By Uche Onyebadi
IT seems implausible that the president of the United States of America could have his credit card rejected or declined when he tried to make a payment. But, it happened to President Barack Obama. Before you conclude that it might have been the handwork of some of his Republican Party opponents who were out to embarrass, if not humiliate him, please read the story.
On the other hand, you might wonder: what is the big deal about this credit card mishap? I also urge you to read the story. Here is what happened, as told by President Obama himself.
Sometime last month, President Obama decided to give his wife, Michelle, a dinner treat at a New York restaurant. When the bill came, Obama promptly fished out his credit card to pay his debt, and handed it over to the waitress. But, minutes later, the waitress came back with the bad news for her president: the system had rejected or “declined” the card.
Obama said his plastic problems occurred at a restaurant during the U.N. General Assembly last month, which is the same time he visited Estela.
Not believing what he had heard, Obama told his audience that “I was trying to explain to the waitress, ‘No, I really think that I’ve been paying my bills.’” But, reality was reality: the system did not accept the card. However, the issue was later resolved when Michelle, who was being taken out for dinner, paid for the treat. According to Obama, “It turned out, I guess, I don’t use it (card) enough…. They (card providers) thought there was some fraud going on.” In other words, the card’s managers sensed that someone had poached President Obama’s card and was about to embark on a spending jamboree. Their precautionary measure was to stop what they thought was theft, not knowing that they had unintentionally embarrassed the president of the United States of America at a public restaurant. What if Michelle did not have her card?
You might say that Obama is human afterall and can face what many of us face from time to time. Yes, that might be true. But, let us imagine it was Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or John Dramani Mahama of Ghana that had faced Obama’s situation. Could the credit owners have dared to make the president’s credit card inoperable for whatever reason? OK, let us take a few steps back and ask: what on earth would compel an African president to take his wife out for dinner at a public restaurant when the presidential villa had ample room for such a treat?
State house operatives
Assuming there is need to taste some food from the best chef in the country, wouldn’t the state house operatives instruct the chef to bring his or her best cuisine to state house for the delight of the president and his first lady? Wouldn’t that be considered a privilege to the chef? What more, who would expect Mugabe or Mahama to bring out his credit card to pay for something, anything for that matter, at a public restaurant? Who is the manager of such a restaurant to have the temerity to give His Excellency and the First Lady a bill for something like the food they happily ate? And, to cap it all, how dare an ordinary mortal in the name of a wretched waitress summon the courage to inform the president that his credit card had been rejected?
As I write, my mind is full of revolving flashes of what might have happened to the waitress, her managers, the restaurant, the credit card owners and everyone else involved in this matter had Obama’s embarrassing moment been the lot of any of his African counterparts, serving or retired. Can anyone imagine the outcome of such a situation involving Yoweri Museveni, Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Isaias Afwerki, Jacob Zuma, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, Uhuru Kenyatta and so on? Do such people even carry credit cards on them when access to their country’s treasury is available and unlimited?
Obama’s credit card “embarrassment” is possible because of something called transparency in governance and the fact that the president is not regarded as a god to be worshipped. He does not really enjoy special privileges in his private capacity as a husband or father, in spite of his position as the most powerful leader of our time. Like the rest of us, he pays for his private, personal affairs. Mundane things like his salary or how much he is worth or how much taxes he pays are not hidden to the public. All you need to find out about Obama’s financial worth is to goggle it and answers will pour forth. Should Obama spend state funds on his personal affairs, the law will certainly catch up with him.
Public office in the U.S. is not a secret cult. The president is human and is treated as such. What public servants are paid, and their assets and liabilities are not privileged information. Should you serve as the president of the United States and suddenly become a millionaire in or out of office, you will have to explain the source of your sudden wealth. If you fail to pay your taxes, in or out of office, you are as good as sitting in jail for a very long time. There is no room for abracadabra when it comes to transparency in public office. And, there are no undue privileges either. That is how their system survives and people have confidence in it, despite their opposing political and other beliefs and inclinations.
Next year, Nigeria for instance, will engage in a number of political elections. Wouldn’t it be nice, if not appropriate as it is done in other countries, for the sources of income and financial empires of the political contestants to be matters of unfettered public knowledge? But, alas, in most of the developing world, transparency is opaque. And, the president is a god.