Ghanaian traditional Ewe poetry, reflected in My Song Burst, one of the poems in the anthology authored 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, even as he “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 Assembly 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 galvanize the people because they can see roads, they can see schools and infrastructure. This is because the money that used to go to the godfathers now goes to the people.” 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 funds by stealth. As I write this, there has been no rebuttal from the APC Chairman over this grievous allegation. 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. However, experiences of the last 20 years of godfatherism have shown that godfathers are dumber than Nigerians thought they were because, though godsons have in most cases been their nemeses, they still persist on this destructive path. From Enugu to Kwara, Oyo to Anambra, Akwa-Ibom to Lagos and so many others, the story has been same, yet godfathers still scamper over one another to anoint sons. These sons, the moment they come into office, cannot stand the greed of their godfathers, their overbearing attitudes, with the resultant effect that godfathers’ fates 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. They eventually lead to her death.
Now, my favourite animal channel, the National Geographic Wild, came to mind. A boa constrictor glides into focus in the forest in her majesty. It was as if I was watching D. H. Lawrence’s Snake. The forest ecosystem mirrors the Nigerian political system. Nurtured by countless preys whose flesh has proven to be her sustainer over the years, the boa glides down the forest this sunny afternoon. It typifies the Nigerian political godfather. The animal world, for me, provides an unqualified window into the inscrutable wall of our world. Animal mannerism, their biological community, the interactive relationships of these organisms, as well as the physical environment within which they interact, will no doubt fascinate a keen student of the ecosystem. They live frictional lives in the forest, comparable to that of man in all respect. Our lives are so comparably related that you wonder why theologians claim that we are superior to these brothers of ours. 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 ingrained, yet 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 and propitiating to the god at his groove with enough daily sacrifices of bullion vans, the principalities clinically removed the rug from under his feet in perhaps the most lamentable political plot in the history of party politics ever in Nigeria. Obaseki, like Ambode, is also a technocrat and he looked an easy prey for the gluttonous throat of any rapacious godfather. Oshiomhole however failed to realise that Lagos is not Edo and that both states possess different political cultures which will 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, had used the life of reptiles to illustrate the needless strife that takes place in the human kingdom. He talked 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 called the snake that had come 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 choosing as godson an Obaseki who is apparently more educated and cerebral than him. 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.
Let us return to my boa constrictor guest. 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 pounces on the impala. A few honking cry escaped from the impala and the Queen writhes her body round the hapless animal and stretches herself like the drycleaner does a water-soaked laundry. This took barely two minutes. She unfurled herself from the impala presently, 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 after 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, 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. His Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation (EDOBEST), an educational revolutionary programme deployed in Edo schools that prioritizes 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 a very unassuming but potentially dangerous animal which has a defensive behavior akin to a soldier on guard. Sensing potential attack, agitated or annoyed, porcupine emits a queer scent and sound, gets its quill erect and clatter her teeth. Its incisors vibrate against each other and when it finds out the detractor is not frightened off, the porcupine runs sideways or backwards and then shoots its arrow-like spines which, most times, could fatally injure a potential attacker or even cause their death. Let the boa constrictor, the Nigerian godfather, be wary of the coming of the 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.
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 assets. 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.