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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.”
“What?”
“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.