GOODLUCK EBELEE JONATHAN: THE PHONES NO LONGER RING
As president of Nigeria, unlike my boy Abati, who said his phones rang endlessly and became more than personal navigators within the social space, mine endlessly rang and went from being just an electronic device for calls or net surfing to a defibrillator. Now you may ask; what's the difference between ringing endlessly and endlessly ringing? Isn't it mere semantics, wordplay? My people, no, it isn't.
For a phone to ring endlessly, it enjoys very brief hiatuses. That is, before the next call comes through, there is a chance, a very slim chance, the phone enjoys a very brief rest. In my case, there was no rest at all. My phones endlessly rang. When I'm on a call, they ring. When I switch them off, they still ring and do the work of delivering controlled electric shocks, a function only the office of a Nigerian president could transform them to. How? Did you just say how?
Give me some minutes. I'll explain. You see, in my days as a deputy governor in Bayelsa, my phones rang endlessly. When I became a vice president, they still rang endlessly like that of Abati, but at a higher level. When my principal passed, they stopped ringing endlessly. They began to endlessly ring. At first, I couldn't just get it. I almost thought it was the handiwork of my village witches. Abracadabra. Pure magic! I almost concluded. Or how can a phone that has been switched off still ring – calls, messages and emails coming through in droves? In my early days as president it was beyond my grasp. Did I tell you it shocked me? Yes, it did.
Just like my phone, the visitors came endlessly. There was always a message to be delivered. When they can't come through my phone – call or message or email – they come through my aides or if the profile is high enough, they come to The Residence – as my official quarters was called. You wouldn't believe the kind of moves people pulled just to meet with Mr. President. I remember meeting an Alhaji who couldn't get me here in South Africa. “Oh, I'm here to on vacation with my wife” he answered without me even asking. It wasn't long after he left one of my aides who attended his wife's funeral told me the man is a widower and has been unmarried since his wife's passing.
No, they don't always come or call me for money, except a few relatives and kinsmen who always needed money to offset debts or build a house or pay for hospital bills or a child's tuition fee or you just name it. The demands or say the intent of demand amazes even me sometimes.
They came for more than that. And to get my attention, they did all sort of things. Some sent goodwill messages from newspaper pages, radio speakers and television screens. The messages are usually as varied and laughable as the senders. When I cough, it comes in something like this: “Happy Coughing” or “Coughing in Style.” Others sent gifts, very expensive gifts, just to catch Mr. President's attention.
How they know the birthdates of every member of my nuclear family remains a mystery. I remember a big woman, I was later told she is a business woman, sending a car-gift on my teenage son, Ariwera's birthday. We received gifts almost on a daily basis. But on special days – birthdays, burial, wedding, remembrance or dedication days – the gifts we received sometimes totally blew my mind away. The gifts they sent on these days could setup an online retail store whose stock will outnumber and outclass that of all the online merchants in West Africa combined.
Invitations also streamed in from everywhere. Like a tilted body of water, they streamed down the precipice, flowing into my office. So did the honorary degrees and titles. There was always an invitation to honor. My itinerary was filled all year round.
Before my loss at the polls, that 'no condition is permanent ' cliché Abati mentioned used to be just a saying. It used to be what I first related with when I got a job at Rivers State College of Education after graduation; from a poor Ogbia kid who was sent to school with earnings from his peasant father's canoe-making business to a Biology lecturer; my fortunes gradually changed. Looking back now, I see a very long queue of hypocrites. It wasn't hard to figure that they came with very long knives to corner their own part of the national cake after all.
My wife, Mama Peace, as you now call her, had a tough time in coming to terms with it. She was reclusive at first. Her phones didn't stop ringing immediately. Before the election, just like Abati's it used to ring endlessly. After the loss, it still rang endlessly, but not for long. Those who want to call for favors now offer words of condolence and encouragements before doing so. As days went by, the calls started dropping. Those who used to call at least five times daily then called twice. Those who used to call three times reduced theirs to zero.
Now, as at this writing, her phone hasn't ring in seven days. Oh, sorry, she received just one call two days ago, but it was an unsolicited call from her network provider. Me, Goodluck Azikiwe Ebelee Jonathan, my phone hasn't ring for three straight days. You may not believe it, but it is the truth. At first I used to think my phones got damaged or that I must have unknowingly, mistakenly switched them off. Now I know better. As for the gifts, invites, honorary degrees and titles, like the calls, they're no longer forthcoming. I'm not expectant either. I'm not expecting even an underage goat from anybody on my forthcoming birthday. I am at crossroads. Phones that used to endlessly ring, now endlessly do not ring.
Abati, you know I naturally don't like writing. And just like most of this people, you don't know I'm a fine writer. Your piece, better still its title, made me do this.
***Joel Pereyi, is an award winning essayist and freelance writer. He maintains a bimonthly column for the Abuja-based FCTPost.