Evil lovers destroy leaders who should be great. I think of this whenever I see sycophants around presidents who should be heroes. Sometimes they mix sycophancy with cynicism and call the brew loyalty. Evil advisers and disciples always gut kings of all goodness. There was the red carpet reception in Yobe for our mourning leader. Red carpet represents power, glitz and glamour. But it has a history of blood and betrayal. That is why leaders need to be careful where they put their feet. When you are in power, every palm massages your ego. Some do it with subtlety. Some don’t care if they are called sycophants. Then it is always very difficult to know who truly loves you.
President Muhammadu Buhari was in Dapchi, Yobe State on Wednesday where 110 schoolgirls are missing. Because it was a condolence visit, critics wailed as a photograph showed Buhari stepping sure-footedly on the red carpet there. Smiling, adjusting his babanriga on the red canvass, the old man’s swag would make aliens mistake the event for a mass wedding of 110 girls. Why did he do that? But he didn’t lay the carpet for himself. Some persons did. Were those persons not supposed to know that mourning is never a red carpet event? And that busybodies would make huge politics out of that crimson love for the ascetic president? Was that carpet laid by a friend or by an enemy? Rose, sometimes may not have anything to do with an expression of love. Sometimes, it is a signal for alert, an alarm.
The first red carpet event is recorded in Greek literature. It ended in fatal betrayal. King Agamemnon went to the Trojan war and came back victorious. An elaborate reception showed his wife laying a red carpet for him as a befitting canvass for a gallant husband. The victorious king knew his limits as a mortal. Only the gods walk on gracious grounds. He would not have anything to do with the red cloth before him. That was a treatment befitting only the gods: “Such state becomes the gods,” he tells his wife, “and none beside. I am a mortal, a man; I cannot trample upon these tinted splendors without fear thrown in my path.” But his wife taunted him with a rebuke of cowardice: “Come on, step on it,” she tells him. “If your opponent had won, he would have walked on purple.” Then the strong king melted. He stepped on the carpet, fearfully praying that: “no god’s eyes of hatred strike me from afar.” His prayer soon failed. His death, that very day, did not come from afar. It came from that same dear wife who gave him the red carpet reception. Throne-seeking Elephant in folklore sat on one. He ended up in the bowel of Tortoise’s craftiness. So, why won’t all who are in power beware of all carpets – red, green, black, whatever?
Bucks get easily passed here. One day we may hear that the president warned against a red carpet treatment in that Yobe village of mourning. If he did, who then disobeyed him? Where I come from, the one called Hawk has no excuse for not depriving the hen of its chicks. A king must never be heard complaining that his word is not law. It is like the president saying in Benue he didn’t know his police boss trashed his orders to take charge personally in that state. So, why would a president ask a police chief to go somewhere and the man would send himself a different errand? We hear of a query for the police chief. We also read the police charging back that there was no query. We read police spokesperson saying: “Anyone that said the IGP was queried by the president should bring the copy of the query, let us display it.” Then we should ask what is happening here? The Yoruba word for president is Aare. If he sends for you, it is needless and useless consulting the oracle. He is the master-oracle. In Yoruba history, no Aare ever allowed a woman look his leopard eyeball to eyeball without consequences. It was either the insolent takes his exit or the leader bows out. It happened to Aare Latoosa in Kiriji one bloody afternoon in 1885.
What happened? Any leader who rewards personal loyalty with indulgence will soon come to sorrow. Latoosa indulged his children. He indulged even his slaves. They had licences to misbehave. And they did to the discomfiture of all war chiefs around the big boss. A top war chief, Seriki, longed for food from his mother’s kitchen. He then sent a messenger home in Ibadan asking his mother to send him his favourite meal. The old woman put extra efforts into preparing the food for his son who may die soon at the war front. The delicacy left Ibadan but did not get to the Seriki at the war camp. A spoilt slave of Aare Latoosa waylaid the messenger a few kilometers to the war camp and did the unthinkable.
The audacious slave seized and ate this General’s meal. ‘Fear God, fear General’ is a popular warning in contemporary military barracks. If this slave feared any General, it was only his master, the Aare. Any other General could go eat his dog’s excreta while he took his meal. But such an impudence must have consequences. And it did. Samuel Johnson reports what followed: “Unfortunately the Aare took the matter lightly: instead of dealing out sharp punishment to the slave, he left him to dispute the matter with the Seriki. He even attempted to shield him, before the culprit was forcibly brought forward. The Seriki then asked him, “Did not the messenger tell you the things were mine?” He answered, “Yes, he did, but how am I to know that he was speaking the truth when he said, ‘It is the Seriki’s’? I thought he was deceiving me.” There was no apology made, his master looked on amused. The Seriki thereupon arose, unsheathed his sword, and with one sweep severed the slave’s head from his shoulders in the very presence of his master! All the war chiefs present neither moved nor said a word.”
That was a reaction from a General who would not brook insolence from any quarter. And again, what was the reaction of the Aare, master of the beheaded slave? He saw the action as what it really was: an affront? Not really, but a declaration of war. It was a direct challenge to his position and power; he read it correctly. He had options: he could move against that chief who killed his servant in his very presence. He did not take that option because he could not. He could lament and whine that his appointee dared him. Some lesser others could whine but he was the Aare. He didn’t do that. The Aare was the Commander-in-Chief who must not lose any battle, including in his very homestead. There were personal consequences for a General losing any fight. What did Aare Latosa do? He decided it was time to become an ancestor who could not be challenged again. Samuel Johnson captures that last moment: “Just before the end, he sent for Sanusi, his eldest son, and gave him his last charge. Sanusi left him smoking his pipe, his courtiers sitting all around him. He was heard to cough gently as if suffocated by the fumes of his pipe, and putting down the pipe he lay quietly on his mat and adjusted his cloth over himself – and thus passed away gently. Those sitting about him and looking on scarcely believed he was dead!”
That was a reaction from a General. And it was clear: a king must never be heard bemoaning his impotence. Impotence is not a palace affliction. Or maybe I should say that a feeble king can shout his loss of command; when he does that, the town tells him he can’t make his title trending again. And he won’t ever be allowed to make his failure contagious. Failure becomes deregulated when we hear of killings in Benue today; abductions tomorrow in Yobe. And camps spring up everywhere for the displaced in their own country. And the Commander-in-Chief blames fellows he hired. When impotence becomes as contagious as polio, the land loses its stability. It gets crippled.