The prevalence of the comic spirit is one of those distinctive features of Nigerian life and society – one of those things that make us who we are – our capacity to turn every season, every occasion, serious, not so-serious, even sombre, into an opportunity for mirth, that is – plain rambunctious, defiant or deprecating laughter. In my earlier life as a teacher of comic theory, it was an interesting time teaching the special veins of wit and humour and how the aesthetics of laughter defines national character and culture, a people’s capacity for wordplay, and satire or parody. This trend, embodied in the Nigerian character, north or south, east to west is in part responsible even in an electronic age, for the fantastic humour that Nigerians create on social media. There was so much of this on display during the recent Nigerian election and indeed perhaps, a documentation of the process would be incomplete without recalling some of the highlights of the humour that marked it, from the macabre to the grotesque, the irrational to the verbal magic of some of the key political players and their supporters. This account is merely representative; it is by no means exhaustive.
The place to begin is the verbal gem that the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, then an aspirant, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu dropped in Abeokuta on June 2, 2022, when he used certain words which may well end up as part of Nigeria’s political lexicon viz: “Emilokan” — literally, the Yoruba word means “it is my turn” or “I’m next”. Asiwaju Tinubu had categorically told his audience that it was his turn to become president of Nigeria, having helped the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari to gain power. Highly rated as a kingmaker in Nigeria’s power politics, Tinubu on that occasion announced that the kingmaker was tired of anointing others, he would rather ascend the throne personally. He was firm and assertive and throughout the season that followed, he did not waver despite criticisms that his was an expression of a sense of entitlement and disregard for the right of the electorate to choose. Tinubu’s supporters felt inspired by his confidence.
To illustrate his determination, Tinubu said when Buhari failed thrice to become Nigeria’s president – “O lu le”, once, twice, thrice, he was the one who told the president to wipe his tears, and he helped him in 2015 to achieve his dream. In other words, the auto-suggestion by the APC presidential aspirant was that it was payback time – one good turn, as the cliché states, deserves another. He wanted his goodwill reciprocated. If anyone was in any doubt, Tinubu turned towards the sitting governor of Ogun state, Prince Dapo Abiodun and told his audience that even “Eleyi” (This One) could not have been governor without him.
The three phrases in Yoruba and the underlying rhetoric captured the public’s imagination and caught on like wildfire. Musicians in various genres have turned Emilokan into lyrics – each singer adapting the phrase to suit his or her taste and creativity. The National Association of Seadogs – the Pyrates Confraternity, during the group’s 70th celebration in September 2022 came up with an adaptation of the Emilokan phrase in a highly personal, satirical song. Professor Wole Soyinka, the father figure of the confraternity, dismissed the song as distasteful. In a subsequent statement, the group said it was not out to mock or discriminate against the subject and that it was apolitical. The apology was rather late. Disc jockeys and musicians, notably the Afro-beat singer, Dede Mabiaku had done their own re-mix versions of the song. Several other remixes also showed up on social media platforms. But as many would recall, Tinubu’s Emilokan turned out to be prophetic. Days after the Abeokuta incident, he went on to win his party’s primaries in Abuja scoring 1,271 votes. He defeated 13 other contestants, with some of the original 23 aspirants stepping down for him before the commencement of voting. The closest person to him – Rotimi Amaechi then minister of transportation scored 316 votes! Tinubu also received the endorsement of President Muhammadu Buhari who raised his hand at several campaign rallies and who voted for him on February 25, enthusiastically showing off his ballot paper to prove that he voted for the APC, even if that gesture amounted to a violation of the Electoral Act 2022. Asiwaju Tinubu was later declared the winner of the presidential election by Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with 8,794,726 votes, beating 17 other candidates. Four political parties – PDP, LP, AA and APM and their candidates have since gone to the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal to challenge the results.
Anyone who is interested in a position now borrows the phrase – Emilokan in the hope that just as Asiwaju Tinubu willed his ambition into reality, their own dreams would also come to pass. The other day, the senate chief whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, freshly re-elected (Abia north) generated not a little laughter when he too announced that it is now his turn, and the turn of his village, Igbere, to produce the next senate president of Nigeria. Our democracy is now becoming “turn by turn” but let’s see if the Emilokan magical word would work for Senator Kalu. In Ogun state, Tinubu’s host who was called “Eleyi” (This One) has been re-elected. Prince Abiodun can now confidently say that he is more than an “Eleyi” in Ogun state, having secured a second term without any godfather pulling all the strings for him.
Next to Tinubu’s verbal inventiveness would be the memorable exertions of the governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Wike and his colleague-PDP governors – Samuel Ortom (Benue), Seyi Makinde (Oyo) Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu) and Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia) who took a principled stand that it was the turn of the south to produce Nigeria’s next president and that it was wrong for their party to have elected a presidential candidate from the north, and also the chairman of the party from the north in the person of Senator Iyorchia Ayu. They wanted Ayu to step down as party chairman at the minimum pre-condition for dialogue. The party refused. Wike was accused of sour grapes, having lost his bid to be the party’s presidential standard bearer at the primaries. The G-5, as the group was known stood its ground. It later expanded into a bigger body known as the Integrity Group. Publicly, they taunted the PDP and their presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar. Wike, the obvious leader and main spirit openly identified with members of the APC and Labour Party. Whereas he invited members of those two parties to Rivers state to commission projects and treated them to generous receptions, he snubbed the PDP candidate and members of his own party at the state level who were pro-Atiku.
He made it clear that he would only support the PDP in the state elections, and that he and his colleagues in G-5 would not leave the party. Daniel Bwala, PDP presidential council spokesperson derisively referred to the G-5 as the Jackson 5. Other PDP spokespersons – Aare Dele Momodu and Senator Dino Melaye — were also convinced that the PDP would not be affected at the polls by the G-5 rebellion. In the just concluded general elections, the PDP paid heavily for this disunity within its ranks. On February 25, it lost in states where it should ordinarily have won because the five governors did not lift a finger to help their own party’s presidential candidate. In Enugu, Abia and Benue, the PDP governors lost their bids to go to the senate — in a karmic sense perhaps. In Oyo state on March 18, Governor Seyi Makinde, also of the G5, survived and was re-elected; in Rivers, Governor Wike fulfilled his promise of installing his own successor (a puppet?) although other parties in that election insist that what happened in Rivers state was not an election.
Before, during and after the election, the G5 would be remembered for introducing to the grammar of politics a song titled: “As e dey sweet us, e go dey pain dem”. It is a triumphal song of defiance and self-assertion. Wike gained much attention with his unique style of dancing to this song and with his usual riposte: “Enough is Enough”. When the dust settles, Wike will not be forgotten for his many colourful displays, sometimes bordering on the farcical and the grotesque. For example, drinking a 40-year-old bottle of whiskey at 11:30 am and boasting that he would even drink a 50-year-old bottle. Rotimi Amaechi who originally accused Wike of using state resources to consume alcohol has not said anything further on that matter. Any other response has been swallowed! Wike’s response of course would probably be: “As e dey pain dem, he go dey sweet us”. This line has gained currency across the country. When Alex Otti was declared winner of the gubernatorial election in Abia state, after a suspension of the collation of results to resolve alleged irregularities in Obingwa LGA, his supporters trooped to the streets in jubilation. One of the songs on their lips was: “as e dey sweet us, e go dey pain dem”. Nigerians have not heard the last of that song.
Yet another creative figure on the scene is the current governor of Osun state, Senator Ademola Adeleke of the PDP. The Osun gubernatorial election was held on July 16, 2022, and he was declared the winner. The APC challenged the victory at the State Election Petition Tribunal. The three-man panel at that tribunal upturned the election and handed victory to former Governor Adegboyega Oyetola of the APC. Adeleke and the PDP promptly filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal, which has now ruled in favour of Adeleke, upholding his victory. The APC has vowed to go all the way to the Supreme Court. The current thing in Nigeria is to tell aggrieved election losers to go to court! Governor Adeleke says he is confident that the Supreme Court would rule in his favour. With Seyi Makinde of Oyo state having joined the G5, and former Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti aligned with the same group, the lot fell on Adeleke of Osun State to lead the PDP in the southwest. On February 25, he won Osun state for Atiku. On March 18, the PDP further won 25 out of the 26 seats in the Osun State House of Assembly, losing only in Boripe/Boluwaduro LGA where former Governor Oyetola hails from. But what is most noteworthy about Governor Adeleke is his passion for dancing. He became popular as a senator for his dancing prowess. He and his erstwhile colleague, Dino Melaye, turned dancing into a tool of political communication. I have it on good authority that the first day he reported for duty as governor, the civil servants of Osun asked him to dance for them.
The Osun State Election Petition Tribunal in the lead judgement delivered by Justice Terse Kume, in fact, mocked him for always dancing to “Buga” – the song by Kiss Daniel. The Court of Appeal through Justice Mohammad Shuaibu while acknowledging that a judge can speak “obiter” was however of the view that this comment by the lower court was “uncalled for”. The truth is that Governor Adeleke loves to dance. He has even added drumming to it. There is a video in circulation showing him, in the company of others, drumming away with a Bandiri local drum. When he came to The Morning Show (TMS) on Arise TV on Monday, March 27, I had raised the question about dancing and drumming, and whether he is planning to launch a musical band, like his sons – B-Red and Sina Rambo – and his nephew, Davido. His response was that there is a time for everything, thus echoing Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 11. He also quoted Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I was tempted to ask him to show our viewers a few dance steps. But I let him be. Without a doubt, he will be noted for the colour lent to contemporary politics by him and the likes of Dino Melaye – who has since added acrobatic falls to his displays and who now says he wants to be the next governor of Kogi state.
There is possibly no way I would leave out: “Eluu Pee 74, Eluu Pee 75, 76, 77, Obi 78, Kererenke 79, Obi 80, Obi Nwannem 81..” – a very catchy tune created by Mr Kleb and Obidients to promote the Labour Party and its presidential candidate, Peter Obi. The word is a play on the local, Igbo pronunciation of the 12th and 16th letters of the English alphabet. Turned into a song, it became an instant hit. The imitative pronunciation was not an issue but the sub-text, and in many instances, Obi’s supporters rounded up the Eluu Pee, antiphonal-responsorial with another song – “Obi kererenke, Obi”. This is an old folk song adapted with reverberating effect as Disc Jockeys and party members turned it into a popular song from Nigeria to Ghana, to Kenya. Peter Obi joined the Labour Party on May 27, 2022. In less than one year, he has transformed a hitherto marginal party into a vote-winning, game-changer in Nigerian politics. This should be a useful case study for students of the making of political parties in Africa.
The general, on-cycle elections of 2023 have been concluded except in Kebbi and Adamawa states still declared inconclusive and a few outstanding constituencies in the national assembly, and over 100 election petitions have already been filed but one remaining highlight is how the candidate of the PDP, Pastor Umo Eno won the gubernatorial election in Akwa Ibom state by promising the people: “Happy Hour,” every Friday. His promise is that every Friday, selected restaurants and bars in the state would serve the people food and drinks at a subsidised rate to make the people happy. In his acceptance speech after his declaration as governor-elect, his key message to the people was: “Happy Hour is Here”. It has been reported that indeed, last Friday, even without a formal take-over as governor, a “serve them round”, “come and eat”, Happy Hour was declared in the state with people enjoying pepper soup, edikang ikong, tombo and other delicacies at cheaper rates. Pastor Eno has a programme of action called “Arise Agenda” but he has successfully found his way to Government House by grabbing the people through their stomachs. Can he sustain it? How would he ensure fairness, equity and transparency? And would Akwa Ibom close its borders every Friday, because if the “food is ready” programme is sustained, no one should rule out the possibility of people in neighbouring states and even farther away showing up on Fridays in Akwa Ibom. We are effectively in a season of hunger, hypocrisy and political opportunism.