“E Gbe Kini Yii Wa!”: Government Of The Few, For The Corrupt and By The Entitled
At some point on Tuesday night, I felt as if I was the only Nigerian in the world not watching the APC presidential primary election.
Stubbornly I ignored its YouTube livestreams and I kept my eyes on the TV where I was romping through an unbeaten promotion season with Reading FC on eFootball 2022.
Journalistic interest in APC’s “internal democracy” be damned – Ovie Ejaria was on a hat trick against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final!
My phone however, would not stop lighting up as friend and friend; colleague after colleague kept calling. I refused to answer because I knew they all wanted to ask whether I was watching the proceedings at Eagle Square.
Finally I answered the phone when Samantha video called all the way from Scotland. Without letting me say “Hi,” she breathlessly asked me if I had just seen xyz happen at the APC Primaries.
There was no excuse left for ignoring the event at this point, so I grudgingly opened a livestream with the game controller still in my other hand. “Dori me!” went the event soundtrack as soon as the livestream loaded. I blinked in disbelief.
Did I hear what I thought I heard? “Ha! You want to bam ba?!” continued the event soundtrack. “You wanna chill with the big boys? Na you dey run kiti kiti, you dey run kata kata, no fit drink water drop cup!”
I dropped my controller and sat in stunned silence for a few seconds. I exited YouTube and stared at Samantha’s face on the video call for a few seconds, then we simultaneously burst into laughter.
What in the world was going on! Was this a ruling party’s primary election ahead of the general elections in Africa’s most populous country in less than 9 months time, or was it a hastily organised open-air fiesta at Eagle Square, complete with the low-quality loudspeakers and mediocre DJ? What on earth were we witnessing?
This Is Democracy. Apparently.
It ceased to be funny a few minutes later when I found myself absently thinking about the unspoken implications of putting together this shower of nonsense and calling it the Nigerian ruling party’s presidential primary election. Here was the Nigerian political establishment at its shameless, tasteless, embarrassing worst.
A cheaply and hurriedly-organised event, with no arrangements for something as simple as waste bins. A mediocre DJ playing event-inappropriate music including a hit song referencing university cultism, which itself was inspired by a nightclub salute to Yahoo Boys buying expensive booze.
Artists complaining on Twitter that their songs were being used without their permission. Alleged ex-journalist Abike Dabiri screaming into the microphone while doing her best impression of a budget-option kids birthday party MC.
The only thing missing from this macabre spectacle was Abike calling on Yemi Osinbajo, Bola Tinubu and Rotimi Amaechi to come forward for a dance-off, where the delegates would pick the winner of the primary by yelling “Stay!” or “Waka!”
It wouldn’t have been much more absurd than the display of “intra-party democracy” we witnessed earlier this week.
On the one hand was a VP of an administration that banned Twitter, closed borders to a trade surplus, shut down the economy for 5 weeks to “flatten the COVID-19 curve” from <100 cases to >25,000 cases, and took Nigeria into the top 6 in annual conflict death. His ticket, he had promised, would be one of continuity to “build” on the current one.
Presumably he failed to see how that came across very much as a threat.
On the other hand was a frail, incontinent old man who had publicly wet himself at least once, and cannot speak without visibly slurring his words, struggling with motor control and losing his entire train of thought multiple times.
This old man, in response to an apparent plot to keep the presidential ticket away from him a few days before, had thrown a public tantrum about the incredible unfairness of not letting him become president of 200 million people. “E gbe kini yii wa!” (“Bring this thing [the presidency] here!”) he said in front of a microphone. “Emi lo kan” (“It’s my turn.”)
Over 1,000 party delegates apparently responded positively to this rousing exhortation. Or perhaps more likely, it was the $25,000 a head rumoured to have been granted to each of them. He won. It wasn’t enough that he won.
The political class then began lining up to kiss the metaphorical ring, praising him for his “political experience” and “ability to fight.”
If you had fallen from the sky on Wednesday morning and you knew nothing about Nigeria’s politics, you might think that the display of delight that followed his failed attempt to raise the party flag in victory, signified something useful and poignant and significant.
If you could ignore Abike’s projection of underpaid schoolteacher ambient noise into the cheap public address system, and the mounds of trash left behind by delegates who were not given litter bags, and the wildly inappropriate music played by an Industrial Attachment DJ, you might think something important was going on.
You would be wrong. Nothing genuinely important was going on. It was Nigeria’s political elite having a coming out party whose theme was “Be as shameless as possible.” And boy, did they deliver.
And The Joke Is On…Us
The purpose of this column was not to excoriate Nigeria’s political class for being exactly what we have always known or suspected they are.
The real reason I wrote this was to hold a mirror up in front of myself and the reader, to see how we ourselves might be responsible for enabling this deplorable state of affairs.
Think about the very fact of being present at that event on Tuesday night and what it symbolised. Think about how being present on the night, or being entertained by what was not supposed to be in the slightest bit entertaining says about those of us who like to think of ourselves as social voices or the literate commentariat.
The venue of the night’s shenanigans was Eagle Square. The last time I was at Eagle Square was on October 11, 2020, when I found myself scampering away from rampaging police officers shooting live bullet rounds and teargas canisters at a group of peaceful, unarmed civilian protesters I had flown in from Lagos to join.
Before I could make my escape from the ambush at Louis Edet house a few metres away, my backside had taken the full force of a plastic pipe used as a temporary horsewhip by one of said angry policemen.
While the rest of the group scampered down Shehu Shagari Way, I scampered left onto Hospital Avenue and came to a stop behind a mobile kiosk directly in front of Eagle Square.
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There, I recorded a breathless video and tweeted it with the #EndSARS hashtag before crawling under the kiosk to evade a second wave of teargas-wielding police officers. Fighting the power and all that.
Yet here was the same Eagle Square, not quite 2 years later, packed to the rafters with young people like me, screaming their lungs out on behalf of the very individuals who sent the police after us that day, and would later send the military to murder our fellow protesters at the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos.
Some of these young people were themselves present that day on Shehu Shagari Way. They scattered and ran or hid for dear life the same way I did. Some of these young people were deeply involved in the online phase of the protests.
At least one of them held a Twitter Space which I attended at spoke in, on the 1-year anniversary of the Lekki Massacre. And yet here they were, cheering and whooping wholeheartedly for the very men who repeatedly tried to take our lives not quite 2 years ago.
What this told me – and what it should tell you the reader – is that the individuals who verbally and non-verbally tell us “E gbe kini yii wa” and “Emi lokan” are merely symptoms of the political space in Nigeria.
They are not themselves the problem, or at least not all of it. The real problem in fact, is the existence of a large population of young Nigerians who would happily sell their own mother for a lottery ticket.
To these people, there is no line that is not to be crossed; no concept of honour; no understanding of self respect and setting of political boundaries. Anything and everything goes as long as there is a naira or dollar figure attached to it, and so the Emi lokan purveyors simply respond to these existing conditions.
After all, it is not the leaders who create citizens. Citizens however, almost always create the leaders.