American Stephen Colbert was an inspiration last weekend for everyone who longs to stand up to power and speak their mind without fear or favor - everywhere. As the "Featured Entertainer" of this year's annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner held at Washington DC on Saturday, Mr. Colbert did what he does best on his "Colbert Report" show - giving a sarcastic appraisal of current events, the government and the press.

Mr. Colbert held no punches as he expressed his 'admiration' for his 'hero' [President Bush] and lampooned a critical liberal press while he commended the 'unbiased' outfits like Fox News. Though Bush had earlier entertained the crowd with self-deprecating humor that left everyone howling with laughter, all that literally fizzled out as Colbert delivered his; leaving President Bush visibly uncomfortable as were the guests who laughed nervously to Mr. Colbert's painfully sarcastic jibes at the expense of Bush and his administration.

And so this young Nigerian man watched the whole episode on C-SPAN TV as well. His jaw dropped and he tried to imagine this happening in Nigeria. President Obasanjo is a very funny man as well; he cracks his audience up with his rugged jokes whenever he gets a chance, leaving them doubled over in laughter. In contrast to Bush, Baba [as he is referred to in deference to his age] is not a fan of self-deprecating jokes. Rather, his jokes are directed at other personalities, many of whom may be in his audience at any point in time.

We have picked up the American presidential system of government, thanks to then General Obasanjo in 1979. We have started our own version of Hollywood called 'Nollywood' as well. Our entertainers have so mastered the American rap/rhythm and blues you can almost mistake some of them for American singers when they perform. So, perhaps it is not out of place for this Nigerian to day-dream about a White House Press Corp-like dinner in Nigeria's State House.

I sat there and day-dreamed of my hosting such an event at Nigeria's seat of power - Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory [FCT]. I imagined I was in the Banquet Hall of the State House, where the who and who in Nigeria have been invited to grace the occasion to host the State House Press Corp with many guests in attendance: The President and many top government functionaries; the 'Nollywood' actors, actresses and other entertainers; the Press Corp; powerful news editors and commentators like Reuben Abati and Okey Ndibe; other politicians and important guests like fiery-looking Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka.

Note that this has never happened in Nigeria though and if or when it does, such is usually an exclusive reserve of those in government and their closest buddies and, of course, a few representatives of the Third Estate of the realm - the Press. The White House may not be as open as it was in the pre-9/11 days but the Nigerian Presidential Villa, or State House, is probably just as well-guarded and restricted as the White House is post-9/11. There are no tours for tourists like there is in the US White House. I haven't heard of one anyways .

My reverie gets deeper. President Obasanjo had just finished doing what he does best - relaxing the atmosphere with his off-hand jokes and banters. He had talked about how he misses the chickens and pigs on his farm and how they keep asking when he will return home. He had told of how one favorite pig, having missed his master so much, broke out of the piggery and ran after the presidential convoy as he departed his farming estate in Ota the last time he visited. He told of how he had tears in his eyes and ordered the convoy to stop so he could pat the pig on the head and promised the pig he'll be back soon. He told of how bad he felt watching the pig return, looking dejected - ears drooped, tail 'unpigly' uncoiled, hanging straight down.

By this time, people are hysterical with laughter. I notice a few straight faces and I wonder why they didn't find anything he said funny. "Miserable geeks", I thought to myself. The President would go on for the next 45 minutes, talking and making everyone laugh. He will lampoon the press, especially those vibrant news publishers in the South-West [Lagos] axis. "The Axis of Whiners", he will call them, a la President Bush's "Axis of Evil". Baba will then say he understands the relationship between the Lagos-area press and him better than anyone else; it is simply a case of a big brother and his siblings. The latter usually see the former as a big bully while the former sees the latter as naughty little brats - but they share a bond of love nobody can "put asunder". More howls of laughter follows.

Then the President of Nigerian Guild of Editors rises and introduces "Folabi Ogunleye, young, maverick late-night entertainer on Lagos Channels TV who has endeared himself to many college students and young adults with his daily 'Weeknights with Folabi' show". The President and all present applaud as I rise and step up to the rostrum..and I begin:

"Mr. President, respected members of the State House Press Union, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I am deeply honored to be asked to come entertain this distinguished crowd tonight".

"I must state that I was nervous about this job - the job to please a gathering of rich and powerful people. Not just because they are rich and powerful, but there is this popular belief amongst poor ordinary people like myself that rich and powerful people are not easy to please because they are rich and powerful. I know what I am saying is difficult to grasp but what I mean is that you people are so rich, so powerful that you have probably bought or ordered all the entertainment that exist, hence it is difficult to find the material that would entertain you well enough". [Laughter]

"I'm serious - dead serious. As the President entertained everyone earlier and everyone laughed, I felt like running out of this gathering. I wanted to run away..because he made the script I had written look like what Professor Soyinka would call gibberish or Child's Play. Only a rich and powerful man like Mr. President can make hundreds of guests laugh the way he did. As the President spoke, somebody whispered to me that his jokes weren't funny, that people were only felt compelled to laugh at his jokes because he was the President. I told this individual to shut-up with his rumors, that it is the President cracking jokes here and advised him to "laugh hard!" We could hardly stop laughing afterwards".

"I love this President! No, not the Nigerian Guild of Editors' president; I am talking about the President of the Federal Republic, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR. Anytime I watch him talk, I just feel he is my grandfather. Young people out there make fun of his old-school English and I feel like shouting at them and asking how else they expect a 70 year old grandfather to talk? I mean, assuming 70 is really SEVENTY. What is wrong with my generation? They are so computerized they don't even appreciate things like emotion again! All they care about is computers and cell phones - forgetting that it was President Obasanjo who opened up the Nigerian market to wireless telecom. Baba is only as loving as any grandfather can get and his command of the English language is just plain sweet old grandfatherly style!"

"Who wouldn't love a funny grandfather like Baba? His humor alone can keep this violence-prone nation of ours united more than anything else! Tell me, which leader in the history of our nation has had a knack for humor the way Baba does? None. Laughter is good for the soul of our nation. The tension we are feeling over the 3rd Term issue could have been worse if not for President Obasanjo's sense of humor. From the creeks of Yenagoa to the plains of Birin-Kebbi, Baba's grandfatherly humor has kept this nation as one united entity. I feel sorry for the Press; they always have something to frown about. Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, I have a scientific fact I want you to know, it takes more nerves to frown than to smile. Just smile and laugh to Baba's wit; it's good for you."

"If you want to know how effectively uniting humor can be, ask Chris Ngige, the former Governor of Anambra - the one who was expelled from the Presidents' party along with his political 'godfather' for "anti-party activities" - the latter has since been reconciled with the party for his "good behavior" though. Even though Ngige believed the Presidency was behind his many troubles while he was in office [and must have hated the President for that], he couldn't help but smile when he and Baba met at an event in the neighboring eastern state of Rivers last year. Baba jibed Ngige non-stop while the audience doubled-over in laughter. Later, during the same event, one on one, Ngige reportedly told Baba in his native Igbo language to leave him alone - of course in a light mood."

"Another living testament to Baba's powerful sense of humor is Bola Tinubu, opposition Governor of Lagos, who the President invited to Abuja late last year after years of disagreements between the duo. According to Baba, it was about time he and the much younger Governor sheathed their swords so they can join hands to develop that sprawling Megapolis called Lagos. By the time Baba was through cajoling him, Governor Tinubu reportedly strecthed out on the floor to pay traditional Yoruba obeisance to Baba. Now tell me Baba's humor is ineffective! Huh? Forget that, right now, both Tinubu and Ngige are back as Baba's arch-rivals."

"Don't worry Mr. President; we know what is wrong with both Tinubu and Ngige. Their sense of humor is so poor that they hide behind things like "moral causes". Moral causes like Ngige's emancipation of Anambra people from the bondage of a corrupt 'godfather' and Tinubu's fight for a fair representation and adequate funding for the economic nerve-centre of the Federal Republic."

"Yes, and also, my fellow stubborn Yoruba people in the South-West refused to vote for Mr. President in 1999. He lost massively in the region, even in his home state of Ogun. But that was before Baba turned on his charm. By 2003, they had become willing victims of his charming self, enough to vote massively for him. They even kicked out all but one of the four opposition Governors in that region in the same elections! So powerful was Baba's charm that our people were ready to rig elections in his name! Baba's charisma is ridding our great nation of opposition - YES! No more opposition parties in our land, they hinder focus and development. Seriously."

"Ah, and I almost forgot. Even in the White House earlier last month, Baba got President Bush and all present laughing with his indefatigable humor. After Baba had shown America and the world that Nigeria's negligence was NOT responsible for Charles Taylor's escape [because he was captured], he closed his remarks by thanking President Bush for hosting his delegation and "for remaining his charming self." You should have heard the explosion of laughter in the Oval Office [or seen President Bush's face]. Everybody simply forgot about asking President Obasanjo about his alleged 3rd term agenda - at least while the laughter lasted."

"Jokes apart, I am proud to have a witty Septuagenarian as my President. He commands a lot of respect from everyone - especially at home in Nigeria where people show a lot of respect for the elderly, mostly when there is someone in sight to witness otherwise. His age and his stature command enough respect and I am happy the President knows this and he does not hesitate to use the advantage whenever it is necessary for him to do so."

"So it was with the case of that Reverend gentleman in Jos. It was just after the riots that saw "A Governor who loves to eat Dogs" suspended and a State of Emergency was subsequesntly declared in his Plateau State for 6 months. I am sure the Reverend gentleman learnt never to question the integrity of Mr. President in public ever again. Not after the President put him to his place by telling him to shut up and called him an idiot."

"Same goes for that federal aviation official after the unfortunate air-disaster we had late last year. As the official babbled on during a stakeholders' meeting called at the instance of Mr. President, the President ordered him to shut-up and sit down if he has nothing useful to say - on live TV."

"Good job Mr. President! You may be a witty grandfather but you know how to get tough when you have to be. The nation was in mourning and we needed answers about the corruption that endangered air safety in Nigeria. Tough and embarrassing situations require ACTING tough and putting everyone to their place - whether you are a man of the cloth or a supposedly inefficient and corrupt public official.

"It's 12 months away to the end of the President's tenure and I am missing him already. We have come a long way, Mr. President - wow. It seems it's only yesterday when the President was approached by 'Big Men' in Nigeria to come contest for the 1999 democratic elections. Mr. President consulted divine powers and reluctantly acquiesced. Now the same 'Big Men' are clamoring for Baba to leave the stage! What is wrong with these people? Professor Soyinka, is the Professor still here? Oh yes, Sir. Kindly indulge me; is that an irony or metaphor..or what is the grammatical term for such a situation? Anyways, Mr. President, don't mind them. People can be quite ungrateful! Imagine that!"

"Some other 'Big Men' are also 'begging' Mr President to stay. Right Mr. President? It's true they are begging you right? It is a paradox. Yes! I finally nailed it - that's the word I have been trying to think of. I believe it is the right word because Prof Soyinka is smiling in the corner there. Smiling is good Professor; it relaxes the facial muscles. It is also makes me relaxed to see you smile Sir. See? Mr. President? Professor Soyinka is smiling, your neighbor and good friend from the same home town. Mr. President, you and I can relax you know? It's all good when Mr. Soyinka smiles - I can relax because it means he approves of my use of the word "paradox" and you, Mr. President, can relax because it means the good Prof approves of your 3rd Term agenda..."

"Oh-My-God...! I'm so sorry.."

"Pardon me, Mr. President. I forget. Mr. President, you are not presently interested in the 3rd Term. At least not until the constitution has been amended to include a 3rd Term after which you will commune with Divinity who will direct you to either stay or not."

"See, ladies and gentlemen, leaders are ordained by Divine powers and as such have a better communication with Divinity than everyone else. Ask America's George Bush. He prays everyday and the Divine Powers tell him everything he does - like invading Iraq. No, not everyone can commune with Divinity like these leaders. They have their own direct line. In this country, "we are not ashamed to acknowledge that God has a say in the affairs of men" - my respects to Presidential Media Assistant Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode whom I just Para-phrased. But its true, because if you deny Mr. Fani-Kayode's god, his god will punish you with a shock of white hair like Prof Soyinka's - whether you are a child, young man or a internationally respected 74-year old Nobel laureate".

"Professor Soyinka, with all due respect, you do NOT go criticizing Mr. President without first believing in Mr. Fani-Kayode's god. Believe first in Mr Fani-Kayode's 'god' and you are good to go. You may then criticize the President all you want until Mr. Fani-Kayode's god says "enough!" Remember, only him hears or understands his 'god'. By the way, I am not trying to start a god-war here but I make bold to say Fani-Kayode's god is better than everybody else's god! Yes, eat that, Dr Abati and the rest of your fellow Lagos-area newspaper editors! All you do is complain anyways. How about proffering a solution sometimes?"

"I don't know why people keep accusing the President of all these things he has not done! My President "is a democrat, not a manipulator!" The Guardian, Daily Punch, Thisday, The Sun, Daily Champion, TELL, Newswatch, The News - all you liberal Lagos "axis of whiners" press need to get that straight! This President is a democrat and NOT a manipulator. When he swears an Oath, it remains sacrosanct unless some divinity reveals to him otherwise! Yes! You people sit there and second-guess the President when kids are dying in Darfur, when Charles Taylor is err..err..oh, ok, he's no more news. But at least y'all know what I mean..!

"Mr. President has not said he's going to run for 3rd term; he is going to wait for the necessary amendments to go through the required process before he decides. If it is adopted, Mr. President will run but if it isn't he wont - very simple! Don't ask me where I heard that from, you whinny press folks from Lagos. It's just one of those things that people don't say and don't ask questions about! In the meantime, let the police and SSS do their job of stopping these noisy rumor-mongers spreading the lies of a Third-Term Agenda [TTA] by Mr. President. These people are a threat to National Security. Distrust breeds disunity, and any conglomeration of distrust needs to be dispersed with tear-gas and batons before it metamorphoses into disunity and instability."

"As for those appealing for Baba to stay, they are such generous people - so benevolent it moves me to tears of love to see them peacefully 'begging' Baba to stay with their beautiful and expensive adverts in THISDAY newspaper. Unlike the angry, noisy anti-TTA crowd, these guys operate quietly and peacefully with incentives to woo those who are opposed to the Third-Term ambition. Like decent people, they go about their business, under cover of darkness and fictitious names because of the threat of the rowdy, angry and intolerant anti-TTA crowd."

"Mr. President, you have come this far, don't let any noise dissuade you from doing that which you wish to do. You were elected to rule, not to serve. Service is good but each culture or society needs different approach to governance - even if it makes you look arrogant, it's a necessary evil. Imagine if my mother had spared me the rod as a child; I'll be spoilt like rotten egg by now. It may cost us our credibility and undermine all we fought for, but no price is too great to keep our nation in a state of perpetual happiness through Presidential humor and what have you."

"Dear men and women of the Press, give Baba a break. You saw how he made you all laugh tonight. That alone is enough reason to let him be. Stop whining. Your Western counterparts are in the line of fire in Iraq, reporting while bombs go off right, left , front, rear and centre. Reflect on that and thank God you that don't have such a responsibility. Just laugh at Baba's jokes, look for good news [example: Baba OK's Third-Term] and let us all be one happy nation. One man, one nation, one destiny."

"Members of the Press, Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks again for giving me the privilege mount this stage and set the record straight tonight. Mr. President is NOT a manipulator, he is a democrat. Based on our individual history and background, we all have different definitions and perspectives of what manipulation means. We don't have to go by the Englishman's definition of the word manipulation; we shall define it the way that suits our way of life in Nigeria. Thank you and have a good evening."

I have awoken from my reverie. It is10.30pm on Monday evening; it is time for a reality check. There is nothing like a State House dinner in the Federal Capital Territory and I am no late night TV show host in Lagos. I am just another black man in America dreaming of better tomorrow for my native country - a better tomorrow when the popular wish of the Nigerian people is reflected in all government affairs and policies. A time when Nigerians have a direct and effective say on who leads them, how he shall lead them and for how long he can lead them. I eagerly hope that dream becomes reality for all Nigerians in the nearest future. For now, it's bedtime. Goodnight.



Folabi Ogunleye
May 2, 2006