“Good people of Ondo state”; that was what he called them when he got to the podium in the crowded Akure conference centre for his first post-election address, and they kept interrupting his speech with their claps and cheers as if he was an entertaining chart topping pop star.
Colourful flags and handkerchiefs went up, the smiles were full of teeth; the speaker waved with a modest smile, the audience saw a man that would cast aside his agbada and would be the people’s chief servant as he had called himself during the month-long state-wide campaign. They thought his mind readable, because they had taken his promises too seriously. He was a hit with the crowd until he got to that part about the flabs on some stomachs. Some heard him the first time; a few didn’t. Would his Excellency please repeat himself?
He had prepared for resistance but he was determined to speak on as if his choice for the people would be accepted like an offer of cold water to a thirsty fellow on a hot afternoon. The air-conditioned auditorium suddenly became silent like a graveyard; his voice went on and on as if the loudspeaker was now on eleven.
“Listen to me: that flab on your stomach has to go! A flab on your stomach says you are lazy, it says you’ve been eating too much, it says you are fat and need to cut down. If you are not pregnant, your stomach has to be flat. This administration is shedding that weight of corruption that has kept our beloved state among the poorest in Nigeria. What we will do as elected government is what we want our people to do physically. Stomach restructuring is a policy of this administration.”
He was not bothered by the hostility enveloped by the silence. Now he is governor. Tight mouths, wide eyes, lifted eyebrows, faces taunt with concentration; he wouldn’t be bothered.
“By noon on the first of April no resident of this state would be seen with a flabby stomach. Go to the gym, fast, eat grass, drink salt water, have your tummy tucked surgically, but whatever you do, make sure you get your stomach to something close to a six-pack.”
What is he saying? What the hell is stomach restructuring?Believe me, this guy is losing it. It is a joke, but even if it isn’t, it can never work! We voted for the jerk, why is he now acting like a dictator? It is my body for God sakes; you can’t tell me how to keep my body.
Soon it was no longer news that the governor was not alone on the matter. Chief Biodun Kayode had been sworn-in with his team of gaunt-faced, hungry-looking politicians – from the NPC – who had been in the opposition for fifty years.
They wanted change, they wanted to fight corruption, they wanted dignity for the green passport; it will not be business as usual, that was like their creed.
The ruling party would not be bothered by twitter and memes. Even it is fashionable to talk about human rights, freedom, democracy and other twenty-first century words and slogans that could make one think shit wouldn’t stink because the one who got it in the toilet could easily be one of the nubile women on the cover of the glossy fashion magazines.
The stomach issue then divided the state between residents with flat stomachs — who would not be bothered by law enforcement agents – and residents with flabby stomachs who would need the thick sky-blue gym registration card before accessing any state facility. Another problem: some police officers too could easily pass for pregnant women.
For three days, angry flabby-stomached men and women defied the blazing afternoon sun and gathered near the black iron gate of the governor’s office with placards, leafy tree branches, and sticks. Even a bicycle wouldn’t go through that crowd. They sang, they chanted their displeasure, they got their clenched fists above their heads, they danced: YOU DON’T OWN US!
STOMACH RESTRUCTURING NONSENSE
HANDS OFF OUR RIGHTS!
WE DIDN’T VOTE FOR THIS S**T
Chief Biodun Kayode could not get to his office for the three days, and his televised threats didn’t work, because the already divided police had been outnumbered by protesters who would not move until the state gets the message. So the governor too hardened his heart, he vowed to deal with those disgruntled individuals hired by his political opponents with the mandate to make the state ungovernable.
No tension! We are winning; that was the popular thinking among the protesters. Vox populi, vox Dei. Nothing is impossible if we stand united. The fool needs to be reminded that this is a democracy. Ijoba tiwantiwa leleyi!
The fool must have repented. That was how it seemed a few days after the protests. The gyms were empty again; people ate cakes, egg-buns, chocolates, sweets, fufu, candy, ice cream; what are malls for if we can’t eat what we like?
“I’m not saying people shouldn’t eat what they like.” His Excellency said in an interview in his office. “Don’t misquote me. I said the protruding stomachs must go! That’s what I said.”
“But your excellency, people are not really in support of this intrusive policy.”
“Intrusive policy? Who says it is an intrusive policy? Look, these protesters are sponsored by the bitter opposition who are still licking the wounds of their rejection by the electorates. Go to the gyms and see majority of our peace-loving citizens working out. That is progress!”
“Your excellency, don’t you think..”
The governor interrupted, “Look young man, I’ve got pounded yam and egusi waiting for me. I’ve not eaten today, if I spend the whole evening answering questions from journalists, when would I ever get time to sit down for some serious governance issues?”
A lot happened after the three-day protest. First, it was rumoured that the state had signed an 80 billion naira deal with a US firm for defence purposes, but no one could be sure. The blogs got busy, the fury was on Twitter, the TV stations got their eloquent analysts in the studio and they speculated, adumbrated, and said nothing that the audience wouldn’t have figured out on their own.
Then just when people thought their fury had been effective, a convoy of seven yellow tractor-trailers stopped near the gate of the governor’s office where protesters had gathered earlier. That was when it would have been clear enough that the NPC meant business with the stomach restructuring thing.
A crowd gathered two days after the yolk-coloured trailers parked, for another protest. They were not expecting fifty thousand law enforcement robots made of steel. One of those things could set a hundred people alight and watch them burn; they had this blinding spray that would sting the eyes like pepper; they were fast, they were swift, they had been programmed. A thousand people could end in the trash truck in minutes.
Governor Biodun Kayode – with his legs on a footstool and a cup of juice on another stool beside him – smiled at the efficiency of his new acquisition when he saw their impact on TV during the evening news.
Some protesters changed their minds when they took it all in, some insisted it is a democracy; they would fight for their rights until the end. Where are our lawmakers for God sakes! Where are our elected representatives!
Pa Fakunle, the octogenarian witchdoctor of Akure – with all his front teeth gone – suddenly became popular again. He had been vilified a months ago for favouring the status quo because of his selfish interest and his desperation for relevance. After many pre-election months of being known as an old fool for warning to electorate to be careful with charming deception of Biodun Kayode and the NPC, the old man was in the news again.
The old man is wise; he could help. He could have something up his sleeves. If we had listened to the old man right from the start, we wouldn’t be in this shit now.
The long walk to Akure’s west end where the old man’s hut was – the gathering of determined thousands – , got to the world by the cameras mounted on a helicopter, and the ones flying above the crowd like birds. If you had been on the hills near Oba Ile, you would have seen the progress of the crowd like a procession of ants.
Pa Fakunle opened the door slowly, took a few careful steps towards the leaders of the delegation and smiled for the cameras; knowing how far the whole thing would go in the world of visions.
He cleared his throat. “You didn’t just wake up one morning to find out that the man who waved eagerly, who shook your hands, who showed his teeth during his campaign tour, suddenly has a problem with your stomachs.
“If that is how you see it, I wonder when you will ever learn.
“There are some things you will never know about Chief Biodun Kayode; even with your superb analysis that would leave people nodding like agamas. Even if the poetic finesse of your vituperative attack leaves people with headaches – as they try to comprehend your wahala – like the words of that Yoruba professor of English with all-white hair, it doesn’t matter. Your nicely-written articles, would not help you with this one.
“You could be on CNN, educating the ignorant with your ignorance and looking fly while at it. The international community would like someone like you with conclusions similar to their simplistic approach to the mind-boggling complexities of this place.
“After all, you went to Harvard. You’ve miraculously acquired an American accent, and you were born here. You could be the spokesperson for those who would have been called racists for saying certain things.
“You would fit-in with those curious observers who would want to analyse issues to death, you would want to know the genesis of stomach restructuring, amused by this union of words that wouldn’t have been alive in London or New York.
“Whites would tell you about the theory of evolution, time travel, robots, life on Mars; but when you begin to tell them the reality of stomach restructuring, they would cherish the prison of language.
“I am not denying the dictatorial tendencies of this government; I am not saying the governor is using his number six. Your fake accent and flowery language does not mean you are wrong.
“I just want you all to calm down, to give this thing some time. Okay? I know I am an old man who has never seen the inside of an aeroplane, while your father had been classmates with that former American president with a name that rhymes with Osama; but please, trust me on this one.
“Sir,” the leader of the delegation replied with a shy smile. “My father was never with Obama in the same school.”
“I am not talking about you. I am talking about those who try too hard to solve every problem with confrontation. All I’m saying is: Be calm, be law abiding. See how things unfold in a few months. Okay?”
That was all he said before he turned and walked away; that was all the crowd got from the superstar witchdoctor.
“Is that all sir? We should just sit and watch and do nothing?”
He did not look back to answer this.
It was not pleasing, but that was what they did.
Six months after the much publicised long walk to Akure’s west end, on the 1st of April, when the governor and his delegation came back from the council of states meeting in Abuja, the nation’s capital, all the hitherto scruffy-looking, gaunt-faced top NPC members had become chubby-cheeked like most of the opposition. Their skins glowed, their agbadas newer and bigger.
Even his Excellency, the governor of Ondo state, Chief the honourable Biodun Kayode, had to keep his hands on his stomach like a fat frog.