Comedian as president, pregnancy in prison By Louis Odion
There are some telltale signs of a perishing society, observed Alexander Solzhenitsyn. These, according to the Russian literary immortal and Nobel laureate, include acute scarcity of great statesmen and decline in arts.
Conversely, a profound message must be intended when voters choose to go far outside the traditional power caste to anoint the least rated as a new leader. It could only be an ominous sign that the existing political class had become toxic to national health, hence the vigorous call for the dissolution of the discredited hegemony.
In expressing their own pent-up rage at the weekend, Ukrainians chose perhaps the most telling symbol: they settled for a comedian (Volodymr Zelensky) as the political undertaker of incumbent President Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire chocolate tycoon. So, the nation of 44 million people now seems to be saying that it is better to have a certified jester ruling over them than being daily irritated by a bad clown masquerading as a philosopher-king.
By sweeping over 70 per cent of the vote, hope has, therefore, risen in the former Soviet satellite state for the fixing of a broken system; for a new generation of leaders committed to weeding out self-serving oligarchs and ending the culture of political corruption.
As one voter was quoted as saying, Zelensky, “is a guy who is out of the system, and that’s good… He made his own money, so he doesn’t owe anyone in the current system anything.”
From a global perspective, given the emphatic victory posted by a comedian in Ukraine, only time will tell if jesters and allied entertainers elsewhere will not be so inspired to start rushing into presidential elections henceforth, leveraging the power of social media like Zelensky, hedging their political fortune against just any sign of popular discontent in their respective jurisdictions.
For, more and more, people across global divides are surely getting disillusioned about the notion of politics that doubles human misery at a time of supposed material surplus, strife at a time of supposed enlightenment birthed by colossal breakthrough in science and technology.
In a way, coming in a week already marred by an inferno in the iconic Notre Dame in France; the continued farce in Donald Trump’s Washington, and the bloodbath in Sri Lanka, the news of Zelensky’s electoral upset would then appear a perfect comic relief to the international community.
In literary theory, comic relief describes a momentary disruption of the serious or the tragic with a dose of humour, to defuse tension.
In Paris, the grief of the iconic Notre Dame cathedral gutted was only being assuaged by a torrent of donations that hit a record $1bn within 72 hours.
In Washington, Trump took his theatre to a new low by tweeting a false interpretation of the Mueller report. The 400-page document was barely officially released when the American President claimed acquittal, selectively quoting some sections. But it took the rejoinder of his Democrat adversaries in the Congress to draw public attention to several redacted portions expressly starting that Trump toiled hard to obstruct the investigations in a manner suggesting he has a lot to hide. The picture we then see is only a little different from that of the biblical character running when no one is pursuing them.
In Colombo, the very depth of degeneracy mankind has plumbed was graphically portrayed in blood-spattered debris of bombed temples and hotels following a coordinated bombing by terrorists, leaving over 200 dead and more than 450 wounded.
The great irony is that this act of extreme bestiality of man to fellow man came on Easter Sunday otherwise celebrated by Christians as the day of redemption after Jesus’ supreme sacrifice at the Golgotha on Easter Friday.
So, going forward, Ukrainians would now seem resolved to seek comfort behind a comedian since votes cast for Poroshenko in the popular uprising of 2014 resulted in little or no difference in their lives.
Back home, about the same hours of the Ukrainian electoral drama, a plot with milder flavour would unfold in Calabar. We woke up Easter Sunday to read reports of a seeming biological feat unparalleled in Guinness Book of records. It is not exactly a re-enactment of resurrection after crucifixion. It is the delivery of two bundle of joy (twins) by the most unlikely: a prison inmate.
They include a boy and a girl.
What brought the publicity was a fantastic donation of N1m by Cross Rivers State Government for their upkeep and a promise to ensure that the nursing mother not only receive better care at a higher medical facility but also a review of her case to “see the extent of the crime and know if the mother can be pardoned because of these two beautiful babies.”
Not surprising, the tots have been named after Governor Ben Ayade and wife, Linda.
But while every kind-hearted person must rejoice with the unidentified lucky woman, one difficult – if not mischievous – question is unlikely to go away. The report was silent on when exactly the woman found herself in detention.
A puzzle of similar twist had cropped up a decade ago over British Samatha Orobator (with Nigerian heritage) after “miraculously” getting pregnant in Laos prison while supposedly facing trial for drug offence with death penalty. Facing global embarrassment, the authorities had to suspend her trial. It soon became clear it was a last-ditch ingenious manoeuvre to evade the hangman. It was not a ghost that did it; she secretly made herself available to an eager prison warden in-between court appearances. For, Lao law forbids the execution of pregnant prisoners.
Now, unless it is established that the Calabar woman was already inseminated before being incarcerated, many are bound to wonder what “technology” she adopted to get pregnant while supposedly in detention.
Otherwise, Governor Ayade could not get a better reason to be immortalized in world record as godfather of the “mystery twins”.
Like Ayefele, like Ilonah?
Given the way the Ayefele affair ended last year in Oyo, one would have thought that mandarins of officialdom would be more circumspect in the way and manner they use and misuse power. From yet another saga of Idoko Illonah currently engulfing Abuja media space, it does appear no lesson has been learnt.
Public outrage had trailed the partial demolition by Oyo State Government of the Ibadan-based FM station owned by musician Yinka Ayefele. The official reason given was that it had not only breached building plan but also violated town-planning in a manner likely to predispose road-users to avoidable motor accidents.
But the discerning were certainly not deceived by that official sophistry. As events later proved, the punitive action had more to do with the station’s criticism of now-outgoing Governor Abiola Ajimobi.
After a public apology by Ayefele, the state officials dramatically landed at an epiphany – em, em the station was actually not in breach of any law!
So, it turned out that the same hands that Ajimobi used to demolish a section of Ayefele’s Music House were what he used to rebuild it, with his publicists left to manufacture a spin to disguise what was evidently a gross abuse of power.
But unlike Oyo where hapless taxpayers had to pay the price for the someone’s elephantine ego and razor-thin skin, it is Ilonah presently bearing the costs of official intrigues in Abuja stalling the erection of an electronic billboard on which close to a staggering N1bn loan has been committed.
Now, a phenomenal undertaking, for which the nation was already being touted for the Guinness Books of records as the location of world’s biggest electronic billboard, is suddenly stuck just at the point of installation.
Back in 2011, Ilonah had made a success of similar innovation in the nation’s media landscape as he brought the mammoth digital billboard to the approach of the Muritala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos. Five years later, he also helped change the skyline around the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja with a unique 20mx80m LED digital billboard.
After reading a recent in-depth report by Premium Times, one could not but pity Illonah, the promoter of Lona Global Resources. Anyone familiar with how government runs will know that Ilonah’s project has become a victim of high-level malicious intrigues orchestrated obviously by powerful interests in the Federal Capaital Development Authority (FCDA) who simply went to work by overriding an approval earlier granted in 2017 by the Department of Outdoor Advertising and Signage (DOAS) for the construction and installation of the billboard.
From experience, it is sometimes possible for such mafia to package petty mischief and seething malice behind nebulous “security reports” to shoot down any idea promoted by someone whose face they don’t fancy.
They started by saying that, em, em, the site allocated to mount the billboard was too close to the New City Gate for comfort. Expectedly, the full force of bureaucratic mischief was brought to bear. Another rainbow committee comprising the directors of DOAS, Urban and Regional Planning, Engineering Services, Public Building, Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC), etc was raised.
After several meetings and adjournments, another resolution was made. Ok, not to worry. Another location was offered; this time, close to the Centenary District along the Abuja airport expressway.
But a still zestful Illonah had barely begun to tinker with the original design to reflect the new change when another obstacle came. This time, someone at the Centenary District raised a red flag with a petition citing perhaps the most ludicrous reason: the billboard will likely obstruct the view of the district from afar!
Seriously? When exactly did it become possible for a finger to obstruct a whole face?
Then came the father of all excuses – the superstition from official circles in Abuja that a billboard of such magnitude could distract motorists thereby causing a motor accident, without any research or evidence! (Yes, exactly a rehash of the official fable initially retailed in Oyo last year after the bulldozers mauled Ayefele’s house.)
From the Premium Times’ report, two deductions could easily be made. One is Illonah’s indiscretion to have sought the intervention of higher authority through an SOS letter addressed to the Vice President. The story quoted the deputy Chief of Staff to the VP as saying that the matter had been referred to the FCT minister for “review and necessary action”.
In the circumstance, it is only human that the little gods at FCDA would grow more adversarial.
Two, perhaps Lona Global Resources publicized its potential Guinness Books feat too early. In a corporate environment often defined by vicious hate, you have to mind who you share your success stories with, lest you incur the wrath of the envious.
But then, Ilonah’s apparent desperation could be understood. When bankers and other creditors are knocking furiously at your doors, one is not likely to be at ease. Worse, a big corporate player has also recalled a huge sum advanced him as pre-payment for advert slots in the hope that the billboard would become operational on schedule.
All things considered, it is high time common sense prevailed on this matter. Someone should rescue Ilonah’s dream and save the young man from bankruptcy.