David Lyon, former Governor-Elect of Bayelsa State and his Deputy, Biobarakuma Degi, were having a dress rehearsal on how their swearing in ceremony would go the next day. Such organisational choreography is standard procedure in political cycles so that the debutants in office would do as customs and traditions require without making any mistakes. It is expected that the would-be power players would receive the drilling with the desperate pleasure of a boxer gunning for a title. The two men were that eager.
They had dreamt of the Promised Land, they had seen it from a distance, now they had come very close to grabbing distance, and then something snapped. They saw the Promised Land but they could not enter. The Supreme Court ruled less than 24 hours to their swearing in that they should not be sworn in. Rather, their fiercest opponents, the PDP folks, were the ones who had the pleasure of being made Governor and Deputy Governor.
The Supreme Court gave as its reason for the disqualification of the APC men the discrepancies discovered in the documents submitted by Biobarakuma Degi. Since it was a joint ticket, the alleged sin of the Deputy Governor-Elect also affected the Governor-Elect, unfortunately. That closeness to the Promised Land and the failure to enter it proves an English proverb right: Between the cup and the lip there can be a slip. Just as the cup was getting to the lip, a slip occurred and the content was spilled on the floor. The game was lost. The lights went out. An infinitely sorrowful spirit set in and put a crown of gloom on their heads.
The explanation for the sacking of Lyon and Degi was that Degi was answering five different names. These are (a) Biobarakuma Degi Eremienyo (b) Degi Biobaragha (c) Degi Biobarakuma (d) Adegi Biobarakumo (e) Degi Eremienyo Biobarakuma Wangagha. This vast collection of names by one man seems to be a personification of chaotic disorder. If any document tendered anywhere by Mr. Degi bore more than one of the above listed names then there is something wrong. If the totality of all the documents he tendered anywhere bore all of those five then there is an inexplicable consistency in inconsistency. We are informed that one of those names, Eremienyo, is actually Mr. Degi’s chieftaincy title, which got mixed up as his own name. The truth is that no title is part of anybody’s name. But even then Eremienyo appears only twice in the parade of five names listed above. What made the other three names, Degi Biobarakuma, Degi Biobaragha and Degi Biobarakumo different? Mr. Degi has gone through elections as councillor, local government vice chairman, and chairman of Nembe Local Government Area without these discrepancies being detected. He had also been a commissioner in a few ministries in Bayelsa State as well as a Senator of the Federal Republic. Why were these discrepancies not discovered? The reason is that, in our political arrangement, such things don’t matter. Thoroughness doesn’t matter. What matters is whose candidate he is. Whose godson he is. Does he give people something? Will he give people something when he gets there? Those are the most important qualifications for elective or appointive positions in our polity. There may be some exceptions somewhere. Keep them to yourself. We are talking of the norm, the normal, the yardstick, the rule, and not the exceptions.
People who went through Degi’s papers must have thought that since he had been ex- this and ex- that all his documents had passed the test of authencity. Part of Degi’s problem must have been the use of his chieftaincy title, Eremienyo, as if it was part of his name. Many Nigerians or their admirers adopt the first letter of their chieftaincy titles as part of their name. For example, admirers of Senator Bassey Albert now call him OBA, adopting the first letter of his Obong chieftaincy title as part of his name and adding the initials of his two names. In the same manner, the followers of Gbenga Daniel, former Governor of Ogun State, call him OGD, taking his chieftaincy title of Otunba as part of his initials. Other titles that go through such promotions include Bashorun, Asiwaju, Alhaji, Prince, Princess. Since many of these titles are answered by many people today, the uninitiated may mistake them as part of people’s authentic names. And if a mistake occurs you can hold titlemania responsible but it may not save you when there is an avoidable mix-up. However, people’s names do get twisted by persons not familiar with the spellings of other people’s names.
My surname is sometimes spelt by some people with an O at the end instead of a U. Some people have asked me whether I am related to Margaret Ekpo, the iconic lady after whom Calabar Airport is named. She was one of the formidable women who fought the colonialists during the 1929 Aba women’s riots. It would be an honour to be related to a warrior I respect endlessly but I am not and our surnames are different. To avoid the possibility of a misspelling in my surname I always spell it for people who I suspect might think that my surname ends with an O instead of a U. That way, I put confusion at bay. If my surname, which is short, can get misspelt, what do you expect of Degi’s first name, which is a tongue twister?
These mistakes occur in examination documents, certificates, travel passports, marriage certificates, voters’ cards, bank documents and employment letters. The key to avoiding trouble in future is to correct such errors as they occur.
In 1885, Donald Trump’s grandfather, a German immigrant, Friedrich Drumpf, had had his name changed in error during immigration formalities in the United States, according to Michael D’Antonio in his book, titled “The Truth About Trump.” His new name became Friedrich Trumpf and he bore this name for several years. After he had renounced his fidelity and allegiance to William II, Emperor of Germany, he signed a declaration that made him a U.S. citizen. In that document the ‘f’ in Trumpf disappeared. Since then, all his descendants, including the current American President, answer Trump as their surname.
A number of young Nigerians tinker with the names given them at birth when they grow up. They begin to answer names not given them at birth, which are now different from what appears on their birth certificates. In the craze for what they consider to be modern, chic and psychedelic, their Tina turns into Tyna, Uche to Utche, Linda to Lynda, Peter to Pita and Chi-Chi to Tchitchi. These names may sound more sexy than the original ones but such undocumented name changes carry in their wombs seeds of trouble. Some Muslims who answer the name of Prophet Mohammed spell it in different ways: Mohamed, Muhamad, Muhammadu, Muhammed, Muhamed, etc. Whatever version of the spelling you choose, the important thing is consistency. If you had a different name when young and you choose to spell it differently when old, document the name change appropriately. A Nigerian footballer who was born John Michael Nechekwube Obinna in 1987 has had a bit of trouble with his name. During the 2003 FIFA Under 17 World Cup Championship his name, Michael, was misspelt by the Nigerian football authorities as Mikel on his form for the competition. From then onwards he came to be known and called John Obi Mikel. A few years ago he decided to formally adopt the name Mikel John Obi as he real and authentic name so as to put the confusion surrounding his name to rest. I hope Mikel the former captain of the Super Eagles, has documented the name change accordingly.
How did the discrepancies that now haunt Degi occur? He says: “At birth, I was named Biobarakuma, with Degi as surname. These were the names with which I started my early academic life. However, after writing my First School Leaving Certificate Examination with my correct names, the headmaster of my school erroneously spelt my first name as Biobaragha but with my surname rightly spelt as Degi.” Degi says there were other mistakes in his General Certificate of Education examination.
To correct these mistakes he secured affidavits and deposed same in the courts but, unfortunately for him, he could not convince the jury. He says that the institutions he attended have not disowned him so far. In a recent press conference, Degi said he did not forge any certificate and he then accused the Supreme Court of either “consciously or unconsciously subjecting him to scurrilous scandal, assault and unfair imputation.”
The Supreme Court is not guilty of any offence because it was dealing with the documents submitted on the case. The Supreme Court is not an investigating agency and had no business investigating the genuineness or otherwise of those discrepancies. What has happened to Degi can happen to anyone who lacks thoroughness. It is the duty of individuals to ensure that their names appear correctly in official and unofficial documents.
In political settings, parties also have a joint responsibility on the genuineness or otherwise of submitted documents by the candidates that fly the flags of their parties. But parties lack the ability to crosscheck tons of documents of hundreds of their candidates within a short time before submitting their names to INEC or to the President or Governor, as the case may be. This limitation in time and capacity makes it imperative that the main beneficiaries of such nominations give more than casual attention to their documentation.
If any error occurs in a candidate’s or appointee’s name, it is no longer your name, except it is corrected. If you do not correct it, bad luck may stomp your life, pain may walk with you, your life may be soured by frustration that may become the seismic fault of your life. It would be difficult for Degi and Lyon to live down that seismism when the cup has fallen before reaching their lips.