Obaseki In the Mouth of the Boa Constrictor, By Festus Adedayo
<blockquote>Porcupines are very unassuming but potentially dangerous animals… Their incisors vibrate against each other and… could fatally injure potential attackers or even cause their death. Let the boa constrictor, the Nigerian godfather, be wary of the coming of porcupines. The Obasekis might just as well herald their political deaths.
Ghanaian traditional Ewe poetry, reflected in “My Song Burst”, one of the poems in the anthology put together by Senanu and Nigeria’s Professor Theo Vincent, is an invocation of the god of war. It reminds me of the sudden burst of the spat and hitherto hushed fight between the duo of Godwin Obaseki, governor of Edo State and his ex-godfather, Adams Oshiomhole, national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The nauseous smell from this fight has been assaulting the noses of men of good conscience. At a forum last week, Obaseki told the world that he was not shy to trade punches, as Oshiomhole “started the crusade of fighting Edo godfathers in 2006.” In his open declaration of war, the traditional chanter in “My Song Burst” openly bayed for blood. “War has descended,” he began, and “Dare the hyena howl, let them howl/Let the watchdog thunder endlessly.” He interspersed this with an invocation of the gods of war – Toti with Vosa – who he said were taking regal steps.
The above is the lot of Edo State at the moment. The impending war had burst out at the inauguration of the State House of Assembly recently, where legislators loyal to Oshiomhole and the governor had splintered into two factions. Oshiomhole was alleged to be plotting to install his lackeys as principal officials of the Assembly, preparatory to ousting the governor. But while receiving the House of Representatives Ad-hoc committee set up to look into the legislative crisis, speaking through Philip Shaibu, his deputy, Obaseki had said: “What we have here is somebody trying to use the house to control the executive. Oshiomhole led us to a strong fight to rescue the state from the hands of godfathers in 2006. We have joined the crusade Oshiomhole started in 2007. We will not go back because it is helping Edo people. We can now galvanise the people because they can see roads, they can see schools and infrastructure. This is because the money that used to go the godfathers now goes to the people.” A few days after, Obaseki dared those he called “Abuja politicians” to dare take the State if they could.
If my deductive logic is accurate, what Obaseki is alleging here is that Oshiomhole, until his government delinked him, had been cornering Edo State’s fund by stealth. As I write this, there has been no rebuttal from the APC chairman over this grievous allegation. Apart from the selfish and magisterial manner they deploy their grip to loot the state patrimony, the history of godfathers in traditional Africa is rich with unbelievable noxious examples. Ayinla Omowura, Yoruba Apala music exponent, deploying ancient Yoruba wise sayings, had said that if you have no godfather at the highest level of decision-making in council, even if you have a genuine case, you will be convicted. B’eyan o leni n’igbimo, bo r’ojo are, ebi lo mi a je, he had said. This shows that politics, right from its manifestation in the Fourth Republic in 1999, has been behaving true to type of traditional African society’s practice of godsons and godfathers.
Experiences of the last 20 years of godfatherism have however shown that godfathers are dumber than Nigerians thought they were. This is because, although godsons have, in most cases, been their nemeses, they still persist on this destructive path of forced control. From Oyo to Anambra, Akwa Ibom to Lagos, Enugu to Kwara and so many others, the story has been the same, yet godfathers still scamper over one another to anoint godsons. These sons, the moment they get into office, see evidences of the huge stealing of their godfathers and can hardly bear their greed and overbearing attitudes any longer. The resultant effect is that the fates of godfathers often become like that of the python, known in the animal world as receiving her death sentence the very day she is pregnant with the eggs of her offspring. This eventually leads to her death.
What I see whenever I watch the eerie, evocative lives of snakes is the messy world of Nigerian political class, especially the fusion and tension between godsons and their godfathers. Oshiomhole was apparently persuaded of the desirability of the recent Lagos State model, where Akinwunmi Ambode’s second tenure was suddenly abridged by the machinations of infernal principalities of political power. Yes, the models look identical. Ambode had performed so creditably well, infrastructure-wise, that he had become the toast of the ordinary people in Lagos. Accused of not groveling enough before the godfather and his minions, as well as not giving enough propitiations to the god at his groove by sacrificing daily bullion vans at the shrine, the principalities clinically removed the rug under his feet in perhaps the most lamentable political plot in the history of party politics ever in Nigeria. The lord, my source said, at a meeting with Obaseki, garrulously warned him that if he didn’t grovel before Oshiomhole, he would order his lickspittles at the parliament to descend on him. A few weeks after, raucous noise erupted from national legislators.
Oshiomhole however failed to realise that Lagos is not Edo and that both states possess different political cultures which determine where the pendulum swings. Edo has very strong traditional institutions that are yet unsoiled by the pollution of modernity and which can stop the people from queuing behind greedy godfathers.
As in the case of Lagos, Obaseki, like Ambode, is also a technocrat and he looked an easy prey for the gluttonous throat of a rapacious godfather. Oshiomhole however failed to realise that Lagos is not Edo and that both states possess different political cultures which determine where the pendulum swings. Edo has very strong traditional institutions that are yet unsoiled by the pollution of modernity and which can stop the people from queuing behind greedy godfathers. Lagos, conversely, has a political leadership that is deeply trapped in the sewage waters of a modern society.
Sorry, I am digressing again. D. H. Lawrence, born David Herbert Lawrence, on September 11, 1885 in the small mining town of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England, regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, in “The Snake”, uses the life of reptiles to illustrate the needless strifes that take place in the human kingdom. He writes about how animals, endowed with brawn and might, eat lesser animals for supper. To him, the snake mirrors the tension of opposites that amply is the binary confusion of humanity. He calls the snake that comes to his water trough like a guest, a king of the underworld who is also a lord of life. It has been said that Lawrence imagines the snake a reincarnate of Typhon, a mythological serpent representing the tension among men in their attempt to assert their earthly superiority.
Godfathers, with the exception of the Lagos model, have however been meeting their waterloos of recent. In the case of Edo, the ex-labour leader’s waterloo is in choosing as godson an Obaseki who is apparently more educated and cerebral than he his. A financial advisory juggernaut, Obaseki founded Afrinvest West, one of the most reputable investment banking and management firms in Nigeria, which has a tethered hold on top players in Nigeria’s business and investments. While chairman of Edo State Economic and Strategy Team in 2009, Obaseki was said to be the intellectual bolt that held the economy of the State tightly during Oshiomhole’s tenure.
Apparently having received a matching order, the House of Representatives has been hyper-active over this matter. In the process, it has been trampling upon norms ever since. But the man at the centre of the concoction, Oshiomhole, hasn’t been able to tell anyone what exactly the offence of a man he found so worthy to heave into the State House awhile ago is and why this same man is no longer worthy to be there, so soon thereafter. It is the complex nature of the heart of the godfather.
The godfather in Nigerian politics, like the boa, is a pest and carnivore rolled into one. He flirts around power with the rapaciousness with which the chameleon acquires the colour of her guest’s clothes. Godfathers always meet their waterloo, however.
Let us return to my boa constrictor guest. The boa is of South American heritage. She kills her preys through a lethal, yet fascinating mode of wrapping herself around them and giving them fatally crushing stretches that breaks the animals’ spinal cords, thereby making it easy for her to swallow them. The particular boa this day was brown, huge and diffident in her appearance. Every grass she trode on bowed to her heavy weight. And as she slithered past in a majesty that radiated the airs of power, fame and position, a number of interpretations funneled into my mind. Queen Boa was apparently conscious of her behemoth power. Virtually the whole forest seemed to rise in salutation to her. A few birds cooed reverently, perhaps announcing the presence of the queen of the forest. Some squirrels flung past like Atilogwu dancers, either fleeing for their lives or simulating the apprehension and excitement of forerunners.
Queen Boa stopped her longish convoy of flesh, looked sideways as if examining what improvements had been made in her Queendom since her last visit. Then she stopped, her two-pronged tongue flicking like the proboscis of a nutty cockroach. Then this stray impala, as beautiful as an egress, feeding on meadows, stood unknowingly by her side, lost to the danger of the imposing majesty of the Queen. Perhaps calculating, or making some strategic overtures, but definitely sure that the hunk of flesh was ideal for lunch, all of a sudden, the boa pounced on the impala. A few honking cry escaped from the impala and the Queen writhed her body round the hapless animal and stretched herself like the drycleaner does a water-soaked laundry. This took barely two minutes. She then unfurled herself from the impala, dropping the lifeless bitch by her feet. And then, the Queen began to shovel the prey down her hungry throat, until none of the hapless folk’s earthly belongings could be noticed from the mouth of the now excited boa.
The godfather in Nigerian politics, like the boa, is a pest and carnivore rolled into one. He flirts around power with the rapaciousness with which the chameleon acquires the colour of her guest’s clothes. Godfathers always meet their waterloo, however. A few years ago, who could have thought that Kwara State would escape the boa constrictor stranglehold of the Saraki family? Today, that is history. One major approach, which empirical evidence of the Fourth Republic has validated, is that when godfathers attempt to sink their Dracula teeth on the flesh of their godsons and the latter run to the bosom of the people, they, by that very fact, become pallbearers of the political coffins of the godfather. Every indication points to Obaseki vanquishing a man who, but for the difference in clime, could have been a descendant of Haiti’s Jean Claude-Duvalier. Obaseki, an offspring of the famous Obaseki family of Benin, from what I gathered, has fled into the embrace of the people of Edo for a shield against Oshiomhole’s machinations.
Obaseki’s Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation (EDOBEST), an educational revolutionary programme deployed in Edo schools that prioritises the use of Information Communication Technologies, has become a model that even Rwanda is modeling its education upon. His infrastructural innovations are also attracting the attention of naysayers. Ultimately, we may have the equation of the boa constrictor, confronted by a porcupine, in the relationship of the Nigerian political godfather and his godson. Porcupines are very unassuming but potentially dangerous animals, which have defensive behaviour akin to a soldier on guard. Sensing potential attack, agitated or annoyed, porcupines emit a queer scent and sound, get their quill erect and clatter their teeth. Their incisors vibrate against each other and when they find out their detractors are not frightened off, they run sideways or backwards and then shoot their arrow-like spines which, most times, could fatally injure potential attackers or even cause their death. Let the boa constrictor, the Nigerian godfather, be wary of the coming of porcupines. The Obasekis might just as well herald their political deaths.
Let’s Bury the Ghost of Aburi
When I saw elders of Southern Nigeria at table recently agitatedly discussing the current insecurity crisis in the country, with each of the parties proffering ways out of the bind, what struck me was the image of the Aburi Accord of 1967. If you add this to the various calls for each ethnic group to vacate the other’s space that is currently trending, those who were old enough during the Nigerian civil war which ultimately cost Nigeria a conservatively estimated one million lives and today’s trillions of Naira in reconstruction, with life-long scars of war on our faces, would tell you that there is an ample resemblance of the 1967 Nigeria. It was the last effort made by leaders of Nigeria to stop the apparently sliding situation of affairs.
Like the downpour which no one can predict who it will soak, even the most bestial of men cannot wish for a war. This is why we should implore President Muhammadu Buhari to stop this atmospherics of war. He only is equipped to do this. This can be done by government promoting narratives of peace and reconciliation among the various ethnic groups in the country. Till today, in spite of his obvious peaceful inclinations and pursuit, the names of Yakubu Gowon who sat at the cusp of the field of blood in the civil war, as well as Odumegwu Ojukwu, who prosecuted the war, rightly or wrongly, would forever star in this opera of blood. Buhari can avoid this. He should, for the sake of millions of Nigerians yet unborn.
Kudos to El-Rufai
As I had never done in very long while, I am having cause to raise my thumb up to the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai. A Tweeter user, Muhd El-Bonga Ibraheem, with handle @el_bonga, had tweeted on a 13-year old Almajiri boy from Maiduguri who, “because he doesn’t like to beg, he learnt how to shine and repair shoes from his brother where he earns an average of N500 a day.” According to Ibraheem, when he asked the Almajiri about schooling, the boy had retorted, “even if I want to school, no one will sponsor me.” Apparently struck by the industry of the Almajiri boy, el-Rufai, via his twitter handle, had replied, “Where is this industrious boy? How old is he? Kindly bring him to me in Kaduna. I will sponsor him to attend a boarding primary school and upon (sic) completion until he graduates from university by the Grace of God.”
I think el-Rufai deserves commendation for the milk of human kindness that flowed out of him in the course of tweeting the above. However, as governor, he has a greater responsibility than this. Apparently passionate about the education of his people, el-Rufai should do much more than this miniature-statured, one-off leadership intervention. Many Nigerian leaders too are being pursued by this el-Rufai spirit, as they single for payment the health bills of one or two ailing persons and suborning TV cameras to cover this ‘philanthropy.’
The truth is, investments in health, education and the like can actually bail us out of the various maladies of existence we currently find ourselves. El-Rufai should freeze all other mundane businesses of government to focus on the education of children under his watch. It is one governmental venture that endures and which can give the head of government immortality. Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe achieved immortality, not on account of the convoy of cars that blew siren before them, nor even the number of roads they constructed.
There are a thousand and one Almajiri boys and girls walking the streets of Kaduna who don’t have access to persons who can put them on Twitter like this 13-year old so that they too can harvest the governor’s openly advertised favour. Unless our leaders acquire a heart of empathy and thirst for immortality, we will continue to merry-go-round on the spot as a country.
Still On An Open Society
In my piece of last week entitled “Makinde and Enemies of An Open Society”, I stated that Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State was the first civilian governor to openly declare his asset. I have since been told that President Umaru Yar’Adua, as governor of Katsina State, pioneered this noble move, followed by Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti. My apologies.
Festus Adedayo is an Ibadan-based journalist.