James Hadley Chase’s The Paw in the Bottle is an excellent thriller whose teachings apply to the world of today. Published in 1949, the thrill in the novel lingers, both for its clinically descriptive power and applicability to the concepts of class conflict, loyalty, betrayal, trust, greed and so many others. Set in London with a British character, it is the story of Julie, a young girl working in a West End café, home to the underworld and where thieves, pickpockets and all sorts converge. She is introduced to a robbery and asked to play the role of a maid in a wealthy household, tasked with finding the safe. Describing how hunters catch monkeys in Brazil, Julie is asked: “Have you ever heard how they catch monkeys in Brazil, Julie? Let me tell you. They put a nut in a bottle and tie the bottle to a tree. The monkey grasps the nut, but the neck of the bottle is too narrow for the monkey to withdraw its paw and the nut. You would think the monkey would let go of the nut and escape, wouldn’t you? But it never does. It is so greedy it never releases the nut and is always captured. Remember that story, Julie. Greed is a dangerous thing. If you give way to it, sooner or later, you will be caught.”
Nigerian politicians have overtime practicalised this Brazilian hunting gambit, even exhibiting far greater proficiency and mastery of it than the hunter himself. The politician uses the troika of ethnicity, religion and Messianism as his own paw in the bottle which the Nigerian monkeys grasp and never let go. This has gone on for so long that the monkeys have remained in their self-imposed prisons, even when, borrowing from Immortal Bob Marley of the Wailers fame, there is “no chain around (their) feet, but (they) are not free.”
Convinced that the nuts they kept in the bottle for the 2015 and 2019 Nigerian presidency have effectively arrested our monkey, President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Yerima Shettima, has been told by our Northern Nigerian captors, Nigerian version of the Brazilian hunter, to go and hunt monkeys again for 2023. Suave, assertive and glib like a demagogue, Shettima’s nuts in the bottle are very attractive and fascinating and we are about to grasp them. Like the Brazilian monkeys who surround that bottle where those fascinating nuts are kept, there is no gainsaying the fact that the day the poor of Nigeria’s North and the oppressed of the South wake up to the reality that they are pawns in the chess game of hegemons and politicians, that is the day of their liberation. It is same way that, the day James Hadley Chase’s monkey realises that it is a captive, arrested by its acute fascination with a dud that is not real, it is a free man that day.
Shettima, in a video that has gone viral, circulating like an infectious pestilence, had told Nigerians why the North has to remain in power for another four or eight years after Muhammadu Buhari must have vacated office – if he will at all. He has also granted some newspapers interviews where he cloned same narcissistic views. Delivered in an accurate thud like a pugilist’s blow, Shettima was very convincing, like the nuts inside the bottle. Hear him, and permit me to quote him extensively as published by one of the newspapers, last week:
“It is unfortunate that many Nigerians are not being fair to the North. The North is presently seriously marginalized. Forget that President Buhari, a northerner is in power. Although Buhari is in power but under him, North is being marginalized. North is really suffering under Buhari leadership. Today in Nigeria, a northerner is in power, but the truth is this, it is the southerners that are enjoying. Buhari’s government is a government of the southerners, especially the Southwest. Everything in Nigeria today favours the Southwest, the economy, the infrastructure, just mention anything, it is only the Southwest that it favours.
“For us in the North, we can’t continue to fold our hands, and that’s one of the reasons we believe that after Buhari, the next President should also come from the North. Then apart from that, between 1999 and now, the South has ruled for 15 years, but by the time Buhari would finish his second term in 2023, the North would have just about nine years. Let me break it down to make it easy for Nigerians to understand my logic. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a southerner and Yoruba man spent eight years, former President Goodluck Jonathan spent six years plus. Before he became President, he was first Acting President of Nigeria but later had to complete late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s tenure when Yar’Adua, a northerner died in office. So in the spirit of justice, equity and fairness, is it not clear that it is supposed to be the turn of the North in 2023? By insisting on 2023, the North is not asking for too much.
“Other Nigerians should be fair to the North. It is the North’s turn in 2023, and any political party that fails to have a northerner as its presidential candidate in 2023 will fail. Any party that presents any presidential candidate that is not from the North is doomed. Enough is enough. The North is suffering already under Buhari, we should not again be denied 2023 ticket. Those Nigerians that are saying that the North is greedy are actually the greedy ones. They are the ones that don’t believe in equity and justice. After the South has spent 15 years with Obasanjo and Jonathan, and the North only nine years by the time Buhari would have completed his second term in 2023, it is fair and logical that the North should produce the president in 2023. The North is taking this issue seriously, and the North is not asking for anything extraordinary by insisting that it is our turn in 2023. Any political party that fails to pick a northerner as its presidential candidate in 2023 will fail.”
There are two very disgustingly prominent cants in Shettima’s doggerel above and they ooze out very smelly tang. The first is a narrative that the North had promoted to a level of lie since the fake federalism which was sired by the military was heralded in 1966. The narrative goes that, the South is in charge of the Nigerian economy. It may well be true for some ages and time but, gradually, from the time of General Ibrahim Babangida and down to the current regime of Muhammadu Buhari, especially with the latter’s brazen deployment of cronyism and ethnic ascendancy, this product of a natural economic system, has been debased. I will explain presently.
Nigerian political economy theorists who canvass that ownership of production is the greatest resource in a political power base never reckoned that a ruler with an acute disregard for process, norm and obsession for cronies, would emerge in power someday. Right now, since the incineration of norm and due process of ascension to positions of economic authority by this government, the north is having a fief hold on the Nigerian economy. The equation is such that, never in the history of Nigeria have we had an executive who possesses a Mandarin power like the one currently sitting comfy in the hands of landlords of the Rock of Aso Villa. Check where southerners sit as chairmen on alleged economic pillars of Nigeria and search out the power locus of such establishments – they have appointed under them managing directors or some power subordinates who are answerable only to the Villa. When you read the Acts that set up those economic pillars, you would realize that Shettima was merely playing a banjo of lies so as to draw the monkeys to the nuts in the bottle. The Acts are worded like this, “The Board shall decide…” Check where the hugest of the board members’ population hail from: North!
Shettima’s second nut which he cleverly inserted into the bottle is the most laughable and reprehensible logic ever. Because Olusegun Obasanjo was in office for eight years, Goodluck Jonathan was there for nine years, including the one year of the Doctrine of Necessity-imposed completion of Umaru Yar’Adua’s tenure by Jonathan, the South had ruled for 15 years, a la Shettima. First, may Allah grant the repose of the soul of Yar’Adua; did the South kill the Katsina-born President? Did the South insert that clause into the globally practiced system of succession that a Deputy shall take over the reins of governance, in the case of the demise of the occupant of the office?
What appears to even dwarf the sophistry of Shettima is his reductionism, his limiting reading of Nigeria and its governance architecture. Reductionism, you all know, is the practice of analyzing and describing a complex phenomenon in terms of its simple or fundamental constituents, especially when the interlocutor claims that in doing this, they had ipso facto provided a sufficient explanation of the phenomenon. The question to ask Shettima and his selfish Northern Nigeria reductionist school is, did Nigeria begin from 1999? So if Nigeria did not begin from 1999, why did Shettima not elasticize his analysis to include the Nigeria that began operations from 1960?
Even a student of Civics knows that from independence in 1960, Nigeria had been unfairly ruled by the North. The demonizing troll has assailed Nigeria from Tafawa Balewa, down to the exemption of the first coup of 1966 which had General Aguiyi-Ironsi taking over power and upon the counter-coup of July that year, spearheaded by Northern officers which got him assassinated, General Ogundipe who was the most senior officer in the military of the time, ought to have taken over. Ogundipe had to be stampeded off Nigeria, only for Yakubu Gowon, a Colonel, to take the baton of power. Gowon’s upstage in 1975 paved way for Murtala Mohammed and only his unexpected assassination accidentally gave power to Obasanjo who though, the most senior officer, had to have a Lt. Colonel, Musa Yar’Adua, promoted to Major General, so as to keep the North in the cusp of power. After him, Shehu Shagari, Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and Abdusalami Abubakar respectively took their turns like masquerades at the market square.
If Shettima had forgotten, his sleepy memory needed to be joggled to the fact that Obasanjo’s second coming was a unanimously agreed decision by the Northern hegemons and their Southern lackeys that the presidency must be ceded to the south as atonement for the killing of MKO Abiola. Don’t forget that this selfsame Abiola had been a lickspittle of the North, establishing his Concord newspaper majorly for that purpose, believing that the North would cede power to him, until a hurriedly held National Convention of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) on June 12, 1982, (can you see the purport of this grotesquely prophetic decision day?!) unanimously picked Shagari again by the party to hoist the NPN banner in the 1983 elections. MKO had thereafter been told that the presidency was not for the highest bidder and, miffed by this decision, Abiola resigned his membership of the NPN and resisted every attempt to make him come back to the NPN, including President Shagari’s sudden and unexpected visit to his Lagos home. The Concord too immediately put an end to its romance with the NPN and began to overtly and covertly support the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). At that 1999 election intersection, it was obvious to the North that, for it to continue to keep the monkeys by the side of the bottles, it had to temporarily cede Nigeria to a man who was merely southern in name but then Northern in his worldviews –Obasanjo.
In reality, but for the selfishness of the Northern hegemons and the insatiable depth of their throats, as well as their hegemony that is reinvigorated by so doing, the fact that a region’s son/daughter is in position of power does not make it poor or rich if Nigeria indeed practices a merit-based economy, rather than the contact-based economy that the country is afflicted with. The truth is that, the poor of Malumfashi is the same as the poor of Arochukwu and the poor of Iberekodo: They are united by their exploitations in the hands of their political lords. Shettima and all those who sent him on that dissembling errand should be made to know that we know that they have begun to put the usual nuts in the bottle and they are about to tie the bottle to a tree. As usual, we the monkeys will grab these reprehensible nuts of Northern entitlement to power and the lackeys among us, whom General Yakubu Danjuma called the Fifth Columnists in Ibadan recently, would jump at the neck of the bottle. Finding that the bottle is too narrow for them to withdraw their paws and liberate the nuts for a straight swallow into their selfish mouths, the Fifth Columnists would be eternally glued to the bottle by their greed, sentenced to a life of eternal servitude.
Like That, Fayeun and Others for Whom the Bell Tolls
It is at seasons like this that mankind literally becomes activist in his thinking, prompting him to ask very troubling questions that regretfully border on atheism. Last week, newspapers and the social media were awash with stories of men and women who, a week or so ago, were on this side, savoring our human excitements and naivety about tomorrow. They looked forward to Christmas and the New Year, with some of them even making fascinating projections that curved out of this season into 2020 and even beyond. But, alas, they were caught by the unkind and scaly hands of death. Their deaths provoke the unresolvable question: Why do good people die?
The first was the bursting-with-energy Adeyemi Abiodun Adeniran a.k.a Think Like That, a youth leader in Oyo State who had an accident and died. On Abuja’s Kubwa-Zuba expressway on Christmas day, a family of five also perished after its car crashed and burst into flame. Samson Alowe, his wife and three of their kids, were incinerated in the resultant inferno. So also was an RCCG Pastor who drowned with his two children in Spain. This is not to talk of affable Deaconess Folake Rachael Fayeun, nee Oguntuase of Fayeun Street, Oke-Ijebu, Akure, my mother’s friend, who passed on in the Ondo State capital on Christmas day.
Though I never met any of the above, except Deaconess Fayeun, the death of Adeniran and the comments trending about him show that he was a great man. He had died at the age of 44 in that tragic road accident while returning from Abuja to Ibadan, after witnessing the Supreme Court judgment in Seyi Makinde v Bayo Adelabu‘s appeal. The tyre of the vehicle which he drove was said to have burst around Adegbayi/Alakia area in Egbeda Local Government Area of Oyo State. The car reportedly somersaulted four times and only Adeniran died in the unfortunate accident.
Dirges on him are sobering reflection that we must leave positive imprints on the sand of this perishable life that we live. Politicians who paid tribute to Adeniran said in a society like ours with its rat race pursuit of materiality, sauced with avaricious thirst, he pursued politics of principle and prosecuted same with courage. He was immediately immortalized by the Students Union of The Polytechnic, Ibadan which named its Union Building after Adeniran for his huge contributions to student unionism while in the school.
The truth is, we all will die our own deaths as death. It is the only constant that reminds us of our finite composition and limited sojourn on earth. Rest on, compatriots.
Festus Adedayo is an Ibadan-based journalist.