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The “Af’eyinpin’ran” intervention in Rivers


(Published by the Sunday Tribune, December 24, 2023)

“When President Tinubu on Friday at the Surulere Ansar-Ud-Deen mosque promised to be fair to all Nigerians, the Briggs revelation should nudge us to ask if that fairness has same colour as the Fubara Af’eyinpin’ran fairness.”

After President Bola Tinubu intervened in the seismic crisis that rocked oil-rich Rivers State last week, one thing and two people unraveled. By their unraveling, pretentious veils were lifted off their faces. They were, the president himself, the nature of Nigeria’s presidential democracy and the governor of Rivers State, Siminalayi Fubara. Nigerians distrusted the piece of paper that emanated from the Tinubu intervention. To them, it reeks of the proverbial partiality of one entrusted with the task of deploying their incisors to halve a piece of meat called the “af’eyin pin’ran”.

Let me break into granules who the Yoruba af’eyinpin’ran is. Whenever there is a tie in the need for an equal halving of a piece of meat, Yoruba are often suspicious of the human teeth being able to dispense equitable justice. Their fear is that, hiding under the cavalier clouds of the mouth, meat justice, with the incisors as the gavel, often results in inequity, tyranny and cheating. In their resignation to this incisors tyranny, they say only God can judge the af’eyinpin’ran.

There is often a cache of assumptions in cases where an af’eyinpin’ran’s equitable justice sense is sought. One is that they are older in stature and wisdom. Second, that they are assumed to be reputably impartial arbiters, and third, that the meat to be halved is beyond the oesophageal lust of the one to share the meat; that is, they are not greedy. But in most cases, the dental-judge, an alagata, is the arbiter who no one trusts. He is guilty, ab initio of hiding chunks of meat inside own mouth.

This same Yoruba, in their extreme sense of empathy, reserve ample space in their hearts for one who is down. So they say, even if you are as unfeeling, uncaring and beyond bother as to be able to crush the ugly, meatless head of a tortoise with your teeth, you must wail on behalf of the mother who begot the person undergoing travails. “Eni ba j’ori ahun, yio se’daro alabiamo” they say. I mean, the matter of Governor Simnalayi Fubara of Rivers State and his abductors deserves our wails. Yes, Simnalayi has been abducted. No, there are no physical manacles around Sim’s feet and hands; yet, he is in chains. Or, forgive the disgusting epithets it evokes, but no pun or alliteration is intended, Sim is in deep shit. His situation can be compared to that of little Alice and her adventures in strange wonderland. In that famous and widely burnished 1865-written children’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, authored by Lewis Carroll, a pot-pourri of fantastical tales and riddles are cobbled together to explain Alice’s dilemma. The young girl, Alice falls asleep in a meadow and begins to dream that she accompanied the white rabbit into its hole. In the hole, she encounters several wondrous, bizarre and illogical encounters with strange creatures which changed their sizes. Alice attends strange endless tea party in the company of the Mad Hatter as well. She then gets to the presence of the Queen who calls for the execution of almost everyone present. Later, the Queen ordered for Alice to be beheaded even in her presence. She then wakes up.

In that Aso Rock resolution, Simnalayi was literally beheaded on the request of FCT Minister Wike. It reminds one of biblical Herod Antipas. Antipas had ordered the beheading of John the Baptist on the request of Herodias’ daughter. The head was subsequently placed on a platter. If you don’t want to go that Alice or John the Baptist extreme to describe the Simnalayi fate in Aso Rock last week, think up the fable of Tortoise the trickster and the Squirrel. Justifying the need for the evocation of the Tortoise to explain contemporary phenomena, Alice, in the same Alice in Wonderland, had asked, “Why did you call him Tortoise if he wasn’t one?” and the reply she got was, “We called him Tortoise because he taught us.” Tortoise teaches us that we have contemporary tricksters scattered in every plane of life, at the political, leadership, governmental and all existential levels. The wary enter their traps and some never return. So animals are deployed as metaphor for life, simply because in them is an embodiment of human potentials. They also mirror the vagueness and vagaries of life and the tensions that we encounter in the daily struggles while journeying to the top.

Last week, perhaps assuming that the race for the jugular of Rivers State was a duel between gentlemen, Simnalayi was in Aso Rock, with Peter Odili, the state’s first Fourth Republic governor. It was a meeting most probably called by President Bola Tinubu. Rivers had fluctuated dangerously in the past couple of weeks, so much that if not tamed, the oil-rich state could implode and explode. In an act reminiscent of pressing the nukes, Simnalayi had ordered the demolition of the State House of Assembly while the 24 defecting lawmakers from the PDP, in cahoots with Wike, had begun to march Rivers towards the precipice. The resolution, which later turned out to be an autocratic military decree from Aso Rock has received scalding criticisms from Rivers people and Nigerians. Ijaw youths held a public protest against it while some of their leaders have threatened court action against Tinubu and Fubara. The general belief that originated therefrom was that the age-long Tortoise trickery was deployed to wangle the way for Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyensom Wike’s continued Adolf Hitler hold on the oil-rich state.

The tortoise trickery? So, one day, there was a contest for animal leadership kingdom in the forest. Tortoise and squirrel hit the finals of the contest. The ageless trickster, Tortoise put forward a suggestion of a race to determine who the rightful animal leader was. Other animals were astounded. Tortoise runs in a crawl and is reputed to be one of the most snailish of all animals. The Squirrel was in high spirit, persuaded he would win the race. The night preceding the race, however, wily Tortoise went to the proposed race track and decorated its strategic paths with noticeable palm-nuts. He also dug a hole beside the last track by a bush path, decked it with grasses and decorated the holes with palm-nuts. As all animals gathered the next day for the race, the two sprinters were invited. And the race begins. In a jiffy, the Squirrel sprinted off like a cheetah. However, at each stop where Tortoise decorated with palm-nuts, Squirrel stopped, looked sideways and not seeing Tortoise, assumed that he had enough time. He then began to feast on his favourite nuts. He stopped at every intersection the nuts were placed and when he got to the final one, he began to eat the palm-nuts and fell into the ditch. Struggling to wriggle self off the entanglements, by the time he came out, Tortoise had beaten him to the race and emerged winner. The slowest animal, Tortoise thus emerged the fastest and leader of the animals.

The piece of paper claiming resolution of the crisis was audaciously one-sided. In one of the issues, while ordering lawmakers who had earlier defected to the APC to be recognized by the governor, it didn’t ask the defected lawmakers to return to the political party under whose banner they secured membership of the House. Hitler couldn’t have authored a more tyrannical verse.

Chief David Briggs, member of the Rivers Elders’ Forum and former Rivers State Commissioner for Works, last week tremendously helped to unravel the nature of the Tinubu presidency that we will have to grapple with. In an interview, Briggs, who claimed to be present at the Villa reconciliation revealed that Fubara signed the resolution under veiled presidential threat and without a single input into it. “I was there, so what I say is primary not secondary. We were invited for a meeting, but that was not a meeting. What happened is that Mr President walked in with a written resolution, addressed us and declared that what he had in his hand is a presidential proclamation, therefore he can whip. He emphasised the fact that he is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and anybody who tends to say no to what he is saying, it has consequences. That in a simple lay man’s word is a threat. He (Tinubu) wrote the resolution but refused to read it. He handed the resolution to Dr Peter Odili to read,” Briggs said.

Now, apart from his presidential powers, Tinubu possesses a Janus-faced political pedigree that makes him both wrong and the best person to be entrusted with the task of impartial arbitration of the Rivers conundrum. What seems to qualify him for the arbitration was that, Tinubu’s rising profile in Lagos politics was amplified by his rebellious elbowing and subsequent vanquishing of his Afenifere political godfathers in Lagos. The elders had thought they could hold a toll to him having made him governor. Again, when President Olusegun Obasanjo attempted to subjugate Lagos as one of the stools of his southwest fiefdom, Tinubu audaciously repelled his quest for conquest and made nonsense of Obasanjo and his presidential powers. With this pedigree of standing up to a self-imposed titular, it must have been expected that Tinubu would queue behind Fubara against the menacing principality of Wike. How come such thinking didn’t factor in the fact that, conversely, having conquered godfatherism, Tinubu installed himself as the numero uno godfather of Lagos politics with dystopian consequences for the good of that state in generations to come. While the warring stakeholders sympathetic to Fubara felt that Tinubu was qualified to bring equitable justice to Rivers because he suffered the deleterious consequences of godfatherism, the Wike faction didn’t think along that line. It must have encouraged Tinubu to use his incisors to halve the Rivers meat inequitably due to his recent past medallion as a Lagos godfather whose godfatherism tickles Wike’s fancy. Didn’t it occur to the Fubara group that the dalliance with the Rivers godfather may have a lot to do with the wealth of the oil-rich state and its link to the 2023 presidential campaign?

To confirm how fatal it was to take the dispute before Tinubu as an Af’eyinpin’ran, the reported reply of the president when former Attorney-General of the State and Justice Commissioner, Adokiye Amiesimaka, allegedly confronted him with indubitable facts of his partiality speaks volume. Amiesimaka had reportedly asked him, “Fubara should do this, he should do that. You (referring to the president) have not said what those 25 or 27 Assembly members that defected from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress without consulting their constituency and constituents… should do.” In the words of Briggs, Tinubu’s reaction was, “I’m the leader of the APC in Nigeria. And you are telling me when babies are born into my family I should ask them to go.” Thus, it is obvious that the Rivers meat to be halved is not beyond the oesophageal desire of Tinubu, who incidentally was the one they took the meat before for sharing.

Siminalayi has received tomes of incendiary comments on account of appending his signature to the Villa resolution. He has been called simpleton, lily-livered and cowardly. Briggs’ intervention has helped peer searchlight into the fact that, beyond the meek-like bespectacled visor of Tinubu lies the tendency to, like a deadly viper, spit cold-blooded poison of power that can meander into the heart and kill its victim. Anyone who thought that African wielders of power are democratic, off the klieg of cameras, is mistaken. In their closets, they constrict their preys like a viper and are reincarnates of Idi Amin Dada and Emperor Haile Selassie. Many African leaders are despots and tyrants, cloked with such totalitarian inclination by the raw powers at their disposal. They romance a one-party state like a dog coddles its puppy. This fact is corroborated by Tinubu’s reported reply to Amiesimeka in his babies allegory. I know of a 4th republic governor of Nigeria who Obasanjo rose against with orchestrated plan of impeachment simply because the governor was tape-recorded as calling the president “senile old man.” The rhetoric from Briggs speaks volume of how Tinubu could go down this despotic route. Briggs had asked in the interview, “If you were in the position of the governor, what will you do? Get up and go? Say no to Mr President with that kind of subtle but energetic threat?”

This is why, as I said earlier, even if you are as unfeeling, uncaring and beyond bother as to be able to crush the ugly, meatless head of a tortoise with your teeth, you must wail on behalf of the mother who begot Siminalayi Fubara. In his agreement to be placeholder for Wike as third term governor of Rivers, Fubara has found himself in the belly of the whale. What he obviously won’t be able to confess to the people of Rivers is that he had the pre-governorship agreement to keep Wike belching behind the till of Rivers and ensure his hold on the levers of power even while in Abuja. Only a fool would continue the perpetuation of this slavish status-quo.

Those who subscribe to the Wike ladder theory are those who encourage despots to grow out of the ashes of governorship succession system. A couple of weeks ago, apparently upbraiding Fubara, Wike had asked those who climbed up by the leader not to break it. Their eyes permanently fixated on the bolts of the maggoty wardrobes they left behind in the Government House and which are fastened securely to avoid spillage to the eyes of the public, governors would always skew their succession in favour of their placeholders. They look for the most pliable person as successor to do their dirty deal. For the sake of the states, we must encourage the rebellion of these placeholders against their governor taskmasters. Not doing this will ensure that the resources of Nigerian states would continually be siphoned into the greedy purses of governors’ predecessors. What Tinubu did last Monday by that veiled threat to Siminalayi was to brusquely assist in the return of oil-rich Rivers to the insatiable pocket of his consort.

When President Tinubu on Friday at the Surulere Ansar-Ud-Deen mosque promised to be fair to all Nigerians, the Briggs revelation should nudge us to ask if that fairness has same colour as the Fubara Af’eyinpin’ran fairness. The reality of that Briggs revelation is that we should prepare for the dystopia to come in Nigeria. Those who shout “On your mandate we stand” should also prepare to stand on the wings of the Fubara treatment to come.

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