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Not yet Eleyinmi

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Sometimes when Bukola Saraki sports his agbada, he bears resemblance to Chief Eleyinmi in the familiar but now defunct Village Headmaster television series. Saraki, like Eleyinmi, wraps a certain mystique around his hands. So he hides them inside the voluminous sleeves.

But he lacks two vital qualities associated with Chief Eleyinmi. The Village Headmaster thespian does not wear suits. Two, he projects a Rabelaisian sense of humour and effusive candour that titillate his audience in spite of the actor’s patrician peccadillos.

Eleyinmi drinks his tea or water or wine by grabbing the spoon or glass under the protection of the fabric. Saraki does not. Saraki also wears the western suit that exposes and takes away the sanctity of the hand.

It is quirks like these that made me write a cover over a decade ago in Sunday Concord on political fashion. If Saraki was a factor in those years, he might have played a prominent part in the cast. Unlike Eleyinmi, however, Saraki does not make you laugh.

He did not make anyone laugh when he hid, in the name of ambition, in a nondescript car in the National Assembly in the wee hours in order to be Senate president. He did not amuse when he made an impolitic quote defending men of his class about not taxing the Nigerian jet set. So, by his reckoning, we should not have special taxes for jet owners.

He did not amuse when he abandoned his party and supped with the enemy, again in the name of ambition. Absence of principles can be amusing, but the former kwara State chief does not know how to suck us out of our sulks.

He did not amuse when he rebuffed his party leadership by not conceding any of its demands in the spoils of Senate office.

He might have amused us, though, when he slid his way onto the prayer ground with President Muhammadu Buhari during the recent Muslim festivities, and allowed the impression to pass that he had somehow won over the chief. But it was not a laugh he wanted credit for because it was against him.

It recalls what playwright and Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett designated as “a laugh laughing at itself.” It was not an Eleyinmi moment though. It was more of a Baba Sala episode, a rip-roaring farce.

He did not get much of an attention from the President in that holy hour. He probably lost it.

Even Eleyinmi, for all his sweet obnoxiousness, never played the obsequious role. He was a chief who knew his limits and was funny any time he bowed to the calm and chastening rhetoric of the king. He betrayed the innocence of a boy caught in a prank.

But our own pretended Eleyinmi does not know how to play that innocence. Rather than admit a wrong, and eat his humble pie in public, he has engaged in a contradictory drama.

He is begging and fighting simultaneously. He waited for House Speaker Dogarra to bow to party pressure before he realised that the legislature had its limits. He has sent emissaries to beg the President and also to beg the Lion of Bourdillon. I am not aware how sincere and how effective these odysseys of humility will be. But it is significant that the man who thought he had subverted decency in the name of power still remembers how to bow.

At the same time, he is taking a battle to the head of the EFCC. His perception management of this matter leaves much to be desired. Not long ago, the EFCC held his wife for questioning over corruption charges. It clearly rankled his skin deep enough for him to show his hands and deliver a fistful to Lamorde, the EFCC boss.

So, wielding the power of the Senate, he is going after the man in charge of corruption by throwing charges of corruption at him. The merit or demerit of the case is beyond me at this point, in spite of what news reports have said about the petitioner’s pedigree.

But the whole drama of his fighting and begging after acting as the Eleyinmi of Nigerian politics must sicken even him. He is now surrounded by the hyenas of his ambition. He wanted to be a giant. He thought he had attained the status, and then he looks like the characters in Wole Soyinka’s Nobel Prize-wining play, A Play of Giants. It is farce that leads downhill. In his play Macbeth, Shakespeare describes it as “vaulting ambition, which overleaps itself.”

Edmund Burke, the master theorist of conservatism, who saw power and penned ruminations on it, including about the French like Robespierre, Danton and the little general Napoleon, wrote: “The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.”

While he battles to stay afloat in what is a looming morass, Saraki has to consider another man of power, Federick Douglas of the abolition era of slavery in the United States.

Power is about negotiation in a spirit of reciprocity. He must consider what to give, and he must not look like the giants of Soyinka’s play. Hence Douglas noted, “power concedes nothing without a demand.” The other side asked, but he did not give.

If he is not careful, he will be given away. He should read Professor Niyi Osundare’s poem on him and his likes, especially the line, “wind vane politicians with multiple tongues…”

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