Politics: My Baptism of Fire By Reuben Abati


It was about 6.00 am when I heard knocks on the gate. It was as if someone wanted to bring down the gate to the house. Gba! Gba! Gba! Gbaga, Gbaga! It was unsettling. It was frightening. The noise was deafening.
I woke up. I was angry because I was enjoying the sleep. You know that kind of sleep when you have a dream and a fine girl shows up in the dream and not just a fine girl, but a fine girl you know in real life, offering you affection and love. Then all of a sudden, one idiot cuts it off with a shot of reality. I was not just angry. I was bitter. Only a criminal will wake a man up in the middle of a romantic dream.
I tried to go back to sleep, to recapture the dream. But dreams don’t obey commands. They are like moments in a film. They come and they disappear. And so in this instance, the fine girl didn’t return. Eventually, I had to wake up, because whoever was determined to see me, banged on the gate again. I checked the time. But apparently the barbarians at the gate thought they had some rights of access and control and ownership.
I asked one of the boys in the compound to go and find out what was going on at the gate.
I heard sounds. “We are not going anywhere until we see him. If you people like, you can shoot us. If you like call police. We are members of the PDP and we will take breakfast in this house this morning”.
I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I told the gateman to keep the gate shut. I was told some boys wanted to see me. I gave somebody some money to go and give them and allow me to sleep. The money was brought back. I was left with only one option. I went out to see the intruders. I personally asked them to come in.
“Egbon, this alakowe thing cannot work oh. We have been in front of your gate since 4 am. We said we wanted to see you, they said you were sleeping. Sleep how? We are PDP members, anytime we want to see you, you must wake up.”
The guy that spoke turned out to be the spokesman of the team of three that entered the compound. I took a look at them. One of them had a bag slung across his shoulders. He looked menacing. The other one looked like he was drunk. Their spokesman sounded as if he was struggling with a hang-over. I later learnt that when they arrived in front of the gate, their car had crashed into the gutter. They were so drunk, one of them even slept inside the gutter. Every effort by the security guards to get them to move away failed. They woke up around 4 am. They looked up and saw the posters in front of the gate and they thought it was time for breakfast at my expense!
I tried to be polite. I asked the boys to bring chairs. The intruders and I sat in the compound.
They introduced themselves. They turned out to be children of families that used to be very important in the town. They could boast of pedigree. Why do the children of important families end up as vagrants? One of them even said he was a student at Olabisi Onabanjo University. He didn’t go as far as claiming that he graduated from the University, but what the heck, he could actually be a graduate. The spokesman told me he was actually speaking on behalf of youths in the Estate, and that the three of them had decided to meet me. I asked if I could offer them anything.
“I have water, gentlemen. Would you like to take water?”
“No. we don’t do that”, the spokesman replied.
“We don’t do that”, he replied. I thought he sounded irritated.
“Coffee, then”
“That is not our stuff”, he responded.
“Okay, I have beer. Heineken. Chilled. Criminally cold.”
“No, we don’t do that”, came the response.
“There is soft drink in the fridge. Coke, Sprite, Maltina. Malta”.
“We don’t do that”
“I have Schnapps. Something to warm the stomach. Waa-ale, go and bring schnapps”
“No. Dr. We don’t want Schnapps”
“Lord’s Dry Gin, then. I have that. Cartons of it.”
“We don’t do that.”
It was 7 am at that point. My uninvited guests were busy rejecting everything that I offered. I didn’t know what to offer anymore. Every other person in the compound appeared anxious. I told them to relax. I knew the families of at least two of the guests. If life had been fair, they would never have found themselves stalking anybody as early as 4 am.
“Okay, guys, what do you do? What can I offer you?
“We do Hennessy, XO”
“I don’t have that”
“Then give us Johnnie Walker”
I checked my phone. It was 7. 15 am
“Sorry, I don’t have that in this house.”
What followed was a long lecture by the spokesperson of the team.
“Egbon, see. We know you very well. We have been watching you. We have been in front of your house since 4 am. Just forget this thing about being a technocrat, or an intellectual. You can’t be in politics and you say you are a technocrat, an intellectual. E gbagbe e. You have to step down. We decided to come here today to advise you. Forget grammar, Egbon. Step down.”
I got another 30 minutes of unsolicited advice. I listened. I was stunned. The boys spoke impeccable English.
“This place is an Estate.”, I told them. “I have been here for 15 years. Do you people live here? Where are you from?”
“Egbon, e fi yen sile. We don’t live here. But our parents have houses here and we always come here to play football in front of your house. Have we ever disturbed you? No. We just watch you whenever you come to Abeokuta. Have we ever entered your house? No. But if you want to be Deputy Governor, you must reckon with us. We will enter your house whenever we like.”
“No. You can’t. This is a home, not a party secretariat”
“Egbon, e wo, e gboju nbe… We are PDP members. Even Buruji Kashamu does not stop us from entering his house. Buruji. Buruji. Ibu Owo Baba Sherifatu, Ekun oko Susan. You see these your security men, they can’t stop us. They know us. In this town, ko si omo anybody.”
I advised them that if they wanted anything, they should go to the party secretariat. I even gave them the name of the party’s youth co-ordinator and promised that our team is willing to work with them. They rejected the offer. They said anytime they need to interface with me, they would come straight to the house. At 4 am? They even wanted me to recruit them as my personal team. I told them I have no plans to create any team. I am in politics to serve not to create any team of persons who ask for Hennessy and XO at 7 am.
Our conversation soon ran into a cul-de-sac. They asked for my number. I asked them to take my Personal Assistant’s number. They insisted they wanted only my own number. I gave them. Then they asked for money for the boys. I tried to apologize that I had spent some days on the campaign trail and I had incurred expenses. I would give them something for breakfast, but they should try and understand… I could well have been talking to the deaf.
I went in, put some money together, and sent to them. They asked the PA to return and tell me they needed more money or else, they would not leave. “How can a whole Deputy Governor give us small money?” Apparently, in their heads, the 2019 election has been won and lost. I hid inside the house because I had no additional money to give them. They eventually left, but that was not the last I would hear of them.
The same day, sometime in the evening, I was told that some Okada riders also came to the house. Motorcycles are not allowed inside the Estate where I live, but somehow they found their way to the house. The PA who reported the incident to me said he had to prevent them from seeing me. He didn’t want me to be upset, so he gave them some money and dismissed them. What did they want? They wanted me “to do Christmas” for them. I was also told that a woman also came in the course of the day to ask for help. The PA also gave her some money. He added that the woman broke down in tears, and that more people were coming to the house to ask for money. I was alarmed! Which money?
I am in this thing called politics to make a contribution at another level and to put practical effect to the ideas we mouth on a daily basis in the media. There are too many unqualified persons occupying important positions in Nigerian politics. The educated elite should seize the initiative and begin to take charge, in the same manner in which that class took charge between the 40s and 70s. For some reason, however, the Nigerian educated elite lost the initiative, and allowed a generation of unprepared persons to lead the country. We need to change that. It may be tough. It may be risky. But if this country must make progress, we will need to recruit into the governance arena, more members of the educated and intelligent class.
When the pressure became excessive- people queuing up in front of the house to beg for money and food, I began to feel as if I was losing my mind. I called Ijeoma Nwogwugwu, my MD at Arise TV and reported my frustration. She didn’t have any magic solution to my ordeal, but talking to her helped a bit to reduce the load on my mind. The following day, to tell the truth, I packed my bags and ran back to Lagos. I rejected every phone call. I needed to regain my sanity.
But I returned. You can’t run away from the people who will vote for you. Besides, my Principal had called to complain that our posters were not on the streets of Abeokuta, and he wanted me to address that. My brothers waded in immediately and recruited a team of 60 boys. We had given out thousands of posters, only to find out that the desperate opposition groups in Ogun State also have their own boys whose assignment is to remove other candidates’ posters. The state government even insists that only the candidate favoured by the State Governor can have his posters in certain places. Other candidates and parties are not allowed to place their posters in such places. If you flout the rule, your poster will be removed. I also learnt that posters can only be pasted at night. Our posters were removed.
But I decided to take charge. I stopped giving posters to contractors. My brothers and one of our in-laws, and the team that we recruited decided to go out the other night to paste posters. We drew up a movement chart. Start from Aro and walk the town all the way to Ita Oshin, Lafenwa, Itoku, Sapon and Iyana Mortuary. We had buckets of starch. You need starch to paste posters. We started at 9 pm and we kept moving from one spot to the other. It was in the course of this that I discovered how endangered the so-called Nigerian elite is. Forget government. Forget the elite. Every big man is living in a fool’s paradise. The people who run Nigeria belong to the underground. They are laughing at us. The Nigerian elite will some day pay a big price for failing to raise the level of the people’s welfare. We are in fact endangering the future of the children we educate abroad, because this country called Nigeria has been taken over by those the elite denied the opportunity of hope and self-fulfillment.
To paste a campaign poster, the party is required to pay some amount of money to the signage agency, which is not really a problem, but the real challenge is that you can’t paste any poster and have it protected except you pay ground rent to an underground Mafia that is definitely in control of the town. The boys in charge of this Mafia do not respect government. They are in charge of territories that they have assigned to themselves. They monitor the movement of every VIP in the town. They will tell you without batting an eyelid, that not even the President of Nigeria or the Governor of the State can do anything to them. They are in charge. They actually insist that they are the ones in charge. In the course of this campaign, I have had to send persons to or talk to persons who claim that they are the real government in Ogun State. Incidentally, the people know them and respect them. They don’t even bear normal names and you dare not look down on them.
If I thought they were bluffing, when we got to Ijaiye junction around 2 am, someone called my phone and told me that he just sighted me around the area and he wanted to know what I was doing on the streets of Abeokuta that late. I told him I was at home. He told me not to lie to him. He quoted my vehicle’s plate number. I asked him what he too was doing on the streets that late. He retorted that he was surprised I would ask a street boy what he was doing on the street at 2 am. What? But the truth is: I have learnt so much within a month.
I am in Abeokuta for this election. I refuse to be scared. We are determined to rescue this town and our state from poverty, and despair, and elevate our people’s standard of living. The campaign is on from Oju Ogbara, to every junction or base… Yes oh! Eyin omo Aye, Tuu-ale!