By Lasisi Olagunju
Like graceful, snowy egrets basking in the afternoon light, the Pyrates Confraternity sailed out last week on the streets of Lagos. In white and scarlet, they did it with much noise and got lots of shrieks from owls and bats of the night. It was their outing; the beauty of their song triggered the chat I had with some friends who thought the song melodious but inappropriate. The pyrates sang about “Baba” whose hands shake and legs quake and yet insist that it is his turn to be king. Some felt the seadogs counted the toes of the nine-digit emperor in his very presence. But the songwriters and the singers mentioned no name! The singers did the music and the dance in Ikeja in broad daylight and without wearing masks. Perhaps that is why the wizards and witches of Lagos are angry. The owners of Lagos think their ravens are the only birds permitted to kill and eat names and fames at noon – and at night – without consequences.
There is a time allotted for every activity under the sun. Some things are done at night – like rites of passage, calabash opening for the egregious, deposition rituals. Shakespeare says it better: “Deep night, dark night, the silent of the night,/The time of night when Troy was set on fire;/The time when screech-owls cry and ban-dogs howl,/ And spirits walk and ghosts break up their graves,/That time best fits the work we have in hand,” (King Henry VI, Part 2). The pyrates chose not the darkness of the night to do the work they had in hand, a war on entrenched political piracy. It was better done in plain sight of the day. They made the high sun guide their boats as they sailed and danced on the floors of the palace and announced to the diseased baálè that his mother was a witch.
Three things are the most precious in this world; one of them is “to say a word of truth before someone of power.” That is from Imam al-Shafi (767-820 AD), Arab Muslim theologian, writer, and scholar and the famed first contributor to the principles of Islamic jurisprudence. I am not a seadog, but I sail with the pyrates on this bold voyage of truth against Long John Silver and the piracy on our high seas. Long John Silver is a character in Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel, Treasure Island. I read his enchanting story 44 years ago in Secondary Modern School; difficult to forget. There are others: King Solomon’s Mines (1885) and Allan Quatermain (1887) – both by H. Rider Haggard. Today, when I see characters and treasure-hunting movements in our politics, I race back to the books of that era and pick characters assailing our moral castle. Long John Silver is a compelling, piratical character described by a critic as “treacherous and willing to change sides at any time to further his own interests.” But he is also courageous and “wise enough to save his money, in contrast to the spendthrift ways of most of the pirates.” The narrator says of Silver’s physical health: “His left leg was cut off close by the hip, and under the left shoulder, he carried a crutch, which he managed with wonderful dexterity, hopping about upon it like a bird. He was very tall and strong, with a face as big as a ham—plain and pale, but intelligent and smiling” (see Treasure Island; 1883, page 82). “He was brave and no mistake” – but a robber.
Someone listed courage and passion as the primary strengths of sailors and their captains. I note the Pyrate Confraternity’s statement after their ‘subversive’ act. I read their August 9, 2022 statement and their resolve to continue to use their… “compelling songs to advocate for good governance and accountability!” I saw other things in that statement: Those at the event were over 2,000 and they “came to Lagos from all over the world.” So, they were not all Igbos – Peter Obi’s people! There were more attenuating claims in that press release: The confraternity “does not mock or discriminate against the physical condition of any person”; it does not do politics or endorse candidates but it is “committed to the enthronement of a just society in which no one is discriminated against based on tribe, religion, gender or disability.” Fair enough. But that is what those railing against the procession for healthy governance are against. My kinsmen will be happy if the seadogs endorse their tremor as our future’s stabilizer.
Waist beads are seductive accessories of beauty; every African mother used to string them for their girl-child. The bells of the beads rattled desire in the past; today they provoke the right to be voted for by kith and kin of contenders to the throne. The beads are on arrogant display in the Yoruba political space; they say all of us must string them for the waist of a presidential candidate because he is our child. The àwa l’ókàn people want joiners in their anger with the seadogs and their song for health. They wonder why some of us sing along with the pyrates.
And I ask why they are angry. Did they hear their candidate’s name in that song of grace? Did they not say that their candidate was fit body and soul and raring to go? Is there a kábíyèsí (ask-him-not) in a democracy? No. So, why should the decrepit be what they present as captain in the present turbulence? And they say no one should shout even with a song! Did they not know what happened to the palace where arúgbó (the very elderly) died and olókùnrùn (the invalid) was selected as the successor? That particular palace became a continuum of sorrow and sadness. Of what use is a democracy if all it offers are pains and tears of infirm leadership?
The choice for next year is a hot-button. Eject bed bugs from your home; allow bat bugs into your life. That is the meaning of choosing a bedmate from among the evil. They are all bloodsuckers who snack on the life of the careless. And, you know, BAT itself is a dangerous pet; it is the primary host of not just bat bugs but also deadly viruses, including the Ebola virus. I have friends who say they love BAT because he is a generous bird of good portent. And I ask: really? I am a Muslim, my friends are Christians. I ask them to read what their Bible says in Isaiah 5:20 about good and evil; darkness and night; bitter and sweet. My friends confess that today, and tomorrow, they know the contesting options are not pleasant; but we cannot walk away from all of them. We must make a choice. They think the 2023 choice is not exactly Hobson’s take it or leave it. From what we have, we must vote for one. That is their position. And their choice evokes confusion in conviction; they bet on a creature that is both bird and rat – or that is exactly neither; a flying rat. My friends think the thought of The Knight in Cheikh Hamidou Kane’s ‘L’aventure Ambigue’ (Ambiguous Adventure): “He who wants to live, who wants to remain himself, must compromise.” They think dressing the owl in feathers of light would make it stop heralding death and disaster. No. It won’t. And I told them so. I added that their man’s battle cry, ‘Èmi l’ókàn’ sounds like hemlock, the poison that killed Socrates.
There is a slithery complementary diet to the èmi l’ókàn menu. It is ‘omo eni kò s’èdí bèbèrè ká f’ìlèkè sí ìdí omo elòmíràn’ (you don’t leave bare the shapely waist of your child to bead your neighbour’s daughter’s). They forget that not all waists deserve beads. What if the child does not have ‘idí bèbèrè’? Moshood Abiola, God bless his soul, had a proverb along that line: “A string of beads is too large for Toad’s waist, twerking Snake now offers her own!” I wish someone would be out soon to tell truth to the entitled kingmaker who wants to be king. He should wake up to the reality of his not being an Awolowo or an Abiola. Bola Tinubu of the APC is no Obafemi Awolowo, the first Premier of Western Nigeria during whose time children of the poor became English speakers. Everyone becoming literate was thought not possible until the leader came and led responsibly. There is an everlasting song acknowledging that service: “Ayé Awólówò yí mà ti dára/Àwa omo t’álákà ns’òyìnbó…”(This Awolowo era is good/children of the poor are speaking English). Again, Tinubu is no Abiola, a billionaire businessman who did good to strangers abroad and to folks at home (King Sunny Ade acknowledged that in a famous song: MKO se f’álejò, ó se f’ónílé). Tinubu-inspired songs too. He was in Lagos as governor and we heard folks chant ‘jeun s’ókè’ – the ancestral pre-chorus to Fayose’s song of the stomach. Every leader is his own songwriter. Abiola was the first chancellor of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso. Tinubu is also a past chancellor of LAUTECH. What legacies did each of them leave behind in that ‘small’ hole? Check history; ask parents; ask ex-students.
So, to whom will your vote go: the herdsman, the patient, or the miser-exaggerator? That was an old classmate, a King Cobra in our Great Ife days, cynically asking whom I would vote for in the 2023 presidential election among the three leading candidates. ‘Patient’ here is a customer-care noun used by caregivers in hospitals for their clients. It has about seven synonyms, all ghastly. And, maybe, ‘patient’ as an adjective will also be apt for the invalid. ‘Herdsman’ today is a metaphor for mass murder and abduction for ransom; the hurricane of pains and torrential tears soaking homes across the country. The exaggerator overstates things. ‘Miser’ is a tight-arse or tight-ass person, a squirrel, a hoarder of treasures. To whatever constitutes treasure, I add truth and facts and their derivatives. So, why should I vote at all? And why not? We can choose the least of the evils, another friend counseled. I told him I don’t like evil; I set fire to all evil forests.
Like the Pyrates Confraternity, I have no candidate in the coming election. And I continue to struggle with that decision. What comes then if everyone makes no choice as I insist? If we desire peace and good life, this thing we call ‘democracy’ can’t give us, no matter who is there at the top. I vote for a renegotiation of what we have. I ask my friends to go back to our good old Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar; the “hooting and shrieking” of the bird of the night “even at noonday, upon the marketplace.” What follows that very bad omen? If Abubakar Atiku of the PDP wins, in six months, the country will convulse and become rent – North versus South. You will see frontline columns along old fault lines. If Tinubu or Obi wins, we should expect the banditry of the North to become more global, encouraged by their enablers, and very uncontrollable. Fighting the terrorists will become suicidal for the government. This will happen as the government trembles under the weight of northern blackmail. Those who birthed the felons will become riotous if a Tinubu or an Obi government fights terror the way it should. The pushback from the South will be decided and decisive. Our nation and its democracy will convulse. It will happen.