Chinua Achebe’s Tortoise folktale in his highly celebrated Things Fall Apart, among other motifs, excoriates an act of betrayal as evil. In having Ekwefi, one of his characters, narrate the proverbial cunning and treachery of the Tortoise to her daughter Ezinma, Achebe attempted to paint a moral canvass suggestive of the fact that traitors always take fatal leaps that eventually lead to their unraveling. Like the tortoise, they break their shell carapace.
This is Ekwefi’s narration: There once lived a very avaricious Tortoise whose greed knew no bounds and which eventually became its tragic flaw. One day, with the general awareness that birds were planning a huge feast in the sky, Tortoise met the Chief of Birds and pleaded with him to get his bird colleagues to make him partake of the feast. But the wings with which he would fly became a challenge. After pleading passionately with them, reluctantly, the birds agreed to each donate feathers to him so that he could be able to fly heavenwards and partake of the feast. On getting to the feast venue, Tortoise’s tragic flaw then took the best of him as he announced to all in attendance that his name had changed to “All of us.”
Unsuspecting of his manipulative motive by then, by the time the meals arrived for “all of you” and Tortoise cornered them to himself so that he could take them back to earth, his name being “All of us,” his cunning dawned on all of the birds. Miffed by this colossal deceit and selfish greed, the birds demanded that he returned their feathers to them. Left all alone, Tortoise pleaded to be done the last favour: the birds should help tell his wife to arrange soft cushions for him so that when he leapt earthwards, his fall would not be fatal. Conversely however, the birds told Tortoise’s wife to arrange a pile of stones, upon which he fell and which broke its shell till this day.
To Achebe, the above folklore was a symbolic foretelling of the calamity that awaited Okonkwo for partaking in the killing of Ikemefuna. While the Tortoise’s tragic flaw was greed, Okonkwo’s was pride and incestuous betrayal of the filial bond that existed between a father and the sonship of a foster surrogacy. Remember that grisly, gripping forewarning to Okonkwo by Ogbuefi Ezeudu, the oldest man in Okonkwo’s clan of Umuofia: “That boy calls you father. Do not bear a hand in his death.” This is because acts of betrayal rankle the spleen of society. It is why society approximates a link between treachery, avarice for power and the fit of epilepsy. They all seize their victim all of a sudden. The common thread that runs through them is that, when victims are in its fit, shame takes flight.
On Monday February 14, 2022, a known surrogate of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, two-term governor of Lagos State and presidential aspirant on the platform of the APC, former Osun State governor and Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, leapt into negative reckoning for mordantly attacking his benefactor. The bile, the magisterial arrogance and the Godlike sense of irreplaceability that dripped out of the address delivered by Aregbesola in Yoruba at a political gathering in Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State instantly gained traction on the social media, which gave readers the latitude to label him a traitor.
This has provoked the need for an examination of the concept of betrayal, what it means to betray and who a betrayer is. By definition, betrayal is an act of breaking or violation of a presumptive contract, trust and confidence. This rupturing of a written or unwritten contract produces a moral and psychological conflict. The person who betrays an ideal, a country or a person is commonly referred to as a traitor or betrayer.
There have been several acts of betrayal in history. When betrayers strike, their actions provoke a constellation of negative behaviours, thoughts, and feelings among their victims and society. In Yorubaland for instance, an act of betrayal is not only excoriated, betrayers are ostracized.
In Nigerian politics, where a stupendously wealthy political patron hands over power to a client, there have been claims and counter claims of betrayals. These have provoked the moral or otherwise in betrayal. In other words, when a political patron, who most times subverts the process, loots resources to benefit a client, does his client have a moral right to remain true to their agreement? Does anyone have to abide by the ethos of written, unwritten, sworn or unsworn agreement between a client and the patron?
Political betrayal became an issue during the First Republic between Nnamdi Azikiwe, KO Mbadiwe, RBK Okafor and JOJ Okezie, as well as between Obafemi Awolowo and S. L. Akintola. During the Nigerian Fourth Republic, the tiff between Jim Nwobodo and Chimaroke Nnamani after the 1999 Enugu gubernatorial elections also became a subject of discourse. So also the 2003 tiff between Chris Uba, the barely literate but stupendously wealthy Anambra businessman and Chris Ngige, which exposed the destructive phenomenon, as well as revealing the sacral importance of traditional African oath in the service of abidance to agreements. The Uba-Ngige issue shows the phenomenon of abidance to political oaths as being sustained by recourse to African traditional medicine, whereby the godfather and godson go before grooves of renowned destructive shrines to swear oaths of allegiance. Ubah had financed the election of Ngige to be governor of Anambra, pulling him by the nape of his trousers to the Okija shrine to swear by an oath of abidance, at about 2 a.m. At midnight, a naked Ngige performed the rituals which involved dead bodies, his dangling member revealing the shame of godfatherism.
In Lagos, there was also the Tinubu-Raji Fashola experiment. What many saw, for almost four years, was matrimony worthy of an example. Not until the re-election campaign of Fashola in 2011 did the cracks begin to be noticeable, revealing a godfather/godson relationship as the proverbial seeds in a walnut pod, ostensibly in the distribution of the largesse of power. In many other states at this time, the matrimonies became a bedlam almost immediately. In Enugu, for instance, Sullivan Chime was still a governor-elect when he started to undo all that his mentor did. He spent eight years trying to pull down the Ebeano house that midwifed him. Orji Kalu suffered same fate in Abia, where his erstwhile chief of staff, T. A. Orji, who was in the EFCC custody while his election was taking place, eventually emerged governor. Orji spent his years in government firing ballistic missiles at Kalu who spent billions of state funds to skew the process in his favour.
The above political treachery has been replicated in virtually all the states, even in the 2015 elections where the anointed godsons, having mutated to become godfathers themselves, attempted to foist their own godsons too as successors. In Anambra, Peter Obi, while shopping for a godson, sidestepped the generally accepted skewer-minded political class, and walked into the supposedly sane banking hall as he searched for an urbane, corporate world executive. He got Willie Obiano. Less than a year after, the strange, somber-looking Obiano had transmuted from the gentleman who couldn’t hurt a fly into a stone-hearted political pall-bearer who strenuously presided over Obi’s political funeral. Same was replicated in Kano where Umar Ganduje, erstwhile Rabiu Kwankwaso’s lickspittle, became a hydra-headed monster who seeks to swallow his ex-boss. The rift between Emmanuel Uduaghan and his cousin, James Ibori was also alleged to be an act of betrayal.
At Ijebu-jesa, from the word go, Aregbesola did not leave anyone in doubt that he was embarking on an institutional insurrection. The speech began with a pugnacious howl you will find in a fight-baiting Alsatian dog. His APC faction in Osun, he began in the dexterous weave of bile, was the core Afenifere – a progressive group that genuinely loves the people, Awolowo’s group, Bola Ige’s group and “Baba Akande’s group, before he partly left us.” It is a known fact that Akande currently daily picks flowers in Tinubu’s garden.
“We followed and served this leader with all our might. In fact, our loyalty to him had caused some people to start wondering if we were no longer Muslims… Sadly, we didn’t know that while we wished him well, he didn’t think good of us. However, because we placed him higher than where he ordinarily should be, he started to think he is our god….By the time my successor was handed over to me around July or May 2018, I was told, ‘Rauf, this is the ideal successor that would stand by you. He would further showcase your efforts. He would not betray you; he would not dim the light of your glory’. That was what the person, who handed him over to me said. If the person is listening to me, it would resonate with him, if he said so or not. But, did he do as he was vouched for? And when he reneged on these promises, did the person, who handed him over to me draw his attention to these failings? Anyway, isn’t the person the one we now see today?” Aregbesola had waffled endlessly (all bold italics mine).
With the above, the question remains, is there morality; or should there be morality, in political patron-client relationship? This reminds one of that famous statement from Fashola which articulates the moral dilemma of the godson to his godfather. Fashola, apparently at a critical juncture of a loyalty intersection, had, prayer-like, supplicated, “may our loyalty never be tested.” In flagellating Aregbesola, so many tales have been told about how he literally emerged from the gutters and is today a man of political reckoning, courtesy Tinubu. The Lagos landlord was said to have spent billions of naira to install this erstwhile lickspittle of his as governor of Osun, rising from being a Personal Assistant to him for about few months after the January 1999 election, to being Commissioner for Works, seconded to Osun where he served two-terms as governor and currently, minister. The godfather also allowed the Minister to grow a hydra-headed political base in the Alimoso area of Lagos. So why was Aregbesola making an issue of “serving ‘this person’” with the whole of his might, against someone who gave him this colossal uplift?
Aregbesola’s followers however say that the support was vicarious, that the cache of political favour was mutual and that the godfather was the ultimate beneficiary. For instance, they said that the former governor, known for his eclectic spirituality, was allegedly Tinubu’s marabout and spiritual Man Friday. More importantly, Aregbesola was also said to have been planted in Osun as an agent, ajele in Yoruba. If this then is so, the agent ought to know that he was not sent out by the godfather so that he could become another godfather. The Yoruba will say that a farmhand does not plant plantain or kolanut. If he does so, he would be seen as a farm grabber because as the Yoruba say again, if the beard of a labourer is as long as the distance of Bourdilon to Ebira land, his master remains his master forever. So, knowing the self as the roots of his so-called push to the top and perhaps the subversion of societal norm that went into the process of his push up by the patron, can it be said that Aregbesola and other political godsons who dealt treacherously with their patrons, were/are guilty of a moral subversion?
What will seem to be an answer to this knotty moral dilemma is that ancient Western aphorism which says that there should be honour even among thieves. It was lusciously propounded by Salawa Abeni, the self-styled Queen of Waka music who, in one of her songs, sang: “I have partaken in spending from proceeds of your wealth so I am barred from joining in abusing you.” What that means is that, no matter how amoral the proceeds of wealth of the patron that sustains the ascendancy of the client is, the moment the client decides to close their eyes to the immorality behind the acquisition, they are barred from moralizing their treachery against the patron. This convicts Aregbesola and other political godsons in allegation of rank treachery. In the case of the Minister of Interior, like the Tortoise at the feast in the sky, he became the “All of us,” manifesting a triad of audacious greed for power at the expense of his godfather, ultra political selfishness and assuming the ultimate power of God or Fredrich Nietsche’s Superman.
No matter the pains, discomfort and acts of betrayal a political client suffers in the hands of his patron, escalating the disagreement to the absurd level that Aregbesola did in Ijebu-Jesa was treasonous. Apparently, having been privileged to be in the inner caucus of his patron, the Minister, ipso facto, sees himself as having transmuted to the same level with the godfather. Which is a fatal flaw in the laws of power. The consensus of mind between him and his Ijebu-Jesa political gathering bred that ad-lib reference to “those who are now urinating on themselves” by one of his cohorts. By refraining from immediately censoring the author of the ad-lib, it will appear to suggest what lawyers call consensus ad idem between him and the author of the quip.
Now, Aregbesola has met the first level of his waterloo, his candidate having recorded a colossal loss in the Osun APC primary held on Saturday. When traitors exhibit their treachery, there is often room for mending of fences between them and the patron. However, the scar may never heal enough to be totally off being seen. Tinubu’s political odyssey is said to be replete with a baffling path of forgiving traitors. However, that Ijebu-Jesa misadventure, for Aregbesola, and his loss of face and gradual decimation in Osun politics, may be a signal to a gradual nunc-dimitis of his political relevance, preparatory to a political well that is beginning to run dry. His loss today in the Osun gubernatorial primary will seem to be the beginning of a long dip into political abyss. The problem with treachery is that, it provokes and legitimizes future intra-group treachery against the traitor himself too. When this happens, the traitor will remember the ancient aphorism which says, you never miss the water till the well runs dry. When the Tinubu well runs dry, the traitor’s treachery would have run its full throttle and he will begin to miss his water.