The Present – this is about the realities that confront me presently on a daily basis. The challenges can wear down even a rock but, typical of a sportsman going into a contest, my spirit is very high and my faculties are operating at full steam. Two things are going through my mind as I write this. The night of Thursday, January 8, 2019, and memories of the night of March 21, 1980! As has become our regular pastime, a few friends and I congregate after tennis several times a week at the Abeokuta Sports Club for some drinks and small chops after sunset. Many of us look forward to those meetings as they provide us relaxing time for serious intellectual discourse on Nigerian politics and the state of the country.
Last Thursday night, we had a guest, a friend that was attending the evening rendezvous for the first time. Dotun (not his real name, of course) is a very frontline member of one of the major political parties in Ogun State. He provided refreshing insight into present goings-on because he is in, deeply involved with, and close to, high-ranking people in government. He led us into their secret world as we all expressed different positions on individual interpretations of what is going on within the different political parties. Somehow, the discussions came around to me and my rather subdued quest at being the next governor of the State. Dotun took one look at me and, to the consternation of all, said: ‘Egbon, we have been watching you. You know, we all love and respect you a lot in this State. We know you have great intentions, the right qualifications and unquestionable integrity’. All my sensors and senses went into a full-alert mode. This was serious talk, different from the usual half-hearted hailing of ‘Your Excellency’ that I detest very much because they are most often expressed without any serious intentions. ‘But the truth is that in these elections you will notice we have not harassed you. It is because we do not see you as a threat. We like you very much and that’s why you can still be going around without a bulletproof car, and no army of security men guarding you everywhere.’ I was totally mesmerized by this ‘dangerous’ information in front of witnesses. ‘We understand this political game very well, and we know that you do not have the money to match us at the polling booths on election day. Where will you get twenty thousand Naira needed for every one of the agents and officials at the over three thousand polling booths in the State?’. I was busy working the math in my now muddled brain. ‘We know exactly how to win these elections and shall do so again. You are not our concern’. I was speechless. I that has become a master at presenting my good-case scenario about my chances of winning to anyone willing to listen, was speechless, staring at him in total surprise. I was waiting for more but Dotun was done. Without even breaking stride he moved on to another topic, my case settled and dismissed. No one in the group added a comment. Thinking back, I guess there was no comment needed. The message had been delivered. It was now up to me what I did with it. Many questions started to race through my mind. Is this how things really work? I am coming from a different world where my father counted the ‘houses he never built’ by counting the number of educated children he trained. Yet, the reality is that I encounter multitudes every day in different parts of Ogun State as I explore the hinterland. They readily lap up my message of exciting new possibilities and a new world because it gives them hope, But soon after, rankled by hunger, poverty and disease all around them, and tempted with the monetary crumbs dangled before them, they quickly descend back into the pit of despair and poor choices. For the first time, I did not sleep well that night. I had to find the right page in my book of sports solutions to draw my inspiration and visions from and restore my focus and composure. I went back immediately to the midnight of the 21st of March 1980, the eve of the final match of the African Cup of Nations in Lagos. That night, ‘Chairman’ Christian Chukwu and I could not sleep. We left our room at the Trade Fair complex hotel camp, sneaked to the bar and shared a drink to help calm down our nerves. As we walked passed Professor Otto Gloria’s room, we saw the Brazilian Coach of the national team at the time bent over the desk in his room working on some papers. We went in. He was not surprised to see us. He knew how players felt on such a night close to a major match. We asked him what he was doing. He showed us sketches and markings all over a spreadsheet in front of him. They contained names and arrows pointing in various directions – our names! He told us he was playing the match of the next day. He was playing out on paper as well as in his head the strategy he would deploy the following morning when we would have our team talk. He explained the moves to us as we listened in rapt attention. Then he was done. He had played the ‘match’ and had won in his mind one whole day before the actual match. We saw what he saw. We believed him. We went back to our room that night more confident and quickly fell asleep. The following day, we flew like true Eagles, playing our best and most successful match of the championship. Last Thursday night, I knew I had to drink from the well of that 1980 experience to be able to sleep. I played the entire electoral process in my mind with the invaluable information that Dotun had provided us that night. Rather than be afraid or intimidated, I was excited and challenged. I knew that he was telling his truth. Money is the name of the political game. And there is also physical danger lurking in every corner of the field of contest for the political soul of Ogun State. To conquer the forces that control our collective destiny, to install a true government reflecting the choice of the majority of the people, a government of the people, by the people and for the people, somehow my team and I have to manage and diminish the overbearing influence of money in the elections. To do so would require a mental re-orientation and a willingness by the people to make the ultimate sacrifice, to develop the determination of an athlete to endure extreme pain for a limited period of time, to have a few good men and women lead the way by example, to plan and adopt a simple, specific strategy, live through it and win the elections in the mind and on a spread sheet even before election day. Somehow we must prove the established system of money-wins-elections wrong this time. We will do the simple and honest things, and follow the rules of engagement to the letter. We shall not rent crowds to rallies, or borrow funds and mortgage the future in the process. We shall not flood the cities and villages with billboards, banners and posters because my father stirring now in his grave, in anticipation, will ask me where I got the money from to do so. I don’t want to end up at the police station again, or at the receiving end of his long cane that I last tasted over 50 years ago, and do not intend to taste again. I am believing that the elements have taken charge in Ogun State, and elections will be won on the strength of a great message, good messengers, determined ‘soldiers’ willing to make the necessary sacrifice by demystifying the win-with-money strategy, and protecting their votes against the lure of lucre and their attendant enslavement in the vice of underdevelopment for another 4 years! The Yoruba stand on the periphery of an existential threat to their values, ethos, traditions and cultures. At critical times in their political history they have often stood up to such challenges, and conquered. In Ogun State in 2019, I trust that they will again.
Tomorrow, the Future!