Although you are supposed to be on your way to work, you decide to stay back a little when you see that CNN is about to do a documentary on Presidential Elections in Africa. You know what to expect because it has always been the same narrative whenever international news outlets are doing any commentary about Africa. It is always that underdeveloped-countries-narrative-approach voiced as though there is nothing on the continent that is worthy of praise. Instead of rushing to being defensive, though, you stand before the mirror of truth, and right there, before the reflecting mirror, the truth is staring at you. If you really want to run without the beetles smoking away the nutrient of your reign, you must be a native of the area that matters. But you may have a remedy if you can go to school on barefoot. You know this because you have read the memoir of a former president.
There is a key knowledge to acquire about… this is the password into the deeper reality of our country. No one without this key knowledge can decode the nation. It really does not matter how brilliant or intelligent you might be. If you do not have it, you will not get it.
You read this in the memoir. It says a lot to you. You try to break it down, but you are left in muddle, the muddle of how logic cannot break it down. It is this, your confusion, that will compel you to consult with one, yet, many statesmen in your country. This consultation is not a dialogue with them, it is your many careful observations.
If you begin from their extra length fabric, or their buttoned-up shirt, you will begin to understand that to become a president in your country, you must have a link to the caliphate, or at most be a sibling of the Emir. In any case, your place must be in the rural area, but not a place so rural. You must be sure there is an abandoned project somewhere around that is as old as you, an health centre, and a navigable road such as can handle campaign trains once every four years, those kinds of campaigns where transistor radios or cups of rice, or bread, well packaged and labelled, are distributed. There must be a customised cloth for the campaign, preferably Ankara fabric, and the Ankara must have the smiling pictures of the candidate on it. The cloth must be mass produced. The idea of massive production will not make sense to you until one evening, on your way home after a busy day, you will hear a man say, “I am not going for the campaign, they did not give me cloth,”.
“The cloth was not enough, even some party official didn’t get one,” another man will respond and you will sense lie in his lips, his big lips dancing too fast as he makes the response. You should wait a little more to watch the first man nag further as though the Ankara is more than a cloth. You should also not be too surprised because such campaign attires will automatically become many of the mass’s outfit during major functions. If you want to confirm this, be regular in church or mosque two months after election.
If you can sneak your way to the venue of the campaign or rally, you will first be amazed by the paid-to-scream crowd. Then you will ask yourself if everyone on the campaign ground is from the same town you have known. The same town where everybody spends their precious time on their farm breaking the back of big trees and sneaking them to the sawmill in the name of farming. The same town where big lorries go to the farm and return with charcoal bags instead of yams and cassavas.
Traditional dancers will have been contracted, and you will watch them do wonders with their soft, bending bones twisting in the way of acrobatics, and at the end of their display, there will be a loud ovation. Then will come the man whose face is on the Ankara fabric. If he is not holding an umbrella, he will be holding a broom; if his known face is not asking the question of change, his popular tongue will be dancing to the music of power. He will stand by the microphone and revisit old history that links him to your soil. He will not stop there. He must tell you how he knows how the uncompleted health centre of over a century started, how the health centre has not been completed because it is opposition that is in power, and finally, if you vote him, how the health centre will be the first project in his budget. Then the crowd of harvesters, not planters, will begin to scream and clap until their palms are tired of each other and they will no longer make audible sound at contact.
“To be president in our country, you must grow within this political twist of event. I must not forget to add that you must either face your prayers in the direction of the moon or burn your incense trusting the cross. Any contrary, I am afraid your place may not be found,” the oddness of a chair sitting in a Jumaat congregation will tell you this, and if you ask why it is so.
“It is because people from other religions are not contesting,” this symbolic chair will tell you. If you have the strength for intense conversation ask the statesman on the symbolic chair if he will vote for a candidate that is not from any of the two religions. Step back a little; you will see a dotted smile on their cheeks before they mutter, “we belong to everybody and we belong to nobody.” You should understand what that means and quickly let it aside. If you press them further through observation, they will educate you more on how to become a president or statesman in your country.
You should study their lips. Their spontaneous uncertainty will teach you that to become a statesman or president in your country, you must be literate in the way of the universal, up to a standard where your words will not stink in the ears of the people. It doesn’t mean you have to complete the circle; you only have to learn how to be political because regardless somebody must accuse you of having a fake certificate, or that you are not from the country, that you are from a neighbouring country. You should pay a fertile attention at this point because they will continue. Concentrate on their upper lip and listen to them tell you what you already know.
Listen to them tell you that you must prove those that say you have a fake certificate wrong by making your certificate a trend online. The grades do not matter, all that counts is the genuineness of the said certificate. Even if the body that issues certificate cannot find your record, or the organ from which you rise to head a state has misplaced your credentials, sit back and let the Internet make your genuine certificate trend. A couple of retweets would do.
“Note, the more the trend, the brighter your chances,” they will gesture. You should catch their voice, sit more tightly, and listen on. “You must be learned in the history of your clan. Otherwise a group will tell you to your face that you are not eligible to contest presidency because you are not from the country. It doesn’t matter if you have held any political position before, even if you are a former vice president. It is the way our own democracy runs.”
Although you already know, they will emphasise that you must be open to merger and learn how to calculate your votes even when election is months away. More importantly, if by your calculation, the likelihood of a win or getting a party ticket is not visible, you have to be smart enough to join another political party. You should note carefully their next counsel. They will not open their mouth wide to spill it loud, but if you pay a little attention to their lined cap, you will understand that it is saying that if anybody asks you why you are leaving your party, tell them politics is about the people and you have decided to join the party that is more people-conscious. You should be certain that people will know it is a lie, but be confident that the people also know with you that in politics to say the truth is to lie and to lie is to say the truth.
Take your eye away from the cap now. Focus on their eyes. It will tell you as much as the words from their lips that when you get to the new party, you must find a good caucus, that caucus that can pay lip service to your interest, the one that will hail you until you become irrelevant.
“At that, you must start planning to return to your former party, and you don’t have to wary about it, it is the way of politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies,” the blink of their eyes will say and they will continue that people will still ask questions. “When they do, all you have to tell them is that there is no place like home, and you are returning to your home.” Make sure you don’t mix it up, your home is your old party. They won’t tell you that you should return with an elaborate welcome party that must hold at a stadium, you, and your followers. You will need the fame of about two celebrity musicians to increase your audience, let them sing while people dance, then in a moment, people will forget how you have just returned from another party – this forgetting is faster when you join the dancing – not a real dance – just a few body movement that can provoke screams or news headlines. They won’t tell you this, they will expect you to know.
Few months to the election, the body responsible for election will start registering voters and you will stand by your resolve to make something new of the election season. Then you will visit a registration unit and find this crowd in two lines, lines as long as Lagos-Ibadan expressway. You will stop at a distance to convince yourself that all of them cannot be there for the registration. You will match over to the overworked corps members doing the registration amidst a kind of hard stare that can push you over to the floor. Then you will quickly whisper to the starers, “I just want to seek an enquiry.” The starers will scream at you; that scream of irritation, that scream of anger, the scream of annoyance of having to stand under the lasting afternoon sun just because they need to get something to show to their banks for identification. You raise your head to find a pregnant woman backing a baby, standing in the piercing sun, and sweating with her baby crying behind her. You will watch her fiddle her legs one leg at time, and you will examine the way she pats the little baby in the wrapper that holds the baby to her back.
“Madam, you should not be punishing this ignorant baby like this,” you will hear the woman behind her say to her. The woman will have a white handkerchief she will be holding with her hand on her head and the shadow from her braided hair making a covering about the backed baby, but not completely.
“I don’t have a choice, I was here all through yesterday, and when the sun was getting too hot, I had to look for a shade only for me to come back and I was told I had already lost my place,” The mother will say, still patting her baby.
“Then you should consider coming at a time this whole rush will reduce,” another woman will submit. She is the colour of stale blackness, a kind of blackness as black as hair.
“I need the voters’ card for an urgent bank transaction,” the mother will say and you will imagine the whole stress all because of a bank transaction. Not because she wants to vote.
Another man following the conversation will now join “It is also because of my bank that I am wasting my time here, otherwise, what will I do with a voter’s card.” His very diction will clinch around your chest. It will leave you worried for days. It will leave you wondering how people are not interested in deciding who their leader will be but will always groan when the person they don’t want get to power. You will manage to scramble your way around the registration and after you finger print has been taken and every other thing done, the overworked corps member doing the registration will politely request you to come the next day to get your card. It will raise a pop around your chest, a pace like a beat at the four corners of your heart. It will press over you a strain of tiredness that will hold your voice to your throat and make you turnabout in the direction of your house. Then it will be the end, you will never visit the registration unit again because you know if you do, you will have to join another long queue. You will only join political discussions, do analysis, weigh the chances of one candidate against another, and talk about that candidate that should never be voted again. You will tell your friends why they should not vote for a certain candidate and they will agree with you.
On election day, you and your friends will wait over your TV screen, watching how vote is been bought, watching the polling unit where election materials do not arrive to on time. You will remain on the screen with your friends until they announce the winner, then you will groan, you will blame all the voters for wrong choice, you will castigate democracy, you will call everybody names. More importantly, you will promise yourself that you must vote in the next election, that if not because they did not allow you collect your card, there will have been a difference. Then something will stir up in you that collecting your card is not enough, that you should contest in the next election, at least you have learnt from the statesmen. But, by the time you consider all the mentioned and unmentioned counsels of the statesman, you will conclude that there is much that you need to have and find out, that there is much yet that you don’t know than you know. In the next election, the whole circle will repeat itself and you will rest upon the same old assurance.
Now that another election is coming, you are determined to end that circle. Enough is enough, you have said to yourself, it is now time to become a statesman or president, even if not you, your vote can become the president, you have concluded. You have started observing the statesmen again. Their eyes, lips, cloths, and others have begun to speak to you, but a fresh consciousness has been gripping you, observing them dim your political lens. The more you observe them, the less you see, and now you are almost visionless, visionless because something in your chest has started preaching the old sermon, that old sermon that always keeps you on your screen on election days.
“Why is this so?” You have been wondering, but the only answer that has come to you is the same portion of the former president’s memoir: There is a key knowledge to acquire about Nigeria. This is the password into the deeper reality of our country. No one without this key knowledge can decode the nation. It really does not matter how brilliant or intelligent you might be. If you do not have it, you will not get it.
To this, also, several questions are meeting on your mind. So, you sit more firmly before your TV, hoping, even though you are certain that CNN cannot help you, to understand this very local complications.
is a Nigerian writer who writes to document the events around him. He has been published on the Kalahari Review, and he is presently working on a novel. He tweets as @OguntiloyeG.