A Poverty Of The Mind: The Tale Of An Electorate – By Charles Onwubuya, Guest Writer
It was an election year.
At the civic centre situated next door, rice and groundnut oil were being handed out to dozens of fellow citizens who had trooped to the centre, drawn by the sound of jamboree and noisy music. The circus was a familiar one. It was political jobbers at work. The boisterous bunch of self-proclaimed ambassadors of the ruling party were in their elements, depleting precious oxygen as they furiously and feverishly worked their lips on the musical instruments hanging and dangling like beaks from their mouths to produce noise. The sound of a thousand Kakakis and Vuvuzelas rent the air as the political jobbers cum jingoists competed in an apparent show of artistry and creativity of a laughable nature. The circus would herald the arrival of a convoy of four sleek SUV’s (all jeeps) and a luxury bus which headed the convoy. The arrival of the convoy took a grand prix fashion. Talk about speeding and leaping cars and adrenalin-jazzed drivers.
So the convoy settles in and four tall, huge, barrel-chested, bulging biceps and mean looking guys – ‘muscles’; step out from one of the jeeps – all dressed in black – jean and T-shirts. Almost immediately, twenty men equally file out of the luxury bus, all clad in customized Ankárá uniforms with the ruling party’s symbol prominently embossed across its dimensions. But unlike the men from the jeep, these set of men are a heterogeneous mix along the lines of built. The only other common denominator amongst these set of men apart from the uniform, is their glazed eyes. Every single man from this group appeared ‘stoned’ from something.
The ‘muscles’ take strategic positions – military-style, beside the three other jeeps. Presently, one muscleman reaches for the door handle of the last jeep in file and carefully opens and holds the door for a certain occupant. The fellow steps out with an air of authority and has his hands packed full of sleek mobile phones. As if on cue, all the stoned-looking men – the men in ankárá uniforms, raise their hands in unison and stamp their feet in tualé for the phone loving VIP. There are also dozens of hailings from several quarters around the perimeter of the civic center in recognition of Mr. VIP’s presence. Mr. VIP barely acknowledges the people’s salutations as he hurries off to the jeep closely tailing behind the luxury bus that is at the head of the convoy. His movement is a drag, impeded by his bulky frame. He eventually arrives the passenger door of the vehicle after a spell and the door eases open as someone makes room for him within the confines of the vehicle. The door closes behind Mr. VIP just as soon and the rest of the world are consequently shut out. Not even an eagle could see through the dark, tinted glasses of the vehicle.
Fifteen minutes later, the convoy, with the exception of the luxury bus, embarks on a slow circuit around the perimeter of the civic centre and the windows on all the vehicles are peeled down to fully reveal all the occupants within the convoy of sleek SUV’s. Only the second vehicle in the convoy satisfies the crowd’s curiosity and holds any new personality of interest. It’s the vehicle bearing the boss of bosses. The ‘oga patapata’ takes the cue, extending his arms out the window and waving to the crowd who hail him, shouting praises of his name. The bespectacled senator with thick lips beams a thousand watt smile in appreciation and reassures the crowd; his constituency of his commitment to serving them and having their best interests at heart even as he seeks their vote. At the far end of the passenger seat, the senator’s protégé and Nollywood star earns his own dart points as he shares in the acclaim. He is all smiles and charming as he acknowledges the people’s praise and even shake hands. Someone from amongst the crowd tries to exploit the moment, holding onto the Nollywood star cum aspiring senator’s hand for a protracted period after a handshake and gesticulating in appeal for money to feed. Just as soon, two men clad in ankárá uniform materialize and grab the smartass. They shove him away.
Mr. VIP observes all the drama from his vantage position within the confines of his SUV. He picks up a phone to dial a number as his eyes trail the tracks of the smartass and his captors. He is incensed by such effrontery and he barks commands into the phone just as soon as the receiver at the far end picks up. Someone was definitely going to pay dearly for his present state of mind, Mr. VIP decided to himself as he considered the embarrassment to his clients. It wasn’t enough that the same idiot had earlier been screaming an abominable pseudonym from the sidelines like a baboon on heat, distracting him as he left instructions on how the contents of the Ghana-must-go-bags moved from his Principal’s vehicle to the luxury bus, was to be disbursed, following their brief consultation inside ditto vehicle, and he hated distractions. His contemplations stuck with him as the convoy made its way out of the civic centre a few minutes later, right after the circuit and details about how the distribution of spoils had turned into a slugfest would be told by Magbonene for a fee.
Every street and neighbourhood in Lagos had at least, one personality in the likes of Magbonene.
Magbonene happened to be the daring folk who had held onto the aspiring senator cum Nollywood star’s hand, seeking for change from the actor to feed his habit. He was also guilty as charged, for screaming an abominable alias from the near sidelines – an alias that Mr. VIP was trying so hard to shirk. His transgressions would not go unpunished.
“Aswear, money yapá for two bags”, Magbonene had begun, kicking off his handsomely rewarded reportage with his signature phrase, “aswear” which literally translated to an effort at telling the truth which veracity, regrettably, was questionable for most of the time. At the moment though, his swollen eyes and split lips – the wages of his sins, did greater damage to the believability of his narrative more than the established fact about his perpetual state of drunkenness. He did gain a bit of credibility though, at the end of his account. There were hard evidences to buttress some of his claims.
While his interesting narrative had taken five minutes to unpack; twenty four years and still counting, its’ principal morals remains lost on a number of Nigerian electorate. The fight that had led to other fights had broken out when a certain disgruntled party loyalist felt he was being shortchanged by a bunch of illiterates and hoodlums who lacked the administrative capacity to execute the simple task of ‘sharing the metaphorical crumbs from the national cake’ provided by the established senator with thick lips and his mentee whose last name is said to rhyme with idiot, and Magbonene is partly in agreement with the party loyalist who, sadly, had suffered a lethal stabbing by one of the ankárá-clad men – the party charged with the task of dispensing with the spoils that the ten Ghana-must-go bags that had been moved from the senator’s car, enclosed. The party loyalist had scorned at the offering of the paltry sum of two thousand naira for both his loyalty and the solicitation of his vote for the elections coming up in a fortnight. He deemed it preposterous and undermining of his qualifications and level of exposure. It was crazy and deriding, looping him together with a mass of desperate and hungry humanity.
Magbonene agrees with the party loyalist only as far as the absurd sum that was being offered. The two thousand naira that he had been offered for his loyalist services to the party was way below the package that would at least serve sufficient to provide contentment for any loyalist and benefactor for that matter. Judging from the bulkiness and the stacks of cash Magbonene believed were contained in two bags, he considers sufficiency and contentment as an offer within the range of 25 and 30k.
But for the most part, he had silly words to say about the party loyalist and his sympathizers, who thought they were better than most just because they were educated. What made them any different from the lot that had been queuing up at the civic centre for the 5kg economy bags of rice and the 1 liter size cooking oils that had also been on offer before the fight broke out? He’d asked me, and all I could do was mope while I’d silently grieved the irony that his question implied, which is the fact that the greed of the elites – those who are supposed to know better than most about the many bitter and unholy implications of a franchise, wrongly exercised, has for the most part, kept us, economically, in the doldrums. A fact that has in recent times, made us the cockroach, and not the purported giant of Africa. Magbonene would abandon me and my thoughts shortly after, seeking for potential buyers for his hard earned booty from the mayhem that resulted at the civic centre. He had in his cache (one of those large sacs used for packaging processed cassava flakes) three economy bags of rice, four cooking oils, customized stationeries and two sealed android phone boxes – his prized bulls. Dozens of android phones, I had leant, constituted the icing on the crumbs of the national cake that was on offer.
It is four years later and the general election is coincidentally two weeks away. Our mentality, I fear, hasn’t changed, even though the prayer on our lips is for a better Nigeria. I can only hope that our prayer is matched with good intentions and actions.
Charles Onwubuya is a creative writer by passion and an engineer by training.