By Festus Adedayo
What is it about power that makes its holder captive of all the age-long narratives of power’s awesome, yet ephemeral aura and hold? The ongoing case of the most powerful president in the world, Donald Trump, becoming one of the most excoriated persons in the globe today is at issue. His ignoble collapse should make a very good reading to every student of power. For Africanist and African studies scholars, Trump is not unexampled and can be found in ancient Africa. Remove contemporary swagger, Capitol Hill, Nancy Pelosi and all that from the fall of Trump, the graveyards of powerful behemoths are replete with the bones of the Trumps and other laggards of power.
In the past one week or so and indeed, since the 2020 American election which humbled Trump off his arrogance, loquaciousness and naked display of raw power, the president and America have been on the front burner. Why would such a powerful man fall into such ignominy, becoming a harbinger of unprecedented hate and recipient of tremendous disdain?
Already, Trump has gone down in history as the most vilified, most isolated in the last weeks of his hold on power and undoubtedly, the most disdained. It is akin to tumbling down from an Olympian height. His second impeachment is being considered and he is also going down in history as the first president of a country to have his Twitter account spiked for inciting violence, an act compared to a coup plot.
As coveted, revered, celebrated and desired as power is, it is as well one of the most fleeting acquisitions of man. Of all man’s life ascriptions, power is the most transient, unreliable and unenduring. When it and its accoutrements – wealth, fame, honour, etc – leave man, they have varied methods and time lag of their departure. Everyone of the lot, except power, leaves in droves. Power leaves its holder in totality and immediately. This is because, when wealth leaves man, they could still have its insignia – cars, clothes and house – which many may confuse as signifying the continued existence of wealth. When power leaves man, it leaves immediately and with all its family members. Donald Trump must have begun to have a whiff of that by now. If not, he would see all in manifestation on January 20.
Whatever fate befalls Trump as his presidency grinds to an end and even subsequently, should serve as a great homily to current world occupiers of power and the ones who will come after them. Simplistic reading of the power they wield has made many people to wonder if power wielders, at whatever level, actually understand the purport and the texture of power.
In ancient Africa, as a way of excusing and legitimizing the huge sycophancy that has become the signature of power, a proverb in Igbo says that whoever holds the palm-frond is one the goat will follow. A once powerful holder of office in that region was aghast to learn of this when he left office. Gradually, all his loyalists began to crumble and a gradual collapse of his support base. He had just relinquished power to his successor. As Dr. Reuben Abati, ex-Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, wrote in a post-office lamentation of the migration of fawners from an ex-office holder, Abati in that piece situated the dilemma of power in Africa.
Dictators are made to eat the humble pie when they are told the shocking and calamitous end of Basorun Gaa of the Old Oyo Empire. Gaa was a notable chief and nobleman of the Empire in the 16th century who stood in that position and oversaw the reign of four Alaafins of Oyo and contributed to the death of three of them. The Alaafin’s suzerainty was so expansive as to extend to Dahomey (present day Benin Republic) and even Ghana. Gaa’s military prowess and mastery of the geography of war gave the Empire all-round conquests in wars Oyo fought during this period. More than these however, Gaa’s talismanic fetish powers and prowess befuddled his sense of reasoning, which made a tyrant of him. The fourth Alaafin while Basorun lived, Alaafiin Abiodun, however superintended over his killing. Gaa was reportedly incinerated alive, as a way of ensuring the non-reincarnation of his wickedness.
The man on horseback story is also deployed as a narrative among the Yoruba to impart the moral of power. No one gives same regard given to an approaching rider of a horse to one who rode on a horseback yesterday, the saying goes. Manifesting similar warning about the ephemeral nature of power with the Igbo proverb on palm-frond above, the two warn the holder of fresh palm-frond and the horse rider of today to watch their steps while power is in their hold. It holds same currency with another saying which warns that the Masquerade Festival, with its orgy of celebration and merrymaking, would soon end and the son of the masquerader would go down to the village square to eat corn meal and bean cake with his peers. All of them warn that power’s endurance level is very thin and elastic.
Unless Joe Biden unlearns the steps of Trump and imbibe these eternal lessons of power, he would willy-nilly find himself espousing some of the raw power concepts of Trump. Granted that some claim that Trump has always been a narcissist from his mother’s womb, inside the vortex of power lays an inexplicable spirit that most times drives its holder crazy. That is why an ordinary, sedate-minded, urbane and unassuming man, pre-power, could suddenly go berserk when handed the stronghold of power. Power is a spirit.
Many people ask why power changes its holder. Why would a man who was seemingly humane, loving and exhibiting temperance suddenly assume the mane of a lion in office? The truth is that, most times, we fail to keenly study such people before their elevation. Whatever you carry into power oftentimes sticks to you as you ascend the ladder of power. Thus, if you are consumed by pettiness before your elevation, you will most likely go into your pouch of pettiness while sitting on that hallowed seat of power.
Again, it is a known fact that the confines of power in Nigeria’s practice of presidentialism has further made monsters of the power of its holders, many of those power-holders also carry into the office that belief in the Kabiyesiness of power. They equate political office to Gaa’s kind of power. As odd, queer and seemingly eccentric as Trump is, his eccentricity was largely tamed by the same American system and the loophole which he explored and exploited to become president. The Nigerian system however gives fillip to and encourages the transformation into monsters by power seats occupants.
Festus Adedayo is a Public Affairs Analyst