Dateline, March 2005: President Bingu Wa Mutharika of Malawi was on the run. He took off from Lilongwe (capital of Malawi) to Mtunthama, a sprawling town in a tobacco-growing community 60 miles away. A septuagenarian, he must have puffed and panted as he ran for dear life. So, what got a powerful president scooting to safety? Rodents of course! Yes, President Mutharika, (he died of cardiac arrest in Lilongwe while in office on 5 April 2012, at age 78), a man who loved the good life, was chased out of his luxurious, 300-room mansion by some disrespectful rodents.
The President was never the original owner of the palatial mansion but long throat will not let an old man behave like a true elder. The expansive house was built for parliamentarians but the President had other ideas of how to make better use of an edifice where laws were to be made for the good governance of an impoverished Malawi.
The mansion was built by Malawi’s founding President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who ruled the country for 28 years from 1966. Reports say it took 20 years at a cost of $100 million to build. The jaw-dropping edifice is set on 555 hectares. Mr Banda, the builder, lived there for only 90 days. His successor, Makili Muluzi, who came to power in 1994 through the country’s first multi-party elections refused to use the house, calling it a show of “obscene opulence’’.
But Mutharika upon becoming president appropriated the house and moved in. As he moved in, so did some weird, spooky rodents; as devastating as the Tasmanian devil, another dangerous but almost extinct animal now confined to the precincts of Australia, precisely in Tasmania Island.
As it turned out, President Mutharika, having taken sleep away from Malawi parliamentarians could not himself sleep. He said he felt ghostly rodents crawling all over his body when the lights were turned out in his haunted 300-room home. Aside from the rodents, he also said he heard footsteps and strange noises in the presidential suite at night. Strange! It gets stranger because neither his security men nor his wife, First Lady Ethel, noticed any supernatural presence in the same house.
And for all the while he occupied the house, Malawi Parliament was not able to meet because of lack of an appropriate venue. They resorted to using rented offices. The committees had to conduct their business in hotels. They even mulled using a stadium for their debates. But none of these would worry the dictator. What bothered him was that rodents would not let him sleep. So, he packed out. But he loved his mansion and was determined to use it as his home. A solution must be found immediately. Then they came up with an ingenious idea. Get the exorcist!
They got clerics from Catholic, Lutheran, Calvary and Faith of God churches to offer prayers for the building. Reverend Malani Ntonga, the presidential aide on Christian affairs, told journalists that neither rodents nor ghosts would be allowed to harm their dear President. In clumsy Pentecostal fervour, he declared: “No strategy designed from the pits of hell will prosper against the President because we have asked for divine intervention to cast the blood of Jesus against any evil plots against the President.’’ The rest, as they say, is history. But the story illustrates how powerful some rodents can be.
Fast forward: August 2017, Abuja, Nigeria. Some devilish rodents have shipped themselves into Aso Rock, Nigeria’s seat of power. Unlike in the case of Malawi where the rodents were said to be spooky and surreal, the Aso Rock rodents were not presented as supernatural, except that they were just stubbornly devilish. At least, one man was able to identify them as the architects of the devastation caused in the hallowed office of President Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari’s media aide, Garba Shehu, did not have to hazard a guess as to what and who turned the President’s office into one huge mess. He was emphatic that some devious rodents ran riot in the office, destroyed the furniture and anything in the office that caught their fancy.
I can tell that in the President’s office there are many things that will appeal to rodents. Taking a cue from Edward Page Mitchel’s 1878 Crypto-fiction classic ‘The Devilish Rat’, it is easy to conjecture that the rodents in Aso Rock were simply devilish. Some rodents can really be deadly; capable of causing national catastrophe of the magnitude of an earthquake. Mitchel’s work mirrors the life of some flesh-eating rodents, so weird they can cause serious mayhem in a community.
As omnivores, rodents can descend on the leather furniture in Aso Rock, the mound of papers, the mountain of files, they can even excavate cables and shred them or better still set up their own offices in the inner chambers of air-conditioning units. A good 103 days is enough for these devilish rodents to create a scene inside the once serene Presidential office such as would make our President, a retired General, to cringe and fret in horror.
I have always argued that not all rodents are ordinary animals. Some rodents are eerie and mysterious. The rodents that pursued Malawian President out of his home are not mere mammals that you find in your homes. They are ghostly and uncanny. They do not bow to rat poison. They are not ensnared in traps made by man. They are spiritual and can only be tamed by a stronger spiritual power. In the case of Mutharika, it took a combined battery of priests, reverends and fire-spitting pastors to retrieve a sprawling Presidential mansion from the hands of some daring devious rodents.
Make no mistake about it, all rats are rodents but not all rodents are rats. Mallam Shehu did not say rats ravaged the President’s office; he mentioned rodents; meaning they could be rats, mouse, woodchuck, beaver, jerboa, muskrat, or any of the sharp incisor animals from the order of animals called Rodentia. The special thing about rodents is that they have very sharp incisor teeth which grow all the days of their lives. Again, they are so numerous and ubiquitous, constituting a good third of all the mammals. This is why they can be devastating enough to pursue a President out of his 300-room home and upturn the office of another President so much so that he cannot even dare work from that office for a season.
The issue goes beyond the trail of criticisms that erupted after the rodent theory. The Presidency must not allow such invasion of rodents from hell on the sanctum sanctorum of Aso Rock. The President’s office, the equivalent of the Oval Office of the White House, is not a place for the festering of a community of strange creatures least of all rodents. Using such as excuse to justify why Mr. Buhari or any other President would not use such office after a long absence makes us a laughing stock in the comity of nations. Next time a President, any President, is away let’s do the needful: regularly fumigate and clean the office under the strict supervision of Aso Rock security. And if the rodents prove stubborn, call in the exorcists: the marabouts, priests or even native doctors according to the persuasion and faith of the occupant of the exalted office. That way we do not need to spin a fib or scratch our heads for the most disingenuous of reasons that crudely portray us as a nation of unreasonable people. Nigerians are smarter than that; we are a people of high intelligence quotient, capable of sound logic and ever ready to engage any audience brilliantly and intelligently. Perhaps, this explains why the rodent narrative drew giggles and nuanced grimaces because Nigerians read between the lines and dismissed it as another presidential histrionic in a long season of hysteria. But what is it with African leaders and rodents? Somebody help me!