As soon as he opened his eyes, he felt it. A strange peace, a calm clarity. He stretched. Even his limbs were stronger and surer. He looked at his phone. Thirty-seven new text messages – and all while he was asleep. With one click, he deleted them. The empty screen buoyed him. Then he got up to bathe, determined to fold the day into the exact shape that he wanted.
Those Levick people had to go. No more foreign PR firms. They should have made that article in the American newspaper sound like him, they should have known better. They had to go. And he would not pay their balance; they had not fulfilled the purpose of the contract after all.
He pressed the intercom. Man Friday came in, face set in a placidly praise-singing smile.
“Good morning, Your Excellency!”
“Good morning,” Oga Jona said. “I had a revelation from God.”
Man Friday stared at him with bulging eyes.“I received a revelation from God. From now on, I will stop giving interviews to foreign journalists while ignoring our own journalists.”
“But My President, you know how useless our journalists are…”
“Will Obama give an interview to AIT and ignore CBS?”
“No, Your Excellency.”
“I know some of our journalists support Bourdillon, but we also have others on our side. I will beat them at their game! I want to do interviews with two journalists that support us and one journalist that supports Bourdillon. Find one that will be easy to intimidate.”
“I want names in the next hour.”
“Yes, Your Excellency.” Man Thursday now stood still, lips parted in the slack expression of a person no longer sure what day it was.
“Tell the Supporters Club to change their television advertisements. They should stop mentioning ‘those who are against me.’ I will no longer give power to my enemies. They should mention only the things that I am doing. I like that one with the almajiri boy. It shows Nigerians that I have helped with education in the North. They should make more advertisements like that.”
In response, Man Thursday could only nod vigorously but mutely.
Later, after eating vegetable soup with periwinkle and a plate of sliced fruits – he was determined to keep himself from looking like Man Monday – he asked Sharp Woman to meet him in the residence. Not in the main living room, but in the smaller relaxing white parlor. Sharp Woman was the only one he fully trusted. He had sometimes allowed himself to sideline her, when he had felt blown this way and that way by the small-minded pettiness of other people. She was the only one who had not allowed him to dwell too much on his own victimhood. Once, she had told him quietly, “You have real enemies. There are people in this country who do not think you should be president simply because of where you come from. Did they not say they would make the country ungovernable for you? But not everything is the fault of your enemies. If we keep on blaming the enemies then we are making them powerful. The Bourdillon people are disorganized. They don’t have a real platform. Their platform is just anti-you. They don’t even have a credible person they can field, the only major candidate they have is the one they will not select. So stop mentioning them. Face your work.”
He should have listened then, despite the many choruses that drowned her voice.
It was she who, a few days later, and after the four rubbish candidates stage-managed by Man Friday, brought the new PR people, Kikelola Obi, Bola Usman and Chinwe Adeniyi – when he first saw their names, he thought: and some crazy people are saying we should divide Nigeria. They were in their early thirties, with rough faces and no make up; they looked too serious, as if they attended Deeper Life church and disapproved of laughter. They started their presentation, all three taking turns to speak. They stood straight and fearless. Their directness and confidence unnerved him.
“Sir, we voted for you the first time. We felt that you would do well if you had the mandate of the people instead of just an inherited throne. We liked you because you had no shoes. We really liked you. We had hope in you. You seemed humble and different. But with all due respect sir, we will not vote for you again unless something changes.”
He nearly jumped up from his seat. Small girls of nowadays! They had no respect! As if to make it worse, one of them added that if the election were held today, the only person she could vote for was The Man From Lagos. Oga Jona bristled. That annoying man. Even if a mosquito bit him in his state, he would find a way to blame the president for it. Still, Oga Jona could see why these foolish small girls were saying they would vote for him. The man had tried in Lagos. But their mentioning The Man From Lagos was now a challenge. He would rise to the challenge.
“Sir, the good news is that Nigerians forgive easily and Nigerians forget even more easily. You have to change strategy. Be more visible. Stop politicizing everything. Stop blaming your enemies for everything. You have to be, and seem to be, a strong, uniting leader. Make sure to keep repeating that this is not a Muslim vs. Christian thing.”
Oga Jona cut in, pleased to be able to challenge these over-sabi girls. “You think Nigerians don’t know that it is mostly Christian areas that they are targeting in Borno? And what about all those church bombings?”
The three shook their heads, uniformly, like robots. They were sipping water; they had declined everything else.
“With all due respect sir, if you look at the names of bombing victims, they are Muslims and Christians. If God forbid another terror attack occurs, you have to come out yourself and talk to Nigerians. Stop releasing wooden statements saying you condemn the attacks. We will prep you before each public appearance. You have a tendency to ramble. That’s the most important thing to watch out for. Be alert when you answer each question. Keep your answers short. You don’t have to elaborate if there is nothing to elaborate. Stick to the point. If they ask you something negative, be willing to admit past mistakes but always give the answer a positive spin. Something like ‘yes, I could have handled it better and I regret that but I am now doing better, and am determined to do even more because Nigerians want and deserve results.’ You have to start reaching out beyond your comfort zone. Nigeria has talent. Look for the best Nigerians on any subject at hand, wherever they may be, and persuade them to come and contribute on their area of expertise. Especially the ones who have no interest in government work. Even one or two who don’t completely agree with you. Think of Lincoln’s Team of Rivals.”
“Don’t worry, sir. The important thing is to reach out beyond your circle. Oga Segi was not a calm person like you. He even used to threaten to flog people. But he had a good network. Jimmy Carter is his friend. If he needed expertise from a university in Zaria or Edinburgh or Boston, he would pick up his phone and know somebody who knew or somebody who knew somebody who knew. But with all due respect, sir, you don’t have that. Bayelsa is a small place.”
These girls really had no respect o! He glared at Sharp Woman, who shrugged and muttered, “You said you wanted people who would tell you the truth.”
But he listened.
In his first interview, the words rolled off his tongue. Those girls had made him repeat himself so many times. “I want to apologize to the Nigerian people for some actions of my government. We could have done better. No country fighting terrorism can let everything be open. But we owe our country men and women honest, clear assurance that we are taking decisive action, with enough details to be convincing. I ask for your prayers and support. I have directed the security services to set up a website that will give Nigerians accurate and up-to-date information about our war against terrorism. I have also hired specialists to manage the flow and presentation of the information.”
And the words came easily when he shook hands with the parents in Chibok, simple polite people who clutched his hand with both of theirs. He should have done this much earlier; it was so touching. “Sorry,” he said, over and over again. “Sorry. Please keep strong. We will rescue them.”
The words were more reluctant when he wore a red shirt and asked to be taken to the gathering of The People in Red at the park. But he cleared his throat and urged himself to speak, particularly because, as he emerged from within his circle of security men, the People in Red all stopped and stared. Silence reigned.
“I came to salute you,” Oga Jona started. “We are on the same side. My government has made mistakes. We are learning from them and correcting them. Please work with us. Together, we will defeat this evil.”
They were still silent and still staring; they were disarmed. He thanked them and, before they could marshal their old distrust, he turned and left. That night, as he sank to his knees in prayer, he heard the muted singing of angels.