Friday, October 27, 2006

The chickens of Ekiti

(Published in Awesome World column in Saturday Tribune on 28 October 2006)
I now have another thing to brag about to some of my cyber friends scattered around the globe. When next they go on about the splendour of their Eiffel Tower or the breathtaking sights of their Frankfurt, I can proudly chip in that the most expensive poultry in the world is to be found in my own country too. The poultry located in the South Western State of Ekiti cost a governor his seat, the comfort of the arms of his wife, and his freedom for good measure. The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Third Mainland bridge constructed over the Lagos lagoon collectively did not cost that much.

Unfortunately, that is the only thing I can brag about to my foreign friends about the sordid happenings in a state that is called the fountain of knowledge. The entire impeachment saga has rightly or wrongly portrayed the state as an abode of the alejefenunule bi adiye. Literally that phrase means someone who wipes his mouth on the ground like a chicken after a meal, ready for another. The Yorubas reserve this phrase for people who are insatiable and unscrupulously greedy.

Throw grains of corn at local chickens every 10 minutes for an entire day and they will attack the grains each time with the same ferocity as if they have never eaten anything in the previous 24 hours. They would scramble over each other and trample their young in order to be sure of pecking more of the grains than their neighbours.

The character of the people prominent in the Ekiti debacle would baffle many Lagos residents who had previously watched on television the Ekiti government-sponsored advertorials on the state every week. The advertorials, the last of which were aired a few days to Governor Ayo Fayose’s impeachment showed mammoth crowds praising and hailing the governor and practically throwing themselves at his feet to do as he pleased. A couple of those featured in the programmes, while giving accounts of how well the governor had performed shed happy tears. One was tempted to believe they were genuine.

The camera men involved in the recordings deserve commendation for their skills at capturing the sea of heads that gathered at the numerous commissioning ceremonies, party rallies and other such gatherings. They zoomed in and out on the crowd to give viewers no doubt as to the kind of wide acceptance Governor Fayose was supposed to be enjoying. The cameras captured the crowds go into frenzy as soon as the convoy of the wonder man arrived the venues. When he set foot on the venue grounds with his wife in tow, old women and men, youths and children jumped up in sheer happiness. It seemed to viewers that they counted themselves unworthy of this super performer. They were lucky to have this one governor, you were wont to say.

Governor Fayose basked in the glory of it all, beaming with broad smiles, waving gleefully at the cheering crowd, holding the hands of some, shaking hands with some and hugging others. It was always a spectacle of someone who loved and was genuinely loved and appreciated by his people. He talked tough and made his points blatantly and forcefully. The crowds cheered him, regardless. They, in fact, loved it. It would seem this governor could do no wrong.

But then, just a couple of days later, the state House of Assembly sat, impeached the same ‘super’ governor and his deputy and installed one of their own in his stead. First surprise was that the heavens did not cave in. Apparently not many people felt a grievous harm had been done them. Neither did many people feel that a leader who meant all the world to them had just been cheated out of his rightful place.

But a more shocking development was to unfold. Tumultuous crowd stretching all the way out of view were welcoming the usurper of Governor Fayose’s seat. What manner of people are these in Ekiti? Or maybe the question to ask is, how do politicians and power mongers always manage to perform this type of magic on the people they wrong? How do they brainwash the masses they violate to do their bidding sometimes even before they ask?

Television cameras captured people jumping up for joy and hailing the erstwhile Speaker as his convoy drove to the governor’s office. Channels Television captured youths jubilating in the streets and some, there and then set upon the task of defacing any poster of Fayose’s in town. It was unbelievable.

Is this a very bad case of AGIP (Any Government or person In Power) syndrome or is it that the poverty in Ekiti is so bad that anyone who can promise a plate of eba with a skinny chicken leg can hire a huge crowd to shout hosanna to him? Or again, is it that the masses are so chicken that they cannot afford to be seen not offering enough support to any brute in power?

But of course, maybe one is a little too hard on Ekiti. There can only be very little difference between Ekiti and any other part of Nigeria. The mass unemployment in the country means there is a ready pool for the recruitment of thugs, hangers on, peaceful or violent demonstrators, temporary well-wishers and supporters. Just like a handful of grains are enough to assemble a band of fowls, a few naira notes, or an indefinite promise of some future gratification is enough to get many jobless and starving people to do anything from drying themselves in the sun to committing blue murder.

The salient lessons to draw from this all by political office holders are two: one, there is no supporter anywhere. They probably do not need anyone to tell them that. Those members of the Ekiti House of Assembly who impeached Fayose were once solidly behind the erstwhile governor like the rock of Gibraltar. But squared up against the ferocious men of the EFCC and given two unpleasant choices, they chose to save their own skin and roast their governor.

Two, there is no better job security than leading honestly, transparently and conscientiously. Rather than renting crowds, if a leader goes all out to make life really meaningful for the people he leads, they will stand up for him in his own hours of trouble.
Mr Ayodele Fayose fought and won many battles in office. Few people could have imagined that mere chickens would trip him.

There goes the first casualty of a different type of bird flu!