In this excerpt from the novel, young and idealistic Mr. Tiamiyu faces off with older, richer, more popular politician, Chief Omoniyi, in a local government election. Enjoy.
Two hours after the election was supposed to start, four electoral commission officials arrived with the ballot boxes and their other paraphernalia.
Shortly after their arrival, Chief Omoniyi marched majestically into the voting station surrounded by praise singers. I watched the electoral commission officials prostrate flat on the ground before Chief Omoniyi. Relinquishing their tables and chairs to him, they moved their ballot boxes and sat under a nearby tree. The praise singers accompanying Chief Omoniyi were beating their talking-drums with such intensity that the veins on the side of their heads stood up.
“Omoniyi,” the talking drums called. “He, who says that when you go out you will not come back, is whom you will not meet upon your return.”
Chief Omoniyi sat down while a steady stream of people paid homage to him. Even Mr. Tiamiyu’s elderly father went over and prostrated before Chief Omoniyi. “Shief, I am very grateful for all the business you have sent my way this month. May God continue to prosper you.”
When Chief Omoniyi saw his opponent’s elderly father flat on the sand before him, he turned and sent Mr. Tiamiyu a victorious look. Then he relaxed back in his chair and his wide mouth curved into a smile that did not reach his beady eyes. “Ha! Baba Vulcaniser, please get up. I am just a very young boy. I should be the one prostrating before you ke.” But he made no move to stand up from his chair.
Baba Mufu picked himself up from the ground and dusted the sand off his body. After he replaced his cap, he hobbled back to his son’s side of the compound.
His angry wife hissed at him. “Baba Mufu! Why would you go and prostrate in front of that man? On today of all days! Rubbishing your only son in front of everybody.”
“Must I join your son in biting the hand that fed him?” Baba Mufu snapped back. “When this madness of his is over, are we still not going to eat?”
The angry woman turned her back to her husband.
Mr. Tiamiyu looked at his parents and rubbed his hand over his head. Aunty Morenike placed a hand on his arm. I heard her whisper softly to him, “Your father meant no harm. He is just a product of his time.”
Mr. Tiamiyu stared back at her with eyes that were full of hurt.
Shortly after Chief Omoniyi’s arrival, one of his political thugs brought out a table from a school building and set up a food takeaway station right beside the electoral officials. Those lining up to cast their vote for Chief Omoniyi were each given a small loaf of bread, two akara balls, and a sachet of pure water. After casting their votes, they each received a numbered cardboard from Chief Omoniyi’s men. With the piece of cardboard, the voters were entitled to a hot meal of amala and ewedu soup in front of Chief Omoniyi’s home later in the evening. The political thugs soon ran out of the cardboard and started using ballot paper collected from the willing electoral officers.
As I watched men and women old enough to be my parents stand in line, I wondered if the food was a fair exchange for leaky primary schools, unsafe roads, and dry taps. Even we children knew that the money allocated for these programmes and services went towards maintaining Chief Omoniyi’s harem of women and sending his children to the top schools in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Despite the rising heat, Mr. Tiamiyu continued to smile, walking around to thank the few people who came out to vote for him. But it was obvious to all that it was Chief Omoniyi’s day.
Aunty Morenike had not given up. She continued to whisper to the women as they walked into the school compound. “My sisters and mothers, let us show that we are not children to be bought with food. Whatever we eat today, we will purge tomorrow. But our problems will remain the same. This is our chance to fight for our children’s future.” She put her arm around their shoulders. “Come, let us cast our ballot for a new beginning.”
By late morning, I was growing tired and hungry. Aunty Morenike had brought some food with her, but she was still talking to the women. Then something unexpected happened. An old blind man led by a young child walked into the school compound.
The little boy stopped in front of Chief Omoniyi’s table. “Open your ears and listen!” he said. Instantly, the whole compound fell silent as if it was under a spell.
The blind old man turned his face in Chief Omoniyi’s direction and began to speak.
“Omoniyi is the name your father gave you. Why do you live life as if your name is Shame? If truly your name is Omoniyi, you must know that your life comes with great worth and dreams. Why do you live as if it does not? If the name you were given was Strife, you could continue to live in conflict and blame it on the intense urgings of your name. But your name is Omoniyi. Your mother carried you gingerly on her back, danced around, and sang your name with pride. Why do you live your life as if your name is Greed? Living life recklessly as if you own tomorrow and snatching food from the mouths of innocent children. Feverishly building up wealth that brings no honour and only invites disgrace. Living life like the hunting dog who forgot his master’s call. Living without purpose as if your name is Lost. Will you remember that your name is Omoniyi? A child of great honour and hope. To the promises of your name, you must be true.”
The blind old man turned to the little boy. “Child, take me to Mufutau’s table.” Everybody in the compound watched in shock as the blind man pressed a shaking thumb into purple ink to cast his ballot for Mr. Tiamiyu. When he was done, the child quietly led him by the hand out of the compound.
The crowd continued to stare at Chief Omoniyi with their mouths wide open. What was he going to do? Who could have brought about this great insult to their benefactor?
Chief Omoniyi looked around like a cornered rat staring at the metallic gleam of a cutlass. Then he turned, looking in Mr. Tiamiyu’s direction with smouldering eyes. Everybody in the compound followed his gaze. But of course! This had to be the handiwork of that defiant boy Mufutau.
An angry murmur swelled up from the crowd. Some men from Chief Omoniyi’s camp moved purposefully towards Mr. Tiamiyu. Frightened, our little group moved back, huddling together. The crowd was grumbling: Did this young scallywag not go around shouting that he will bring running water to every household? Is that not foolish talk? How do you bring running water to streets with no water pipes?
To Chief Omoniyi’s credit, it was not as if he did not try to bring water to his people. Did everybody not see the shiny new water pipes dropped off at the local government headquarters? Who could have known that armed robbers would raid the warehouse just two weeks later? That poor night watchman—both his legs were broken.
But even babies knew that this was the handiwork of Chief Omoniyi’s political enemies. It was also mere coincidence that two months later, Chief Omoniyi’s brother-in-law, Agbabiaka, opened a shop where he sold brand-new water pipes at Ekotedo Market.
No one said he was a saint. Who was?
But who could send this young man, Tiamiyu, with such tender bones, to the pack of jackals at the state house? Tiamiyu would be torn to pieces in just a matter of months. Chief Omoniyi—despite all his flaws—was the man with the wisdom and stamina for the hard job of ruling the people.
Hearing the snarls, I looked around with concern. The only exit out was blocked by Chief Omoniyi’s thugs, who patted down the men walking into the compound.
Chief Omoniyi sat back in his chair. The smug look on his face told me he knew that the people whose stomachs were still full with akara and pure water would fight his battle for him.
As the Chief’s men moved closer, the men in our little group asked the women and young children to move to the back. My heart began beating very fast. The crowd was growing irate, calling out for Mr. Tiamiyu’s head.
Then Chief Omoniyi stood. “My people! Listen to me. This is not the time for violence. You all know that I am a man of peace.”
The crowd stopped.
“It is true that the house mouse that spares the sheath but eats the knife is bent on provoking one.” He laughed mirthlessly to himself. “But it is impossible for anyone to carry the wind. Mufutau is like all my other enemies—he cannot succeed.”
Flapping the arms of his stiff damask agbada as if he might take flight, Chief Omoniyi’s voice shook as he sprayed those standing around him with a shower of saliva. From the looks of adoration on their faces, it could have been sprinkles of holy water.
“My faithful followers, instead of fighting with our fists and clubs, we will destroy our enemies with our ballots.” He punched the air with a raised fist. “We will boldly stare down our enemies and we will WIN.”
The people began clapping their hands, thumping their feet on the ground, raising clouds of dust into the air.
Chief Omoniyi’s voice continued to rise. “We the great people of this local government will be a shining example to all others! We will show that right here in our great community, the dream of democracy that has eluded so many others is alive and thriving!”
The praise singers increased the tempo of their drumbeats, driving the crowd into a frenzied dance of victory.