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Sunday, 29 January 2023 09:07

[OPINION] Of Cobras And Mongooses - Wole Olaoye

“Did you call me a hunchback?”

“Me? Why would I do such a thing? I was only talking about that other man with a hill on his back and chest.”

The above dialogue is an approximation of how many people interpret the denial of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu that his recent salvo in Abeokuta was meant for President Muhammadu Buhari.


Tinubu had added a new twist to the current fuel scarcity and the decision of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to redesign the N200, N500 and 1,000 banknotes when he insinuated that both developments were contrived to sabotage his victory at the forthcoming polls. He declared: “Let them increase the price of fuel, let them continue to hoard fuel, only they know where they have hoarded fuel, they hoarded money, they hoarded Naira; we will go and vote and we will win. Even if they change the ink on Naira notes. Whatever their plans, it will come to naught. We are going to win…”

The PDP presidential campaign organisation opportunistically, but quite understandably, latched on to what it saw as a monumental gaffe and berated Tinubu for insulting Buhari. The PDP stated, inter alia, that, “Our campaign finds it pathetic that Asiwaju Tinubu is seeking a face-saving measure ahead of his shattering electoral defeat by shedding crocodile tears and claiming that the redesigning of the Naira notes and the fuel crisis under the APC administration, which he has reportedly been corruptly benefitting, were plots to scuttle the 2023 general elections…”


The PDP added that, “Only politicians who have always won elections by relying on bullion vans have become troubled over the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) monetary policy to redesign the Naira.” The opposition party further accused Tinubu of trying to distance himself from the Buhari administration which he helped to bring into office.


Nigerian politics is in a world of its own. Imagine PDP trying to sound more Buharist than Tinubu! This is not to indict PDP, though. There is no doubt that, were the shoe to be on the other foot, the APC would have gladly obliged with a similar intervention.

So, only a one-sided analyst will take PDP’s opinion of APC, or APC’s impression of PDP as gospel truth. Both parties have buffeted each other with some of the vilest attacks since the current campaign season started.


Twenty-four hours after the Abeokuta outburst, however, Tinubu pooh-poohed PDP’s allegation that he had insulted the Buhari administration. His vituperations, he said, were directed at PDP itself. (Nigerians on social media have been asking if PDP was responsible for redesigning the Naira!)

He contended that the misunderstanding of his speech arose out of the fact that he spoke in Yoruba language. “Those who do not understand the nuances of this richly layered and subtle language may have inadvertently yet erroneously missed the true meaning of what I said while attempting to translate my statement”, he argued.

No one is fooled by that spin, especially when an insider, Prof Itse Sagay, took the lid off all pretences. Sagay reaffirmed Tinubu’s allegations.

Said Sagay, “What Emefiele is trying to do in saying you cannot use the existing currency after the 31st of January, in a situation where the new currency is not available to be used, is a plot to create disaffection for the government and indirectly create an unfavourable image for that government before the populace in a few weeks to an election… What is surprising is that no one is stopping him. The president has not stopped him … It is just incredible”.


On fuel scarcity, Sagay noted, “This is going to be three months now and the NNPC is saying there is no shortage, they have enough supply for another three months. Yet, we cannot find petrol anywhere. Somebody is playing a game. I suspect after the election we are going to have petrol. I agree with what Tinubu is saying. Something underhand is going on in this country which is intended to affect the outcome of the elections.”

Although the gloves are now off and the spokespersons of presidential candidates have to dig deep to manage the fallout, I still can’t fathom why they can’t seem to harmonise their campaign organisation’s position on specific issues. Each spokesperson has his/her own peculiar yarn to any particular question — which makes the public wonder what the true position is.

We all know that rebuttals come with the territory, but as Judge Judy Sheindlin, the American reality court show hostess always says, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory… If it doesn’t make common sense, it’s probably not true” In this social media era, spokespersons walk a tightrope because the public can, through just one messaging app, string together the various conflicting answers given to the same question by different spokespeople working for the same candidate. The Internet never forgets. When your camp is noted for lies, the world will not believe you even when you’re telling the truth.

The truth, as far as I can see, lies in the undercurrents. There are so many conspiracy theories flying all over the place, from the plausible to the outlandish, but it appears that some APC stalwarts are not enamoured of President Buhari’s reluctance to give his party’s candidate undue advantage over other contestants. They criticise his declaration in London last year, to the effect that he would guarantee a level playing field for all contestants.


In that interview, Buhari had declared that Nigerians should vote whoever they like from whichever political party during the 2023 general elections. He warned that nobody would be allowed to mobilise resources and thugs to intimidate people in any constituency. “My aim is to make sure that Nigerians believe that we respect them as an administration. That’s what I want to go down in Nigerian history for as a leader,” the president said.

Even though he had made his principled stance known, when asked to assess the chances of the APC in the 2023 elections, Buhari still sided with his party; “We’re going to win the election”, he predicted.

But that is not enough, say his critics. They’d rather he led out the troops at all rallies and pulled all stops to install his party’s candidate. Political watchers have, however, counselled that the most urgent need of anyone who wants to become Nigeria’s president is NOT a presidential Deus ex machina device but oratorical discipline. Too often, aides of political bigwigs worship their principals rather than guide and tutor them in the delicate art of messaging; this results in avoidable hoopla for which countless hours will then be spent trying to paper over the cracks. Say what you will, it is ill-advised to cast innuendoes at a sitting president.

I wish all the 18 presidential candidates well. I have gone on record in the past as sharing free PR hints on messaging and crisis management. In that same spirit, I want to counsel our political cobras to remember that nature has never birthed a thesis without its corresponding antithesis. For every political cobra, there is a mongoose.

The cobra is fearsome. Its bite is a medical emergency. The amount of neurotoxin it can deliver in a single bite is enough to kill 20 people, or even an elephant. King cobra venom affects the respiratory centres in the brain, causing respiratory arrest and cardiac failure. The king cobra, biggest of the species, is a sight to behold in its splendour and majesty.


The mongoose, on the other hand, is a small carnivorous mammal with a long face and body, small, rounded ears, short legs, and a long, tapering tail. Its length ranges from 24 to 58 cm; it weighs between 320 g to 5 kg. It is to this relative Lilliputian that Providence has handed the key to the Cobra’s destruction. The Mongoose is a pugnacious, formidable hunter. Its strikes are lightning-quick. In a typical fight with the cobra, the mongoose raises itself on its short legs and snaps the snake by the snout. The cobra struggles, even tries to coil itself around the mongoose, but the game is over. King cobra becomes a meal.

To appreciate its legendary reputation as a cobra killer, consider what happened in India when a snake catcher was summoned to catch a cobra that had been a menace in a large family compound. The snake catcher turned up and produced a mongoose from his bag. And, pronto, the mongoose dragged out the snake!

Now, talking about political cobras and mongooses, where do you situate the controversial developments in Osun State where the electoral tribunal has just swung the pendulum in favour of former Governor Oyetola? The drama has only just begun!

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