(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 28 February, 2022)
Kabiyesi means ‘we dare not question him.’ The nearest to its meaning is what my Hausa friend does with effusive ‘Ranka dede’ at the feet of his lord. The above headline should actually be ‘Nigeria’s Kabiyesi politics.’ That is what the Nigerian president plays. He is big and powerful and he is beyond query whatever he does and whatever he does not do. You walk on the edge of his sword at your peril and to your sorrow. We are a country of strong heads, weak limbs; a wheelchair-nation. We saw it with Olusegun Obasanjo, variously venerated in his days in power, as unquestionably right at all times. Nigeria’s perennial dogs of politics licked his poo and crowned him as the Father of Modern Nigeria. People rose and people fell at the whim of that Kabiyesi. His caprice was the mantra of that moment. He enjoyed every move of his lion and sipped the wine of a forest beholden to his wisdom. His time was up, and he left and the worried thought that was the end of monarchy in our democracy. They were wrong. It is in our blood. We must always find for ourselves a god to worship, a haughty king at whose feet we grovel.
My title here must carry the APC totem because it is the reigning hegemon. You saw how the APC has been conducting itself disgracefully in the past two years. It is not a political party; it is a lap dog that pisses only when the president gives it the go-ahead to do so. On January 20, 2022, it fixed its national convention for February 26. Then, it went to sleep. It woke up on February 21 to declare the convention postponed indefinitely. In its stead, it announced a decision to hold its zonal congresses on March 26. When will the national convention hold? The party was mum. Even its unquestioning rats were rattled. The party was waiting for its owner to talk and give further directions. Then, same day, but in the evening, the party spoke again overruling its earlier letter to INEC. Everyone that follows how the APC is run knows that it is the president that is acting. The same tentative way he runs Nigeria, Buhari breathes confidence into the APC effigy as it pleases him. He did last week and the party found its missing balls. Its convention will hold on March 26. It will elect its officers. But who will be its next national chairman? The party is waiting on Buhari to anoint a consensus candidate. The president has become a synonym for consensus. It was exactly what happened with his predecessors which APC said we should run away from. Our presidents since 1999 are always the law.
The APC brought Muhammadu Buhari into our lives in 2015 and had him erected as the omniscient – the all-knowing – and the omnipotent – the all-powerful. We were told that his body language was enough for us. They said the scent of his incense, his turare, was the cure-all we needed as a nation. He has since that time been holding court as Kabiyesi in the hallowed costume of our democracy. Every tongue daily confesses his lordship; all heads bow and all knees kneel before his substance and his shadow. Like Olusegun Obasanjo, he is Kabiyesi, passionate possessor of awesome power and big ego. We asked for him just as we asked for his predecessors. That was how the people of ancient Oyo created a succession of kings who spiraled out of control. One of them, they worship since then till tomorrow. His name is Sango. The people said they wanted a strong, no-nonsense king who would give their empire back its pride. They had that one in Sango, king with stone-celts that burnt everything in indiscriminate carnage. Under his direction, there were wars in unremitting intensity. There was impunity sanctioned by the palace. He finally ended it one bad day on a tree. Even at death, Sango was not done with his conquests. He must not be described as the king who hanged himself. Rather, his friends made sure his place of death is called Koso, a name contracted from ‘Oba ko so’ (the king did not hang). That white lie became an eternal dark truth, exactly the same way APC tells us to daily sing its anthem for the dubious redemption it has given us. That is the full meaning of Kabiyesi: in life, no one questioned Sango; in death, he remains unquestionable. It was like that with the PDP from 1999 to 2007. It has been worse with the APC since 2015. Before you start arguing over who would become the next chairman of the APC, think first of how the tenure of Adams Oshiomhole ended and how a committee with an unpronounceable name took over.
Whoever knows the oriki of Sango is the one who knows the character of the Nigerian president. Ilorin musician, Odolaye Aremu, says Sango is ‘death that shouts at one before killing one.’ But other bards chant that he is stronger than common death. They say he is the one who seizes the stream and the farmland from his opponents’ fathers. Sango is the troublesome divinity who demands answers to two-thousand-year-old queries; he is the heady one who broke his arms and then used his knee as pillow. He is the cat who tip-toes to poke his paws into the eyes of real and perceived haters. Because his yam flour got blown off, Sango killed one thousand four hundred persons (elubo e danu, o p’egbeje eeyan). With one stone-celt, this king murdered a million enemies, home and abroad. He is god that races to the battlefield from the bathroom; the snout that pushes the brave to pee and poo in shame. The wise one of Oyo whom they think is a fool (Ologbon Oyo ti won npe ni were). That exactly is my characterization of the Nigerian president. With him behind you, you can slap the devil and violate the masked face of any masquerade; you can fart into the mouth of the land and into the nostrils of the skies. Nothing go do you. You can follow up on that and break the pot of the palm oil seller. What will the oil seller do? She dares not beat you or else she will die in debt of propitiation to the god of flaming powers. Our president is the most powerful in the whole universe; nothing restrains him. But where the king is bigger than the people, there can never be peace and prosperity. That is why this democracy drips with foul-smelling failure.
With our own hands, and in spite of warnings and wise counsel, we made a terrible dictatorship of our democracy. The current 1999 constitution has its paternity rooted in the failed 1979 constitution. After the disasters of the 1960s, we looked at America and fell in love with everything it had. We said we needed a leader who would cough and the world would shiver in summer. We behaved like the merchant who heard that goods sold very well in a place called Sokoto and quickly shipped his wares there without inquiring first from the Maker if his fortune was in Sokoto. We copied America’s presidential system without its safeguards. We wanted to enjoy America’s dividends of executive presidency without the discipline and the sense that drove it. The Nigerian Tribune, 46 years ago, in an editorial opinion published on November 23, 1976, warned that the constitution we were making for ourselves was a “blueprint for dictatorship.” The paper said: “A president who is both Head of State and Head of Government who, in his absolute discretion, appoints ministers from outside the National Assembly; who appoints most members of various commissions and councils, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the head of the combined Armed Forces, the heads of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, and the Head of the Civil Service, a President who as Chief Executive, controls the finances of the nation; a president whose directions to the police force must be complied with and who has the power to determine the operational use of the armed forces including suppressing insurrection; a president, above all, with the power to proclaim a state of emergency. This is the Executive President which the Constitution Drafting Committee, in all their wisdom, recommended for the country. It is a very terrifying prospect. To recommend the concentration of all these powers in the hands of one man, one human being, is by itself, an uncomplimentary landmark in Nigeria’s long history of constitution making.” That warning is 46 years old. It was a prophecy that came true with devastating accuracy. So, when today’s advocates of structural changes in our polity and politics talk, this is part of their allusions. The fire that is burning our roof was foretold; the vulture that eats the head here is too familiar to get to us but for our stupidity.