By Lasisi Olagunju
The aged died, we replaced him with the chronically ill; who does not know that there will be wailing once more soon in the palace?. (Arugbo ku a fi olokunrun j’oye; taa ni ko mo wipe ariwo k’eekan l’aafin?). This Yoruba proverb covers the field of fears of those worried about the age and health of those seeking to be our president in 2023. The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) at the weekend gave regional fillip to this. It made a public call for any medical report that would nail the presidential aspiration of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Asiwaju of Lagos. Spokesman of the ACF, Emmanuel Yawe, as reported by The Guardian, said Nigeria must be saved the agony of having another president with a health challenge. “The people who have the evidence that Tinubu is not strong enough for the presidency should save us the agony of having a sick president in office. They should speak out,” the ACF stated. It cited the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, who was sick and died in office. It also cited President Muhammadu Buhari who, it said, always travelled abroad for medical attention.
Legitimate as that call was, I have a problem with it. I know the ACF speaks for the North and not for Tinubu’s All Progressives Congress (APC). And so, I am amused that a regional group was making that demand of an individual among many seeking the crown. I am surprised that the ACF just assumed that Tinubu is the automatic candidate of the APC-and even the president-in-waiting. That is rather unfair to the many others who will square up to the leader. It is even more unfair to Tinubu who has been singled out for medical scrutiny. For that call to be godly, it would have to be re-made and applied to all in all parties fighting to be our leader. But were Tinubu not in this race what would be his position on this matter? He would clap and applaud the ACF’s unjust position or, at best, maintain a conspiratorial silence. That is my problem with him-and it is fundamental. It makes sympathizing with him difficult. Tinubu’s politics endorses only that which flows from its spring head-and which benefits it. That has been the practice since his ascendancy. But it is suicidal for the powerful to think he should be the only force in town. After all, is it not said that “without impalas and hyenas, the lion cannot be the king of the jungle.”?
Last week, Tinubu was at the Villa in Abuja where he told the media that he was a kingmaker who would be king in 2023. Where else apart from Ibadan do kingmakers become kings? In 15th century England, there was Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick who was nicknamed ‘Kingmaker’ and who enjoyed living the title. History describes him as “the most powerful magnate in the land” who helped enthrone kings and saw to the deposition of kings. He was powerful but power is like money; it is never enough. Neville’s desire for power and more power led to changes in his allegiance. His loyalty to allies shifted and moved with the speed of his ambition. At long last, he fought against his one-time ally, King Edward IV, in a campaign that ultimately led to his death on the battlefield at Barnet in 1471 (see schoolshistory dot org). Tinubu’s claim of being kingmaker after meeting a non-committal incumbent was loud and pompous. He did not fear the world (ko beru aye; aye toto). I watched his regal loneliness as he addressed the press in that Villa of treachery and felt sorry for him. If I could, I would have shoved Kahlil Gibran’s insightful poetic warning in his face: “Travel and tell no one/ Live a true love story and tell no one/ Live happily and tell no one/ People ruin beautiful things.” Kahlil Gibran was a Lebanese-American writer, poet, visual artist and philosopher with great priceless words for the wise. Unfortunately, the Lion of Lagos has grown too big to listen to the voice of moderation and it is too late already. The enemies heard him clearly and are circling him. If you don’t agree with me, listen to the reaction of northern leaders who held a strategy conference in Kaduna on Saturday. The convener of the meeting, Professor Ango Abdullahi, directly addressed Tinubu’s claim: “I heard that somebody was saying he is the kingmaker and now wants to be king. It is not that I want to be seen to be arrogant, but the North has always been the kingmaker.” He said this and got a loud applause.
There is a bush rat called òkété in Yoruba. If you’ve ever dwelt in the wild, you would understand my drift when I say this rat points its own home to death each time it steals palm fruits (òkété tó bá jalè ẹyìn ni filé ara rẹ̀ han ikú). That is what conspicuous accumulation of claims and privileges does. It invites hate and destruction. It becomes more problematic if those claims are audaciously poisonous and repugnant to good conscience. If a man makes meals of taboos and insists no one could question him, one day the ultimate quizzer will query the deviant. It is like the one whose father died and he then demanded to inherit his own mother as widow. A shocked world heard his weird demand, exchanged glances and kept quiet. The world knew that that one had long passed the line of return. (Bí ẹnìkan ń jèèwọ̀, bí ẹnìkan ò bíi, bó pẹ́ títí, ohun tí bí ni, a máa bí ni, èèwọ̀ a sì máa bèèrè, dífá fún ẹni tí bàbá ẹ̀ kú tó lóun ó súpó ìyá òun). Those who do what the world approves, they live; the ones who make wrong their right are buried in the mounds of life (Wọn ń ṣe é, ilé ayé ní gbé, wọn kii se é, n bẹ lóde ọ̀run…).
It is not strange that the North has shown zero appreciation to Tinubu for his great gestures. The behemoth called northern Nigeria does not befriend anyone whose wife it cannot sleep with. Like M.K.O Abiola, Tinubu is the North’s bosom friend. He was in Zamfara State last week in solidarity with the government and people of the state over their security challenges. He even donated N50 million to the victims. Earlier, in March 2021, he was in Katsina where he made a donation of N50 million to Katsina Central Market victims and to rebuild the market. These are huge gestures of brotherly feelings. Yet, there has been no word of thanks from the Arewa Consultative Forum, from the Northern Elders Forum and from the more militant CNG – Coalition of Northern Groups. Instead, what Bola Tinubu has been getting are poisoned arrows aimed at the throat of his life ambition. Now, the lesson is, never let your charity begin abroad. More importantly, if you sold your relation for a paltry sum, you would not be able to buy him back for good value (Eni to ta ara ile e lopo ko le ri ra ni owon). You remember Tinubu’s South-West has continued to suffer blistering insecurity. Remember the Akesan Market in Oyo Alaafin that got burnt on Sunday, January 5, 2020. Reports said losses recorded there were worth billions of naira. The blaze left over 900 traders in pains and ruins. The Oyo fire victims waded through the disaster without a glance from the ultra-rich Bourdillon. Seyi Makinde’s government has rebuilt the market but there was neither a word, nor a kobo, nor a minute sympathy visit from the kingmaker of the South West. If you love someone, her house won’t be too far for your feet. Lagos, where Tinubu lives, is 226.6 kilometres to Oyo town; Katsina is 102,273 kilometres to Lagos. Tinubu chose Katsina as the destination of his largesse. He loves the North.
Successful kingmakers are also king breakers. The very process of choosing who would be king creates implacable enemies for the maker of kings. Like Banquo’s ghost in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, aborted ambitions always lurk around to inflict vengeance on the kingmaker who procured the abortion. I have read columns and comments that were very unfriendly to the kingmaker who wants to be king. I have also read counter-comments from friends of the attacked accusing the songbirds of prebendal criticism. And I say: this contestant has flowery associates and powerful writers who lick his lips and wantonly bite his opponents. Were they paid too? The bottom line is, let no office seeker seek to be Kabiyesi who is beyond questioning. Throne seekers should always pay for their deeds and misdeeds. The wise stays away from trouble knowing that whether king or kingmaker, the benefits are the same. Bashorun Gaa of old Oyo was renowned for obsessive power, yet when he was greeted ‘Kabiyesi’ he ran and shouted No – “K’araole l’aa k’Oshorun” (‘May you be well’ is how the city greets Bashorun). When a kingmaker covets the throne, he invites trouble and disaster. He is no longer a watcher of the king; he has become an object in the range of the king’s binoculars. That is why those whose lot it is to put princes on the throne retreat after every coronation. The Yoruba put it in this elegant way: move near the king in seven steps; stay far from the king in six steps. It is wisdom harvested from the facts of history that the blood of king makers paints the foot mat of the throne.
Nigeria has suffered too much at the hands of bad-headed leaders. It needs a break from the cycle of misfortune. Yet, the fog won’t be clear enough for a safe landing on the tarmac of 2023. In the mall of leadership, many are seen, very few are select-able. Who should be the next president? My elders have a narration. At the very beginning of time, 401 princes of the heavens contested for the position of the controller of the universe. Olodumare (God) took a very long look at them one after the other and asked: how would you rule the wild world and stabilize it? Four hundred out of 401 said they would reign over the world with heartless iron hand; with fists and knocks. The ones they could bribe they promised they would bribe; the ones that needed to be broken, they said would be broken. It was their panacea for the chaos of the beginning. This is the way Yoruba’s ancestors put it: “…Oníjà-oòle, níjọ́ tó lóun ó joyè Ọba Atúnlé-ayé-se. Wọ́n bi i pé kín ni yó fi máa sèlú, ó ní ọ̀dájú, ìkà, ọwọ́ líle. Wọ́n ní Oníjà-oòle ò le è j’ọba Atúnlé-ayé-se…” One after the other, the wicked were rejected. The lone head that was different-his name was Fiwajoye. He laid compassion and justice on the table and he got the crown: Won bi Fiwajoye, ki loo fi se’lu? Fiwajoye ni ọgbọ́n, ìmọ̀ àti òye lòun ó fi tún ilé ayé ṣe. Wọ́n fi Fiwajoye j’oyè Ọba Atúnlé-ayé-se. Ayé rójú, ìlú tòrò. Ká ṣe é bó ti yẹ ká ṣe é, kó lè rí bó ti yẹ kó rí. Do not ask me for further translation of those lines. They come from the unfathomable depths of the earliest times; they are the ancestral poetisation of what the world forever grapples with while foraging for the leader that would care. We have to be deliberate in the march to freedom. I have heard some Yoruba persons wondering why their baby-girl’s beautiful waist would be bare while we deck a foreigner’s with coral beads. And I asked: What kind of logic is that? Those who strung together the beads of that wit and wisdom also warned that our palms must not deceive us. They said we should never use our own hands to poison ourselves. We cannot have a country of peace and plenty when we bless ourselves with bad-headed leaders.