A Night at the Eagle’s Square

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APC Delta State

By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo

Television cameras never tell all the truth. The APC Presidential Primaries was my first time at a major political event. A roadblock was installed two kilometres from the entry gate. Hawkers of second-hand clothes and burantashi jostled for customers. Chaos was everywhere. Raggedy musical bands hired by some contestants marched like drunkards. The feeling that there were more pickpockets than human beings filled the festive atmosphere.

At the gates, disorder held the reins. I was advised to tuck in anything that could be snatched, including the accreditation card dangling on my chest, and get ready for a push-and-shove. The policeman looked fierce. Instigated by turbulence at the rear, the crowd surged forward. A bootlicker’s attempt to shove humans aside for an arriving VIP. The human wave crashed at the gates. The police casually detonated a tear gas canister. The billow gushed straight into my nose and flew into my brain. I staggered backwards. While I contemplated quitting, my friends, conversant with the rough and tumble of party politics, surged forward, determined to squeeze through the gate. Dizzy, but desperate not to be detached from my group, I changed my mode. The police officers pushed the gates, but we were in. We showed them our accreditation cards. They smiled at us. What was the purpose of accreditation? Too many security men. Yet nobody was screened. The second gate was busy, but not riotous. In such places, at such times, everyone struggled.

Inside the grounds, the confusion was only beginning. People milled around and hawked fake drugs, moimoi and aphrodisiacs. How did the hawkers get in when we could barely force ourselves in with our accreditation. The delegates were in their asoebi. The Osun delegation wore shiny hats, advertising the 4+4 ambition of their state governor. Perhaps they said they belonged to Oyetola and not Aregbesola. Such messages were everywhere. A certain Aliyu seeking to represent Jos North in the House of Representatives had his pictures roving the arena. A rowdy carnival was afoot.

Soon loudspeakers started booming. Abike Dabiri hadn’t relinquished her role. Shina Peters, an old redoubtable, came on stage to render afro juju, perhaps a fitting commencement for what would be a night of afro-abracadabra. As aspirants arrived, they walked around the arena and waved at the cheering and, sometimes, smirking delegates. The delegates rarely booed.

The president arrived with sirens, and the ceremony began in earnest. The only oasis of order was the state box. Everywhere else was Jankara market in full bloom. Aspirants filed out alphabetically to address the delegates. Only a few listened. Asiwaju started because someone thought first names were more important than surnames. My friend said it was a deliberate mistake to create an advantage. That must have been a sign that the gods were with him. He had boisterous followership in the arena. When he showed signs of frailty with the clumsy handling of his papers, his fans started cheering. A politician must cultivate both blind and critical followership. With a large blind battalion, like Trump, their faults won’t count. Down the road in the ceremony, one of the less remarkable aspirants mounted the stage to ask those who loved Buhari to raise up their hands. It was such a night. When Ogbonnaya Onu emerged, he wasn’t smiling. Forlornly, he asked for the whereabouts of Justice. Poor man.

Before Akpabio started the cascade of stepping out and falling down, it had all seemed tense. After Badaru threw in the towel and prostrated before the Jagaban, the contest became predictable. Nevertheless, strange things continued happening. Emissaries darted around, ferrying messages from aspirants and their surrogates to and fro delegates. Hordes of delegates went around discussing with aspirants. Swollen Ghana-Must- Go bags travelled from place to place.

The Eagles Square was where things went fever pitch. But before the main night, delegates had been busy in their hotels. Before Imo delegates arrived at the arena, some of them had gone to the house of a certain governor from the North Central to collect 2000 dollars each. Even spirants who stood no realistic chance shared dollars like confetti. The Imo delegates were shocked because they knew the white lion’s ambition was a desperate white elephant project. Soon after they returned to their nest, the Imo delegates were instructed to vote for Lawan. Order from above. When Lawan was dropped from the list by the governors, dumbfounded Imo delegates were told to await further instructions. Aspirants visited delegates at night in their hotels and left gifts. Imo delegates received 5000-dollar messages from two aspirants. At 2 am on the day of voting, they were quietly instructed to still vote for Lawan. No scruples.

All through the night at the Eagles Square, one fake prophet and a mad man stayed beside me. While the prophet sang and prayed for fire to fall from heaven to help Amaechi, the mad man helped the prophet to chase away intruders. Were it not for the mad man, the boys that fought over food like ravenous bulls would have dislodged the temporary shrine. Because the boys fought for an hour and spilt their blood after spilling the food. It took over a dozen police and DSS and a thousand strokes of the cane to separate the locked horns of the crazy bulls.

It had seemed a close contest. But once the Tinubu Tsunami started, the result was foreseeable. At Dawn, more than 5000 men and women of all ages and occupations lay on the bare ground, exhausted, unmindful of the filth beneath them. Television cameras don’t tell all the truth. If they did, viewers would have seen the underbelly of the Eagle’s Square. Filthy like hell, littered with plastic bottles, plates, half-eaten and rotting foods. There were no visible waste disposal facilities. Someone said there were mobile toilets somewhere. We have work to do.

If there were Emergency Exits, we were not told. Fortunately, no stampede happened. But it wasn’t difficult to see that such gatherings organised by clowns are disasters waiting to happen. I was happy I attended. Congratulations to Asiwaju Tinubu.

Our politics needs a thorough-going reformation