Will north, the Shrew, bite the APC’s nose? | Festus Adedayo

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The ongoing fight-to-finish for principal officers’ positions in the 10th National Assembly by the All Progressives Congress (APC) has only one fitting corollary: It is the famous mythic, destructive squabble between the Shrew, Squirrel and a seemingly impartial arbiter, the Tortoise. Unless carefully resolved, what appears to be a fancy of conquest by the APC, leading to the party magisterially pronouncing who would be its legislative Man Fridays, seems to have boomeranged full throttle at its teething stage. Only last week, the party’s National Working Committee, (NWC) in a peremptory, you-may-go-jump-inside-the-lagoon manner, announced its choice of former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio as Senate President and Tajudeen Abbas as Speaker of the House of Representatives. The NWC also diffidently announced the endorsement of Senator Barau Jubrin (North West) as Deputy Senate President and Ben Kalu (South East) as Deputy Speaker of the House. Almost immediately, a bedlam ensued, with a rash of rebellious party aspirants for the same leadership positions springing up, spiraling almost out of control and openly disdaining the audacity of the party top echelon to make such choices.

 

On this particular day in the animal world, the sun singed the flesh without any discrimination. Yet, none complained of the fury of nature. Like warm-blooded animals, which many of them were, whose bodies maintain temperature higher than that of their environment, the marketplace exuded mirth and village camaraderie. The cast in the battle were the Tortoise, the Shrewd and the Squirrel. As you know, Tortoise, who was always the protagonist in traditional African mythology, and especially in folktales, represented cunning, craftiness and deviousness; always receiving the short end of the stick in relationships with other animal species.

 

In this particular folktale, the Tortoise was an entrepreneur who sold ceramics, his handiworks. His craft couldn’t however mask his cunning. As he sat this day in the marketplace minding his ceramic wares carefully displayed for customers’ attention, frightening noise of a market brawl suddenly clattered aloud like the noise of an Olympian typewriter. Shouting and screaming seized the market. Perhaps looking for an outlet for their pent-up inactivity, acquired from the freeze in sales for the day, animals in the market skidded to the place where the noise clattered from, leaving their stalls in charge of nobody. They found the two protagonists at the middle of the rift wrestling each other with malicious ferociousness. It was Shrew and Squirrel, two animals whose stalls were adjacent to each other. The intensity of the fight continued unabated, even when the market community, comprising traders and their customers, attempted a separation of these animals who were hitherto friends. Realizing that the brawlers’ brawns grew turgid at every attempt to separate them, the peacemakers all reclined into an akimbo, watching what would be the end of this atrocious tiff.

 

Tortoise was the last to rush to the scene. He had been engrossed with a customer who had come to buy ceramics in huge quantity. Like all others, he was stupefied by the needless fight. Unlike others, he had a preference. Squirrel was his bosom friend and he found his pummeling by the Shrew, who he resented due to his atrocious smell, really uncalled for. At first, he tried to separate them mildly but finding out that every effort he put into the separation seemed to lionize the duo, he headed for a nearby woods seller’s shop and heaved out a huge plank which he began to unleash on the Shrew.

 

Miffed by this aimless descent into the arena by the Tortoise, the Shrew left the subject of his grouse and angrily bit the Tortoise on the nose with his infamous vengeful venom. As he did this, he held on to his nose with his carnivorous teeth. As the pain sank into the recess of the Tortoise’s skull, he began to sing, Asín t’oun t’okere, (Shrew and Squirrel) to which onlookers replied in a chorus, Jóó mi jó//Awon lo jo n ja (Were engaged in a fight)//Jóó mi jó//Ija ree mo wa la (I came purposely to separate the fight)//Jóó mi jó//l’Asin ba fi mí ní’mu je (But the Shrew bit off my nose)//Jóó mi jó//E gba mí lowo re (Please rescue me from him)//Jóó mi jó//Awo mí n be loja (my ceramic wares are still in my stall)//Jóó mi jó.

 

In spite of this dirge-like Save-Our-Soul cry from the Tortoise, the Shrew held on to his nose with his teeth until he finally yanked this patch of flesh from its entanglement to the skull, leaving only a pitiable stub. This encounter became Yoruba mythological explanation of why, till date, when you see the Tortoise, the point where the Shrew bit off his nose is still apparent as a stub-like patch, necessitating him speaking in a nasal voice.

 

The APC’s announcement of its principal officers provoked an apparently bottled rage in the party; perhaps of the hue of these animals’ tiff. It revealed the eternal nugget in that aphorism which says that, peace in a family can only be that of the graveyard until the maturation of the bastard within. Inside the APC is an assemblage of strange bedfellows united by ambitious pursuits, gluttony for spoils of politics and dissimilar ideological standpoints. Resistance and opposition by both new and returning legislators to the anointment of legislative leadership thus became a manifestation of this internal disease. Many of them felt miffed by the magisterial manner of the selection and the seeming act of playing God that was demonstrated by the in-coming government, in concert with the party executive council. The altruistic ones within the party believed that this was a surreptitious ploy by the party to hijack the parliament; and that its first bayonet against the parliament was to impose leaders on it.

 

Last Friday, at a meeting held by some leaders of the north who claimed their membership was drawn from the 19 northern states, like the Tortoise, rather than seek a rapprochement, they escalated the tiff between the Shrewd and the Squirrel in the APC. In a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting, they demanded that the leadership of the National Assembly must go to the north. Their argument was that, since the South would, from May 29, be in control of both the executive and the judiciary, legislative leadership was the north’s entitlement, as well as key ministerial appointments.

 

Then, the group, in a communique read by Professor Tukur Muhammad-Baba, chairman and Dr Benjamin Izra Dikki, secretary, gave a qualitative account of the northern votes support for the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, which to it was justification for the north’s demands. According to the the group, the percentage of votes across the six geo-political zones indicated that the North-West cast a total number of 2,652,235 votes for the APC, while the North-Central gave the part 1,742,993 and the North-East, 1,185,458 votes.

 

Then, the group translated this into percentage: “The total contribution of the North was 63.5 per cent.” As a counterpoise to this massive percentage, Muhammad-Baba said the President-elect’s home zone, the South-West, gave him a paltry 25.7 per cent votes, while the South-South, where the APC chose its senate presidential candidate, gave the party a miserable 9.10 per cent and the South-East, 1.45 per cent votes. Then, in summation, the north, the group said, demanded, “fair share of ministerial and other appointments… otherwise, the region is left with no option but to de-invest its support for the government and the party in subsequent elections.”

 

Who then is the Shrew, the Tortoise, or the Squirrel? Given the unfolding drama in the internal politics of the APC, who among the actors would you label the Shrew, the Tortoise and the Squirrel? What happens to the APC house with this standoff of a raging north that seems prepared for a Samson option if its “entitlement” in the National Assembly is not given it? Will the Shrew go for the nose of the wily Tortoise, which thinks it could surreptitiously descend into the arena?

 

Two issues lend themselves for examination in the intra-party quarrel, which the APC is currently embroiled in. One is that, the leadership of the party must have been deliberately truculent in its pronouncement of who would head the leadership of the 10th National Assembly. Did it do this to dare whoever? Granted that it has become the norm for a leading political party to consolidate its win by zoning legislative leadership positions, the APC made an over-reach of its political muzzles by naming individuals, rather than zones, as potential beneficiaries of the leaderships. While details and identities of particular individuals were usually kept to the chest of party apparatchik, in this instance, the APC hit its bare knuckle on the sword by daringly naming individuals close to its chest who would occupy the offices. This provoked atrocious battles and unnecessary struggles to cancel one another out in the battle.

 

Immediately indicators pointed at Akpabio as a favourite for the Senate Presidency, as usual, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) suddenly discovered that he had a sleaze charge hanging over him. Claiming to base its invitation on a 2015 petition by an Abuja-based lawyer and activist, Leo Ekpenyong, alleging theft of N108.1 billion of Akwa Ibom State funds by the shifty senator, the commission apparently went into an inexplicable somnambulism, only to wake up immediately feelers of Akpabio’s candidature sprouted.

 

If the concept of separation of powers indeed undergirds the presidential system of government that Nigeria practices, how does one explain that a proposed executive will choose its sidekicks in the parliament, even before its ascension into office? It is akin to a compromised derby before its commencement. It was what landed Nigeria inside the parliamentary cul-de-sac it currently got entrapped in. The outgoing leadership of Nigeria’s 9th legislature is worse than a rubber stamp, something in the periphery of a supine, babiala parliament, lacking colour, grits or acumen. It brings to mind the question, why does Nigeria’s executive always salivate for the most bendable lawmaking ensemble ever? Why is it averse to the rigour of scrutiny that parliaments, all over the world, offer democratic governance? Muhammadu Buhari, through the legislative accomplice role of the current National Assembly, has literally borrowed the skin off Nigeria’s hide in the last eight years. Yet, the zombies in Nigeria’s 9th National Assembly, like plasticine, willingly offer self for the barbecue of Nigeria’s patrimony by a debt-thirsty titular.

 

Again, the northern group was merely being clever by half in its haphazard statistics. It was this that it used to explain why the next administration should cede the National Assembly to the region. By its open admittance, it is clear that some charlatans in the north see Nigeria as an inheritance and personal chattel that must be at their beck and call always. Not only are the rationale and logic of why the north must control the parliament very untenable and stomach-churning, they are very opaque and impervious to critical thinking. Take, for instance, 2015. The north controlled the three arms of government. The executive had Buhari; the legislature had Bukola Saraki, from the north and the judiciary was manned by Mahmoud Mohammed. In 2019 too, the judiciary was headed by Tanko Mohammed, who was in office between 2019 and 2022, before Justice Walter Onnoghen took over as the Chief Justice of Nigeria. During this period, the north again held tightly, jealously and inequitably to the three tiers of government. Yet, Nigeria did not quake. So what is different if the north does not control the three arms of government this time around?

 

Second is that the statistics of northern support for Tinubu being bandied by this group is very self-serving and misleading. Was the group referring to the margin of victory of the winner or the total number of votes cast for him? If the former is the issue, what should be at issue is the margin of votes given by the north to the two leading presidential candidates – Atiku Abubakar and Tinubu – that is, the differentials. Total number of votes is unrepresentative of the argument that is being proffered and gives an impression that the west did not vote massively for the APC candidate.

 

One good thing that this squabble in the APC is doing is that, it may be an indication that the north is already beginning to get the short end of the stick and stewing in its own broth, the patent of which only it holds. Could the honeymoon have ended even before the consummation of the marriage between Tinubu and his northern sponsors begins? I find a fitting corollary to this self-destruct quest and the fate of both parties in the mythical history of Ibadan. Legendary writer, Professor Femi Osofisan, told the story in his offering entitled Ibadan and the two hundred snails in the book, Ibadan Mesiogo: A celebration of a city, its history and people (2001).

 

As Osofisan narrated, the warrior, Lagelu, who was one of the first groups of settlers in Ibadan, sought divinity’s say on the prospect of his newfound land. To do this, he summoned a Babalawo to consult the Creator. The nuts, goes the narrative, were cast and Ifa counseled the adoption of Oke Ibadan as “the tutelary deity.” Then, as he cast the sacred nuts the second time, the Babalawo pronounced the sacrifice of 200 snails which were to be scattered in various directions of the town, saying “Creep on as far as you can, and that is as far as the town will also grow!” Myth says this explains the phenomenal growth of Ibadan today.

 

However, Osofisan failed to include the other rendering of the myth. The Babalawo was a hunchback and included in the list of sacrifice he divined was a hunchback who would offer a seal on the rituals. The hunchback would then be killed for the prosperity of Ibadan. However, this selfsame Babalawo was the only hunchback in the town. So when Lagelu and his group came back to report to the Babalawo that all had been gathered in preparation for the rituals, he asked them if the completion of the ingredients included “everything,” to which they answered in the affirmative. However, the moment he told them how they were going to perform the sacrifice, the men held the hunchback Babalawo by the scruff of his wrapper, turned his head anti-clockwise and killed him, to be offered for the sacrifice. As he lay dying, he was said to have cursed Ibadan that amity would be a rarity in its fold. In memoriam to this Babalawo, Yoruba couched a pithy saying to capture his travails thus: Babalawo al’akiki tan ti ki’ra e mo’fa, meaning, the over-chanting Babalawo who chanted himself into a ritual sacrifice.

 

So the question is, in the mould of the fate of the Babalawo, could the north, which gave the ruling caste in the APC its feet and existential being, be the same key to the final denouement and resolution of the Nigerian dilemma with the north? Will it be the death or dissonance of the APC, like children of the proverbial python that is fated to kill it?

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