LONG BEFORE THE FINAL WHISTLE
He never wanted to be Governor. Providence, cloaked in the habiliments of strife between the sitting Governor and his much–favoured deputy, catapulted him to the front burner of the state’s political mish–mash. He had been the trusted, loyal and dedicated Chief of Staff to the outgoing Governor for eight years and he looked forward to leaving governance, complete with all its nuances of energy–sapping commitment and time–consuming bureaucracy, to the ‘politicians’; the ones seemingly destined to savour all the nous-less permutations that go by the name politics. Retiring back into his law practice and living out the rest of his life without any worries, pressures and unending deadlines was the most exciting prospect he thought he could ever have.
But he was wrong.
The request (or was it command?) came as he rode home with the Governor from one of their numerous night meetings. To the Chief of Staff, his job description read more like being the Governor’s run–along; no matter the convenience or otherwise of the Governor’s itinerary. He attended all meetings, parleys and rallies the governor attended.
“I have nominated you as the party’s standard bearer in the election” his boss said in a monotonous voice assuaged by the expensive vodka he’d been drinking all night.
“I beg your pardon sir?” He blurted out, almost spilling his drink; the final glass of water he took every time they were on the homeward journey every morning. He had stopped drinking for six years.
“You heard me the first time” came the indifferent answer accompanied by a yawn reeking of top–quality vodka.
The Chief of Staff fidgeted in his seat and shook his head.
“I am sorry sir. I can’t run. Senator Ajanlekoko is doing fine, let him go for his second term. You know I detest politics and moreover sir, my health condition cannot withstand the strain of holding any elected office. I am sorry sir, I can’t just cope.” He heaved a sigh amidst his rising panic.
The governor reached out and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Don’t be scared, Ishaq. You have been a very good COS. Your dedication to duty is amazing and your brilliance is top rate. I’ll be with you to guide you. It’s not possible for me to be your Chief of Staff but be rest assured, I’ll help your cause.” The Governor paused to let the words sink into his head.
“As for your health,” -he continued- “we both know that is the least you need to worry about. You have access to the best Doctors anywhere around the world, it can be managed. Even the President has diabetes and he coped for the past seven years. The old fool even attempted a third term! So your health should be the least of your worries, you’ll be fine. And who says you are taking Senator Ajanlekoko’s job? You are not taking his job; you are being put forward for the gubernatorial elections.” The boss said finality.
Very few people assume a greater responsibility when they are afraid of a smaller one. The Chief of Staff was no different.
“Governor? Sir?” He asked, shock written all over his face.
The Governor nodded and smiled.
“Yes; Governor.” He answered and his smile faded into a stony outlook. “I would not fold my hands and watch that delinquent Fernandez succeed me as the Chief Executive. He thinks he has control of the state’s political class, now is the time to show him that being a deputy for a term isn’t enough. The elephant’s forehead would never be a burden to be bestowed on a child.” He finished with a grin, his big, bulging eyes pirouetting like a cock on a victory dance.
“But, but…” The COS tried to say something. His boss’s dry, coarse voice shut him up.
“The whole party would be informed later in the day at the caucus meeting; I didn’t want this to be a shock for you.” He concluded.
“May Allah’s will be done, Your Excellency.” The COS whispered, seeing his boss had made up his mind.
Every other thing happened in a rush. The Governor did announce his choice and needed no persuasion for the COS’s candidacy to be accepted and ratified by the party elders. He was presented to a shocked assembly of the party supporters who had no choice but to accept him. The campaign was tedious, all–encompassing and thorough. From one ward to another, the Governor presented him to the people, endorsed his candidacy and before long, his name had become the by-word for His Excellency.
The swearing–in was the culmination of almost a year’s effort by the outgoing governor to put a credible successor in place. After all, a leader is only as successful as his successor.
The new Governor did not disappoint. From project to project, he distinguished himself. From parleys to rallies, he stood out as an intelligent lawyer with a knack for humility, humaneness and performance. Under him, things took a turn for the better and the masses cheered him at every turn. He became the peoples’ governor and he did not show any signs of slowing down.
Soon, the media spotlight began to beam on him and his fame spread. He was pronounced the best governor over and over again by all sections of the media.
“The state is working”- one newspaper editorial wrote- “beyond expectations. No one would ever believe the large scale transformation that has swept over the entire state: Brilliant road networks, effective transport management, efficient waste disposal, job provision, enhanced security of lives and properties and overall increased productivity of all state workers; this surely is Nigeria’s best ever since the days of the redoubtable sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. And is it a coincidence that they are both products of the wig and gown profession? May God bless the learned profession.”
He savoured every bit of praise that came his way. He never for once considered them out of place. After all, the state was the nation’s number one commercial nerve centre and to be widely acknowledged in such manner was not a joke.
Then it happened.
It was three years into his term and at the official commissioning of a road project which had been named in honour of the immediate past governor, his former boss.
The ex–governor, while appreciating the honour requested that the road be re-named after his good friend, a renowned medical Professor who had left his lucrative practice in Chicago, USA, to help build the State University’s College of Medicine into a world class one. The university don had been found dead in his swimming pool a few days earlier.
“The immediate past governor has made a very nice and sincere request and we shall grant it. I hereby rename this road Dr. Shamsideen Olowoaye way in memory of the distinguished medical practitioner and teacher. May Allah grant him Al-jannah fidau. Amin.” The governor pronounced as he cut the tape.
Large applause greeted the governor’s pronouncement. But he could barely hear the applause. As he hugged the ex–governor, he felt his body flag, like a balloon deflated by an object from within.
He collapsed and was rushed to the ambulance where he was revived on the way to the hospital.
A series of medical analyses and tests gave the doctors an inkling of what was the root cause.
“Sir, we’ve got the results from the lab.” The physician began, all the while whipping off an unseen object from his brows.
“So what does it say?” replied the governor in a voice only the heaven’s recognized. His tall, lanky frame had become pronouncedly emaciated, even his trademark spectacles hung on his nose bridge like a sack cloth on a grieving widow.
“It’s your liver.”
“My liver? What’s with it again?”
“I think it’s high time you did the transplant. The drugs can’t maintain it again sir. If we tarry a little longer, your kidneys too might pack up, and your heart can’t take any more workload, so it is better we sort the root cause –the cirrhosis- once and for all.” He paused and lowered his voice before he added: “You need a new liver, your Excellency.”
“So this is it.” The Governor’s thoughts wandered off. “All those years of borderless drinking have taken their toll.”
“I’ll recommend a world class facility in France for the transplant but there is a snag there sir.” He heard the Doctor say.
“Except you have a donor sir, it could take a while before you could get your transplant sir.”
“How do you mean?”
“There is always a priority list; some sort of waiting list which is never disrupted except you bring your own liver donor. These organs are scarce and there are hundreds waiting in turn.”
“So, you mean I should find a donor from here?”
No one knew how he got a donor, but he did in record time.
The Governor announced his health condition to the whole nation in a nationwide broadcast. It was unheard-of in the nation’s history and it fetched him the peoples’ empathy and sympathy.
The state prayed for him. Churches organized prayer sessions and innumerable vigils. The mosques dedicated every praying time to his speedy recovery. Even the traditionalists were not left out in the show of love for a most-loved leader.
When he woke up in France a few weeks later, only his frail body and a fine line running a few inches between his rib cage reminded him of the new liver. His wife was seated at his bedside, a bible in her hands.
“Thank you Jesus.” She muttered in praise to the Almighty when their eyes met.
“Alihamdulilahi.” He, too, whispered in a seemingly Christianity-endorsing Islamic appreciation.
“The doctor just left. The operation was successful darling.” He heard his wife say as he drifted back to sleep.
He was asleep for another full hour. He awoke this time to see the Doctor talking with his wife in the room.
“You are awake, Mr Ishaq Sola. How are you feeling now?” the doctor asked him in French-laced accent as he became fully awake.
“I am fine doctor. Thank you.” His voice was still hollow.
“You have a new liver now, thanks to your wife. She is really a strong woman, you should be glad you have her.” The couple exchanged a smile as the Doctor continued.
“I believe you know you have to avoid alcohol in all forms. We also noticed the cirrhosis had strained your heart; we had to manage it before the operation; that was why it took sometime. Everything is fine now. Just avoid over-working yourself and do constant check ups.”
“Alright Doctor. But this liver, how long can it last?” the governor asked.
“You are lucky your immune system didn’t reject it, yet. It could last forever, but we don’t envisage it slowing down in fifteen years at the minimum; all things remaining as they are.”
The Frenchman nodded.
That piece of information changed his outlook on life forever. The party had been pressurizing him to run for a second term and he had repeatedly refused to confirm or deny his position.
“Now that my life has a deadline, I must live every bit of it for the betterment of my state and people. And may Allah be praised for this opportunity to live again.” He thought to himself.
That was how he committed himself to a life term of service.
Five weeks later, the ‘brand new’ governor came back home. He was met at the airport by his Chief of Staff who had travelled back home earlier to arrange his itinerary.
“How is Princess doing?” He asked him on the drive back home.
“She is holding on very fine in your absence sir.”
“You are looking very fit sir.”
“I am fit. But not enough to resume work now. Since princess is doing very fine, I suppose she continues with the good job for another week. Then I can get back to work.”
“And by the way, when are the Super Eagles playing?”
He was asking about the country’s senior national team who were competing at the WOZA 2010 world cup.
“This evening, sir.” The COS answered.
“Oh good. I have missed football. Hope their performance is heartening?” he asked the COS.
“Not really sir. They played superbly against Argentina, losing to a goal that should not have stood. And the second match was an anti-climax…”
He got home quietly. No fanfare associated with the nation’s political class. He wanted his privacy and he needed rest. Except for a scattering of party elders and close associates, he was welcomed by his immediate family.
“Daddy!”His youngest child shouted as she ran out meet him as he got down from the car.
“My darling!” he hugged and kissed her neck.
“I missed you daddy.”
“I missed you too.”
“Thank God you are back so we’ll be watching the rest of the world cup together.”
“Hmmm, some of it, because I have to get back to work soon. But don’t worry, I’ll be watching today’s with you.”
The Eagles needed at least a victory and hoped the Greeks fell against Argentina. The match was tension soaked at 2 – 1 in favour of the Koreans when the normally placid Yusuf Ayila broke free and tore down the left flank. He squared a through ball, which beat the onrushing Korean goalkeeper, to the penalty area. Yakubu Aiyegbeni waited for the ball, less than three yards from the goal line. The goalpost yawned in anticipation as the ball rolled nicely for the simplest of touches. The waiting Yakubu tapped the ball lazily and confidently. The whole world saw the supposed striker missed the most ‘unmissable’ goal scoring opportunity in world football history.
The Governor, like millions of football-mad Nigerians, was midway into a wild jubilation when the lazy tap went wide.
He felt a blow to his chest. Instinctively, he grabbed his chest. The blow came again and then he knew: his heart was protesting Yakubu’s miss.
Suddenly, he felt arms holding him, preventing him from falling. Someone shouted and another screamed. He was barely conscious when, still unbelieving of the missed goal, SuperSport showed a replay of the mis-tap from another camera view. The empty net, the unbelief on Yakubu’s face and the mocking scenery of it all were the last images he ever saw.
The Eagles striker robbed him of the rest of his life; he was dead long before the final whistle.