(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday 14 March, 2022)
“Thieves of a feather” is the title of a piece written by American journalist, Emily Sohn in the December 19, 2007 edition of ScienceNewsforStudents. Great writings advertise themselves first with great titles. You were probably suckled in a cliched world where birds of a feather always flocked together. And in that world, your teacher warned you never to tamper with idioms because their wings fly fixed, inviolate and inviolable. But here is a dissident writer subverting that sacredness in her discussion of birds and kleptoparasitism. Sohn explains her choice of title. She holds that some birds are “masters of crime.” She was fascinated by sneaky species of birds, which she said, “steal food from other birds -and get away with it.” A week earlier, and writing in the December 12, 2007 edition of ScienceNews, another American journalist, Susan Milius had dug deeper on that topic postulating that it is not brawn or body size “but brains that matter in the rise of crime families among birds.” Before both of them was Julie Morand-Ferron of the University of Quebec in Montreal who observed thieving birds’ “acrobatic midair grabs, zigzagging chases, and harassment of a successful hunter until some of the booty was regurgitated for the thief.”
Like preening, thieving birds, it is not the size of a political party but how clever its operatives are that determines how many governors or legislators it could have in Nigeria. The All Progressives Congress (APC) today has 22 governors in its kitty. It did not win that many in the last elections. But it felt it needed more than it legally had. There were zones where it was not wanted at all. Igboland and oil rich Niger Delta fenced off Nigeria’s current ruling party. To get those places, the APC did what sneaky birds do – it pursued and snatched from successful hunters. Today, its mouth is full – filled beyond what its health can chew. I read a statement issued late on Saturday by President Muhammadu Buhari on the state of his troubled party. Buhari, in that statement, said: “This is a party that has been in existence barely for eight years, becoming the dominant party because it has thrown open its doors to defectors from other parties, big and small.” That is political opportunism, and it is classic. It is also an audacious admission and celebration of predatory bigness. Some birds like kites and hawks do it without any shred of compunction. And that is why they are called raptors, birds of prey.
A governorship election was held on March 9, 2019 in Ebonyi State. Thirty six political parties contested the poll. The PDP hunted hard and scored 393,043 votes. It came first. APC came a distant second with 81,703. Yet, APC is the party in power in Ebonyi State today. Why? The man who flew PDP’s victorious flag, Dave Nweze Umahi, took the trophy to the enemy’s house. Umahi’s chi gave him Ebonyi governorship on PDP’s platter but he wanted more than that. Or his dibia told him what the witches told Macbeth – he would be this, he would be that and then become that if he became a peripatetic, nomadic politician. With his deputy and 15 lawmakers in tow, he defected to the APC on Tuesday, 17 November, 2020. His party cried foul and wept, Umahi kept a straight face and continued to pour libation to the spirit of his new party and its deity in Abuja. But for doing that, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Wednesday, 8 March, 2022 sacked Umahi and his deputy and his aberrant 15 lawmakers. The judge accused them of committing what my Yoruba people call the sacrilege of giving the child of River Oba to River Osun. Those who did that in the past were washed away by Yemoja. That was the punishment from the Abuja judge.
No matter how fertile a woman may be, she cannot birth a child without the seminal spark of a man. Contesting on the platform of a political party should be same as signing a marriage contract. Our constitution says you cannot contest in your own name as an independent candidate; a party must carry you on its back, well girded, to the polls. So, the party is the husband, the candidate is the wife. In Yorubaland, the rich can only snatch the wife of the poor man, he cannot snatch his children. Igboland, which birthed Umahi, has a well defined culture and tradition with rules similar to this. The man who paid the bride price is the husband and it is he who owns every child from the woman’s womb. Author of ‘The Igbo of South East Nigeria’, Victor Uchendu, in a 1965 academic paper, addresses it this way: “since the right to a woman’s fertility is acquired at marriage, any children she may bear are filiated to the man or woman who acquires the right. It makes no difference whether the individual begets these children or not.” So, you see, you cannot use the logo of a political party to win an election and later take the offspring to a seductive, thieving rival. The party is the husband, the candidate is the wife; the children belong to the husband, the man who paid the bride price. That appears to be the lesson the Abuja court taught Umahi and his party last week.
A more complicated case exists in Zamfara State where the courts assisted the PDP to reign in defeat. In the 2019 governorship election in that state, the APC, fielding a man called Muktar Idris emerged winner with 534,541 votes out of the 810,782 votes cast across the 14 local government areas of the state. Bello Matawalle of the PDP scored 189,452 to emerge second, Senator Saidu Dansadau of National Rescue Movement scored 15,177 votes and Sani Abdullahi of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) got 3,865 votes. But the APC is a party blessed with luck but lacking in character. Its lack of character soon destroyed its good head in Zamfara as it fought itself out of victory. The courts exploited APC’s civil war and gave the PDP a governorship seat it did not win at the polling booth. The PDP did not even go to court to ask for that booty; it got that judgement as a boon from Nigeria’s gods of supreme justice. It was not funny. And it turned out the drama was an unending one. PDP’s flag bearer, a man called Matawalle, the human beneficiary of the heist, on June 29, last year (2021) took the loot back to the APC without a single drop of shame. The judiciary recently validated his odious behaviour. And that is in Nigeria’s number one sharia state where a man had his wrist cut off for stealing a goat.
In 1604, England’s Lord Coke declared that “every man’s house is his castle.” I agree and believe it should be so with our democratic practice too. A political party, no matter how miserably small or poor or frail should in peace enjoy whatever victory it legitimately attained in elections without a rapacious president and his party using state powers to steal its trophy. I find the judicial words of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, very useful here: “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail – its roof may shake – the wind may blow through it – the storm may enter – the rain may enter -but the King of England cannot enter – all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement.” Our Kabiyesi president and those coming after him and our big predatory parties should benefit from Pitt’s wisdom. His words are eternal but, of course, every rule has an exception. Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls, in one sentence, provided that exception: “No man’s house is to be used as a hiding place for thieves or a receptacle for stolen goods.” In other words, a man’s house ceases to be his inviolable castle if he uses it as a sanctuary for rogues and a place of refuge for stolen items.
The APC is not just a hiding place for thieves, it wantonly warehouses stolen offices and publicly celebrates the fullness of its dubious barn. Read Buhari’s weekend statement again. That party came to power on the wings of something it called ‘integrity’ deploring the depraved ways of the fallen angel, the PDP. But APC has, since its coming in 2015, outdone the PDP in all the bad things for which Satan lost his throne. As confessed by Buhari, his party has become very rich and big “because it has thrown open its doors to defectors from other parties, big and small.” A woman who proudly ‘throws open’ her ‘doors’ to every desiring wayfarer has descended into harlotry. Perhaps I was wrong in a paragraph above where I said that the ruling party lacked character. There is a point where habit and character cohere. A consistent line of behaviour is what is called character. Pre-2015 APC offered Nigeria a promise of change from PDP’s ways of doing things but it soon roared into life as it received six sitting PDP governors into its sweet-smelling home. It worked for it then, it should work for it now. Is it not said that only idiots (or the suicidal) throws away a piece of medicine that has proven very effective? You can accuse the APC of anything, certainly not idiocy and not self-murdering inclination. It loves life and enjoys conquering new, impenetrable grounds. That is why it burrowed its way into a very hostile Igboland getting PDP’s Umahi of Ebonyi in November 2020; and into the unfriendly creeks of the Niger Delta by carrying off, in immoral concubinage, Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River in May 2021 – and enjoying votes which it did not receive from voters. I think that is not right and it should be a crime. And there should be consequences for that crime against democracy; and for the two thief-types – the one who stole and the bigger thief who received what did not belong to him. And, so, the Abuja judge did not just punish the thief who climbed the rafters to steal its palm oil; the judge slammed the greater thief who made the theft possible; the party that received the barrels of oil, one by one. The judge made an order of perpetual injunction restraining forthwith the receiver – the APC – and “its agents, privies, servants and assigns or any person howsoever, from putting themselves out or parading themselves as the political party whose members occupy the office of governor and deputy governor respectively of Ebonyi State.” Everybody, including today’s pretenders to uprightness, stands to benefit from this judgement. But that is if the big men of crass inconsistency in our almighty Supreme Court would have mercy on Nigeria and its democracy. On their table, the buck stops.
A day will come when a party that scored zero in a presidential election will produce the president of Nigeria. It will happen unless we make it a crime for an elected official to defect to another party. One political party, the ACPN, scored three (03) votes in the 2019 governorship election in Ebonyi State. If Dave Umahi had chosen the ACPN as the destination of his odious defection, that barren party would have been ruling Ebonyi State with its three miserable votes today. That is what it means. And there are over 1,200,000 registered voters in that state out of whom 497,291 voted in 2019 to elect a governor to manage their lives and run their affairs. The Christian Bible’s book of Mathew 20:16 says “the last shall be the first and the first shall be the last…” I do not know the justice in that ecclesiastical decree but its downside happens routinely to good people. A system that allows losers to become winners cannot be a just system – and it must be undone.