By Lasisi Olagunju
(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 28 March, 2022)
I saw two bearded, bitter members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on Channels TV late last week lamenting. They said ex-PDP leaders were taking over the house they built. They fretted and lamented what was about to happen to their tendency at the party’s national convention. I pitied them. It is not everyone who builds that lives in the house they built. They’ve probably not heard it said before that “fools build houses, and wise men live in them.” It is in Alan Benjamin Cheales’ Proverbial Folk-Lore (1875). W.F. Butler, in his 1911 autobiography, injects a benign variant of that saying: “Fools build houses for other men to live in.” I also saw it somewhere that the men who built the big house of Empire for England “usually get the attic for their own lodgment.” J. Ray in his ‘English Proverbs’ (1670) has an even more ghastly slant: “Fools build houses, and wise men buy them.” Yet, there is at least one more person, J. Kelly who asserts in his ‘Scottish Proverbs’ (1721) that he knew a gentleman who bought land, built a house upon it, and then sold “both house and land to pay the expenses of his building.” All these are contained and explained in the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. Visit them.
So, which of the above sayings would you say fits the unhappy creators of the APC and the party’s new chief occupants? The founding members are unhappy because Abdullahi Adamu is the national chairman and Iyiola Omisore is the national secretary. They have a reason to be sad. They are in the rains; the people they thought they defeated are in their victory house, warm and well. The enemy even holds the yam and the knife now. Adamu was PDP governor of Nasarawa (1999 to 2007), secretary of PDP’s highest organ, the Board of Trustees and was elected PDP Senator in 2011. He left the party in 2014. Omisore was PDP Senator (Osun East) from 2003 to 2011 and an influential member of that party until he left it in 2018. Isaac Kekemeke, the party’s new National Vice Chairman was Secretary to the Ondo State Government under PDP’s Segun Agagu’s governorship. The list is longer than this. These three and more will run the affairs of Nigeria’s ruling party until such a time those who put them on the throne say enough!
Presidential democracy is about two or more cats chasing one mouse. It is also about two or more dogs setting at one bone. The strongest and smartest goes home with satiated belly. It is interesting that ex-PDP men have taken very firm control of the ruling party. Some defanged interests are sulking; they are not happy – but they are quiet – weighing options. Politics has a synonym in the word ‘conundrum’, something my Yoruba people would say means ‘adiitu’ (untieable knot). Why would Muhammadu Buhari strike down his old comrades-at-arms and enthrone Adamu, an old foe? They say it is politics, raw. Politicians would not mind to eat their enemy’s food if it contains the nutrients needed to sprint to power. Morality and talks of integrity have no place in power politics and in the politics of power. That is what happened on Saturday with the APC. The party has enlarged its coast with the strength (and stench) of the enemy so that its cat could catch more mice; and so its dogs could have smoother access to the bones of Nigeria. APC’s rival, the PDP, recently did something almost like that too. PDP’s new national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, was a foundation member of APC’s main content, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN); he is also forever a bosom friend of APC’s mafia don, Senator Bola Tinubu. And both do not hide the cosiness of their joint duvet. Political incest and electoral adultery are in-built in such amoral structures.
Politics is war by other means. Politicians operate across enemy lines; they exploit so much the power of darkness to rule their game. Do soldiers in war ever help the enemy? They do guidedly and to their own peril. But politicians do it if it pays them. Own goals are never matters of shame to them. Anything that works, no matter how despicable, is correct and applauded in our politics. But what can we do? Our husbands are the politicians, and they are pragmatists of the darkest hue. And pragmatism teaches its students that life is lived in peace and in full when you pick your strike force from a pool of friends and from the enemy’s bedroom. Hitler did it with his friends and allies during the Night of the Long Knives. The pragmatist in the Nigerian politician sees nothing wrong in eating across enemy lines – and in feeding friends to enemy crocodiles. We won’t, however, be tired of telling him that it is an ill bird that fouls its own nest. Sometimes the Nigerian politician eats the leftovers of the enemy; sometimes he drops food for the enemy. He does this while the stupid children of the poor die fighting his cause. An APC devotee reportedly died in Abuja on Saturday while trekking to the convention venue. His death was reported without a name attached to him. He had no name and will have no memory. He was simply a tool that dropped into the silted bottom of politics.
I listened throughout APC’s Saturday Night of the Long Knives. I laughed as the recalcitrance of unfavoured aspirants melted. One after the other, they spoke to the microphone renouncing their ambitions and praising ‘democratic’ Buhari whose cold-blooded politics aborted their dreams. The contestants plagiarized one another in a competition of obsequity at the feet of the president: I withdraw from this race because of my love for our father, the president; I drop my ambition in deference to our hardworking president; I am no longer interested in this post because the president calls for consensus. Then came the bearded ex-minister from Oyo State who emerged at two minutes to 2am on Sunday to do what he had vowed never to do: He dropped out of the race for Omisore as the secretary of the party. He said it was for the president. They all elevated the president’s wish to that of their party. The gathering was a pageant of absurdity.
The Eagle Square parade had a parallel in ancient Rome. Historians call it ‘The Roman Triumph,’ a riotous rite of victory started by Rome’s legendary founder, Romulus. It involved the near-deification of the triumphator and an endorsement of his wiles and whims. You heard them on Saturday: the president is divine in everything he does. Everyone who spoke at the event had great things to say about their president. Senate President Ahmed Lawan’s speech was very instructive. He said Buhari’s persona was the fortune they all enjoyed. He said the old man “may not be on the ballot” next year. He paused and readjusted his words: “Let me be explicit, you will not be on the ballot in 2023, but you will remain the leading light and moral compass of APC even after your tenure finishes. And, therefore, Mr. President, I’m sorry, you will have little rest, because we will never allow you to go away.” What exactly did Lawan mean by the APC would not let Buhari rest even after his tenure? He could only mean that the party would forever need the incumbent president’s stone celts to strike at enemies and retain his luck to win unthinking votes. But that would not be original. Everything that happened on Saturday was taken from PDP’s operations manual. When it was in power, PDP made sure Obasanjo did no wrong just as today’s APC Buhari. That time, PDP said Obasanjo was their father and mentor forever; even the founders of the APC, including this same Buhari, went to the former president in Abeokuta in 2014 and begged him to come and be their “moral compass” – the exact words which Lawan used for Buhari at the Eagle Square. Try and view again the footage of weekend’s festival of flattery. What can you see there? What is Buhari’s reaction to those rains of blandishments? The cameramen did a very good job focusing on the General with an unsmiling mien. There he is: the president sits straight, looks straight; his deputy, beside him sits, looks not away, but down; his fingers fiddling endlessly with his iPad. The president is probably wiser than his palace bards.
The APC looks increasingly a personal monument to Buhari – for as long as he reigns. Exactly a month ago, I wrote about what I called “APC’s Kabiyesi Politics.” I have had to go back and read the piece all over again. In it, I said Kabiyesi means ‘we dare not question him.’ I added that, indeed, kabiyesiism isn’t strictly an APC doctrinal monopoly. I argued that the philosophy has been the guardian angel of all Nigerian presidents since 1999. I said the president is big and powerful and he is beyond query. I noted that whatever he does or whatever he does not do is very right and very good. I warned that you walk on the edge of his sword at your peril and to your sorrow. Everything played out last week climaxing with Saturday’s crowning of the president’s choices as the minders of the ruling party. The president’s word was the only law that guided the convention.
What does it mean to be the only consequential star in the firmament? There is this evocative genre of Yoruba oral literature called Oriki. Karin Barber, ex-professor of African Cultural Anthropology at the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, describes Oriki as “a master discourse” which she further says are enigmatic formulations that “commemorate personalities, events and actions.” My mother’s ancestral roots are in the intrepid palace of the Ijesa of Western Nigeria. There is a line in the Ijesa prince/princess’ Oriki which fits the narrative here: omo oni’bo kan, Ibo kan t’o ju oni’bo merindinlogun (child of the owner of one lone vote that is more than 16 votes of others). I donate this line to the children of Nigeria’s Caesar; their father’s vote was the only vote that mattered yesterday; it is the only one that will matter when APC’s presidential primary holds in two months’ time – and, maybe, at our presidential election. If you’ve been visiting palaces and shrines in search of APC ticket for the coming elections, please, stop and do a redirection of your compass. The only prayer that will be answered is the one offered to the real leader of the party, the president. That is the only lesson from weekend’s national convention of the APC and its outcomes.
But that cannot be the democracy people died for. The English say a dry cough is the trumpeter of death. Whatever is poisonous cannot give life. The line of sanity between APC and PDP – and others – is blurred forever by the reigning amorality of anything goes that works. Warwick Chipman, in his ‘Pragmatism and Politics’ (1911) argues that “a democracy forgetting freedom and a philosophy careless of principles…go hand in hand together.” And they are a couple of evil. Chipman deplores the crude practicality of a democracy that threatens to entrammel men; he told “lovers of liberty” that they “must see that a philosophy without a standard, a wisdom that will not criticise, a doctrine that will not lead, is the greatest foe of all that they have to fight.” Everything he describes in that quote is in what we call democracy here. Nigeria’s battle for freedom has not started.
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