Ambode, Pat Utomi and the casino

Just what do you make of Professor Pat Utomi? Brilliant, intelligent, well-schooled, experienced in boardroom politics, but a very poor politician.

Ken Ugbechie

Imagine being in a game where trust is scarce; a game where treachery rules; a game where you die many times. Welcome to politics. Partisan politics. Filthy politics. Vengeful politics. By its own appeal, politics is dirty, mean and has little room for respect for order. It thrives on the gravy path of mischief, mistrust and mendacity. former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, thought hard about it when he said: “In war, you can only be killed once, but in politics, many times”.

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Churchill spoke from experience. In his experiential evaluation, politics is deadlier than war. In war, you simply die once. One bullet can get you down and that settles it. But not so in politics. It has many bullets. Political bullets are able to kill you and still keep you alive to kill you the next moment. And it gets worse if that politics is Nigerian politics. Nigerian politics is the most unrefined broth ever brewed under heaven. Toxic, noxious, asphyxiating! Pure devil’s brew.

These past weeks, the nation has been on edge. Like drawn long knives, the weapons of politics have long shot into the air. The victims are many. From the likely to the most unlikely. The godfathers are betraying their godsons, looking them in the eyes and saying thus far can you go and no further.

True, I hate politics. It makes good men look bad and bad men smell like rose flower. It’s in politics, yes, cruel and crude politics, that a professor would be tamed by a boor, a brute. Such incongruity. A professor with all his scholarship, learning, exposure, travel and uppity would suddenly discover he knows nothing. He discovers he lacks common sense. Politics is a bad teacher. It teaches us that bad is good; that winning is everything; that morals don’t count and won’t count. It teaches us that building roads and bridges, building schools and hospitals and erecting other emblems of development are good but not as good as sharing money to service political idols, constituency principalities called party stakeholders and all manner of hangers-on.

And here, I ponder the path of a good man. Akinwunmi Ambode. He’s the governor of Lagos State. Lagosians think he’s doing very well. They say he’s a five-star performer, strategic thinker and development-centric leader. But Ambode the good man is being tagged a bad man; a bad party man. Strangely, his traducers still think he has done well to beget development and uplift the people. But, hell, they say this Ambode is such a poor, miserable party man who does not “carry us along”.

When you hear such phrases like ‘carry us along’, you are tempted to wring the neck of the accused. Please don’t. It simply means in Nigerian political parlance that such politician is not sharing free, unaccountable and never-to-be accounted money to politicians. Such a person is too serious with governance to the extent he neglects the real ‘governance’ which is ‘freely you have received from the federation account, freely you shall share with your party men’. This is the sin of Ambode. Humiliated by his godfather, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, the undisputed Emperor of Lagos politics, abandoned by his party faithful including members of his cabinet, Ambode, the road, bridge, hospital and school builder is made to look like a scoundrel; a worthless scum, even a condemned crook. He walks alone, detached from the guiding hand of his godfather and denied the soothing whimper of hope from his once-upon-a time acolytes. Ambode has become a victim of the poisonous political bullet; killed several times but still kept alive to be killed another day. It is the nature of politics. What we have seen of politics in Nigeria, from the APC, PDP and the crowd of other political zoos called parties, is nothing short of incredulous crudity. You don’t believe it yet it is right there in your face, unravelling.

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In politics no matter how good you are and no matter your good intentions, you must never walk alone. Ambode was too focused on bequeathing a better Lagos that he lost touch with this arcane principle. Not many understand the principle of ‘carrying us along’. Ambode did not. He failed to worship and appease the deity; he overlooked the gods whose silence and seeming helplessness he mistook for weakness. In African mythology, the gods may be moulded from clay, may be made to look sheepish, ugly, gaunt like mosaic motifs, but never take their stoic silence for weakness. Ambode did and he is paying for it. No matter how his story ends, even if he triumphs tomorrow (which is very unlikely) his travails lend us an even deeper access into the darkling and deadly carapace of politics. The Nigerian polity is a treacherous agora, a devious ecosystem seething with manic rage. We can never fully fathom politics because it was never meant to be understood.

Just what do you make of Professor Pat Utomi, a professor of Political Economics? Brilliant, intelligent, well-schooled, widely travelled, a teacher of teachers, experienced in boardroom politics, good writer, awesome public speaker, excellent grader in matters of cognitive learning but very, very, very, very poor politician. How do you explain that a man of such intellectual biggity, charm and candour does not even know elementary Politics 101 such that he did not even know the venue of his party’s primary election in which he was a contestant and in which he invested N22.5m to purchase the expression of interest form. A professor? But that’s politics. It makes good look bad and vice versa. You see why I don’t like this game called politics? My brother Pat Utomi has just lost N22.5m in a casino. That’s Nigerian politics. It’s a casino, a roulette, a gamble.

You see why I don’t like this game called politics. Especially Nigerian politics. It is shorn of ideas and ideology. It’s not based on performance and development strides. It is based on mercantilism, self-aggrandisement and ability to rumble in the gutter. It is the reason good men don’t find their way to power; it’s why the bad guys occupy positions of responsibility. It is at the very best a casino, a house of cards. Ambode and Pat Utomi suddenly found themselves in a casino. And they were snookered, upended by the wily guiles of the masters of the dirty game. Tinubu, for sure, has a mastery of the filthy game of politics. He is the don, the duke in a dukedom.

But for how long shall Nigeria be held down by this morbid variant of politics? How long shall the nation gasp for fresh air in the hands of merchants of power? My mind tells me for as long as all the good men in Nigeria continue to swallow every morsel of contempt shoved down their throat by those who see politics as a bazaar, a fiendish feast to satiate their lust for power and lucre. All good men must stand up to condemn this unmitigated balkanization of our collective ethos. Until this happens, Nigerians should be ready for a long walk in this hallway of political stasis.

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