“Confidence is like a dragon; for every head cut off, two more heads grow back.” That is from Criss Jami, poet and author of Venus in Arms. There is no moral mountain the confident will not seek to degrade. A party is proposing a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket and it is dead serious about it, mobilizing talkers, writers and scribblers to force it through. “Don’t look at religion; look out for competence.” That is the argument of the proponents. Did they not argue against that argument when the North attempted to use ‘competence’ to ditch geographical zoning of the post of president? “The South has competent people,” we cried and joined them to shout down the North. Now, the victors are talking about a single-faith presidency as if there is no competent Christian in the North. Can Muslims accept a Christian-Christian ticket? Shakespeare in Titus Andronicus says “be as just and gracious unto me, as I am confident and kind to thee.” But justice to this political band is whatever gives them victory. They will ask us to keep quiet or simply look away. When you’ve never lost a battle, there is no war you won’t seek to start. But this is a war for Christian soldiers to fight or not to fight. We are in a season of money; hard dollars – and the market is booming. Let the cassock sell the temple; it is their choice. I sit back and watch how this audacity succeeds to the shame of all who deploy complicit silence to seek justice for all.
I move to other matters, the Peter Obi challenge and its social media embers. Peter Obi says he is the saviour that is coming to slay the dragons of Nigeria. His friends say so too and I smile. ‘To Kill A Dragon’ is a 1988 Russian film that should interest anyone searching for lost people to salvage. A knight wanders into a town terrorised by a three-headed, fire-breathing dragon. Knight offers to kill Dragon but the town’s high and low say no. They say the terror did not start today; Dragon is 400 years old and has become their kin. They say they are coping and will continue to cope as their ancestors did. They say Dragon is a very generous one who protects them from other dragons and even feeds them from its loots. They say Dragon may take maidens as unfailing annual sacrifices but it has lived long enough to become their own blood brother and only bad people treat brothers as enemies. But Knight is a heady, obstinate warrior with a mission. He fights Dragon, kills the demon but is mortally wounded and the people he saved blame him for his woes. They say they warned him and that his eyes have seen what he searched for. But not all heroes die in battle. Wounded Knight gets better over time and finds the townsfolk rejecting freedom and their children in love with reincarnated Dragon. Knight remembers what is said about every dog set free: it soon runs back, on its own, into the doghouse. Knight agrees finally that big Dragon isn’t the only terror in town. The impossible people are far more dangerous than the three-headed monster. “The dragon will have to be killed inside each of them,” he says with a heavy heart.
If social media will elect the next president of Nigeria, Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi, will be it. He rocks the place the way Bola Tinubu rocked APC’s national convention last week. What happened at the APC convention in Abuja was a hurricane. Of course, you know what that is: A strong wind that holds hands and locks fingers with rain, thunder and lightning. Figure out what rained at the Eagle Square that drenched out Tinubu’s opponents and silenced his enemies. The Villa went there with royal oil to anoint a successor, then there was thunder and there was lightning and the anointing bottle exploded in their pocket. The Peter Obi people are trying to do exactly that to the big parties and the owners of Nigeria; but the Obi party is deploying online tools. And I ask: how far can they go with their activist politics? Does social media make presidents? If you asked Donald Trump, he might respond with a yes, it is possible. The man told Fox Business Network in October 2017, during his presidency: “I doubt I would be here if it weren’t for social media, to be honest with you. When somebody says something about me, I am able to go bing, bing, bing and I take care of it.” But that was Trump, master of hyperbole. Social media alone won’t vote anyone in.
Obi’s people are roaring on social media. They say they are mobilizing online and will kill all destiny killers in Nigeria. It is sweet to the ear. Social media is a field of battle where impatience and irreverence fight shoulder to shoulder. It is not a place for tremulous vote hunters even if they are super-rich. In this 2023 social media contest, dollars and dullards are not in control there; Obi is – at least for now. His people are not taking prisoners. But Obi’s enemies are there too and they seek to cut him to size. Social activist, Aisha Yesufu, campaigned on Twitter for Peter Obi on June 10 and a storm roughened the sphere. She said “we need a president and not an emperor.” The mention of ’emperor’ was a broadside directed at the billionaire candidates of the PDP and the APC and their supporters know. If she had stopped at what we didn’t need, possibly, there would have been peace; but no. She stepped out with the claim that “the only person that is going to be obedient or ‘Obidient’ is Peter Obi.” In politics online and offline, there is a reply to every comment, benign or caustic. And so, one Ibrahim asked Aisha: “How much did they pay you this time around?” Aisha’s reply was a mouthful: “Much more than your mother has been begging for. My regards to her. Tell her to not give up.”
Incivility and digital aggressions may be ugly features of online politics, but they make the game sweet and worth the play. Replies that followed Aisha’s barbed arrow were gasps and cheers. “Nice response,” said one. Another posted: “what a response.” One asked her to be his teacher on how to shoot down insults: “this one is solid and hot, back to back.” Those ones are likely Obi’s people. Then there was the one who challenged the appropriateness of her dragging Ibrahim’s mother “into the conversation instead of answering the question or simply ignoring it.” Unfortunately for that person, he also didn’t stop at that safe harbour. He added his own to the thread of insults, grating Aisha with: “that says so much about you as a mother, which I suppose you are.” Aisha Yesufu would not let that go unanswered as well. She said, softly: “My youngest child is 20, and if you see any of my children behaving like you and him are doing, please, drag me into it because I obviously failed at doing my job properly. I ask you to go meet your mother so she also concludes on her job. Motherhood is a never ending job.” There is a social media phrase for these insults; they are called ‘savage replies.’
So long for social media wars. They rarely lead anywhere no matter who wins them. The dragons of Nigeria are deeply entrenched. Any knight that will dislodge them risks losing his soul to their allure. See what we’ve redefined democracy to become. It is dirtier than harlotry; money for hand, back for bed. Are we completely irredeemable? There was a time in America when party bosses collected money from candidates in primaries and swayed delegates to where their palms were greased. In case you find it difficult to believe this, read what American author and politics writer, E. R. Kaiser, says about that part of American history: “Politics played a big part in the life of this town years ago. Campaigns were hot, and there was always a big celebration afterwards… Votes used to be bought — that is before the secret ballot was adopted. Some sold ’em pretty cheap. I remember one old fellow who sold out to one party for a dollar — then sold out to the other for the same price.” That was in the late 1800s America but the society never applauded what that vote-selling fellow and his ilk did. The revulsion was such that in the first two decades of the 1900s, enough reforms had, according to the US Library of Congress, “mitigated the corrupt control of party and state bosses” over delegates and their votes at primaries. The US system is almost perfect today; we applaud it. It is like the spick-and-span streets of Mecca; it is clean and neat because some people are not resting on their brooms. This is 2022 and I am here whining about this month’s open purchase of votes from delegates by big Nigerian politicians in big parties.
Or, maybe, we are not wired to run democracy according to its book definition. We worship money – the ultimate decider of which bed sleeps with our votes. Yet, we tell ourselves that we are democrats who must protect the cretin we call ‘our democracy.’ We forget that the one who deceives himself will be deceived by his chi. Democracy here is “spring water flowing desert-wards” (Ayi Kwei Armah). It cannot thrive because “the desert does not give; it takes.”
If Peter Obi wants to go to town as our knight in shining armour, he needs to learn from Bola Tinubu how to pluck voters and pocket their votes. More importantly, he must also ‘capture’ the owners of the voters if he will rule this country. Tinubu did it successfully last week. Someone said while Tinubu’s opponents were doing retail buying of delegates, the Lion of Bourdillon was capturing rivals and governors who owned the delegates; and he won spectacularly. The old man was noisy in his ‘it’s my turn’ demand but it was a decoy, a veneer over his realpolitik strategy. Obi is very loud too but social media noise is no music in parties and in politics. I did my doctoral work on social media and elections. A question I asked repeatedly in the course of that journey was: Can social media elect anyone in Nigeria? I asked Ayodele Fayose that question after the 2014 governorship election in Ekiti State which he won. His response was: “If social media could make anyone governor, (Kayode) Fayemi would be in this seat today.” Incidentally, Fayemi and his spokesman also told me that “social media alone cannot elect anyone.” They were right, very right. There are other more potent factors. Money is one, lots of it in bullion vans; it is the vehicle of political evangelism. But that vehicle needs drivers; that is where people come in. You need people, very hard and soft people who will cheer you when you falter and shoot down the other side’s attempt to shine. My thesis is that people are as important as money. Remember what Achebe says here in his Things Fall Apart: “We do not pray to have money but to have more kinsmen. We are better than animals because we have kinsmen. An animal rubs its itching flank against a tree, a man asks his kinsman to scratch him.” Obi should read that again. The person who has money and people – soft and hard people – wins. Tinubu deployed hard bucks and burly men in Abuja last week and his music has become the only one on every lip. Fayose mocked Fayemi in 2014. Four years later, because experience teaches better, Fayemi filled the gaps and staged a phenomenal comeback. He is winding down now; the election of his successor holds this week. On Saturday, June 18, 2022, it will be Fayose and Fayemi again – by proxy. A lot will happen there beyond social media. Obi’s people should go there and see what gets people elected.