Opinion: Running Mates – By Sam Omatseye

In a nation where laughs are many and tragedies even more, it is often a struggle to tell them apart. So, we cast the Nigerian story as tragi-comic. Episode after episode, we laugh with salty tears, sounding and looking half the hyena, half the happy child. It is laughter as hiccup except that we don’t choke enough to die.

The APC presidential sweepstakes give us much for theatre, if for little cheer. Those who make a penny of a N100 million and are quick to dispense with it in order to make more. They will make more by staying put with the honeypot of office. Better to lick the honey for one year than risk eight-years without the money, a pie in the sky, a promise without a premise. Those who pay it and those who don’t, and those who pay and deny it, and those who pay not as charity but as mockery.

There are those who pay by acting as what Bayo Onanuga calls the puppeteers. These persons work behind the portals to stoke the egos of presidential wannabes. They know how to flatter their secret hopes. They know how to make a little man into a gargantuan soul. This is what medics and psychologists call the delusion of grandeur, or a folly of grandiosity. For examples, let’s look at Goodluck Jonathan and Godwin Emefiele, two men who make you laugh indeed. A colleague of mine calls them running mates, a definition of their status that explains their peripatetic misery as well as their subordinate perch.

They are running mates because both are running the same way, if they are running against each other, but they are running at once to the office or away from it. They are running in plain sight and out of sight. They are running by proxy. But they are two candidates who are running and are denying they are running while sweating and moping on the presidential track. In the end, they are running like Apostle Paul’s castaways. They won’t “run all” and not get the prize, a corruptible crown.

Last week, the illusion festered that Jonathan had actually thrown his Otuoke weight into the ring. Pictures and video clips of jubilant youth in Bayelsa bloomed online. He had paid his N100 million. But before then, the story was that he had paid, and then he retorted with a denial. The former president with a simpering smile flew to the office of the APC chairman to find out if he was indeed the chosen one. He did not seem to get the answer he wanted from Adamu, and then a silence. Then an eruption on Otuoke streets. The deadline passed. But no form from Jonathan. His presidential dreams kaput.

The man wants the second term badly. Many had flayed him for giving up the presidency so easily even though he lost. They believe the man could have amassed the armed forces to edge out the Katsina chieftain. The homilies about being a gentleman who left office with class had grown old. He does not want to die as the man who did not get back power, a la Buhari himself. So, he kept keeping his supporters in hopeful reverie. Now, they see no revelry in the offing.

Jonathan was going to move from PDP where he flourished and perished to the party that sealed his fate. He was going back to his vomit. He might have done it with pride, not the man without shoes kind of tale. Maybe as a reconciler. No time to muse over his place as a puppet. A Fulani platform had bought the form to make the former president a northern slave. He would be president for only four years, and then yield it to the north. He did not think that, always pursuing a typical politician’s zest for self over people. If it worked, he would have given us a chapter of burlesque tears.

Jonathan may be suffering a comeuppance. When he was president, he subverted his Bayelsa gubernatorial successor Timipre Sylva’s bid for a second term. In spite of cajoling and begging, the then President Jonathan deployed land, air and sea forces to flush Sylva out of office. In his own bid for a second term, Jonathan is probably beholding Sylva like Banquo’s ghost to rid him also of a second-term fantasy. What a way for history to repeat itself.

So, Jonathan may have had a fruitless dialogue with his God. He may have remained in the tranquil dignity of an ex-president, chewing a statesman’s cud. But the lust for power is probably eating him up. He remembers the emblems of office, embers of flattery, swagger, pomp and power of over a hundred million souls. Rather than bear it with contentment and say, I thank God for that opportunity, he would not. Rather he is battling St Augustine’s storms of the flesh, the sage who dreamed the City of God. The Catholic philosopher and saint begged God in moments of concupiscence: “Give me chastity and continence, only not yet.” Jonathan wants another bout of lust in the City of Nigeria. But like God told Paul, my grace is sufficient unto you. If APC absorbed him as candidate, it is going back to its own poison.

For Mefi, it is clear he cannot run. He must be in a sort of haze wondering what hit him. Who conned him into such a delusion. He thought he could upturn law and common sense, and he would walk, with his puny frame into the colonnade of Nigerian power. The same frame that once bowed to a cross-legged “cabal.”

Delusion of grandeur is not new. It is the Malvolio complex in our politics, where a servant by mere flattery believes he can marry the great woman of the house. A man makes a P.A. who marries his daughter a governor. Victor Hugo laments it in his play Ruy Blas where a servant disguises to win a queen’s heart. The theme is best pursued in literature in Don Quixote, who permits himself to believe that everyone loves him, everyone is under him, he possesses kingdoms and damsels and even a lion can obey him. Even in his memoirs, Obama said he once chastised himself whether he was not a Don Quixote when running for president. If Mefi, Jonathan and all the others with that delusion can’t read those works, they should look for Soyinka’s A Play of Giants, especially the part where a head of state thinks he is so important that his massive statue must stand at the United Nation’s embassy.

We have seen instances of this aplenty here. The least spoken is Kogi State Governor who, with a travesty of superfine sobriety, thinks he can be president, just because whimsical fortune gifted him the governorship chair.

In Nigeria, just like Jerzy Kosinski’s novel, Being There, anyone in Nigeria thinks he can be there.

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