By Lasisi Olagunju
There are books and films on the life and times of Efunsetan Aniwura, the second Iyalode of Ibadan. She was rich, powerful and cold-hearted. Her success as a woman; her manly carriage and ruthlessness made her a perfect mark for envy and destruction. And she lost everything. But Iyalode did not say goodnight gently; she did what real men do. On one occasion, one of her favourite slaves, a female, laced her food with poison. That slave was stupid. She should have known that no one became Iyalode raw and untoughened in those pristine days. Efunsetan was not a fragile rodent to be killed with ordinary poison. Iyalode looked into the meal, saw death and fed it to the bearer. She challenged the culprit; the culprit confessed that she was merely a messenger. You were sent? And you didn’t tell ‘them’ that you were too small to deliver the message? That slave of Efunsetan ate the food, poison and all, and lost her life. She had to die, because, according to Efunsetan: “Àimo isé kò níí p’esin l’ógun (Not knowing how to say no to errant errands kills horses in battle).” She was right; in ancient times, men took equines to war to go and die. And millions perished, especially during the two World Wars. Throughout history, unfortunate horses died in wars they were drafted to fight. Indeed, Britain had a Horse Mobilisation Scheme under which thousands of horses were moved into the First World War (1914-1918), initially for cavalry, later for transport. History says on a single day during the Battle of Verdun in 1916, over 7,000 horses lost their lives. They had to die because their ladle did not know how to say no to hot, searing sauce.
There are many stupid horses in our government agencies; INEC has a large number of such. They are a herd always ready to deliver any message, no matter how bad, for anyone and to anyone, if the fodder is right and the legumes rich enough. If you were sent on a slave errand and you delivered it as a slave, then, you are a slave. If you were sent to deliver a message of evil and you did as asked, you are definitely evil. And there are consequences for delivering messages. When I read the statement by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, conveying President Muhammadu Buhari’s suspension of Hudu Yunusa-Ari, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Adamawa State, I shook my head for the fallen man. The man won’t stop being in the news until another stupid stallion does worse than he did. The REC fed a big dose of poison to Nigeria’s democracy with his illegal declaration of the president’s candidate as the winner of the governorship election in that state. And he was audacious and bold about it. He didn’t do it at midnight or before dawn as soldiers of fortune do. He did it as a breakfast treat for Nigeria. The APC candidate was set to lose the election but Yunusa-Ari came out to raise the dead. He didn’t wait for the collation of results that would affirm the lady’s loss; he simply used his powers to decree her as the winner. What he did was novel in the history of electoral heists in Nigeria. Since then, he has not had peace; his employers say he is on the run; a news website insists he was flown to Abuja as a hero in a private jet. Whatever it is with him, the fact this moment is that he is a fugitive; the REC has become a wreck. But did he act alone? To his right were three very powerful security chiefs in the state. I would be stupid to assume that those ones too acted alone, unilaterally. No, but they have melted away, anonymous. Yunusa-Ari is the sole soil man carrying the shit can. He is the only enemy Nigerians know by name because he delivered the message with the rash of a slave.
If you serve power and the powerful, serve them with all your sense intact and alert. Your interest, and your name, must never suffer. There were at least four big men, including the REC, on that ingloriously high table in Yola. Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri has vowed that he will punish all of them for endangering democracy. What can the governor do? He may be a raptor in power, but his falcon has neither the head nor the beak of the eagle behind those owls. If I were that governor, I would look beyond the messengers. Who had the power to direct those four chargers to be at that point that hour? We don’t know them; we can only guess and we are not guessing wild. They must be people who are not just in government but are in power. We know also that the flies of those who deployed Yunusa-Ari and others to do what they did are not following their corpses into the grave. If the unthinking tools have to go down, they have to go down alone as mere sacrifice ingredients. Messengers are expendable bullets; they are kept only for battle. When servants like those in INEC become burnt out, they are cast into Hades by the same persons who used them badly. An incredibly effective horse was nicknamed ‘Warrior’ during the first World War; his other name was “the horse the Germans couldn’t kill.” Warrior served and saved his lord and won many battles for him; he dared and overcame machine gun attacks and burning stables. He survived the war and returned to England by Christmas of 1918 only to be killed by his owner 23 years later – because of the cost of feeding him with “extra corn rations.”
Where I come from, our ancestors know it is impossible for people to escape being sent on errands. It happens. But they warned (and still warn) that if you are sent on a slave errand, deliver the message as a freeborn. That wisdom is alien to persons who have had the (mis)fortune to manage our elections since the beginning of Nigeria. We saw that in that man in Adamawa; he thought he could drop any ‘dirty bomb’ and get away with it. Now, they say he is on the run; his employers want the police to declare him wanted. There are possibly many like him – others may have been subtle (and therefore successful) in doing their own damage. Nigeria’s election chiefs work in a cut-throat, complex world of greed and temptation. The opportunity for mischief and misbehaviour is ever present where they work. Appropriating the thoughts of V, the mystery author of ‘The Mafia Manager’, because the INEC chiefs are allowed to stand with wolves, they think they should howl – but they are no wolves with the survival sense of the canid. Read their stories – they always come in as angels; they always exit injured and wrecked.
But they enjoy the work they do while it lasts. Wherever Yunusa-Ari is hiding (or not hiding) now, I can swear he is eating Tuwo with lamb limbs and thighs of rams. The reason Nigerian power-seekers will give anything to get right there in INEC – or at least tuck their agents in there. The job gives them the power to veto popular votes and be the elector of governments. The office kits them to compete with judges and the courts; the real super powers in our game of thrones. Occurrences like Adamawa’s are potent reminders that Nigeria and optimism must not cohere in the same sentence. But, there are people who would insist that the Nigerian leprosy is mere rashes; they say the blight will soon disappear with the right doctor in the ward. Some hold, in their trusting innocence, that no evil will be evil enough to shock Nigerians to positive action.
Machiavelli, teacher of painful truth, said “by the delusions of seeming good the people are often misled to desire their own ruin.” He added that the people “are frequently influenced by great hopes and brave promises.” Building castles of hope on Nigeria is futile but I get posts of hope and optimism every day from patriotic Nigerians who think, strongly, that Nigeria can still be saved. Two weeks ago, before Adamawa happened to us, I got one from one of my old professors in Ife. I got another from a reader, a fan, who strongly believes in Nigeria, its destiny and in the government that will come on May 29, 2023. My teacher wrote to me: “I’ve just read your piece on ‘The Terrorists Are Back.’ It’s as usual engaging in style. But it’s rather hyperbolic in its portrayal of what seems to be the hopelessness of the Nigerian condition. We still have cause to cheer…” The other message: “My name is Kayode Sufianu, a constant reader of your Monday Lines. I have read almost all the weekly articles since one of them was posted on my old school platform about a year ago – St Charles Grammar School, Osogbo, Class of 1974. That was the first time I got to know of your writings, regrettably. You are one of the best writers I have ever come across – the manner of expression, the almost unimaginable but apt references to writings of different authors, some of whom I never heard of nor read; deep knowledge of Yoruba culture and understanding of the Nigerian situation is legendary. You are also fearless. But permit me to say that yes, the Nigerian situation is bad, but is it hopeless? I don’t think so. However, my fear is this, if everyone, every Nigerian believes, intuits and concludes that NIgeria is irretrievable, there is a great risk that the volition will take on form and manifest. Therefore, we must nurse hope and promote it – that Nigeria will pull through and fulfill her potentials to become a great nation. Does that sort of mimic ‘renewed hope’ slogan? It’s just coincidental but perhaps against all odds, the president-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, may be the one to start the renewal process. Best.” Both messages posit seriously that Nigeria is not irredeemable. They may be right; I may be wrong. They are not alone on that rostrum of hope; millions, North and South, are with them, shoulder-to-shoulder.
Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher and cultural critic, was described as “the eloquent and menacing prophet of an impending catastrophe.” That characterization came after he warned of “an apocalyptic tenor spawning a mood of gloom and a good deal of anxiety, anger, and terror.” His warning was for the 20th century but the things he saw manifest more clearly around here this century. After witnessing the crude novelty in Adamawa which has, so far, attracted only the huff and puff of official reluctance suggesting complicity, can we still say that there is hope for sanity here? There can’t be regeneration wherever foul play is fair play. We have seen the audacious move to enthrone a governor before the election was concluded – and even without the votes. We have heard the state telling us the principal culprit is missing, and is beyond the long arm of the law. We have watched a public television station opening the legs of our democracy for the rapist’s address of larceny. We’ve seen how that station did it without the consequences usually suffered by its private-sector competitors. We are seeing how easy it is to commit the greatest of crimes and slip into the eternity of immunity. We should also see how hope for redemption is increasingly the devil’s water on the highway to optimism. But we are too ‘trusting’ to see everything we should see. “Sometimes”, wrote Ayi Kwei Armah, “a whole people need healing.” We are that people.
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