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The Donald Trump coup And Man on Horseback BY Festus Adebayo


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?

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

We should not just laugh at the fall of Trump but let his fall serve as lesson board to all of us. The essential lesson of power that we should scoop from this is that narrative of the man on horseback. Every man sitting in majesty on horseback should be aware that they would soon have ample time walking on the coarse surface of the ground. Yoruba further adumbrate this by saying that the time spent holding power does not subsist in perpetuity – igba o to lo bi orere.

Still wondering why a man who was invested with power immediately begins to ascribe the power of omnipotence to themselves, Yoruba of old also tell the story of a king called the Olufimo. He was highly beloved by his people. However, his excessive love for women became his Achilles heel. He had married this particular woman who stubbornly wanted to unravel the mystery of the Oro cult which the king participated in yearly. To satisfy the new queen, the Kabiyesi smuggled her into the Oro cult groove, under his traditional stool while the divination and process of Oro cult lasted. Trust the eagle unseen eyes of ancient diviners, after attempting to access the mind of the gods and the Ifa divination string kept declining awkwardly, a decision was made to search the king’s stool. Right inside was found the queen who received an instant judgment of being beheaded. In recitation of this king’s malady, Ifa priests narrativize the Olufimo’s sacrilege as Ohun lo di’fa fun Olufimo, nijo ti o f’aya e m’oro…

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Perhaps due to the nature of the famishment in the land and the quality of minds that always encircles power holders, gastronomic considerations are always behind their actions around power holders. Look at how Trump’s appointees have been turning in their resignations since his ignoble and condemnable action in egging on the coupists at the Capitol. That was also why Vice President Yemi Osinbajo came up on the social media during the week in comparison with the gallantry of his colleague, Mike Pence. Would Osinbajo have taken that country-first decision Pence took during the counting of the Electoral College votes, in spite of himself? There are so many fawners around Nigerian power holders, so much that there is no way they would not see office holders off to their Golgotha.

On January 20, Trump would be history. Someday, all of us, in whichever lever of power we are where we think we are to last forever, we will also expire. Even old man Robert Mugabe and other African despots who approximated governmental power to monarchical power and wanted to stay on the stool forever, were eventually sent out of the office of life. It is the reason we should spend every minute in office as if it is the last.