What intrigues writers and philosophers about King Oedipus was not just that he killed his father and married his mother. It was that he didn’t mean to marry his mother and kill his father. He meant well for his people and himself. Dramatists say he had a ‘tragic flaw.” As the play winds down, you feel sorry for the man as his impetuous flamboyance leaves him. He is onstage, tottering, wailing, blind, flailing, dying, and arriving at the knowledge of his epic folly.
When our own Ola Rotimi adapted that play to Yorubaland, he called his work, The Gods are not to Blame, and up till today, critics still wonder what happened to the king. I, too, wonder today as I look at the political incarnation of father and son in conflict in Yorubaland today.
More intriguing is that Jimi Agbaje will be the last to call Bode George father. Yet, not long ago, the evidence compelled otherwise. George sees himself in a regal way in PDP politics in Lagos. Therefore, anyone who wants to ride on the party ticket must first bow at his portal. So, when Agbaje pooh-poohed progressives to duel Akinwunmi Ambode for Lagos governor, he enjoyed George’s nod.
Even while the gubernatorial battle wore on, tensions bled between father and son. Agbaje and his men had sniffed a victory. They began to share the spoils before the game fell. In their premature celebration, they plotted to sideline the former military officer and party wheel horse. George, on his part, baited him. Not knowing they would be pole-axed by the diligent former Lagos technocrat, both waited for the polls. They salivated in vain for victory. Ambode bested Agbaje. Father and son sulked in silence. George had promised to flee the land after a loss but his feet and wings froze in Lagos.
Until a new game beckoned. The PDP looked for a party chairman. A storm started brewing between both men. Both are eying the meaty prize. No one is ready to relent. They are spilling blood in public. It is official: son has divorced father, and father is irate at the vaulting ambition of the son. It had not been a great relationship between father and son. They never witnessed Shakespeare’s wish: “when a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry.”
Son did not acknowledge father gave him a platform to run for office. But we are witnesses to how George invoked his regal might to checkmate another renegade known as Obanikoro or Koro. Koro knew he was rigged out of the helmsman’s position in the primaries. He invoked all the deities of party and society. He fought with money and law and influence. He lost.
George saw a gladiator in Agbaje to fulfil his selfish dream to own Lagos. He knew he could not do it himself. He wanted his son to do it. He probably had read writer Frank A. Clark that “a father is a man who expects his son to be as good a man as he meant to be.” Agbaje sold his progressive convictions for a mess of ambition and sought to fell his foes that serially defeated him in the past. Father wanted to ride son and son wanted to ride father. No one had the opportunity to mount the saddle. Both had a common enemy in the APC in Lagos. But they were not friends enough to fight the enemy. So, both fell and never laughed nor cried together in public. Rather, they are eating their own flesh. An Agbaje sees George as ‘agbaya’, while George sees Agbaje as wayward and prodigal, or “omo ti o leko” (a spoilt child). Youth scowls up at age; age drips with contempt. He may be lamenting like Shakespeare in his play, The Tempest, that “good wombs have borne bad sons.” That is assuming that he has a good political womb.
The Agbaje-George slugfest reflects the existential duel within the bigger PDP. It is a battle between interlopers and the mainstays, between renegades and faithful, between old guard and new feathers, between the worms and the bones, between the moles and the moulding. It is a battle between two morally fetid enemies. The end is not good. With one convention after another clipped by the court, by a technically happy judge and another imperious judge, the PDP is fighting over a carcass. Ali Modu Sheriff, who was a renegade in the APC before the PDP governors called him to be a legitimate renegade, planted himself into a mainstay. He rebuilt the party when the governors like Fayose, Wike and Mimiko, could not. Now, they seem to have found their rhythm, and they want him out. They used him and wanted to spit him out. They are coming back to their own vomit.
It is not different from the case of George and Agbaje. They made Agbaje a factor in Lagos PDP, and they want to flush out the worm. George is paying for his opportunism just as the bigger party is paying for bringing a flawed character like Sheriff, with all his Boko Haram baggage, to head the “greatest party in Africa.” They gave two carpet baggers, Sheriff and Agbaje, the main floor to dance, and they want to pull the rug underneath. There will be consequences. The party is paying for its self-indulgence and opportunism.
It all shows that George does not know how to be a father and Agbaje does not know how to be a son. History and literature abound with clashes like this. James Baldwin in his opus, Go Tell it on the Mountain, where father Gabriel never confesses he is Royal’s father before he died. Okonkwo was never wanted to talk or be like his father Unoka in Things fall Apart. Elesin Oba and his son belong to two worlds in Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, expertly performed with binary flavour at the Freedom Square by Crown Troupe recently. Or Turgenev’s Basarov who dies disavowing his father’s world in his novel Fathers and Sons. Literary artists, like journalists, are fascinated with such dramas when father fails son and vice versa. But the United States had founding fathers whose sons we see prosper from generation to generation up to Obama. It can work.
But the bigger PDP is fighting a more potent father: its ghost. It is at war with what PDP used to be, a swaggering, corrupt, bullying behemoth awash with money. They are holding on to a carcass. Just like a scene in the novel, Revenant, where the protagonist in cold weather hollows out the inside of a dead horse and slips inside and turns the carcass into a sleeping bag.
If Sheriff will hang around, the PDP will hang. He will not give up, and the courts are there to give him mercy. Eventually, they will understand that PDP is an expiring brand and each of them could form different parties. My wonder, though: If PDP wins in either Edo or Ondo, who will be the authentic governor? Shall we have an interregnum while the courts nod to one candidate today and another tomorrow?
Perhaps the answer is with King Oedipus or filicide. If father kills son or son father, perhaps there will be peace. That may not be solution, though. We shall have peace of the graveyard.