“Someone who should know told me that our next president has not declared yet; that all those who have so far declared won’t be president.” I call him my mystery friend from the North. He comes around into my social media handles like a thief in the night; he drops his very few words as private messages and disappears. On Saturday, he came again with the first sentence of this piece. My response to him was that I suspected so. He didn’t ask me why I did. But I followed up to ask him if he thought what we had was a democracy. He answered no; otherwise, some people somewhere won’t be Nigeria’s real electors who choose for us before our election days. They are presently playing the game the old effective way. They are breaking ‘declared’ heads with coconut shells. They have set the parties on fire. INEC gave political parties from Wednesday, April 6 to Friday, June 3 to conduct their primaries and settle all disputes therefrom. That deadline is 46 days away from today, but the political parties we have are not ready; they are sick, down with epileptic fits, fighting civil and internecine wars. The Lagos content of the APC has particularly been noxious in its fratricidal feud.
When a journey portends evil, the Yoruba call it Igbó Òdájú; its direct English translation is forest of the heartless. Elders always warn girls without fathers and boys without mothers not to take that route. If such boys and girls are already on that road to peril, they are told to go back home. What is rumbling the jungles of Lagos APC is a war of witches; they know what they ate which has now inflated their bellies. Let no ordinary person go by their ringside to watch and speculate. I am an orphan, I have no father, I have no mother; may I never be found getting involved in that family affair. I hope the sick taking sides in this coven fight know the implications. It promises not to end in praise. I also hope such people know what I know: that a fish with a closed mouth fears no hook and never gets caught. Family members fighting over who takes the bedchamber of the charmer are particularly taking a dangerous gamble. Skulls will be cracked; limbs will be lost. You already heard the father declaring not having a son. And like Elesin Oba’s Olunde in Soyinka’s ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’, the son too may soon post a disclaimer: “I have no father, eater of leftovers.”
The frenzy we feel is like bandits struggling over the spoils of their felony. The world of crime bears very uncanny resemblance to what you are seeing playing out in the politics of your country. A criminal enterprise. That is what many call our parties and their governments. Criminal enterprises have structures and there are hierarchies in there. Crime mirrors politics as literature reflects life. Professor Akinwumi Isola did a review of crime in Oladejo Okediji’s detective novel, Àgbàlagbà Akàn. I refer to his ‘The Modern Yoruba Novel: An Analysis of the writer’s art.’ He writes on page 140: “The criminals are known and feared. But they still operate in the society using a network of services. Theirs is a syndicate with active branches in the neighbouring towns. Olórí Ayé is the chief of them all. He resides at Ibadan. Oyeniyi Seriki is the deputy at Egbeda; Lamidi Olójòóró controls Lalupon; Adegun directs operations at Origbo. Olóri Ayé (alias Doogo) has the last say in everything. He does not consult anyone on any point; he gives out orders that must be obeyed. Each time he says something he adds ‘Mo pa á láse ni o (it’s an order).’”
That is the geo-politics of crime according to literature. At every level of our politics, you see each of the characters mentioned above. There is always an Olórí Ayé (supreme head of the world) calling the shots, directing the affairs using able lieutenants like Olójòóró (the fraudulent) as ruthless foot soldiers. Think deep and look around; they are here.
But is this how we will continue? Swift-legged hare once found himself among flesh-eating beasts of the jungle. How did he come back home in one piece? He said he hung out with the big cats with ogbón inú (inner wisdom) and escaped with òpòlopò ìmò (a lot of understanding). Those are what we need to survive this season of war without help. Don’t you find it curious that as terrorists kill, maim and abduct, and relations of victims wail and beg our government to please be government, what concerns the regime is completely different? It is not even the next election. That one is settled. What remains to be done must be done. The government decreed last week that there would be census, the sum of the Nigerian people, very early next year. There are millions hiding in diseased forests either as terrorists or as victims of terrorism. Will they be counted too? What better way to rupture the vessels of the system than having census and elections lumped together right in the middle of a war? So, I beg you, stop praying to these gods for protection; they assault their own temples with poisoned offerings.
The Nigerian presidency has a synonym; it is death. It is a repository of what a poet calls “the seven things of price.” It has gold; it has silver, pearl and coral; it has catseye, ruby and diamond. That is why people kill persons and characters and good manners to get into the vault. Daily I watch southern Nigerians seeking to be president of Nigeria. You cannot say you know how many they are. Even they themselves know not their number. As the list lengthens daily, so is the acrimony that attends their politics. The many from the South fight dirty; the four or five from the North form a Man United team stalking the riotous South, seeking holes to sink their goals into. Where brothers fight to the death, strangers inherit their father’s property. It is not only unthinking siblings who suffer this fate. Friends, associates deliver one another to the enemy whenever they think only of themselves. And, here, I consult the Greek, Aesop, classical master of ageless tales.
Aesop wrote his very many tales long before the sun and the moon were born. There is the one he entitled: ‘The Ass, the Fox and the Lion.’ It is the tale of Ass and Fox, comrades who moved daily, shoulder to shoulder, and lived on the generous carelessness of their society. Aesop says Ass regularly fed from cropped fresh bits of greens while Fox derived his nutrients from devouring chickens from a neighboring farmyard. Fox also filched cheese from the dairy next door. Aesop continues and says: one day, the pair unexpectedly walked into a Lion. The Ass was very much frightened, but the Fox calmed his fears. “I will talk to him,” Fox told Ass.
So, the Fox walked boldly up to the Lion. “Your highness,” he said in an undertone, so the Ass could not hear him, “I’ve got a fine scheme in my head. If you promise not to hurt me, I will lead that foolish creature yonder into a pit where he can’t get out, and you can feast at your pleasure.” The Lion agreed and the Fox returned to the Ass. “I made him promise not to hurt us,” said the Fox. “But come, I know a good place to hide till he is gone.” So, the Fox led the Ass into a deep pit. But when the Lion saw that the Ass was his for the taking, he first of all struck down Fox who thought he was smart and safe. The end of the comrades is the end of their tale.
There is also a grander story from father of English poetry, Geoffrey Chaucer, in his magnum opus, The Canterbury Tales. It is the story of three riotous fellows “who lived for gaming, eating, drinking, and merrymaking.” They set out one day to kill Death because Death killed their friends. Chaucer writes: “…One of the drinkers then swore an oath on God’s sacred bones that he would seek Death out. ‘Listen, friends, we three have always been as one. Let each of us now hold up his hand and swear an oath of brotherhood. Together we will slay this traitor Death!’ And thus with a blasphemous curse, they swore to live and die for one another and together to seek out and challenge Death before the next nightfall. In a drunken rage, they set forth…swearing grisly oaths as they went.”
How did they end their story? Instead of meeting Death, it was fortune that met them. Chaucer continues: “They found a pile of golden florins, well nigh onto eight bushels of them, they thought. The sight of all the bright and beautiful florins quickly caused them to abandon their search for Death, and their thoughts turned to how they might best protect their newly found treasure. The worst of them spoke the first word, ‘Brothers,’ he said, ‘Fortune has given us this great treasure, but if we carry it home by light of day, people will call us thieves, and our own treasure will send us to the gallows. We must take it home by night, and then with utmost prudence and caution. Let us draw lots to see which one of us should run to town and secretly bring back bread and wine. The other two will stay here and guard the treasure. Then in the night we will carry the treasure to wherever we think is best.’” The lot fell to the youngest, and he immediately departed for the town. The two behind plotted to kill the one who left so that they could have enough of the treasures. The one who left thought through his plot too to kill the two so all the treasures would be his. Both sides succeeded in their plots. The youngest came back with food and drinks and the two ran their daggers through his back. “They killed him, just as they had planned, and when the deed was done, one of them said, ‘Now let us sit and drink and make merry. Afterward, we will bury his body.’ And while still talking, he drank from the poisoned bottle, and his friend drank as well, and thus the two of them died.” End of story. Now, the question is: Who inherited their treasure?
Who is Nigeria’s next president? That is the only question worth asking now. The next president is not among those killing one another before the day of battle. That is what my northern friend said. Except history sloughs off its skin, my friend will be right. No one who demanded the presidency of Nigeria has ever got it. Let’s look at history starting from 1999: Olusegun Obasanjo was drafted into the race; he drafted Umaru YarAdua into the race; death installed Goodluck Jonathan; Muhammadu Buhari got it only after he announced he was quitting politics. The system brought him back, cleansed him of the curse of perpetual inelectability and put him on the throne. Everyone knows unreadable Buhari is scheming to do what Obasanjo did in 2007. We wait to see how far he can go with his plans—outside the power court (and cult). When an elder loses what Teresa Washington describes as “control, composure, and reticence,” he loses his place at the pinnacle where spirits hold court. The choice has never been Nigerians’. The owners of Nigeria always take charge at the appropriate time and level. They always give us their choice to elect. We pay the price, they take the bride. Meanwhile, let the feuding old birds in Lagos APC continue their flight of death. It is their last rite, their last flight.