By Femi Olugbile
One afternoon a long time ago, your colleague Ladi requested you to come to his glittering new hospital in Obalende to see a patient whose behaviour was proving a veritable handful.
You arrived to find Ladi standing outside the door of his consulting room. He was wearing a perplexed look on his face.
He was gone, he said. The young man just got up and raised hell and bolted.
His sympathy, Ladi explained, was for Baba, the young man’s father. Baba loved this ‘boy’ with a passion, despite all the trouble and embarrassment he caused him.
He went on to explain who Baba was, perhaps to help you to see the gravity of the situation. Baba was a retired politician who had latterly taken to serving God as a conspicuously humble Steward and Reader in the Cathedral nearby, with an air of piety enwrapping him like a cloak.
But those who knew Baba in his heyday knew him as anything but a simpering sentimental old gentleman wringing his hands helplessly. Baba was once the contestant in an election who, in full public glare, grabbed his opponent by the neck and dealt him three stinging slaps across the face. When informed that an eminent elder was upstairs watching the drama from his balcony, Baba swiftly grabbed his own shirt by the neck and tore it into shreds. When the elder cynically joked that he did not know Baba had so much strength in his hands that he could tear his shirt, Baba, unfazed, laughed and said it was ‘Politics’.
Baba’s story is the story of a vocal, truculent leader of the Youth Wing of a major party who was fielded to contest an election in his hometown. When he lost to a ‘peasant’, he was mad at the leader of his party, who he assumed must have betrayed him. He became an implacable foe of his former leader. He decamped from party to party, eventually settling behind a new principal in a renegade party. He would become the voice of his new party, and its fearless ‘force de frappe’.
The stories of his exploits are the stuff of legend.
On the streets of Ibadan, when he was out with his gang in a convoy, some with large rolls of weed between their lips and cans of petrol in their hands, traders deserted their shops and retreated indoors, shouting the mantra ‘Power’ to save themselves. Those perceived as enemies, and occasionally their homes and property, were doused in petrol and incinerated in the famous orgy of violence that came to be known as ‘weti e’.
There is a well-known story of Baba and his principal riding through the town of Ilesha on their way back from a political campaign once. Passing in front of a Grammar School, where students had lined the road to watch them, they heard some students chanting the initials of his principal, a combination which, given the many tonal ambiguities of Yoruba language, could be twisted to mean ‘leg of a Thief’. Baba, chagrined, ordered the convoy to a stop, and jumped over the school’s fence, in hot pursuits of fleeing students. With his aides, he laid into the students with sticks and whips. It was mayhem.
A former student would recall that the school’s javelin champion was so upset at the whipping and maiming of his fellows that he took aim at Baba with his javelin and was about to let fly, until he was stopped by a teacher.
Baba was proudly the third generation of his family to get the best education money could buy in the United Kingdom. He passed through the Oxbridge nexus, the ultimate home of learning and good breeding. But Oxbridge did not pass through him. He knew the truth, but he was not enslaved to it. He gave himself freedom to pursue nothing but his own ends, using his massive armamentarium of worldly charm, gift of the garb, and intellect as a Queen’s Counsel. He was devoid of any hint of enduring principle, and totally lacking in empathy. And, very importantly, he was a survivor.
When the coup makers of 1966 came for his principal, the Premier, the poor fellow confronted them in a heroic but ultimately futile last stand. When they came for Baba, the Premier’s Deputy, he came out with his hands conspicuously high in the air to show – not just his surrender, but also his unqualified support for the new order, whatever it was.
It was rumoured that, not knowing what to do with him, the soldiers carried him in their truck all the way to Lagos. Shortly thereafter they let him go.
If people once wondered why Baba was so indulgent of his son, the answer was that he saw himself in him.
Baba has since passed on to glory.
The son is now Baba.
He is arrogant. He calls others ‘peasants’ He has the gift of the garb. He dresses fit to kill and is a serial ladies’ man. One day he called a sitting President a nincompoop. A few weeks later, he was leading the same President’s re-election campaign, in direct charge of the cesspool of undocumented ‘campaign’ money. After the voting, while the last votes were being tallied, and just before the President stepped up to concede victory to his opponent, Baba the Son was on the airwaves, boasting to the world that the President’s party was winning a landslide victory.
The sentiment he whips up is for other people. He is all about the transaction.
The Son, in his latest move in the Nigerian public space, is attracting a lot of opprobrium from the hoi polloi, incensed at his ‘betrayal’. They don’t understand the word has no meaning in his lexicon.
The one piece of wisdom everyone, including his current friends, must have learned by now is not to give him that thing which he does not himself possess an iota of – Trust. Transactional people don’t do Sentiment, or Loyalty, or, God forbid, Idealism. All of those, regrettably, are attributes for ‘peasants’, in their book.
This column learned, with sadness, of the recent passing on of Dr Obadiah Mailafia. He was a man of great conviction and boundless courage. May his soul rest in peace.