What is it about power that makes its holders captive to all the age-long narratives of power’s awesome, yet ephemeral aura and grip? The ongoing case of the most powerful president in the world, Donald Trump, becoming one of the most excoriated persons in the globe today is at issue. His ignoble collapse should make a very good study to every student of power. For Africanist and African studies scholars, Trump is not unexampled and can be found in ancient Africa. Remove the contemporary swagger, Capitol Hill, Nancy Pelosi and all that from the fall of Trump, the graveyards of powerful behemoths are replete with the bones of the Trumps and other laggards of power.
In the past one week or so and indeed, since the 2020 American election which humbled Trump off his arrogance, loquaciousness and naked display of raw power, the president and America have been on the front burner. Why would such a powerful man fall into such ignominy, becoming a harbinger of unprecedented hate and recipient of tremendous disdain?
Already, Trump has gone down in history as the most vilified, most isolated in the last weeks of his hold on power and undoubtedly, the most disdained. It is akin to tumbling down from an Olympian height. His second impeachment is being considered and he is also going down in history as the first president of a country to have his Twitter account spiked for inciting violence, an act compared to a coup plot.
As coveted, revered, celebrated and desired as power is, it is as well one of the most fleeting acquisitions of man. Of all man’s life ascriptions, power is the most transient, unreliable and unenduring. When it and its accoutrements – wealth, fame, honour, etc – leave man, they have varied methods and time lag of their departure. Everyone of the lot, except power, leaves in droves. Power leaves its holder in totality and immediately. This is because, when wealth leaves man, they could still have its insignia – cars, clothes and house – which many may confuse as signifying the continued existence of wealth. When power leaves man, it leaves immediately and with all its family members. Donald Trump must have begun to have a whiff of that by now. If not, he would see all in manifestation on January 20.
Whatever fate befalls Trump as his presidency grinds to an end and even subsequently, should serve as a great homily to current world occupiers of power and the ones who will come after them. Simplistic reading of the power they wield has made many people to wonder if power wielders, at whatever level, actually understand the purport and the texture of power.
In ancient Africa, as a way of excusing and legitimising the huge sycophancy that has become the signature of power, a proverb in Igbo says that whoever holds the palm-frond is one the goat will follow. A once powerful holder of office in that region was aghast to learn of this when he left office. Gradually, all his loyalists began to crumble and a gradual collapse of his support base. He had just relinquished power to his successor. As Dr. Reuben Abati, ex-Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, wrote in a post-office lamentation of the migration of fawners from an ex-office holder, Abati in that piece situated the dilemma of power in Africa.
Dictators are made to eat the humble pie when they are told the shocking and calamitous end of Basorun Gaa of the Old Oyo Empire. Gaa was a notable chief and nobleman of the Empire in the 16th century who stood in that position and oversaw the reign of four Alaafins of Oyo and contributed to the death of three of them. The Alaafin’s suzerainty was so expansive as to extend to Dahomey (present day Benin Republic) and even Ghana. Gaa’s military prowess and mastery of the geography of war gave the Empire all-round conquests in wars Oyo fought during this period. More than these however, Gaa’s talismanic fetish powers and prowess befuddled his sense of reasoning, which made a tyrant of him. The fourth Alaafin while Basorun lived, Alaafiin Abiodun, however superintended over his killing. Gaa was reportedly incinerated alive, as a way of ensuring the non-reincarnation of his wickedness.
The man on horseback story is also deployed as a narrative among the Yoruba to impart the moral of power. No one gives same regard given to an approaching rider of a horse to one who rode on a horseback yesterday, the saying goes. Manifesting similar warning about the ephemeral nature of power with the Igbo proverb on palm-frond above, the two warn the holder of fresh palm-frond and the horse rider of today to watch their steps while power is in their hold. It holds same currency with another saying which warns that the Masquerade Festival, with its orgy of celebration and merrymaking, would soon end and the son of the masquerader would go down to the village square to eat corn meal and bean cake with his peers. All of them warn that power’s endurance level is very thin and elastic.
Unless Joe Biden unlearns the steps of Trump and imbibe these eternal lessons of power, he would willy-nilly find himself espousing some of the raw power concepts of Trump. Granted that some claim that Trump has always been a narcissist from his mother’s womb, inside the vortex of power lays an inexplicable spirit that most times drives its holder crazy. That is why an ordinary, sedate-minded, urbane and unassuming man, pre-power, could suddenly go berserk when handed the stronghold of power. Power is a spirit.
Many people ask why power changes its holder. Why would a man who was seemingly humane, loving and exhibiting temperance suddenly assume the mane of a lion in office? The truth is that, most times, we fail to keenly study such people before their elevation. Whatever you carry into power oftentimes sticks to you as you ascend the ladder of power. Thus, if you are consumed by pettiness before your elevation, you will most likely go into your pouch of pettiness while sitting on that hallowed seat of power.
Again, it is a known fact that the confines of power in Nigeria’s practice of presidentialism has further made monsters of the power of its holders, many of those power-holders also carry into the office that belief in the Kabiyesiness of power. They equate political office to Gaa’s kind of power. As odd, queer and seemingly eccentric as Trump is, his eccentricity was largely tamed by the same American system and the loophole which he explored and exploited to become president. The Nigerian system however gives fillip to and encourages the transformation into monsters by power seats occupants.
We should not just laugh at the fall of Trump but let his fall serve as lesson board to all of us. The essential lesson of power that we should scoop from this is that narrative of the man on horseback. Every man sitting in majesty on horseback should be aware that they would soon have ample time walking on the coarse surface of the ground. Yoruba further adumbrate this by saying that the time spent holding power does not subsist in perpetuity – igba o to lo bi orere.
Still wondering why a man who was invested with power immediately begins to ascribe the power of omnipotence to themselves, Yoruba of old also tell the story of a king called the Olufimo. He was highly beloved by his people. However, his excessive love for women became his Achilles heel. He had married this particular woman who stubbornly wanted to unravel the mystery of the Oro cult which the king participated in yearly. To satisfy the new queen, the Kabiyesi smuggled her into the Oro cult groove, under his traditional stool while the divination and process of Oro cult lasted. Trust the eagle unseen eyes of ancient diviners, after attempting to access the mind of the gods and the Ifa divination string kept declining awkwardly, a decision was made to search the king’s stool. Right inside was found the queen who received an instant judgment of being beheaded. In recitation of this king’s malady, Ifa priests narrativize the Olufimo’s sacrilege as Ohun lo di’fa fun Olufimo, nijo ti o f’aya e m’oro…
A lasting nugget which power stool occupiers should never gloss over is to always hold a tete-a-tete with their pillows every night. The pillow is like the wearer’s underwear that one cannot hide their nakedness from and which knows one absolutely. Singer Ebenezer Obey summed it up melodiously thus, itele idi eni o, ki’ri ni ti o. It is also like the shadow which the wise saying says never follows its owner to the dark. The dark symptomizes the place of evil. The shadow and the pillow would always advise rightly.
Perhaps due to the nature of the famishment in the land and the quality of minds that always encircles power holders, gastronomic considerations are always behind their actions around power holders. Look at how Trump’s appointees have been turning in their resignations since his ignoble and condemnable action in egging on the coupists at the Capitol. That was also why Vice President Yemi Osinbajo came up on the social media during the week in comparison with the gallantry of his colleague, Mike Pence. Would Osinbajo have taken that country-first decision Pence took during the counting of the Electoral College votes, in spite of himself? There are so many fawners around Nigerian power holders, so much that there is no way they would not see office holders off to their Golgotha.
On January 20, Trump would be history. Someday, all of us, in whichever lever of power we are where we think we are to last forever, we will also expire. Even old man Robert Mugabe and other African despots who approximated governmental power to monarchical power and wanted to stay on the stool forever, were eventually sent out of the office of life. It is reason we should spend every minute in office as if it is the last.
N5 Million To Celebrate Nudity, N5 Million For Mental Excellence
When Big Brother Naija graduate, Olamilekan Moshood Agbeleshe, a.k.a Laycon, was announced winner of the contest and was instantly made Youth Ambassador by the Ogun State governor, Dapo Abiodun, dashed a house and a cash gift of N5million, this writer lamented the loss of values among Nigerian leaders. My argument was that, in a queer game where nudity and other flimsy indices, other than mental achievements, became a governor’s index for splashing such whooping sum on a state indigene, the leadership was merely underscoring the fact that what excites our society was beyond excellence.
Last week, my excitement knew no bounds when the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu awarded scholarships to two graduating students of the Lagos State University (LASU), Oladimeji Shotunde, a BSc graduate and another MSc graduate. While saying that government did it to encourage excellence, the governor commended the awardees for “raising the bar in our university,” promising that “the state government will be providing scholarship for you into whatever university you wish to pursue your academic excellence at whatsoever level.” Sanwo-Olu was also to “be making a personal donation of five million naira for your further work to help you to be able to settle you to continue to be a source of inspiration to others.”
There is no doubt that the Sanwo-Olu way is the path for Nigerian leaders to trek if this country wants to encourage the millions of toiling youths who, right, left and centre, all they see are indications that it does not pay to go to school. Even among themselves, especially in songs sung by those artists they deify, the monstrous power of illicit wealth is trumpeted to high heavens. Some of them also sing about the Machiavelli of financial achievement, no matter the route the one who gets this wealth treads. These songs have dispirited many youths about going to school. They no longer want to walk that tortuous path of schooling, excelling and becoming leaders in mental exertion. I hold strongly that the splashing of such huge sum and others on Laycon is wrongly placed and could metastasize the already cancerous route to “making money” in our society.
Other governors and leaders of society should follow the Sanwo-Olu example. Enough of politicians giving motorcycles as empowerment. They further worsen the dependency on quick money. Let them pick brilliant students of institutions and give them scholarships. With this, we will be showing the youths that education is one of the most important paths to achieving societal greatness.
Onpetu, Aremu, Adiyeloja: A Troika and Diamond
Three Nigerians clocked sixty years in the last couple of weeks whose strides I needed to extol for posterity. One is the Onpetu of Ijeru in Oyo State, His Royal Majesty Oba Sunday Oladapo Oyediran, Lagbami Osekun III. One of the traditional rulers who first underscored God and not divinities as the source of his existence, the Onpetu was one of the first variant of kings who openly worshipped God in church and confessed that he was a born again Christian. Humble and cerebral, his 21-year reign on the stool of his forefathers has brought a lot of developments to his Ijeru, Ogbomoso kingdom.
The second person is Comrade Issa Obalowu Aremu. A Nigerian trade union activist and one of Nigeria’s respected labour leaders, Aremu is the General Secretary of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NVTGTWN). He also doubles as a member of the executive of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). As Aremu clocked 60 on January 8, labour unions and even the Nigerian presidency rose in celebration of a man who is seen to have paid his dues in union activism and one who has contributed immensely to the moulding of persons and society.
The third is respected broadcaster, Fatai Adiyeloja. Journalist with the Nigerian Television Authority, (NTA) Adiyeloja’s years of broadcasting were marked with commendable strides, especially his knack for underscoring professionalism. January 3, the day of his retirement which he celebrated in Osogbo, his “last command,” also marked the day Adiyeloja bowed out of the NTA. He was known while in service for his humility, depth and quest to do things differently, a knack that made him veer into photography.
Congratulations on your 60th birthday, compatriots.
Festus Adedayo is an Ibadan-based journalist.