the Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, at the ‘Shrine’, during his two-day visit, the French President also had time to attend the Tony Elumelu Foundation parley for 2,000 young entrepreneurs from across 54 African countries who are being mentored and seeded with $100m over a period of 10 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 is no specific 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 (a gesture of camaraderie which some French ultra conservatives may disapprove), most members of the audience which included the founder of Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia, were balled over by Macron’s simplicity, sincerity and candour.
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 humanise the French after the independence of her colonies.
Despite the short length of time that Macron had to spend in Nigeria, (two days) 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 at the Alliance Française, the French cultural centre built and equipped by the telecoms czar.
I can bet that there is hardly anybody who met President Macron during his visit to Nigeria who would not be struck by his awesome and charming personality.
And l would imagine that for his respect for fellow humans irrespective of colour of skin, creed or status in life, the dignity that the French President radiates would rub off on French brands such as in Nigeria and indeed Africa.
Magnus Onyibe, an alumnus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, is a former commissioner in Delta State.