Nigeria Matters

Street Tales of a President’s Death

“Oga, Oga, wake up dem say President Yardua don die” the thickly accented and frantic voice of our Aboki roused me rudely from a deep slumber early that Thursday morning. It was the morning after Nigeria’s fifth elected President; Umaru Musa Yardua’s breathe his last on Wednesday 5 May 2010. A combination of factors beyond my control had ensured that I missed the news of the President’s death which broke the previous day. The Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) lived to its legendary “power holding” status, seizing power and keeping Lagosians in the dark on very important occasions.

I had vowed just recently to reduce my fuel consumption after I did a mental calculation of the volume of litters my “Tiger” generator gulps on a daily basis. Without exaggerating, one can sink a private fuel dump with the volume of fuel one consumes in this mega city. With the aboki still clutching his radio, belching out BBC Hausa Service, I switched on the TV only to catch Don Riddel of CNN announcing the death of a President he referred to “as an honest leader in a country of corrupt people”

Now, that settled it for me, the President was truly dead. I didn’t know what to feel. Relief or Regret? I rushed out only to be confronted by a group of acquaintances who were passionately arguing about the implication of the President’s demise. But one interesting line of argument from the frenzied outbursts struck me. One guy, whose voice rang out the most among the lot, was sure that the President had been dead since January and was only kept from the Nigerian public by the “wicked cabal”. What? I was puzzled! Not that this line of thinking was particularly new since the saga of the President’s health and the machinations of a cabal unfolded before our very eyes and reaching a climatic but sad end on Wednesday.

But these men who had gathered round the aboki’s makeshift shop seem to buy hook line and sinker into this conspiracy theory of a President that was said to be long dead. That morning, I decided to play an observer role throughout, listening to the discordant tunes from early risers who have also been kept at home by the public holiday in honour of the “servant leader”. But there was another voice of dissent by a Lagosian who had surreptitiously joined the raging argument. The smallish guy with a long beard clutched a Muslim praying rosary in his hands, listening intently to the group.

I watched him as he muttered some inaudibles that I guessed was Muslim prayers as he counted the beads slowly. Was he praying for the repose of the soul of the dead President? I did not ask him. But when he spoke, it was to denounce the conspiracy theory. “My friend, look here, he offered “the President could not have died before now; Muslims bury their dead immediately” That seemed logical. Except that the cabal surrounding the late President did not help matters by shrouding his health in secrecy. Now do you blame these Lagosians for succumbing to ridiculous speculations? But was the President really long dead? Later as I boarded a bus heading to Obalende, a new dimension was added to the street tales about the President demise. That morning, I observed that the streets were empty; the traffic on the usually hectic Lekki Expressway was unbelievably light. The bus ride to Obalende was solemn, devoid of the usual rancour between the conductor and passengers. It seemed on this day, Lagosians were united to pay their last respect for the dead. But that was not until a passenger broke the silence from the back of the bus “chei, so Yar’dua don die”. The statement prompted a number of sad and sorrowful sighs. Then a cacophony of voices broke out. One passenger blamed the First Lady and those managing the President’s health for not seeking African traditional medicine to cure the dead President!

“Look” the elderly man with a wrinkled face and eyes that sank deep into their sockets bellowed” in my village, there is cure for that “acute pericardia sis” Those Oyinbo people no know anything” Another man spoke of the famed good luck in the political trajectory of the current President Good Luck Jonathan. That and many other speculations became the subject of frivolous but heated argument in the yellow painted bus, roaring towards Obalende. One passenger in the middle row, with the day’s newspaper spoke of life beyond 2011, should President Goodluck Jonathan contest or not?

Arriving Obalende, I alighted from the bus and was shocked at the scene that confronted me. The bus station, with its chaotic state is fasting turning into pre-Oshodi years before Governor Fashola transformation. That morning after President Yardua death, the place was its usual bustling self. I proceeded to the vendor’s stand to buy my some newspapers. The vendor’s stand was besieged by free readers who were eager to scoop headline news about the day’s event. I did a quick headcount. They were scores of men holding different newspapers published in the mega city. With the number of free readers that besieged the vendor’s stand in different parts of this mega city, does anybody still wonder why newspaper in Lagos record poor sales?

I mean how can an individual read for free, seven newspapers or more without buying any? Pardon my digression here, but how do these free readers expect newspapers houses to make their money back when all they do is to resume at the vendors very early in the morning to read free newspapers? They even have the audacity to form an association named Free Readers Association of Nigeria (FRAN). Cheeky, isn’t it? At the vendor’s stand in the heart of Obalende, hot argument raged among Lagosians free readers about the news of the President’s death. One Lagosian wondered what would happen to Turai Yardua now that the President is dead.

Another wants the cabal prosecuted for taking the country on a wild goose chase. As the argument raged, I look around Obalende to capture the mood of the moment. But all seemed normal. The bus conductors were busy prospecting for passengers to different parts of the mega city. Hawkers, passers-by and the sea of heads in Obalende that morning went about their businesses without any sign that a President death’s was one of their remote concerns. Do they know that the President was dead? May be yes, but do they care?

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