John Otim, a novelist

(Excerpts from a just published novel Strongman). Al Harun

The military man that he was, his targets were carefully chosen. With him everything had a purpose. Once in what seemed like a random and stupid act, he had his men along with a bunch of journalists, proclaim and crown him King of Scotland. A carefully chosen tune played in the background, softly, very softly, but it was audible. As they placed the gold and crimson crown upon his head the police brass band struck up and played the tune out loud.

And crown him crown him, crown him, Crown him King of all 

Al Harun had no authority and had no means to impose his new claims as the new king of Scotland. But in the eyes of thousands of his men, many of whom had little knowledge of what Scotland is let alone where in the world it was, the move conferred upon him immense prestige. With Al Harun, appearance was everything. No one understood the art of propaganda the way he did. The clergy were enraged at the profanity. Appropriating for the occasion as he did one of the most sacred hymns of Christendom. But what could the clergy do?

In the days ahead in the international media the move played to his advantage. The networks were filled with news and features about him. Pictures of his ebullient face filled the screens and the front pages of many newspapers. The more negative the reports the more the General prospered. When the media thought they were mocking him they made him a household name. Al Harun was totally free of shame. Most people failed to grasp this about him.  Irrespective of the atrocities he committed, his charms shone through. Now in the eyes of the formerly colonized of the world, he was the great champ fighting their battles. Some Nigerians worshiped him and to some black Americans, he became the new Marcus Gravy and Malcom X rolled into one.

So now his enemies identified, his mind made, with the lightning speed of a cobra, he strikes. And such a deadly blow. The blow delivered; he slides back to his manhole at State House, as though he had done nothing. As though he was not a killer. No, he is not and was not crazy.

“People love to talk all kinds of rubbish about me!” he said presently to a group of journalists. “They say I am a killer. They say I am a mass murderer. They say that I keep heads of my victims in my fridge. That I eat human flesh. Do I look to you like someone who would do such a thing? Have you seen me kill people? Have you seen me eating human flesh? Do I look like a killer to you? You come to my house and I will show you my fridge. Come and inspect my house. Come without prior notice.”

When he talks like this, he can charm you and you will believe him. Most people will find it hard not to believe. There is nothing in that face to suggest the man is the killer he really is. The evidence is too overwhelming to leave room for doubt. Looking at him one is confronted with the evidence that until the moment it strikes, evil is truly invisible. The other day he attended the funeral of a popular city doctor everybody knew he had just killed over a girl they both competed for. It is the same girl he now parades as his latest catch. Now here he was giving a passionate eulogy to the man he had killed, calling him “my best friend”.

Waiting for him at State House, were a bunch of local beauties, that the honorable Minister of Health, Mr. Kimba, had carefully selected for him from among the tribes in the country. Acquiring women from all over the country was a habit the General had developed in the days he was army commander long before he took power. Now that he was in power the habit served him well. His in-laws were everywhere. They were his ears and his eyes. Al Harun understood the art of power which he once told an American journalist who questioned him about the secret behind his continued stay in power in such a turbulent part of the world when his fellow rulers were falling left and right in coup d’états. 

“I guard my power as a leopard guards his kill against a pack of marauding and hungry hyenas”, said Al Harun.

That was one perfectly honest answer. Guarding his power had become his real job as president. I guess you could say the same for all the Life Presidents of the world.

None of the joviality and affability that in the early days of his rule had made him such a darling of the West, seemed touched by the atrocities and the murders he committed almost daily. Openly he flirts with the girls. Never was there such a lover boy. He charms, some would say he bewitches the girls. These were not cheap women. Some of the girls were university students, some were professionals, a few were starlets in their own rights at the local cinema and fashion houses. In short these were women of means. Regardless, they all think the world of him and compete for his favors. Here is some uncouth fellow and a criminal. Forget the power and the money. How would anyone want to associate with a man like that? Unsurprisingly, it happens all the time everywhere.

Like a kid with his toys, the General soon tired of the girls. He turned instead to a game of poker with his new buddy, the dashing young Scott who also doubles as his personal physician. The Doctor was as crafty as his friend the General. They got on very well together. Now as they played, the Doctor allowed himself two straight defeats in games he could easily have won. But he did it so cleverly the General had no idea his victory was a staged victory. Had he suspected the trickery, the story would have been different and death may have followed. In his eyes the worst thing you can do to him is to fool him. So sensitive was he on this score, he once dismissed a top civil servant for making his Minister look like a fool.

But now he beams with satisfaction. “I won!” And now his authority established, the General invited the doctor to make his own pick from among the harem. “What do you like in women? Asses, boobs, face, legs, or the general profile?” He asked the Doctor. “Come on! Don’t be shy.” The man laughed but he made his choice. The General was by nature a generous man and he truly liked the Doctor. The Doctor on his part had a way with the General. In his easy-going company, the General forgot all his torments, and they were legion.

Every dictator has his comforter. Otherwise where would they be? For his part, the Doctor was thrilled by the proximity to power and the privileges that power brought, especially in a shattered economy plagued with scarcities and shortages. For the first time in his life, all his wants and needs were satisfied. He had not a care in the world. How sweet to be young and carefree in this land of amazing women. If he wanted to, he could have it all day. And there were days he did just that.

“I bless the day fate brought me here and delivered me into your hands oh my dear friend and King”, the Scot said to himself. “Long may your reign be.” He meant every word he spoke. If it came to the worst, he was prepared and ready to die for the General, “so help me God”.