Usually, I would call my wife after any momentous event and this had been an unforgettable day for me, possibly even the country. She hated me getting involved in politics. She would say, ‘You that you cannot keep your mouth shut?…They will frustrate you, o…’ It always thought she might also have been too embarrassed to say that those women politicians ‘that sleep with those powerful people to get whatever they want…’ would distract me.
‘Hey, MM…’ I will let you know what ‘MM’ stands for at some other time. ‘How did it go? How are you? Have you eaten? …Did they let you eat? I hope you did not take anything from them to eat o…’ She did not acknowledge my greeting. I assured her that I had been careful to take care of myself and I had not taken anything to eat from anyone. She was relieved. ‘So, how did it go? Have you prayed?’ The questions were many and rapid, I was not sure which to answer so I just said, ’How are you?’ ‘…We’re fine. …I just got back from the boys’ school. …The nonsense principal was saying one nonsense about GCE…I told him off!…’ I said, ‘Ha…’ but she had not finished. ‘Jo, help me call Shakiru to bring abodi, shaki, a good part of meat. …He should not sell me that kind of nonsense he brought the last time o. …Let him add liver, kidney. …Ehn hen, jo…make sure you call Auntie Carol o. …You know it’s not good that her brother…hmmm, wo what happened to her…anyway, make sure you eat o. Did you use your medication? Please tell Dare to help me buy pepper…I don‘t need much…and he should grind it…he’s a thief. I will tell you what he did when you come back…Don’t let them cheat you o…ok, later’.
She was gone. The party chairman was engaged in an animated discussion on the phone. Seeing as I was not needed immediately, I dialed Shakiru’s number, hopeful that I would remember all my wife sent me. Shakiru was in the market, so, it was very noisy at his end and I had to shout the instructions to him. I had to be sure he understood every word.
The party chairman gave me an impatient look without breaking his call. My loud voice must have been drowning whoever was on the other end of the phone with him. I lowered my voice into a loud whisper but Shakiru was still not hearing me. So, I took a deep breath and shouted. One last effort so I could stop disturbing the party chairman. It was all he needed. He strode over, snatched my phone and gave it to one of his assistants, Shakiru’s voice still screaming, ‘Eskis sir…’ in the background.
‘How can you, presidential candidate of our political party, be pricing meat on the phone with pressmen everywhere? Ha, e gba mi ke…a bi ee ri mi ni? Man yi nna eran l’ori phone ni now!…’ He spoke to no one in particular but he spoke to everyone, seeking their help to rescue him from me. I said lamely, ’I was trying to help my wife buy some…’
He opened his mouth to say something, stammered, shook his head and pulled me into a seat. ‘Please sit down…sir! We will call you when we need you! O gbo?’ I smiled. It infuriated him and he just hissed as he went off. He was like a storm on legs, people followed him everywhere he went. He was a general, in full control of his army, dishing out instructions on the go. Somehow, he remembered every instruction and followed them up. He would make a good governor. Just that he was corrupt as they come.
Women came and went, nodding as they passed, some came into the room just to see me in person. They smiled coyly, some knelt in native courtesy while two of them even asked if I wanted anything. I remembered my wife’s warning. You could tell that they had taken a lot of trouble with their looks, rich and powerful in their own rights and deploying their weapons early in the event that I did become the president. I understood. They wanted to be imprinted in my memory. I smiled politely and tried to look only straight ahead, though there was really nothing but a huge blank white wall crowded by one huge photograph of the party chairman, staring down with a fixed smile at me.
A bulky, black young fellow came to tap me lightly on the leg, ‘They’re calling you sir…’ ‘Who?’ I asked as I reoriented myself. I felt rather sticky. ‘Awon Chair, sir…’ I dragged myself up and followed him. I felt I had been run through a grinder and spewed out again. The energy in that house was maniacal.
I was led into a smaller room. There were a number of men and women gathered there. I recognized some of them. Some you would never had thought would associate with the party chairman, even out of sight. They had taken up all the seats and no one showed any inclination to offer me any seat. So, I stood there, unsure what to do. They were powerful men and women, people you read about in the newspapers. They came from many different civilizations across the country. They all wore straight stern faces. They had come to bargain.
The party chairman looked at me, ‘Gentlemen, ladies, this is Bimbo Manuel, you all already know him. …He was not qualified,…no education, no political experience, and no… Anyway, he is here. All of us agreed that he will be our flagbearer…BECAUSE…we all agreed at the last election that we will zone it to a Yorubaman, …we asked them to give us somebody. And…this is what they gave us…Baba Alagbole, over to you…’ He flopped back into his seat with an air of someone who hoped that he had done a good job of damaging the product.
Now, I need to tell you a little about Baba Alagbole, real name, Chief Babawole, just slightly older than me but because of his achievements, everyone called him ‘Baba’. He is a very good looking man who carried himself well and dressed well. UCLA-schooled and well-spoken. He it was who dragged me into this politics thing. He was the only one dressed in a sharp blue blazer and khaki pants with a crisp, sparkling white shirt open at the neck. A purple pocket square completed his dashing look.
He rose, and in his usual authoritative voice beckoned to one of the boys hanging around the entrance to bring a chair for me. The boy shoves a chair quickly behind my knees and I sank thankfully into it.
‘Ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for attending this emergency meeting…I respectfully disagree with our able chairman in the way he has run down our candidate…even if it is in private. It shows that even we are not convinced about our own product! That is not good. I think we should evaluate a product instead by its content; and I will like to invite our flag-bearer to speak for himself. …Our Chairman has already given us his own complaints, we should hear from the other side. …That is my position. Abimbola…’ He sat. There were murmurs in the hall. I waited for it to subside but one of the women stood up.
She was one of those gorgeously dressed women I had seen earlier. Her head-tie was stylishly perched on one side of her head, giving her a jaunty sexy look. She would have been well over fifty years old but she put herself together to pass for forty. With an air of confidence, she looked around the room and said, ’I stand with Baba Alagbole…I think we should just get to the negotiations quickly so that Mr. Manuel can be ready for the next campaign at Teslim Balogun at 4pm…’ She smiled in my direction.
I imagined what negotiations had happened and deals agreed before this negotiation meeting. There was an uproar with many supporting the motion and a few dissenting. The party chairman shouted, ‘One House!’ above all the noise and they slowly stopped talking.
‘There is no point wasting time. As Senator Harry has suggested, let us put it to vote quickly and move on…’, sure his position would win. The vote was quick and decisive. Almost the entire room wanted to go straight to negotiations. The party chairman tried to hide his shock. I think he felt that his party was breaking up and I was the cause. He gave me a look that roasted me where I stood.
Without a break in the rowdiness that followed the vote, everyone suddenly produced sheets of paper from nowhere, long lists of names. They offered them to the party chairman who raised his hands to indicate he had nothing to do with it. He pointed at Baba Alagbole and I. I was lost. After a moment of hesitation, Baba Alagbole collected the papers and handed them to me.
I stared blankly from them to Baba Alagbole, then the chairman and the others in the room who stared back at me with anticipation. All I could see were wolf eyes blazing red through dark tunnels…
‘I, THE PRESIDENT’ Series