Theresa May is the incumbent Prime Minister of Britain. The last woman to hold that office in the country is Margaret Thatcher. In Africa, speaking bad about the dead is not permitted. So, cut off any reference to anything such as ‘Iron Lady’ or ‘the milk snatcher’. That would be bad diplomacy.
Both have been in Nigeria, one of their colonial creations and possessions before they gave it back to the natives who are still quarrelling what to make of the elephantine product.
While Thatcher made her Nigeria trip in 1988, May set sail and arrived in 2018, a hefty difference of 30 years. If this trend is maintained, then the next time a woman Prime Minister of Britain is seen around here would be 2048. There would be very, very few around then who witnessed Thatcher’s coming as well as May’s.
When Thatcher came, Nigeria was in the pocket of a stocky military officer who is, in every regard, Nigeria’s equivalent of the milk snatcher. In his own case, it was the milk of life he snatched through his policy of Structural Adjustment Programme, (SAP) sold to him by the combined forces of Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Lacking in legitimacy at home, the man who prefers to be known and called IBB had to toe the line or get in the line of fire. Knowing the many strategies and tactical capabilities occupants of the White House and Downing Street controlled and still control, notwithstanding Trump’s rather disruptive handling of trans-Atlantic relations, IBB forgot about anything called patriotism and opted to eat that much of Buffalo bulls. Nigeria is still reeling in pains from the indigestion occasioned by the SAP pill. Some people are wondering if the King’s men and the King’s horses can still put Humpty Dumpty together after that huge fall.
Unlike Thatcher, May’s host is a civilianised soldier. Let’s not get bogged down b the degree to which he has successfully civilianized. The frequency with which he resorts to national security as his idiom of power makes many to think that he has not been very successful in civilianising beyond shedding the khaki stuff in favour of babanriga. Whichever is the case, the two hosts share a lot in common: profession, region, religion and the coup as a mode of acquisition of power. The civilianised one staged his own coup or some people staged it and called on him to sit on the chair till further notice. Then the IBB of a soldier staged his own later. So, as much as the historical enmity between them, it is not as if there are no areas they did not drink from the same cup.
Theresa May is a much, much luckier woman British Prime Minister in Nigeria. Mrs Thatcher is not alive to tell the story of what she went through in Lagos. She was haunted by a spectre of anti-SAP protesters calling her all manner of names. Those guys were so vicious they neither cared about the august visitor being a British Prime Minister, a woman and a guest. There is probably something in SAP that doesn‘t understand finesse. Although SAP is still the doctrine for managing the economy, it does not have that nasty name of something that saps human beings. That is probably why there were no hostile gangs at the airports or anywhere to perform for Theresa May, not even in Lagos. The times have changed, indeed. Otherwise, May is a continuation of Thatcher. Both remain the most dependable saleswomen for SAP or whatever name it wears now. May’s articulation of it is so straightforward. For her, it is all about how important for a Britain leaving the EU to take another look at Africa particularly in terms of “bringing the transformative power of private sector trade and investment from the UK” because “Africa stands right on the cusp of playing a transformative role in the global economy”.
It is not likely anyone asked May what all these big grammar comes to, her evidence for claiming that Africa is on the cusp of playing any role at all, not to talk of a transformative one in the global economy.
Perhaps, the better thing is to look ahead to 2048 when the next woman British Prime Minister comes this way and hopes that when she does, it would not be to sell an unwanted orthodoxy but to engage with Africa, the real but not this hollowed out Africa of squalor, diseases and violence.