The bell is now tolling. The Abuja high rollers are packing their bags and heading out of town. President Goodluck Jonathan is not an island in this regard. He leads the pack. Also in the wagon are familiar wayfarers: not just ministers and advisers and hangers-on, but a generation and tribe of politicians.
They have vaingloriously called themselves “mainstreamers.” This is a word of opportunism. They say their people should not stay back to play state or regional politics. It is better to follow, like sheep, the scent of the stew. And in our skewed federal structure, the aroma of the centre bustles in a big and liberal pot. All insiders can eat from the accompanying fufu. The fufu, in its outsize extravagance, compares to Achebe’s feast in Things Fall Apart where those eating on one side cannot see those eating on the other.
So, the so-called mainstreamers are, properly defined, “main-eaters.” They are the carnivores of our democracies. In other words, they are the man-eaters who scavenged on all the fat-cow contracts, glamour trips and money declared missing in the past half-decade. They gorged on the NNPC’s unaccounted billions, flapped haughty wings in tales of impunity, whether in the MDAs or in the ministries or Presidency. They mainstreamed while the rest of us majority snorted as islanders. It was corruption writ large.
But nowhere did this predatory logic rear itself more than in the Southwest. Its ancestor was the Owu chief, our Olusegun Obasanjo. He lured the tribe, while he was president, away from the canons of the Afenifere group. They had coalesced in the Alliance for Democracy.
It was the beginning of the tribal traitors. They sold their patrimony for a mess of centralised pottage. It became clear who was on the people’s side.
They had it going for them for a long time. The so-called Afenifere bigwigs launched smear campaigns against the mainstays of the AD, who would not yield to the tantalising follies of centralised lucre. The Owu chief puffed with power then and worked with the renegades to sweep the Southwest states for the PDP, leaving Lagos and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as the lone tree in a deforested swath of progressive politics.
The story of the so-called Afenifere bigwigs underpins what some psychologists call the fear of gratitude. Most of them who call themselves Afenifere dynamos today once gleefully nestled in Lagos State under the beneficence of Tinubu. But they loathe their benefactor. They are like the men who did not return to say thank you to Jesus after their miracles. The older Afenifere think he is too young to be that powerful and his kindness hurt. His contemporaries’ envy is couched in the poisonous cliché: why him? The younger ones want to pull him down. The fear of gratitude merely means the fear of saying thank you to the person who rescued you. It is the buffoonery of arrogance. This fear leads to another, more malignant one: the fear of contempt.
The best example of this is recorded by Edward Gibbons in his all-time classic, The Decline and Fall of Roman Empire. He told the story of Emperor Maximin, a coarse, low and sanguinary fellow who rose to the apogee of Roman pomp and power. He felt a sense of inadequacy, and decided to kill anyone who knew him when he was nothing and helped him along the way. The same psychology is played in Shakespeare’s bloodiest play, Titus Andronicus, where Titus gave up his right to the royal throne to another man. That man played along with a scheme to kill Titus, so as to justify his hollow manhood.
So, the Afenifere bigwigs have since 2003 mounted a campaign based on fears of gratitude and contempt against Tinubu. They have plotted, plodded and preened for many years, and boasted with only stumbles and falls to tell their stories. One of them is the whitlow of the west, the mimic Mimiko, who genuflected and pleaded for Tinubu to save him from the machinations of the chief mainstreamer, the Owu Chief. He had been swindled out of his Ondo State Governorship slot, and he wanted justice. Tinubu was his only lifeline, and the oxygen came aplenty. Once secure in his position as governor, he played Brutus. He did not want to say thank you. When he was in trouble he pledged to belong. Once he was rescued, he feigned an independent giant. His is a prostitution of the virtue of self-regard. He is a fraud.
He worked with all the others, including the old men and fuddy-duddies hungry for financial fountains. They were mercenaries and leeches, bleeding their own race to nest their high places.
They coaxed Jonathan to their side after their leader, Obasanjo, had abandoned them. They were a decapitated group, a mere body without ears, eyes, hair, olfactory lobe, medulla oblongata, or mouth, but flailing with weapons in hand, swishing in the air. They fell like humpty dumpty. From a lone state in Lagos, Tinubu with tact, diligence, wise daring and a talent for talents took the west and now the centre, making him the numero uno ever of Nigerian politics. Since 1999, it was for him the success of a long distance runner.
On March 28, they lost the centre, and that capped the tragic story of the mainstreamers. Suddenly, they no longer saw the mainstream, since the water was now dry in Abuja. They turned their eyes to the Lagoon. With Jonathan behind them, they embarked on a journey of revenge.
If they lost the centre, they could not do without Lagos. So all resources poured into the state of excellence. Their bridgehead was a certain pharmacist who staked all his past doings in the progressive camp for a vaulting ambition. In the process, he lost a sense not only of ideology but values. Jimi Agbaje knew he was in a foul crowd. Hence his campaign posters miniaturised the PDP logo and enlarged his name and picture. He was an unwilling joiner. He made it look like he was the pearl among swines. It was a colossal gamble of moral significance, a thing he would explain for the rest of his life. How come his name jingles among militants, ex-convicts and quislings?
The battle for Lagos was a waterloo. They have now drowned in the Lagoon. After losing the centre, they have lost the state. They may play stragglers with Fayose and Mimiko, as the last redoubts of an expiring tribe. They are the prodigal sons of the west, only theirs is more tragic because they have no home to which to return. They are neither mainstreamers nor regionalists. They are dead-enders. They have now been exposed as moral cretins. They remind one of the words of the Russian poet Pushkin: “In our vile times, man was, whatever his element, either a tyrant, or traitor, or prisoner.” It is true to the renegades.
But the mainstreamers were taken for granted in other regions, especially in the Southsouth and Southeast. They have to now scramble for the limited resources in those states. Their big, fat appetites will now be humbled before such governors as Dickson, Okowa, Udom, Wike, etc. President Jonathan knew this when he decried defecting PDP men. “Those people running and those already cross-carpeting, will come back on an empty stomach because they (APC) will touch the primary members of their party before they get to them. They know you are coming because you are hungry; and before it will get to you, the food will be gone.”
In Achebe’s feast, handshakes snapped across the fufu. But as GEJ warned, the APC is in no mood for such fistic felicity.
In the Southwest, they are more or less in the lagoon. On Tinubu, their envy evokes the refrain from American writer H.L. Mencken, who wrote, “the haunting fear that someone somewhere may be happy.” Hence what is left for them is a smear campaign. From mainstreamers, they are now “main screamers.”