A journal of narrative writing.
Chairman Popo
Tunji Ajibade

Popo left without saying another word. Years had passed since then. A secondary school had been established in our town. I was in my first year in secondary school and the military had seized power from the politicians again. Riyibi held no office under the new government. My father was no longer  among those who sat under our Odan tree when the military later invited  civilians to form political parties and contest in the coming elections. He was dead and the new party had a new Ward Chairman, and Ropo still wrote things down at their meetings.

“Peoples Democratic Forum. PDF!” he shouted.

“Power!” the party members responded.





This time, Popo wanted to go for the post of the local government Council Chairman. I was among the youth who did house-to-house campaign for him. He won. We congratulated him for his victory, led him around our town, danced, sang, and thanked everyone for their support. He later announced that he wanted to go to Gudi. He invited me to come along with him. Three other youths were with us. We arrived the front of a house that obviously belonged to a wealthy person.  The iron gate was not locked, and we walked inside. The wooden door too was open and we all filed into a well-appointed living room. A man came out of one of the inner rooms. Popo walked across the rugged floor, and made a loud sound come off the right side of Riyibi’s cheek. Then he turned, walked past us, and out of the living room.

It has been four years since then, Mrs Mathews, and two elections had taken place. Of course, you remember I said Popo won the first election, and he won the second one also. He is now the biggest man in our town, and in all the five major villages, no towns, that make up our local government council area. I am not sure you will understand what I mean by ‘biggest.’ I don’t mean to insult you, Mrs Mathews. Haba, how can I? You people are the ones who have English as your mother tongue, if your parents had arrived America from Britain, that is. I understand you call some people Chinese Americans, Latinos,  or African Americans. Well, all of you can claim English as your mother tongue now since ability to speak English is a requirement for becoming an American citizen. Your Ambassador here, an African American, speaks American English well. I watched her on TV the last time I traveled to Ibadan. He had come from the nation’s capital city to commission a water project and I heard her as she said,  “the government of the Unired States of America will continue to do wharever it can, as a marrer of policy, to make life berrer by ensuring that every man and woman in the world has access to safe drinking warer, both now and larer.”   That Ambassador looked like one of the women from our village, you know. She was darker than myself. I had wondered at first how she was selected as an American Ambassador when there are so many whites, but it occurred to me that you Americans practice equality and justice, unlike the years when whites used Africans as slaves and treated them as sub-humans.  Thing are getting berrer, pardon me,  I mean, things are getting better. It is not so easy to hear you Americans speak without trying to imitate you.

Take our church Pianist, for instance. He came to the United States to visit his son for three weeks, and he had been speaking fone, I mean American English, since he returned two months ago. He even read with fone a Bible passage that the Reverend called out as he preached. I remember a verse he read in English which was re-read to the congregation in local language, “And God made the firrmament, and divided the warers which werre under the firrmament from the warers which werre above the firrmament, and it was so.”  The Reverend had laughed then, and the rest of the congregation had turned to one another, smiling. I had started to turn every ‘t’ to ‘r’ myself, and had said something that way to my school principal one day while I conducted the morning devotion as the Head Boy, when the school principal turned and asked: “What’s that you said?” Of course, I turned my ‘r’ to ‘t’ right on the spot. You don’t expect me to get into trouble, do you, Mrs Mathews?  Getting into Ostrich’s trouble is not a small matter, honest.  Ostrich, that’s what we call him, the principal. I don’t know the person that came up with the name or why, but my set inherited it from the senior students and we didn’t change it, at least, no one among us had come up with a cleverer name. If I had not corrected myself that day, Mrs Mathews, Ostrich would have sentenced me to four days of hard labour; that means moulding mud bricks or cutting grass under the sun which usually follows six lashes of the cane administered by Koboko.

You don’t want to know Koboko, Ma, I assure you.  All I can say is that he administers every corporal punishment in our school.  Koboko! The man loves cane, and he has them in different colours and sizes, and he gave them different names. There is Mr Brown, for pasan, and Mr White, which is from raffia cane. I think I have heard him referred to the cane from bamboo as Mr Yellow. None of them is good, I tell you. You won’t understand though, because you Americans have banished corporal punishments from public schools;  and you banished prayers too.  Ah, we pray here o. In fact, each time I led the morning devotion in my school, I called for prayers for politicians, that their hearts would be touched and that they would remember the masses, though I have to confess that we have not seen results. Chairman Popo, for instance, spent the first two years in power and we didn’t enjoy a thing in our town.  But he came calling for re-election two years ago, the election I said he won, and I took my own out of him.  Yes, I did. You have to understand, Mrs Mathews, that the only time anyone can have a hold on politicians here is during election, just as lawmakers use budget time to harass the governors and the president, raising questions about each item in the budget, until they get what they want. I seized the last election time as my opportunity to take what Popo had refused to give since he arrived office almost four years ago. I will tell you how I did it.

“We need to contribute money to make some banners, buy cardboard papers, some pens with indelible ink, hire a band, and dancers,” I had said at the first meeting of a group I formed six months to that election.

We were four in the group. Two were my friends in school, the fourth person was my ten year old cousin. I did an estimate of the amount we needed. I contributed the largest, having persuaded my mother that I needed to buy some textbooks.  Our banners had the name, Igbo-Elefon Solidarity Movement For Popo, and I took one to his house in GRA. I didn’t have problems hanging it in front of Chairman Popo’s gate. The policemen had read what was on it and said, “This one na to support Chairman, no be say anything.”

Each of the members of the Movement had one banner hanging in front of his house in Igbo- Elefon Town.  Once a week, we carried a banner, made the band boys beat, and we danced all the way to the local council secretariat. The gunmen around Chairman Popo’s office never turned us away. We would stay a few feet away from the Council Chairman’s door and danced for hours, singing his praise, and telling everyone why Popo should be returned to power. Whenever Popo went on campaign rallies, we followed, and as others in his entourage got allocations, I collected the one for Igbo-Elefon Solidarity Movement For Popo. Popo later called a meeting of stakeholders two weeks prior to the elections. I was there in my capacity as the leader of all youth groups who were in support of Popo, and I was the one to mobilize youth in our town for his re-election bid. I gave him a list of ‘things to do’, as well as the budget to execute them. Then I added, “Chief Riyibi has approached me, seeking for my support.” That did it, Mrs Mathews. Riyibi was one of the reasons Popo packed out of our town as soon as he became the Council Chairman. He was also the reason Popo parted with so much money when I asked for it. If not for the Riyibi angle, I couldn’t imagine him parting with sisi, not even with my long list of things to do that read:

Contacts; Mobilization; Transportation; Inconvenience; Entertainment; Rentals; Location for rallies; Honorarium for Invitees; Honorarium for Speakers; Press release; Welfare for journalists; Volunteers; Participants; Hitting the streets; Flyers and Posters.

You don’t need to know the amount I demanded for each item, Mrs Mathews, and you shouldn’t be bothered about the oddity of many of the items I listed. It was good Chairman Popo accepted the list without questions, and paid for them, seventy-five percent of what he gave me on behalf of the Solidarity Movement having its resting place in my pocket, of course. I had also told Chairman Popo that there were more youth of voting age in our town than there were elderly people. Mental laziness, a disease common among our leaders here, must have been the reason he believed me. You see, here, the higher you rise in political office the more ignorant you become. It is a fashionable thing o, I swear, because you will be very busy, and must of necessity leave subordinates to attend to small details. Okay, tell me, Ma, how would an elected officer have the time to find out the number of youth in a place like Igbo-Elefon when there are so many political meetings he has to attend, when a local council chairman has to be on the entourage of a state governor each time he attends an event, when the president and Commander-in-Chief would call him to a meeting of all elected party members from local councils to the national level, and the national chairman would  invite him to another meeting he too had called. This is not to mention Association of Local Government Chairmen or ALGC that meet in the nations’ capital city every month  –  apart from emergency meetings. And there is the state chairman of his party who would call him to both regular and impromptu meetings, while he also  has to preside over meetings where allocations from the Federation Account to the local Council Treasury is shared out every month.

I delivered on my promises in Chairman Popo’s bid for a second term in office, and it was not as if I got youth or elders in our town excited enough to vote for him. No one would have, with nothing in Igbo- Elefon to show for his first term in office. I did all the voting that was needed for him to win, with only my fingerprint on ballot papers, as well as those of the six boys I recruited for the purpose. Our votes were all Chairman Popo needed for the  boxes to be filled with ballot papers that were six times the number of all registered voters in Igbo-Elefon. He needed that number to cancel out every other vote cast for an opposition candidate in the other five towns that make up our local government council area. It was a simple process, really. The six boys and I spent the night before the day of the election thumb-printing the ballot papers that Chairman Popo brought to my father’s house ahead of the election. The Presiding Officer was at his post on the morning of the election day, the thugs Chairman Popo had recruited later arrived the front of my father’s house which was the polling centre, and fired shots from dane guns in the air. Intending voters ran to their houses, we carried the boxes inside  my father’s house, filled it with ballot papers, wrote the result and gave it to the presiding officer who had been ‘settled.’