Life in most towns and villages in Igboland and all of the former Eastern Region shortly after the civil war in 1970 was understandably a tough one. It was hellish and brutish, but not short and cruel in the full definition of the state of nature by Thomas Hobbes. This was not unexpected given the devastations that followed the end of hostilities aimed at quelling the short-lived Republic of Biafra. As a result, immediately after the declaration of the “No Victor, No Vanguished” signalling the end of the war and a return to a “One Nigeria”, many war weary Easterners embarked on the inevitable return journeys to other parts of the country where they had earlier fled for dear lives on the onset of the hostilities.
Those who remained behind in the bombed-out enclave resorted to desperate, but dignified, measures and bone-crushing undertakings to eke out a living as long as it was not banditry, in the spirit of “Kama m ga-anwu ma adoliwa, uwa wu ndoli ndoli”. Meaning, instead of dying of hunger, let me be struggling because the world is full of struggles. This was the core value and philosophy that helped their quick recovery from the unspeakable devastations of the war in Igboland. But that is by the way.
So, one of the new vocations people resorted to, in my village in Ohaji those days, was the game of chance called “I were nke a, I rie nke a”, where a patron would place a pack of cards on a bare surface, usually at the market square, and beckon on bystanders to come and pick out a particularly odd card and win money off him in return. They made it look so simple and alluring a game to play.
The man who brought this new way of ekeing out a living into my village was, my late father told me years ago, one Andrew Nwaoku, whom it was said, learnt the trade in Onitsha, the city of the strong-willed, as they say.
My father recalled that the way this man plied his trade was that he had his men spread out in the animated crowd that had thronged him, unbeknownst to others, who would come out to play the seemingly simple game of showing him the correct card he had upturned after showing it to the crowd and “win” so easily. Non-initiates would find out later, on participating, that it’s a case of the more you look, the less you see. That was how, one day, at the Afor Assa market day in my village, a young nursing mother in the crowd, seeing how “easy” it seemed for people (who were the man’s boys, anyway) to win huge sums from Andrew Nwaoku, came out boldly, with the money she had to buy food items for her young family and decided to play, hoping to win so she could have some reserve money after buying the items. In all the attempts she made thereafter, she lost, and there also went her feeding money, leaving her bellowing out a wailing: “Andrew Nwaoku, nyem ego o, anom na omugwo akpa ego?” (Please give me back my money, do I earn an income nursing a baby at home). You don’t need to be told that her wailing and cries didn’t move the man an inch.
What that man did to the nursing woman over five decades ago in my village is what politicians do to Nigerians today in the name of politics. Here, our politicians are a special species of modern-day Andrew Nwaoku who will lure the gullible electorate with empty promises packaged and promoted in platforms called political parties which are nothing but cards to hoodwink and extort electoral mandate to access the national treasury for their personal gain. Something akin to the famed Russian roulette. The moment the electorate are induced with salt and rice, a result of crushing poverty, to pick the cards for one election, or money, as it happened the last time in Ekiti, they would find to their chagrin that “Andrew Nwaoku” had shown them the wrong one and had moved to the next one.
When their interests are no more served or their positions are weakened in one platform, you see them engage in hollow consultations to seek rapprochement even with fellows they had viciously fought with the night before. They will tell you, in politics, there’s no permanent friend or enemy, only permanent interest. The only interest of our Andrew Nwaoku politicians, no matter the colour of their symbol or shape of platform, is their own interest.
That’s how best to see the gale of defections that has gripped the polity in recent weeks. Forget about the tales told by the defectors, it’s mere changing of camps by the same team members without scant regard for the sensibilities, intelligence and common sense, which is not common any way, of the electorate.
Imagine what happened in Ikot Ekpene in Akwa Ibom, on Wednesday, when Senator Godswill Akpabio dropped his PDP umbrella, a symbol he had held, profitably, for eight years as a commissioner, another eight years as a state governor and then the last three years as a senator, and even rewarded, unjustly, with the position of the Senate Minority Leader as a fresh lawmaker, only to realise that it is the APC broom that can best help him to “sweep away poverty and impunity” and “help salvage” the country.
The eight years he held sway as governor, if you must be told, he devoted to ensuring that no opposition gained ground in the state. He brooked no dissent, dispensed public funds as it caught his fancy such that on one fateful day, he doled out N1m unappropriated state funds to the PDP chairmen in the South-South zone to “buy Mr Biggs” during a scheduled meeting. The last three years as a senator, he also committed to “chasing the crazy bald head out of town”, ala Bob Marley. The “crazy bald heads”, this time, being the APC he embraced now.
By far the most bizarre of such defections happened in Kwara State where Senate President Bukola Saraki and his band of loyalists, including the state governor, commissioners and top officials “swapped” with the PDP state executive, led by Mr. Iyiola Oyedepo, who moved in the opposite direction with scores of his members, on seeing the exodus. The way football clubs swap players in the transfer market. This is another way of telling you that ours is an unhelpful democracy of the politicians for politicians and by politicians, pretensions to the contrary notwithstanding, where, heads or tails, the politicians, not the electorate, are always the gainers. While the electorate are simply prised out of relevance in the democratic enterprise. Tragically so, too.
In Ebonyi, former Governor Martin Elechi, known more in many circles for not known to have done anything worth remembering for eight years in his sleepy state, dropped his umbrella and picked up the broom. He’s now, suddenly, a certified “competent performer” for doing that. The same thing for Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia, who, now, speaks daily of the ‘evil’ of the umbrella he held for eight years as a governor, whereupon he’s still answering questions in court on how some public funds were spent under him. Or, who would ever believe that Musiliu Obanikoro will be waving the broom with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in Lagos APC today? What of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who moved from the PDP to the APC and now back to the PDP, perhaps after seeing the “light”!
The point being made here is that until the electorate realise that the politicians, who tread this landscape, are same of the same, can change camps at the drop of the hat, care less about how many are killed by bandits on the roads and at home, without any fightback of note from underequipped and underwhelming security agencies, or die in unresourced hospitals or are holed up in underfunded schools while their children get the best from public funds overseas, they will continue to wail, like the nursing mother mentioned above, election after election.
There’s a need, therefore, in order to unleash the potent force of democracy in Nigeria, for systematic citizen mobilisation, organisation and engagement by civil society and the media so as to bring an end to this reign of debilitating prebendal politics that favours only the politicians. As French statesman, Charles De Gaulle, would say, politics is too important to be left in the hands of “kalo kalo players” called politicians. They think the rest of us are fools, only useful during elections. Enough is enough!
• Nwokeoma is an employee of PUNCH Newspaper (Email: [email protected])