‘My people, my people!…’
I looked at the sea of heads and mainly angular faces, a mass of people, hungry, poor, sweaty, their bright, ugly party uniform with my face and name boldly emblazoned on it not succeeding in hiding their hopelessness. The Party Chairman, a giant of a man, greed written all over him, looked at me, with pride that traversed the space separating us. His ample belly rocked violently as he laughed. He egged me on.
‘…People of Nigeria, we can do it…’, ‘You will…!’, they yelled in response and the Chairman rumbled with laughter again. The stage heaved in uproar. A low hum settled slowly on the stadium. ‘Yes, we will…we will take the best and brightest of our country and send them to faraway lands to learn! …we will not waste time, money and energy trying to reinvent the wheel anymore! Knowledge, technology, science, business…we will learn it where it has worked…’ They screamed ‘Yes!” ‘We will borrow it…we will buy it…and if they won’t sell it or teach us, we will steal it!
‘…But we will not ever remain the same again!’ They shouted ‘Yes’ even more loudly. ‘…China, South Korea, America will teach us technology…!’ They roared again. ‘…our children will master the deep sciences of the Nordic nations…Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark…they will bring back their knowledge. Together, we will build this country…Together, we can!
The crowd roared ‘We will!’ Some started to shout ‘You will!’ The Chairman’s eyes glinted with an odd mix of satisfaction and suspicion, beaming widely, eyes forming thin slits in the fat folds of his face.
The Party Campaign Manager grabbed the microphone and shouted ‘We can!’ The response was rather limp but he carried on. ‘So, go tell them in your ward, your street, your compound, your family…Bimbo Manuel is our man!’
The crowd broke into the now popular campaign song ‘Bimbo Manuel, even if you don’t contest, you have entered!’ as the Campaign Manager jubilantly raised my hand. My eyes met those of the Party Chairman and he gave me a sneer for a smile. I smiled back. I hoped it appeared genuine.
I was hustled off the stage immediately after, followed by all the party chieftains. The Party Chair bundled me into his own monstrosity of an SUV and the driver immediately took off. The din of the crowd followed us.
We got to his house. He finally spoke. ‘Ah, Oga Bimbo! What was that?’ I must have been a picture in righteous innocence. He grumbled ‘Don’t be doing like you did not do anytin. What you are saying is not our party agenda, o!’ I was quiet but it angered him even more ‘Ah, you cannot be president like this o’
‘Chief, what exactly did I do?’ I tried an even more impressive version of my most innocent face but it seemed to infuriate him the more. He looked like he was about to have a cardiac arrest, then, he dropped his voice. ‘Sit down…your excellency…’ That last part had a ring of sarcasm to it that I had never heard before. I sat. The dour faced party chieftains sat staring at the floor, the walls, the outlandish television set, everywhere but myself and the Party Chair.
He sighed heavily, head bowed. ‘Look, to be frank with you…I don’t like you…’ He added quickly ‘You did not do me anytin o, …ehen ehen. But even you too know that I cannot ever in my life as a politician of forty years standing pick you to even join my party not to talk of becoming my presidential candidate…ah, lai lai!’ One of the men, a dark, wiry fellow from the North with a cap so high he cannot rest his head on the back of the sofa intoned ‘Haka ne! True!’
‘You still haven’t told me what I did, my Chair…’ I said. It seemed that everything I said made him mad. ‘Don’t call me Chair! I am not your Chair!…You did not tell people that you will send their children to America and all over the world to make them engineers and scientists…? Who does that?’
It was my turn to be stunned. ‘Ah’ was all I could manage. He replied with an instant ‘Yes, now!’
One of the women, head-tie flaring so widely no one behind her could have seen what was ahead, rose; her hand raised for permission to speak. ‘V. O. P!’ Everyone answered: ‘Life more abundant!’ That is, apart from the Chair and myself. He, because he was still upset, and I, because I had not quite mastered the party call and response. That made the man give me another disdainful sideways eye.
The woman continued: ‘I think we should let our candidate explain himself so that when we go to the next campaign, this kind of thing will not happen again…’ No one had the courage to say anything. It is unsafe to get into the bad books of the Chair. He waved imperiously in my direction. ‘Ngbo, explain, o…’
I rose. ‘V.O.P!’ The response was more instinctive than enthusiastic. I smiled and bowed slightly in deference in the direction of the Chair, and began: ‘First, let me thank you for this opportunity to explain things and the chance to serve my country on the platform of our great party. I am new in this terrain and I defer to your expertise. Like you, I am a passionate nationalist…otherwise, none of you would have given your time, money, energies and other resources to making sure that we wrestle this country from the agents of neo-imperialism who have put personal profit ahead of true and pressing national interests…’
Tall Cap shouted ‘P.O.Fee’ excitedly. I smiled in his direction. ‘Haka ne!’, he muttered. One down.
‘Great men and women…men of honour, vision and ability…men and women of valour!…if I had my way, I would crown each of you a national hero, and maybe I will…when I become your president!…freedom fighters who dared the worst that humanity could throw at you…you remained standing to be counted!’
Wide Head-Tie shouted ‘V.O.P!’ The response was more enthusiastic and even the Chair adjusted himself in his seat, waiting for more.
‘What I propose that we sell to our people is the vision of a new country, a great nation that has made giant strides in some ways…but acknowledges that it has failed in very many other ways…we are a great people, blessed with high intellect, industrious drive, creative energy and a never-say-die spirit…’ I paused for effect, searched through the room, locking eyes with each, challenging them. They waited as my eyes settled on the Chairman’s face.
‘Look at our most able Chairman here…a man who has seen it all, been there, done that…he fought in the trenches in the days of NADECO, he led men…personally, by the hand, through the paths of grave political danger, spending the hard-earned rewards of his hard work in life on the freedom of his people…he deserves our gratitude, he and you all, his many able and committed generals…but what do they have to show for all their sacrifice?
Chairman hissed long and loud. ‘Nothing!’, he moaned. I picked it up instantly, ‘Thank you, my Chair. Nothing but…distrust, abuse, accusations, even his most honest intentions are regarded with suspicion by those who stand against true progress in this country!’
Tall-Cap rose and raised the campaign song, ‘Eben ip you no quantes…’ The Chair waved him down and nodded to me to continue. I bowed to him again. ‘I am not the messiah but…I can be your John The Baptist…’
One elderly man who had, until then, seemed like he had dozed off, sighed heavily and muttered ‘Ochiuzor!…Carry on…’ The Chairman jumped up, with some effort and waved everyone to silence.
‘Enough! Bimbo…Mr President, don’t say anymore…for now…eerm, Jimi Disu…where is he?’ Everyone looked around but he was not there. ‘Where is that man now…it is only when he wants to cause trouble that we will see him…mscheew, wo, Alhaja, call Shola Oshunkeye and tell him to gather his people for a World Press Conference! Our President-In-Waiting will address them and tell them the rest of his plans!’
He pulled me aside quickly as the others burst into excited chatter. ‘Just say it as you are saying it here in our midst now…’ His small darting eyes searched my face for a beat. I hoped he could not see my eyes through my glasses. ‘Don’t get there and go and change it for us, o…ehn? I nodded. ‘Ehn?’ He repeated. I smiled and nodded again. ‘Don’t nod, just say ‘yes’, ah!’
‘Ok sir, my Chair’ That seemed to please him and he was off to organize his people before I could say another word…
- Bimbo Manuel,
‘I, THE PRESIDENT’ Series.