I should have known that when an elder runs barefooted on a field of ekan grass, he is either chasing something or something is chasing him. He called me frantically but I was not in the mood for any gist last Tuesday morning. He called again and I felt that was rather unusual of him. I almost can’t remember the last time he drove himself into trouble, so why was he desperate to speak to me? He called again and this time I picked the call and told him I was about entering a staff meeting and so would not be available for a long talk.
“Just wait,” he cut in and quickly added that what he wanted to tell me would be too late by the time I was through with the meeting.
“There will soon be an announcement and I don’t want you to hear it through the media.”
“And what could that be about?”
“SA Media to Senate President Lawan.”
” Who? You?”
Silence from my end. Why court trouble again? I knew he dreaded and loathed this job after his 2015 Oyo State experience. I remembered we agreed that it was a job comparable only to that of night soil men. Sleepless nights packing careless faeces; getting soiled and getting ugly and bruised without adequate protection. It wasn’t a job we wished for our enemy. We always discussed this old South-South governor who ordered that his enemy’s house be demolished. Soon after the deed was done, he called his top media aides and instructed them: “I just demolished that man’s house, so, guys, go and clean me up. That is why I hired you. Clean me up.”
Such is how unfortunate the job is. But it has a lot of attraction to outsiders who see a lot of allure in it. Why? Probably because of the attention it gives the traumatized holder.
“Hello, are you there?”
“Yes. I am here…just thinking about so many things, especially APC and its failing and villainy. Can you survive it? Your schooling and our agreement?”
“Yes, the school, you are right…Look, let’s discuss the whole thing when I come. I’m at the airport in Abuja.”
Then the formal announcement came fifteen minutes later.
Festus Adedayo is my friend; a very close one. He met Senate President Ahmed Lawan in his Abuja abode the previous night for 42 minutes. They were seeing each other for the first time in their unrelated lives. One, a politician whose long years in the National Assembly have almost made him the landlord there; the other, a younger fellow who lives on writing and reporting. At the end of that meeting, the journalist was offered the spokesman’s job for the nation’s number three man.
Festus came home. I asked questions and we reviewed the ant-infested wood he brought home. Who is the contact person that brought you into this – or that brought this to you? He told me. I was surprised… And that significantly altered my perception of the subject and the subject matter.
“Now, when you met the Senator, what did you see? Who is he? What does he represent?”
He said he saw and heard a man who told him that his choice as spokesman was deliberate. He wanted to make a positive mark on the Senate presidency job and in the polity and so, did not want “just anybody” around him.
I once saw the man too at a distance – expressionless face, unhurried, urbane, educated. If he could truly be his own man, maybe, truly there would be some respite for Nigeria.
Wednesday. I was holed up as an external assessor in a teaching hospital and so was, for hours, cut off from the buzz and bustle of the world outside. A Kano-born, Abuja-based mutual friend called midway and asked whether I saw what was happening on Twitter. What? I asked. He said there was a war raging against the appointment of Festus and it was shameful that those pushing it were Yoruba people. The North wanted a northerner there, he said, “but all initial umbrage and hostilities against the choice of Festus here have been thawed.” He asked me to “do something about the South-West.” I laughed. He told me it was not a laughing matter. I told him if the noise was as loud as he said, then nothing would mute it. I told him that was the Bola Tinubu machine at work. It would not stop until it had its way. It has always had its way although there is no fidelity there to any edifying moral principle. If today Festus crawls to Bourdillon Palace to also eat pellets and flakes of caked excreta of the godfather, the e-rats who were crucifying him will chorus his candidacy for Central Bank governorship.
I did a quick check online and confirmed I was right, na dem. There was a trending hashtag: #sackFestusAdedayo created by the APC Senator representing Osun Central, Dr. Ajibola Basiru. He is my very good friend too, but I knew he was fighting a group war. I called Festus. He laughed at the other end while confirming a global social media campaign against him.
“They said I am Obote man,” he told me.
Milton Obote was the leader of Uganda who was overthrown in a coup d’etat by General Idi Amin Dada in 1971. As tyranny grew the hideous teeth of cannibalism in Uganda, anyone unlucky enough to be classed an enemy of the powerful Idi Amin was dubbed an Obote man. That was a capital offence.
Wednesday evening. Festus told me he had informed Lawan he was dropping the offer. That, really, was our agreement. Beyond the noise of the Lagos rabble, there were other personal factors that convinced our friend that that job offer should be trashed. The Abuja end would announce it in its own way. It was agreed.
Thursday morning. I called Senator Ajibola Basiru, the commander of APC’s social media commando assault against my friend. He launched out the moment I accused him of attacking my colleague. He did not ask who. He said my friend was “an enemy” who abused his own leaders all the time. He didn’t call Festus a ‘critic.’
My senator said: “He is an enemy, ki i se omoluabi rara. Imagine, that man called my boss (Rauf Aregbesola) ‘Tinubu’s lick-spittle’ – eater of Kelebe (phlegm)…”
My senator-friend did most of the talking while stressing that he was right to have launched the campaign against an “enemy” of the APC and its leaders. “It must be paining him now,” he added, and laughed at Festus’s short interview published by Premium Times in reaction to the vicious, online campaign against him.
I thought I should interject. I did, teasing him, “So, what if I was the one who was given this job?”
“We would have fought you too with all the powers we have. Egbon, you know I don’t pretend,” he said firmly.
I laughed; he didn’t laugh. He meant business and I knew it. But between us, we both knew that my river would never flow into the APC valley and get sucked in there; we have a history of frontal engagements. But then his vow confirmed that incautious, intemperate, unrestricted choice of words was not their only problem with Festus. At least, I had not called anyone licker of somebody’s sputum or a godfather’s poo eater but still, I was being told that I too, was an enemy.
Thursday evening, the Senate President’s office announced that it had withdrawn the appointment. Did the word “withdraw” reflect the agreement reached with Festus? I would not know. I was not there but I know that 24 hours earlier, both sides had agreed to his decision to step away from the job and move on with his life.
On Saturday, things took a clearer stance. Lagos newspaper, The Nation, ran a report which confirmed that, truly, Festus is an “Obote man.” The newspaper described him as “an avid critic of APC, Buhari and all they stand for” and more damningly, accused Lawan of giving the job to Adedayo, “a known Saraki loyalist in the media.” The author was not diligent enough to name what qualified Festus to be a Saraki person. I confirm here that if he meets Saraki today, it will be his first time ever of meeting the ex-Senate President. But they said he is ‘Obote man.’
I do not know if Senate President Lawan has read that piece which also exclaimed that he had outsourced his hiring powers to Bukola Saraki’s men. Saraki’s ex-Chief of Staff, Baba Ahmed, chose “Saraki’s boys” for Lawan as his aides – all six of them, the newspaper claimed in the report titled: “How Lawan misfired over appointments.” The piece contains very interesting bits and pieces of history of our politics and a wry prediction of the future of Lawan in that Assembly. I saw the ugly phrase, ‘banana peel’ appearing there and I winked at the writer and whoever dictated those lethal words. Banana peel was the treacherous stuff that tripped many of Lawan’s predecessors out of the Senate presidency before the end of their time. It means impeachment; it means forced resignation; it means removal, abortion by whatever means. Lacing that story with ‘banana peel’ and setting it in that particular newspaper is an omen, very deadly in its portents. I pray Lawan notes this and prays hard.
I have repeatedly read the last paragraph of the report. It is menacingly unfriendly, melancholic and sad; it is the helpless lamentation of an ambushed brigade – a victorious regiment that suddenly finds itself on a desolate shore of defeat. It suggests an admission of the loss of the Senate presidency one more time to wily Saraki. The paragraph is here: “As would be expected, the appointments have turned Lawan’s admirers and supporters against him. Although he yielded slightly to pressure by dropping Adedayo’s name from the list of appointees, he insisted on keeping the remaining five. The questions being asked are: Is he so naïve as to surround himself with loyalists of his bitter foe and chieftain of the opposition party? Can he side-step the infamous banana peel in the Senate by starting out in this way? How introspective is he? Does he really have what it takes to lead the Senate? Did he enter into a deal with Saraki without the knowledge of those who backed him to become the Senate President? Questions, questions and more questions.”
We have enough popcorn to engage us as we sit back to watch this unfurling Game of Chess. In chess, knowing how to sacrifice your opponent’s men is a mark of genius. The Senate president of Nigeria chose his personal aides and the roof of Nigeria was brought down because some people felt he is their lackey who should not take his breakfast, his lunch, his supper unless they say he should. He is supposed to be the head of the legislature but he was summoned to the Villa to explain why a certain journalist, an enemy of the president would be his spokesman.
The biblical John the Baptist did his baptismal acts immersing converts in water. Politics has none of the tender-handedness of John. The main element powering politics is fire, and that is what it is initiating Lawan with right now. If Senate President Lawan thought his very long years in the National Assembly were enough armour against the poisoned arrows of Nigeria’s power distributors, he should know better now. He should by now agree that being the number three man in this treacherous Nigeria is not the same as drinking pleasurable fura da nono. There are vultures and ravens hovering everywhere in his sky. They are not friendly birds.
Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday 24 June, 2019