(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 17 October, 2022)
Peter Obi’s enemies are very clever and audacious. They are determined to ruin him and the promise of his movement. Imagine, they appointed for him a certain Mr. John Ezeigbe Ughulu as his campaign coordinator for Lagos State. Lagos is a Yoruba state in the South-West. Yoruba don’t bear Ughulu. It is an Igbo name. Only an enemy of an Igbo-born presidential candidate with a lot of promise would tuck such a combustible contraband, a lighted roll of weed in his electoral pocket.
The enemies are not done with Obi. They went to Sokoto, seat of the caliphate, and planted an Ifeanyi Ezeagu there as the official driver of the Obidient vehicle. You know what that means? Birnin Kebbi, the capital of Kebbi State, is just one boundary away from Sokoto Central Mosque and the Sultan’s Palace, yet, Peter Obi’s campaign manager in Kebbi State is one Emmanuel Danjuma.
Writing this is a risk. A friend warned me not to dare counsel Obi; that his supporters don’t take prisoners; something close to James Crumley’s “take no prisoners, leave no wounded, eat the dead…” That bad. To my friend, I gave a smile. Some years ago, I had a brief interaction with a traditional ruler in Osun State, the Ogiyan of Ejigbo, Oba Omowonuola Oyeyode Oyesosin – aged, learned, cerebral, quiet, loud, forthright, deep and every inch a king. We were reviewing Nigeria and its leaders and Oba Oyesosin told me: A tóbi má se é báwí, wón máa ñba ìlú jé ni (leaders who are too big for reprimand always destroy the town). So, for Obi and his chi I have this to tell: If the world calls you a thief and you stridently reject it in the name of your pious ancestors, please make sure you are never seen dancing with your neighbour’s goat. That is for Peter Obi whose hurricane has been struggling forever to claim a pan-Nigerian identity and cast off its odious tribal marks. For me and my brothers and my sisters, we always know that it is not wisdom to enter an uncharted river with the eyes of both feet closed. You put in a leg first; if no crocodile launches at it, you may place the second into the waters.
Flying a red flag in Lagos with a provocative appointment sends a croc signal to local paddlers of Obi’s ambition. But Obi is widely travelled and so, he must have come across the German warning that there is no off switch on a tiger. I also thought he must have heard his Yoruba friends apprise him on the consequences of trading in Tiger. They say the person who wants to sell Tiger and the one desirous of buying Tiger will have to do the haggling from a distance. How much noise has he heard from the insulted? Almost a complete silence. That is how we react to shocking insolence. My mother warned me repeatedly that if my outside looks stupid, my inner must never be stupid (tí ojú e bá gò, inú e ò gbodò gò láéláé). I also know that you don’t kneel in supplication to someone to come and make you his slave.
I read the damage-control tweet which Obi released on Friday. “I have received calls of concern following the release of the Labour Party’s Presidential Campaign Council list. Admittedly, there were some omissions and erroneous entries in the list hence the concerns expressed. In response, the Labour Party chairman in the presence of members of the National Working Committee (NWC) addressed the issues during a press conference. In keeping with our commitment to accountability, responsiveness and transparency, an updated list will be issued in due course. I plead for patience,” Obi said. We do not know yet if the “erroneous entries” refer to the appointment of Igbo viceroys to Lagos, Sokoto and Kebbi. But then, drawing from the tweet, if I won’t be overstepping my bounds, can I risk a question? Would there have been anything wrong in the “entries” if there were no calls expressing “concerns”? What Obi tells in that tweet is that some unknown spirits are in charge of his presidential project while he leads the rearguard to do the mop-up. He created, in that explanation, the image of helplessness and of being a shadow. Those running Obi’s show hold the yam and the knife; and of his coming kingdom, they act in control of the crockery and the cutlery. If you are not as complicated as Obi’s implacable critics, you would just pity him and create an alibi for him. You would say that without his knowledge and endorsement, enemies have Igbonized his message of hope for sanity and fairness, and of change from the atrocity of the bad we are used to.
I had a conversation with an older friend two weeks ago. He asked where I belonged. I told him I was maintaining my lane, lonely and alone. I told him I was not siddon-looking either, and I was also not riding in any of the vehicles – because their end is known and the adjective for that end is ghastly. “When you can see the end of things even in their beginnings, there’s no more hope, unless you want to pretend, or forget, or get drunk or something.” I read that out to him; it is one of my favourite lines in Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. My friend agreed that the 2023 options were grim and hideous but he was particularly anti-Obi. I asked him why. He said because the Labour Party candidate would be Igbo-centric if he won. I wondered what informed that conclusion and I told him: if an Igbo man cannot be trusted to be president of Nigeria, why not let them go and have their Biafra in peace? We are asked to eat ‘this thing’, we say it is a miserable piece of bare bone; then we are asked to throw it away, we say it contains some mince of potentially delicious meat. What do we actually want? I asked, pausing for effect. But my elderly friend responded softly that I should calm down; he said I was wrong. Then he declared that the people I was defending “do not want to exit Nigeria; what they want is domination.” I ended the conversation at that point because I needed to process what I just heard. That was two weeks ago. Now, this occipital incision of insult from across the Niger. The old man must be wondering what my opinion is right now.
Peter Obi’s Labour Party has a presidential campaign council of 1,234 members. Apart from the symphony in the figures, what good are they going to serve? Does he really need this crowd which is a riotous mimic of the PDP and its twin brother, the APC? Why would he abandon the formlessness that has worked for him and embrace the predatory tactics of the enemy? The fact that Obi’s 1,234 man-strong council is even larger than the campaign councils of the two behemoths put together should warn his adherents about the frugality of this cook and the taste of the coming pudding. This idea of loud, celebrated campaign councils, where did it come from? We didn’t hear such noise between 1999 and 2015 – not even in 2019. But today, politicians can maim and kill to be included in campaign councils. Even a retired General of the Nigerian Army has done some zigzag begging to stay in Obi’s council. The valiant gentleman officer, in a waddling tweet, almost repudiated all he did while in service – just to satisfy those opposed to his sharing the Obidient space with them. Is there something in these creations that are invisible to naked minds.
The Obidient Movement is supposed to be the psychedelic synonym of ‘enough is enough’, a last-ditch platform of escape for those who believe in it across the country. It will be too sad if their race away from Disease leads to the house of Death. The Japanese army experienced it just before the end of the Second World War. At the Ramree Island in Myanmar (Burma) on February 19, 1945, hundreds of Japanese soldiers who were outflanked by British forces perished because they made a wrong, fatal choice. It happened this way: They were cut off from the main battalion and almost surrounded by enemy troops; the only way to escape was to cut through a mangrove swamp of deadly reptiles. They spurned the enemy’s order to surrender and plunged into the swamp of hungry crocodiles. The result is the Ramree Island crocodile attack, the deadliest in recorded human history, according to the Guinness Book of Records. Bruce Stanley Wright participated in the Battle of Ramree Island. He remembered the “horrible” night of “crocodiles that gathered among the mangroves…lying with their eyes above the water, watchfully alert for their next meal.” He reported the deathly sight of men mired in the mangrove mud and their hideous cries as they got crushed in the jaws of huge reptiles. He wrote that the long night ended finally and “at dawn the vultures arrived to clean up what the crocodiles had left.” A commentator’s advice is particularly useful here: “When given the choice of surrendering or taking chances in a crocodile-infested swamp, choose surrender.”
But a choice of surrender in Nigeria is as fatal as feeling the slam-shut jaw of the crocodile. The consequences of all the 2023 options are dire. It is a terrifying truth known to everyone. Yet we take partisan positions either because of the self; or because we profess false faith or we are simply self-deceiving. I have seen enough in my few years to choose to walk alone. Exactly like Armah’s forlorn character, “I used to see a lot of hope. I saw men tear down the veils behind which the truth had been hidden. But then the same men, when they have power in their hands at last, began to find the veils useful. They made many more. Life has not changed. Only some people have been growing, becoming different, that is all…” I have friends scattered in all the three major camps and we ‘fight’ and argue and then settle down to lament the wasted years and opportunities. We share fears and the anguish of tomorrow’s capacity to make the rotten thoroughly bad. For those of us who left the university in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the sun is already going west, setting. Some are dead, buried and forgotten; many are frustrated, tired and withdrawn. Ten years from now, we should be out – of reckoning. We’ve lived long enough to feel in our lives all the bad things we read in our literature texts. Almost four decades after school, millions of us still experience Armah’s “mean monthly cycle of debt and borrowing, borrowing and debt.” The few comfortable ones reel in the poverty of peace and security. Yet, some still do not see the urgency in the need for us to crash the Nigerian Wall of Jericho with the fist of our cries. We have a joint voice but it is scattered in destructive directions: Those with Atiku seek accommodation in the saddle of the northern high horse and insularity; the Obidients are enamored with the velvet of their wolf’s posturing; they excuse his sheep’s clothing. The Èmi l’ókàn band think Tinubu’s leaky ark of cash and bluff would save them from the coming flood.