Dining with the devil

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One day, my father’s party men came to him and told him they wanted me to stand in as the chairmanship candidate for our Local Government Area in the forthcoming election. My father was an active politician for upward of thirty years, and he had journeyed across many political affiliations as one party died to allow others to flourish.

    The men who came to him had always made the same political journeys and alliances with him. Thus, they had been members of the same set of parties since they began their political adventures or misadventures. Most of them had had worthwhile political gains in the past: some of them had held political posts in our local government, and some even in the state. Likewise, some had sons and daughters sent to offices and parastatals as rewards for their loyalty to their parties and venerable political leaders at various times. My father, however, had never had such juicy offers for himself or any child or dependant. It seemed as if he only loved the intrigues and dirty games that go with politics.

    And some of these intrigues had been near disastrous for us, his children and his wives. Many times, our house had almost been burnt down by his political rivals. What had saved our necks one day was that one of my stepmothers (I had two stepmothers, and my father had three wives) happened to be the brother of one of the henchmen of the squad that had been sent to torch our house and our lives along with it.

     After this near-extinction experience and our survival, our mothers went to our fathers. They knelt before him and pleaded with him to stop his political whoring, as they called his constant jumping from one political wagon to another. Father was enormously annoyed by their request and its dictatorial wording. He shouted them down in his no-nonsense imperial political voice. He once said there were many political voices: the imperial, the intimidating, the persuasive, the marketing, the comradely and the abusive. He asked them to leave his presence before the spirit of his warring ancestors descended on him. But my mother called his bluff. She was the first wife and his first love. Therefore she knew how to turn the ignition key of his bluff because he indulged her to some extent. She told him: “When those political thugs were here some hours ago, threatening to raze down our house, where were the spirits of your cowardly ancestors? They were just as helpless as you and your many boasts. Can’t you remember the killings and the arsons of 1983? Remember how people were roasted alive and mighty edifices were burnt to the ground. Please we don’t want to end up as sacrifices for your political glory or infamy. Spare us these constant heartaches.”

    Father’s eyes were like red embers now. Mother’s words had affected him as they always did, but a man does not give in easily to a woman’s argument, no matter how sound it is. He would always put up a stand to save his face even if he would do exactly as the woman bides later. That must be why he is a man- not by the genuineness of his argument but by the obstinacy of his resolution. A good man doesn’t accept weakness openly, let alone a politician who sees himself as a local force, especially to his wives.

   “Look women, if you don’t like what I do, and you think my affairs can bring you any loss, you are free to go. Just remember, my children are mine, and don’t attempt to go away with any of them.”

     My mother looked into his eyes. He saw what the other wives could never see. The anchorage of his first love, the tether that held him to her forever. She knew father was merely putting up a facade now. She stood up and her sisters did likewise. She told them to follow her.

     My father went to my mother at the dead of the night and talked to her. They had a way of talking to each other. He only had to win my mother over to him. I even heard he used to go on his knees to his mother when they were alone to make his mother do his bidding. But I couldn’t believe my father could possess, let alone exhibit, such demeaning traits. He was a little god of our household.

     The obvious however was, the following morning, mother talked to her fellow wives, and they stopped their bickering. He was a clever politician, and he knew how to play his card both within the home and without. Soon after that my mother too, plunged herself headlong into politics. It was not long before she became one of the women leaders in our local government. But our family had not enjoyed a special political dividend until that day when father’s associates came with their juicy offer.

    “Liramo, your son is a graduate. We want a graduate this time around as a chairman of our local government. Our party thinks your son will do.”

     “Which son of mine?”

     “Kayode of course. He’s a good boy. Very charismatic. He’ll make a good politician. Moreover, we think it is high time we reward you.”

     But father was a proud one. He replied, “I don’t as much need your reward. I am okay with what politics itself gives me. I like making people do what I believe in. It is my greatest joy when I ask people to vote for this candidate or that, this party or that, and they do it, and they vote my candidate or party. That’s my reward, comrades. It’s enough!”

    The leader patted my father’s shoulder, adjusted the collar of his jacket as well, and smiled at him. Then he said, “We are actually not the ones rewarding you but what you love doing – politics. It is one of the laws of life that everything you love doing, and which you do without reservation will one day profit you. You have always committed everything you have into politics; it is just right that politics profits you too. Moreover, your son Kayode is cut for great things. It is obvious in how God made him and how he does his things. The chairmanship thing is going to be a mere stepping stone for him. I can see him becoming the president of this country in no distant future.

    My father laughed dismissively. “Not all people can aspire for such high political position as presidency, and a hard – to – start boy like Kayode – I don’t think is in such league. Presidency is for scions of great houses.”

     “Like who and who?  Give me some antecedents  …”

     My father was floored, and it showed in his face.

     Chief Albert continued his campaign. “Many people who had made remarkable political imparts in this country were no scions of any great house. Go and read the biographies of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Tafawa Balewa, Ladoke Akintola, Nnamdi Azikiwe and many others. They were no aristocrats. Kayode here has a better beginning than most of them; he is already a graduate at twenty five.”

     And after their wrangling of words and wit, father called me. “Kayode, you are going to be our party’s chairmanship candidate for the forthcoming local government election slated for May…”

    I looked at my father, his eyes were searching mine, looking for some rudders to anchor his hope. And for me, my mind was in a whirlwind.

      “Father, count me out,” I replied him.

      “Are you mad?  Count you out of what? Why do you think I stuck to politics when it was rough and tough? Why do you think I bare my neck and yours, my wives and children, for the political gladiators to cut? Do you think I took all these risks because I love taking risks and tangoing with death? No! I knew all along that if we don’t end up as casualties of political mishaps, we shall end up as heroes. You are the first of the many heroes this family will raise. If you are mad as I have just said, get out of my sight now. But if you are sane and sensible, tell me you will take the offer.”

     I knew my father was obviously furious from the way he was stampeding from one question to another. His big chest was heaving and its size seemed to have increased substantially. The golden pendant he wore was heaving too, rising and descending on his chest. He looked to me like a buffalo now, mammoth and fearful. But the manner he brought his fury to an end mesmerised me. I realised immediately that it was no anger but another political smart punch like he always knew how to throw.

    He was always like that; he always left his audience with a zero option. Was I mad? Would I agree with him that I was mad and get out of his sight that instant? Would I prove to him I was sane and sensible and take the offer? Which exactly of the two options was even sane and sensible? – agreeing to be the chairmanship candidate of my father’s political party or declining?  I made up my mind to be sane and sensible the way my father wanted it and retain his and his people’s patronage rather than be mad and walk out of his sight. Moreover, it is regarded as utterly impolite to walk out on an elderly person. By staying put and be sane and sensible, I had nothing to lose but much to gain.

    “Okay father,” I mumbled.

    “Okay what?  Tell me your decision in comprehensive sentence so that I don’t misunderstand you.”

     “Okay father. I agree to be your party’s chairmanship candidate for Okiki local government area come the next elections.”

     “Yes! That is what I call sane and sensible. You don’t know where this can lead you. As a graduate, you are already qualified to become the president of this country. You just need to start somewhere and see the extent you can go with my friends’ patronage.”

     I looked down and thought of myself Kayode Liramo as the president of Nigeria in no distant future. It just did not click. I couldn’t see myself as one. I tried to imagine myself reading the national budget in flowing babbanriga and zanna cap, the pictures kept evaporating before they took any discernible shapes, but my father couldn’t be told that, now or forever. I kept mute.

     And the process began. I must attend meetings organized by my father’s party throughout the local government. I must visit every community leader in about twenty towns and numberless villages. I must address rallies and political campaigns. I must talk the way father and his people talked. I must sing the praise of our party and sing to slander other parties. I must subtly crucify elders and leaders of opposition with seemingly harmless innuendoes and contort fictional tales of their infamies at various times.

    I did all these beyond my father and his friends’ expectations. My talents amazed me; my ingenuity was astonishing, even to myself. My Yoruba was fluent. I never knew I could be so imaginative and artistic with the language I hitherto spoke haltingly. My diction was just too appropriate for every situation and circumstance. My English, too, was like pouring water down a waterfall, so natural, without a hitch. I even began to believe that deep within me I had the potential to become the president my father and his people had called my birthright. I had fallen in love with politics. Politics was sweet like getting lost in the arms of a beloved beauty queen.

    Then Chief Albert called me one day and said, “Kayode Liramo, our maverick politician. Our soon to be president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

     I smiled my very handsome smile. People have said that since I became a politician, my smile has become a beauty, and it has since become one of my many trademarks. I smiled like I blinked copiously.

     “You have conquered the physical terrains of the entire Okiki local government area. What remains for you now to conquer is the spiritual terrain. Your opponents will fight you from the two realms, and you must be very formidable at every terrain to be able to clinch the sceptre. Now, I want you to begin the spiritual onslaught to make every acre of our local government your indisputable domain.”

    And the spiritual onslaughts were many funny things – I was made to bathe naked in a running river seven nights and days. I was made to feast on a concoction of fermented locust beans for another seven days, taking no other food in between. It was such a nauseating, putrid affair. I was also made to spend a night alone in a room lit with one thousand red candles, praying nakedly for all the good things in life. I did all these with zest. After these, a pastor of a white garment church asked me to go and print all the posters and handbills I wanted to use as campaign tools. He asked me to have my best portraits embossed in the posters.

     I went and snapped about ten portraits with my best-winning smiles. The printers chose two of them for state of the art posters and handbills. I took them to the pastor. He kept them with him for a week of prayers and anointing. He asked me to go and paste and distribute them throughout the twenty towns and numberless villages of our local government. I hired a legion of loafers to do that for me, and my posters with my handsome face charmed away at every standing wall, tree and abandoned vehicle. I believed I charmed both old and young to my side. I was indeed very handsome. I looked extremely irresistible in those pictures. Some force seemed to have enhanced my features, and my masculine grace was ethereal. Even I fell in love with myself like everybody who set his eyes on them was wont to do.

     I thought I had conquered the spiritual realms now. I no longer featured as an underling in my many dreams; I had become the champion and the hero that called the shot in them. And the environment I operated in was always awash in golden luminescence. I wore in them the grand enhanced faces of my posters, and my smile was constant and enamouring. But one afternoon, Chief Albert invited me and gave me a bag of a salt-like substance that was yellowish in colour. I looked askance at it.

     “It is salt,” he said.

     “But why is it yellow in colour?” I asked him.

     “It is mixed with red oil. Find a way of pouring this into the wells, pools and streams that people of this local government drink from. Make sure you do that at least two months to the election time, so that every eligible voter in the local government would have drunk from it…”

     “And what would happen after they might have taken such water?” I asked.

      “They will love you beyond control. They will even be ready to die for you.”

     “Why me?”

     “Your urine is embedded in that substance,” he replied.

    “My urine?”

   I started to shake all over. I got up and ran home to accost my father.

    “How did you people get my urine for the messy concoction Chief Albert asked me to drop into people’s drinking water sources?”

     My father laughed raucously and picked up the tall glass of wine on the table in front of him.  He hungrily gulped half of it. Then he burped and smiled at me.

     “You are still a child, Kayode. People who know what they want must always know how to get them. That’s why they are go – getters like we want you to become.”

     “And you expect me to feed my urine to people – all these innocent people because I want to be an ordinary chairman of a local government area. If I had wanted to become the president, what would you have required me to feed to the people?”

     My father shrugged, stood up held my two shoulders and shook me. He really shook me hard. He still had great power in his arms.

    “All that it takes!” he replied.

    I tried to extricate myself from his strong hold, but he held me even tighter and repeated, “all that it takes.”

     I shook my head.

    “To dine with the devil, one needs a long spoon.” he added.

     I became annoyed. I didn’t know when I shouted at my father.

    “Leave hold of me. I don’t want to dine with any devil of yours again. I don’t need your long spoon either.”

     I discovered that he had removed his hands and was contemplating me.

      “You are already having a feast with that devil, Kayode. Politics is the devil’s playing ground. “

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Kamarudeen Mustapha
Kamarudeen Mustapha

Kamarudeen Mustapha is a Nigerian writer based in Ibadan, Nigeria. He had had poems, short stories and essays published in a number of literary platforms and magazines, both online and offline all over the world. His debut collection of short stories is "Zero Orbits and Other Stories".

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