The triumph of touts

On the eve of a governorship election in a certain mythical state, members of a campaign team got the shock of their lives when they trifled with a professor’s electoral map. It was Friday. Everyone else had been mobilised  (i.e given election money) and the professor had been quiet, tolerating the affront in the hope that his own package would soon be delivered. But proceedings came to an end and no bag was forthcoming. “And where’s my own package?” the erudite scholar asked with a mean look.

“But you are a prof sir. You people don’t usually do these things…”, a thug offered.

“WHAT!,” the professor bellowed, reaching for a beer bottle with which to shook his yansh. (i.e stab his buttocks). “Is this one mad? Is your mother mad?” He broke a beer bottle and charged at the son of a goat. Quickly the atmosphere changed and the professor’s package was quickly produced. Amid a barrage of curses, he asked where those impudent nobodies were when he alone held down such and such polling unit last time. He declared categorically: “I will return to professorship on Monday but for the purposes of this election, I am a thug!”

This reminds me of two incidents, one of which took place when  I was a corper in Dokan Kasuwa village of Qua’an Pan local government area of Plateau State.  I could not believe my ears when I heard a departing corper sing at a church service: “Can cikin sama, babu yunwa …” (Up there in heaven, no hunger), telling the congregation how we would all meet in heaven even if we lost each other’s company now . This was a crook who had been with a girl the whole night before this Sunday charade. The other incident happened in Ibadan, specifically in Dugbe, and also on a Sunday. I saw a dark-skinned man resplendent in a white garment smoking a joint. Done, he revved the engine of his okada and sped off to church. In the Dokan Kasuwa incident, one of my students who had performed a play in the church and who I discovered was at an increasingly advanced stage of burukutu intoxication explained the reason for his act: “This thing (acting a play) is not easy!” And so I guessed that the man in white garment was a church worker for whom church work was not easy. A joint on a Sunday, and on the way to church. What a mirror of Nigeria!

In her novel The Triumph of the Water Lily, the neo-feminist writer Ify Osammor celebrates womanhood, painting a picture of hope after marital, emotional and social storm. Effua, the unmarried narrator, tells a passionate story of trial and tribulation: her friend Nkem dies after a turbulent marriage in which she had to exit her matrimonial home for a rival. And Effua, in spite of herself, is finally won over by Norman, a journalist, after years of pressure. The novel recalls the motto of the Royal Air Force: Per adua ad astra (through difficulty to the stars). In Nigeria, though, I see no smile after the present difficulties: all I see is the triumph of touts.

Motorpark touts or agberos as the Yoruba call them are realists who live in and for the moment and have no qualms about tomorrow. Often clad in vests proclaiming their sponsors, they are uniquely defined by their conference with marijuana and union with gin. They brook no dissidence and seek no lasting friendship: the moment is their god. Bus drivers dare not trifle with their ticket: you either pay up or they fling you into space in a gidigbo (wrestling) moment. And when they merge their work with political thuggery, agberos become literal monarchs! As big as Lagos is, an agbero calls the shots, ready to feed critics to sharks. Movie practitioners sings his praises. I have a PhD: he has a throne.

In 2022, seeing the enormous powers agberos wield, our men of power have fully embraced the touting spirit. That has been quite evident in the charade called primaries across political parties. We are seeing a festival of daggers, bullets and broken bottles. Well, did a governorship aspirant not visit the hotel where his rivals’ delegates were lodged and ferry them to his own hotel upon the promise of dollars? He won. His rival came to the hotel in the evening (it was the eve of the primaries) only to find everywhere mortuary-quiet. The delegates had eaten, smoked and drank and left a hefty bill. This is called mugunisation.

Eating, as the Yoruba say, in the house of oro and his rival engungun, the delegates are draining many aspirants and giving them heart attack afterwards. In a certain state, a US-based don kicked up a ruckus when he was given only 5 votes. How can a man come all the way from USA to earn five votes? Delegates are hell-bound. But they have not always had their way. The son of a former VP demanded his money after losing out. And others opted for war. Per former Kaduna Central senator, Shehu Sani, a House of Reps’ aspirant roused his inner demons in Kaduna State and went after the delegates. Deploying hunters and vigilantes, he recovered the over N100m bribe he had given to the vote-traders. He had lost the ticket in the forest of the heartless but would not lose his money.

At all levels, we are in a season of touting, the era of agberos. Presidential agberos are sprinting across stadiums, detaining political opponents and cursing entire ethnic groups while asking for support. They are denouncing statements condemning murder because of votes, and canvassing carbohydrate diets for entire armies. Peter Obi, handicapped in the battle of dollars, pulled out from the PDP this week. You cannot guy a guyman. Obi is no stranger to this game. The useless delegates wanted to chop his money and clean mouth. Obi quickly fled. The next president will be a criminal.

Even homes are not spared agberoism, as I found out last week when a distribution company’s enforcer stormed my domain. In response to my query, “We have not had light for weeks, so what’s this N5,200 bill about?” he replied: “Sir, there’s no lie in what you’ve said.” No lie, yet I must pay that agbero company, lest we should be the last. The state has legitimized the robbery of the Nigerian masses by power distribution companies that dispense only thick darkness. Agberos are everywhere, even in Sokoto where self-appointed spiritual police immolate apostates while browsing other people’s women and shagging whiskey like say tomorrow no dey. They do not condemn murder. They have no care for tomorrow.

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