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Who is the next president? By Lasisi Olagunju

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“Someone who should know told me that our next president has not declared yet; that all those who have so far declared won’t be president.” I call him my mystery friend from the north. I have never met him. He comes around into my social media handles like a thief in the night, he drops his very few words as private messages and disappears. On Saturday, he came again with the first sentence of this piece. My response to him was that I suspected so. He didn’t ask me why I did. But I followed up to ask him if he thought what we had was a democracy. He answered no; otherwise, some people somewhere won’t be Nigeria’s real electors who choose for us before our election days. They are presently playing the game the old effective way. They are breaking ‘declared’ heads with coconut shells. They have set the parties on fire. INEC gave political parties from Wednesday, April 6 to Friday, June 3 to conduct their primaries and settle all disputes therefrom. That deadline is 46 days away from today, but the political parties we have are not ready; they are sick, down with epileptic fits, fighting civil and internecine wars. The Lagos content of the APC has particularly been noxious in its fratricidal feud.
When a journey portends evil, the Yoruba call it Igbo Odaju; its direct English translation is forest of the heartless. Elders always warn girls without fathers and boys without mothers not to take that route. If such boys and girls are already on that road to peril, they are told to go back home. What is rumbling the jungles of Lagos APC is a war of witches, they know what they ate which has now inflated their bellies. Let no ordinary person go by their ringside to watch and speculate. I am an orphan, I have no father, I have no mother; may I never be found getting involved in that family affair. I hope the sick taking sides in this coven fight know the implications. It promises not to end in praise. I also hope such people know what I know: that a fish with a closed mouth fears no hook and never gets caught. Family members fighting over who takes the bedchamber of the charmer are particularly taking a dangerous gamble. Skulls will be cracked, limbs will be lost. You already heard the father declaring not having a son. And like Elesin Oba’s Olunde in Soyinka’s ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’, the son too may soon post a disclaimer: “I have no father, eater of leftovers.”
The frenzy we feel is like bandits struggling over the spoils of their felony. The world of crime bears very uncanny resemblance to what you are seeing playing out in the politics of your country. A criminal enterprise. That is what many call our parties and their governments. Criminal enterprises have structures and there are hierarchies in there. Crime mirrors politics as literature reflects life. Professor Akinwumi Isola did a review of crime in Oladejo Okediji’s detective novel, Agbalagba Akan. I refer to his ‘The Modern Yoruba Novel: An Analysis of the writers art.’ He writes on page 140: “The criminals are known and feared. But they still operate in the society using a network of services. Theirs is a syndicate with active branches in the neighbouring towns. Olori Aye is the chief of them all. He resides at Ibadan. Oyeniyi Seriki is the deputy at Egbeda; Lamidi Olojooro controls Lalupon; Adegun directs operations at Origbo. Olori Aye (alias Doogo) has the last say in everything. He does not consult anyone on any point, he gives out orders that must be obeyed. Each time he says something he adds ‘Mo pa a lase ni o (it’s an order).'” That is the geo-politics of crime according to literature. At every level of our politics, you see each of the characters mentioned above. There is always an Olori Aye (supreme head of the world) calling the shots, directing the affairs using able lieutenants like Olojooro (the fraudulent) as ruthless foot soldiers. Think deep and look around; they are here.
But is this how we will continue? Swift-legged hare once found himself among flesh-eating beasts of the jungle. How did he come back home in one piece? He said he hung out with the big cats with ogbon inu (inner wisdom) and escaped with opolopo imo (a lot of understanding). Those are what we need to survive this season of war without help. Don’t you find it curious that as terrorists kill, maim and abduct, and relations of victims wail and beg our government to please be government, what concerns the regime is completely different? It is not even the next election. That one is settled. What remains to be done must be done. The government decreed last week that very early next year there would be census, the sum of the Nigerian people. There are millions hiding in diseased forests either as terrorists or as victims of terrorism. Will they be counted too? What better way to rupture the vessels of the system than having census and elections lumped together right in the middle of a war? So, I beg you, stop praying to these gods for protection, they assault their own temples with poisoned offerings.
The Nigerian presidency has a synonym, it is death. It is a repository of what a poet calls “the seven things of price.” It has gold; it has silver, pearl and coral; it has catseye, ruby and diamond. That is why people kill persons and characters and good manners to get into the vault. Daily I watch ambitious southern Nigerians seeking to be president of Nigeria. You cannot say you know how many they are. Even they themselves know not their number. As the list lengthens daily, so is the acrimony that attends their politics. The many from the south fight dirty; the four or five from the north form a Man United team stalking the riotous south, seeking holes to sink their goals into. Where brothers fight to the death, strangers inherit their father’s property. It is not only unthinking siblings who suffer this fate. Friends, associates deliver one another to the enemy whenever they think only of themselves. And, here, I consult the Greek, Aesop, classical master of ageless tales.
Aesop wrote his very many tales long before the sun and the moon were born. There is the one he entitled: “The Ass, the Fox and the Lion.” It is the tale of Ass and Fox, comrades who moved together daily, shoulder to shoulder, and lived on the generous carelessness of their society. Aesop says Ass regularly fed from cropped fresh bits of greens while Fox derived his nutrients from devouring chickens from a neighboring farmyard. Fox also filched cheese from the dairy next door. Aesop continues and says: one day, the pair unexpectedly walked into a Lion. The Ass was very much frightened, but the Fox calmed his fears. “I will talk to him,” Fox told Ass.
So the Fox walked boldly up to the Lion. “Your highness,” he said in an undertone, so the Ass could not hear him, “I’ve got a fine scheme in my head. If you promise not to hurt me, I will lead that foolish creature yonder into a pit where he can’t get out, and you can feast at your pleasure.” The Lion agreed and the Fox returned to the Ass. “I made him promise not to hurt us,” said the Fox. “But come, I know a good place to hide till he is gone.” So the Fox led the Ass into a deep pit. But when the Lion saw that the Ass was his for the taking, he first of all struck down Fox who thought he was smart and safe. The end of the comrades is the end of their tale.
There is also a grander story from father of English poetry, Geoffrey Chaucer in his magnum opus, The Canterbury Tales. It is the story of three riotous fellows “who lived for gaming, eating, drinking, and merrymaking.” They set out one day to kill Death because Death killed their friends. Chaucer writes: “…One of the drinkers then swore an oath on God’s sacred bones that he would seek Death out. ‘Listen, friends, we three have always been as one. Let each of us now hold up his hand and swear an oath of brotherhood. Together we will slay this traitor Death!’ And thus with a blasphemous curse, they swore to live and die for one another and together to seek out and challenge Death before the next nightfall. In a drunken rage, they set forth…swearing grisly oaths as they went.”
How did they end their story? Instead of meeting Death, it was fortune that met them. Chaucer continues: “They found a pile of golden florins, well nigh onto eight bushels of them, they thought. The sight of all the bright and beautiful florins quickly caused them to abandon their search for Death, and their thoughts turned to how they might best protect their newly found treasure. The worst of them spoke the first word, ‘Brothers,’ he said, ‘Fortune has given us this great treasure, but if we carry it home by light of day, people will call us thieves, and our own treasure will send us to the gallows. We must take it home by night, and then with utmost prudence and caution. Let us draw lots to see which one of us should run to town and secretly bring back bread and wine. The other two will stay here and guard the treasure. Then in the night we will carry the treasure to wherever we think is best.'” The lot fell to the youngest, and he immediately departed for the town. The two behind plotted to kill the one who left so that they could have enough of the treasures. The one who left thought through his plot too to kill the two so all the treasures would be his. Both sides succeeded in their plots. The youngest came back with food and drinks and the two ran their daggers through his back. “They killed him, just as they had planned, and when the deed was done, one of them said, ‘Now let us sit and drink and make merry. Afterward we will bury his body.’ And while still talking, he drank from the poisoned bottle, and his friend drank as well, and thus the two of them died.” End of story. Now, the question is: Who inherited their treasure?
Who is Nigeria’s next president? That is the only question worth asking now. The next president is not among those killing one another before the day of battle. That is what my northern friend said. Except history sloughs off its skin, my friend will be right. No one who demanded the presidency of Nigeria has ever got it. Let’s look at history starting from 1999: Olusegun Obasanjo was drafted into the race; he drafted Umaru YarAdua into the race; death installed Goodluck Jonathan; Muhammadu Buhari got it only after he announced he was quitting politics. The system brought him back, cleansed him of the curse of perpetual inelectability and put him on the throne. Everyone knows unreadable Buhari is scheming to do what Obasanjo did in 2007. We wait to see how far he can go with his plans – outside the power court (and cult). When an elder loses what Teresa Washington describes as “control, composure, and reticence,” he loses his place at the pinnacle where spirits hold court. The choice has never been Nigerians’. The owners of Nigeria always take charge at the appropriate time and level. They always give us their choice to elect. We pay the price, they take the bride. Meanwhile, let the feuding old birds in Lagos APC continue their flight of death. It is their last rite, their last flight.

Strictly Personal

If I were put in charge of a $15m African kitty, I’d first deworm children, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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One of my favourite stories on pan-African action (or in this case inaction), one I will never tire of repeating, comes from 2002, when the discredited Organisation of African Unity, was rebranded into an ambitious, new African Union (AU).

There were many big hitters in African statehouses then. Talking of those who have had the grace to step down or leave honourably after electoral or political defeat, or have departed, in Nigeria we had Olusegun Obasanjo, a force of nature. Cerebral and studious Thabo Mbeki was chief in South Africa. In Ethiopia, the brass-knuckled and searingly intellectual Meles Zenawi ruled the roost.

In Tanzania, there was the personable and thoughtful Ben Mkapa. In Botswana, there was Festus Mogae, a leader who had a way of bringing out the best in people. In Senegal, we had Abdoulaye Wade, fresh in office, and years before he went rogue.

And those are just a few.

This club of men (there were no women at the high table) brought forth the AU. At that time, there was a lot of frustration about the portrayal of Africa in international media, we decided we must “tell our own story” to the world. The AU, therefore, decided to boost the struggling Pan-African New Agency (Pana) network.

The members were asked to write cheques or pledges for it. There were millions of dollars offered by the South Africans and Nigerians of our continent. Then, as at every party, a disruptive guest made a play. Rwanda, then still roiled by the genocide against the Tutsi of 1994, offered the least money; a few tens of thousand dollars.

There were embarrassed looks all around. Some probably thought it should just have kept is mouth shut, and not made a fool of itself with its ka-money. Kigali sat unflustered. Maybe it knew something the rest didn’t.

The meeting ended, and everyone went their merry way. Pana sat and waited for the cheques to come. The big talkers didn’t walk the talk. Hardly any came, and in the sums that were pledged. Except one. The cheque from Rwanda came in the exact amount it was promised. The smallest pledge became Pana’s biggest payday.

The joke is that it was used to pay terminal benefits for Pana staff. They would have gone home empty-pocketed.

We revive this peculiarly African moment (many a deep-pocketed African will happily contribute $300 to your wedding but not 50 cents to build a school or set up a scholarship fund), to campaign for the creation of small and beautiful African things.

It was brought on by the announcement by South Korea that it had joined the African Summit bandwagon, and is shortly hosting a South Korea-Africa Summit — like the US, China, the UK, the European Union, Japan, India, Russia, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey do.

Apart from the AU, whose summits are in danger of turning into dubious talk shops, outside of limited regional bloc events, there is no Pan-African platform that brings the continent’s leaders together.

The AU summits are not a solutions enterprise, partly because over 60 percent of its budget is funded by non-African development partners. You can’t seriously say you are going to set up a $500 million African climate crisis fund in the hope that some Europeans will put up the money.

It’s possible to reprise the Rwanda-Pana pledge episode; a convention of African leaders and important institutions on the continent for a “Small Initiatives, Big Impact Compact”. It would be a barebones summit. In the first one, leaders would come to kickstart it by investing seed money.

The rule would be that no country would be allowed to put up more than $100,000 — far, far less than it costs some presidents and their delegations to attend one day of an AU summit.

There would also be no pledges. Everyone would come with a certified cheque that cannot bounce, or hard cash in a bag. After all, some of our leaders are no strangers to travelling around with sacks from which they hand out cash like they were sweets.

If 54 states (we will exempt the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic for special circumstances) contribute $75,000 each, that is a good $4.05 million.

If just 200 of the bigger pan-African institutions such as the African Development Bank, Afrexim Bank, the giant companies such as MTN, Safaricom, East African Breweries, Nedbank, De Beers, Dangote, Orascom in Egypt, Attijariwafa Bank in Morocco, to name a few, each ponied up $75,000 each, that’s a cool $15 million just for the first year alone.

There will be a lot of imagination necessary to create magic out of it all, no doubt, but if I were asked to manage the project, I would immediately offer one small, beautiful thing to do.

After putting aside money for reasonable expenses to be paid at the end (a man has to eat) — which would be posted on a public website like all other expenditures — I would set out on a programme to get the most needy African children a dose of deworming tablets. Would do it all over for a couple of years.

Impact? Big. I read that people who received two to three additional years of childhood deworming experience an increase of 14 percent in consumption expenditure, 13 percent in hourly earnings, and nine percent in non-agricultural work hours.

At the next convention, I would report back, and possibly dazzle with the names, and photographs, of all the children who got the treatment. Other than the shopping opportunity, the US-Africa Summit would have nothing on that.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. X@cobbo3

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Strictly Personal

AU shouldn’t look on as outsiders treat Africa like a widow’s house, By Joachim Buwembo

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There is no shortage of news from the UK, a major former colonial master in Africa, over whose former empire the sun reputedly never set. We hope and pray that besides watching the Premier League, the managers of our economies are also monitoring the re-nationalisation of British Railways (BR).

 

Three decades after BR was privatised in the early to mid-nineties — around the season when Africa was hit by the privatisation fashion — there is emerging consensus by both conservative and liberal parties that it is time the major public transport system reverts to state management.

 

Yes, there are major services that should be rendered by the state, and the public must not be abandoned to the vagaries of purely profit-motivated capitalism. It is not enough to only argue that government is not good at doing business, because some business is government business.

 

Since we copied many of our systems from the British — including wigs for judges — we may as well copy the humility to accept if certain fashions don’t work.

 

Another piece of news from the UK, besides football, was of this conservative MP Tim Loughton, who caused a stir by getting summarily deported from Djibouti and claiming the small African country was just doing China’s bidding because he recently rubbed Beijing the wrong way.

 

China has dismissed the accusation as baseless, and Africa still respects China for not meddling in its politics, even as it negotiates economic partnerships. China generously co-funded the construction of Djibouti’s super modern multipurpose port.

 

What can African leaders learn from the Loughton Djibouti kerfuffle? The race to think for and manage Africa by outsiders is still on and attracting new players.

 

While China has described the Loughton accusation as lies, it shows that the accusing (and presumably informed) Britons suspect other powerful countries to be on a quest to influence African thinking and actions.

 

And while the new bidders for Africa’s resources are on the increase including Russia, the US, Middle Eastern newly rich states, and India, even declining powers like France, which is losing ground in West Africa, could be looking for weaker states to gain a new foothold.

 

My Ugandan people describe such a situation as treating a community like “like a widow’s house,” because the poor, defenceless woman is susceptible to having her door kicked open by any local bully. Yes, these small and weak countries are not insignificant and offer fertile ground for the indirect re-colonisation of the continent.

 

Djibouti, for example, may be small —at only 23,000square kilometres, with a population of one million doing hardly any farming, thus relying on imports for most of its food — but it is so strategically located that the African Union should look at it as precious territory that must be protected from external political influences.

 

It commands the southern entrance into the Red Sea, thus linking Africa to the Middle East. So if several foreign powers have military bases in Djibouti, why shouldn’t the AU, with its growing “peace kitty,” now be worth some hundreds of millions of dollars?

 

At a bilateral level, Ethiopia and Djibouti are doing impressively well in developing infrastructure such as the railway link, a whole 750 kilometres of it electrified. The AU should be looking at more such projects linking up the whole continent to increase internal trade with the continental market, the fastest growing in the world.

 

And, while at it, the AU should be resolutely pushing out fossil-fuel-based transportation the way Ethiopia is doing, without even making much noise about it. Ethiopia can be quite resolute in conceiving and implementing projects, and surely the AU, being headquartered in Addis Ababa, should be taking a leaf rather than looking on as external interests treat the continent like a Ugandan widow’s house.

 

Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:buwembo@gmail.com

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