I stood in the middle of the room, alone, confused, everyone else seemed to suddenly have something to do. I tried to stop a few of them as they bustled to and from but no one seemed to remember me and how important I was anymore. It was the World Press Conference and nothing else mattered. So I sat and watched Donald Trump as he gesticulated wildly as usual before a crowd on the mute television. I knew what he was saying by heart, ‘No quid pro quo, nothing…ask the man who gave the deposition himself, he said I told him I want nothing…I don’t even know the man that well…’ He waited for the crowd to finish hollering their support, smiled, looked around proudly like a magician who just performed an impressive sleight of hand. I always found him interesting. I don’t like him but, like my Chairman, you cannot ignore him. You cannot ignore a president who says ‘bullshit’ on live global television. You should not.
The Party Chairman returned, shoved a thick sheaf of papers into my hands and beckoned me to come with him. A surprising burst of resentment welled up within me at being treated so like his vassal. The man is not even half as educated as I am, I thought to myself. But I followed him. I had to. He could drop me on a whim and I was not ready to offer him such a chance. So, I followed, trying to hold my head up as ‘the presidential candidate’ I am supposed to be. I think I may have looked sheepish instead in my now rumpled party ankara agbada, sokoto, buba and the cap already askew.
As we went, he warned me not to make mistakes when I am reading the script. ‘Shebi you are even a broadcaster sef…oya, oya…’. With that, he bundled me into a large room I never knew existed in his house. Tables had been set, complete with white tablecloth and the large room which would easily have contained a few hundred people, starts filling up with pressmen from radio, television stations, newspapers and blogs who shoved their midgets onto the table and some almost into my face looking for the first word. One of them asked, ‘Sir, there are rumours, are you a full Nigerian…?’ I smiled and sat, the Chairman and other senior party members flanking. A few journalists from Europe and other places were also present.
The Campaign Manager stepped forward, ‘Please, be seated….let’s take our seats…please let us be orderly…everyone will get a chance to speak with His Excellency…thank you…’
I looked through the hall, locking eyeballs with a few, especially the foreigners, I turned and bowed in public deference to my Chair. He acknowledged it appreciatively and gave his nod for me to start.
‘Ladies and gentlemen of the press, firstly, my party and I appreciate your attendance of this first World Press Conference at such notice…we consider it very important that we talk to you today…now, as we approach the critical stages of this election cycle. Thank you, Mr Chairman, for your wisdom…’. He rose in his full majesty and smiling broadly, raised the campaign song. The hall exploded, even some of the journalists joined in. I waved the hall into silence and as the Chairman sat back into his chair, he pulled me down to whisper to me, ‘Next time, let me finish singing…it is not good PR to be stopping the Chairman from singing during campaign…especially in the presence of oyinbo people…’ I didn’t know that it offended him but since no one else heard our conversation, I smiled broadly to hide my anger and embarrassment. ‘Carry on…’, he snapped.
‘Ladies and gentlemen of the press, we have watched with growing depression, the recklessness of this government and the rapidly deteriorating conditions inflicted on the country and our people by their incompetence, greedy habits, ostentatious lifestyles and fake fight against corruption! They have proven themselves to be masters of that same offence against the humanity of our nation!…However…’ The Chairman again dragged me and whispered in my ear, ‘Ki lo nse yi now, man yi? Read the address I gave you, now…!’
I tried my best to recover quickly from his disruption and cleared my throat loudly. ‘Let me be clear, as a point of manifesto, agreed upon by all the leadership of our popular party, that our country, a sovereign nation, proudly independent under God, will no longer stand by waiting for other nations who have made themselves morality policemen of the world to take our citizens for trials in their own countries, under their own laws which we do not understand… If any citizen of Nigeria is found to have committed a crime, we shall insist on the fairest trial, wherever it may be…or they repatriate them to this country and we will try them, according to the laws of our land, fair and just… We will not tolerate corruption, acts that permit a few to take the commonwealth of the many and appropriate it to themselves…’
The Chairman fidgeted in his seat as did many others on the high table. The pressmen were writing furiously away, some on their cellphones whispering animatedly.
I resumed. ‘So, where are we going?…I will take you there…’
The Party Chairman jumped up and grabbed the microphone from me. ‘Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen of the Press…Mr Manuel has to be at a meeting shortly and we will have time for only three questions…we will allow our friends from outside the country to take one of the questions…Yes…?
Hands shot up very quickly. The Chairman pointed at a white lady ‘Yes?…’ He held on to the microphone. I felt rather relegated while it all happened.
The lady consulted her notes as she asked her question. ‘I am Elena Giorkos, CNN…I have three questions. At the campaign ground, you left in a hurry, in the middle of your campaign and here, there seems to be a power struggle between you and your party officials, especially the Party Chairman… Are you in control? Are you being gagged? Also, you promised to steal technology and knowledge from more developed countries… That would be a crime, don’t you think? And finally, what is your position as an African leader, towards President Donald Trump of the United States, seeing as he does not seem to have a clear agenda concerning Africa, and…?
The Chairman spoke quickly into the microphone, even before the lady was done. ‘Look, look, Madam CNN…there is nobody controlling anybody here in our democracy and nobody is gagging anybody. Our candidate is here himself and he will confirm to you that he has a free hand…according to all the points of development our great party has mapped out for our dear country…’ He turned to me and asked pointedly “Abi, candidate?’ I could not possibly have said anything contrary. I nodded mutely. His look was triumphant. ‘Next?’
Madam CNN was however not going to let go so easily. ‘That’s alright sir but, the rest of my questions…?’ The other journalists were already acting edgy, almost angrily at her persistence. The Chairman reluctantly handed me the microphone and his eyes never left my face, daring me to say one word wrong. I started cautiously.
‘You see, madam, we are a nation in a hurry. We need to jump and not stroll to the next level and if stealing is what will take us there, let me assure you that we will. In my part of the country, we have a saying that it is those who are caught in the act that are called thieves. We will not be caught so no one will be offended when we steal what we need to move our country forward.
‘Will this be your official position?’ Elena asked. ‘And as for the American president…’ I continued, ‘…other parts of Africa may yearn for the validation and handouts of America and other countries, we have had enough and we are grateful for it, but Nigeria holds no expectation when it comes to what the United States of America can give or what opinion its leadership holds about us. Like America and the other members of the United Nations, our sovereignty is our most cherished possession and we will guard it with all we have. On the world stage, we will position ourselves as co-equals with any other nation, everyone will be our friend and we will belong to no other clique than humanity and that which works to our benefit…we acknowledge the leadership of Mr Donald Trump over his own country but…he will not lead, influence or dictate anything in my country, under my government…’ The room exploded. The Chairman beamed and gave me congratulatory pounds on the back that threw me forward. He shook my hand as he steadied me.
Other hands shot up but the Chairman already grabbed me by my ankara agbada and pulled me out of the room. There were disappointed complaints from the hall. Elena Girkos was already standing in front of her camera and filing her report, ‘…Like Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, he is Bimbo Manuel, an actor, writer and idealist…’
Sweat dripped down my spine and trousers. I tore off the agbada and the Party Chairman asked jocularly, ‘You are feeling the heat already…’ and laughed as he fetched two glasses and a rare bottle of cognac. I heard that if he is offers you from that bottle, then you are in his good books. I called my wife to tell her how I had fared so far that day…
(To be continued tomorrow) .
Bimbo Manuel, November, 2019
‘I, The President’ Series.