Dr Nwako sat up, adjusting himself leisurely on his swivel armchair. Engrossed in a phone conversation, he quickly transferred the phone from his right hand to the left and pressed it firmly against his left ear. The bold frame of the smartphone covered his ear lobe as it did when he held it to the other ear. He wore varying looks as the conversation continued, he made frantic efforts at points to cut in and secure a speaking turn but his locutor prevailed, unyielding in his incessant talk. As such reducing his efforts to contribute to “You know eeehnnn . . . I . . .” while the voice at the other end held sway persistently. While the exchanges lasted, he nodded intermittently and muttered hearing checks – “Mmmmhmm” – as his mien changed progressively in tune with the subject being discussed. The tenor of discussion oscillated between the triumphant and the incredible. He stared blindly at the ceiling and fiddled the frame of his reading glasses, nodding and shaking his head as the voice from the other end prattled steadily and energetically.
“Prof. Maraibe is the future! Ikeobi may have baptised you with water but I assure you that Prof. will baptise you with fire and water. His coming is very timely,” The voice declared.
In response, he concurred with him.
“Amadioha had been swift and ferocious in his string bouts, how much more when it receives the supply of a ram’s blood.” The analogy drew a mirthful laughter from both.
It dawned on him that Nwuche’s insistent attachment of the professorial appellation to his preferred candidate was a subtle manner of ennobling Professor Maraibe and demeaning his contender, Prof. Ikeobi.
“Publications are not enough anymore, my brother,” the voice quipped from the other end.
“It’s time to look the other way, no doubt” he concurred. Nwako only danced around the subject throughout the conversation. It was going to be a secret ballot and it was not very clear where the pendulum was going to sway hence his circumspection.
Deanship election in the Faculty of Arts has not ever gone without generating tension with the vested interest of members from the different strata of the university community, from adjunct staff to the retired professors and the non-teaching staff. The election had become the most discussed topic because a very popular professor on campus had entered the race against an incumbent. Dr Nwako had known the two professors and equally worked closely with them. Professor T.R Chike-Obi had made his promotion his priority by acquainting him with conferences, locally and internationally, to bequeath him scholarly visibility in eventual preparation for the professorial cadre. He was a thorough-bred scholar, a stickler to the ideals of academic excellence. He was tall, lanky and taciturn. The tufts of his white, grisly beards and bald head portrayed him as the conservative academic who has no life aside wrestling down book spines. An accomplished Professor of Anthropology, he was most often called Professor Tobias Rapuluchi Chike-Obi in simulation of his initials, T.R.C., as well as his mannerism of sermonising the only duties of the academic asTeaching, Research and Community service. While Professor D.O Maraibe accommodated him in the Center for Continuing Education Program, the most populous program on campus, he also facilitated his appointment as Head of the University Publicity Desk, a position that has exposed him to the who is who on campus. While Prof Maraibe could give freely of his books, time and money to any of his mentees, Prof. Ikeobi could only spare books and conference flyers. Nwako admired him, especially for the profundity of his intellect and his accomplishments but he wished he was not stoic. Professor Dilichukwu Obed Maraibe on his own part was a typical politician-academic. He was a bubbling socialite, tall, huge, imposing stature that commanded respect and obeisance as he stepped out of his favourite chauffeur-driven black Lexus 970 jeep.. His poses as debonair, celebrity lecturer on campus and drew numerous admirers across students, and his fellow colleagues. He had held many top positions on campus, from Director of Admissions to Students Industrial Workers and Entrepreneurship scheme to H.O.D Philosophy, and in these capacities, he left enviable records. He was bold, charismatic, and self-effacing. Prof Maraibe’s taste for aesthetics was evident in his charming appearance. His favourite sparkling white shirt against coffee-brown trousers and a pair of shining brown Italian shoes. The interiors of his office could favourably compete with those of CEOs of Management companies: the draperies and upholstery in conference room-size office, magnificent plasma television, the lustre of his high-rise, the exotic wall clock, Olympic size table and chair, the imposing portrait of his decked in his academic gown made the office a pleasant sight. His choice of a silver-rimmed, elegant eyeglasses trumps Prof Ikeobi metallic, weather-beaten pair of glasses. In the mischief of some faculty members, they alluded to Prof Ikeobi’s rigidity as proof of excess TRC, and Prof Maraibe of excess TLC.
Nwako was worn out by the thought of the tough choice before him. Both contenders considered him beneficiary of their administrative and academic benevolence and the ideal time to reciprocate kind gestures of time past. When he thought about his dilemma, Achebe’s fictional character, Marcus Ibe, in “The Voter,” crossed his mind. Marcus Ibe’s decision was to tear the ballot paper into two and vote the both candidates from whom he had collected booties and taken an oath before a deity as escapism.
Nwako had always known that trying to maintain neutrality in the election was mere wishful thinking. Reducing his engagement on the faculty platform as well as limiting discussions with colleagues did not help matters. Evading topics related to the deanship election, since it was just forty-eight hours to the election, his plan was to conceal his choice; to his chagrin, it did not work. It was as though he was a candidate in the election. Every faculty member, young and old, was eager to know his preferred candidate. It was difficult to decipher who was a spy and who was genuinely interested in knowing where his interest tilted. Campaigns intensified as every single post on the platform contained a political coloration. He had thought that Prof Ikeobi latched on to the power of incumbency as he did not see many online flyers and write-ups in his support. He was shocked that every person who spoke about Prof Maraibe spoke glowingly about his capacity. He had tried to contextualise the concept of capacity in the ivory tower. He believed it must be about sterling academic productivity and research, in which case Prof Ikeobi was the man to beat. Though he had not produced enough doctoral candidates like Prof. Maraibe, most of his postgraduate students abandoned their programs half way because of the painstaking nature of his instructions.
A closer examination of the voting pattern according to the various Departments in the faculty showed a maze of factors. There were six departments in the faculty of Arts: the Department of English and Literature, Theatre and Performing Arts, Religious and cultural studies, French and Translation, Philosophy and Igbo Language. From Nwako’s observation, some faculty members were vehemently in Prof Ikeobi’s support those in support of upholding the core University culture of knowledge production against consumerism culture, some out of disenchantment with the Ikeobi rigid leadership in not bringing a human face to considerations in promotions especially regarding requisite publications, some out of brazen interest in some appointive faculty positions. The human mind and its conception are labyrinths, his father had often told him when he was younger.
Three days ago, Prof. Ikeobi had summoned him to his office. He knew it was not unconnected to issues surrounding the upcoming deanship election. He mandated him to articulate in fine,flowery prose in his words the ‘many’ accomplishments in the two years he had superintended the Faculty as Dean.
When he listed the hosting of a conference on Gender issue, the publication of the faculty journal, the equipping of the faculty library and installation of Wi-Fi in the e-library , it dawned on him that all of Prof Ikeobi’s achievements were all academic-oriented. Nwako became jittery, he reasoned that if the election was conducted that minute, Prof. Ikeobi would lose to Prof. Maraibe and he began to pray against failure.
He was interested in knowing where the pendulum would swing, he continued to sample opinion, especially amongst younger colleagues and each one of them he asked, they retorted, “He who gives us, we shall in turn give.” Nwako deployed all forms of exegetical approach to decipher whom that response tilted in his favour. Who was a giver and a better giver, one who gave knowledge or tangible gifts?
When some of these young faculty members came to campaign and lobby support for Prof Maraibe he was enraged not by the candidature of the man they had come to market but in the way they had descended to the puerile politics of desperation to the point of sacrificing precious teaching hours to hunt for votes. He didn’t want to be misconstrued as Prof Maraibe’s opponent, so he remained calm.
That evening, he held his two sons by the hand into the staff canteen. The two boys looked famished and worn-out. The buttons on their uniforms loose, their shirts flapping as they walked begrudgingly by their father. He looked up and saw Prof. Maraibe and a host of others at the far end of the canteen. He left his two sons at the counter and made a bee-line to where the sizable crowd of faculty members and associates gathered round the professor on a large table suffused with assorted drinks. While he walked to fraternise with his faculty members, his sons followed him closely behind yawning in protest.
“Good evening, my Prof” he greeted reverently, with an emphatic and somewhat dramatic stress on the possessive, and shook the extended hands of the professor who beamed with effusive smiles.
“Good evening Dr. Nwako, good to see you” he responded, peering closely at his face, smiling broadly. He disentangled his grip on Nwako and turned to the littluns who held on stubbornly to their father’s trousers in palpable protest.
“The Nwako’s soldiers, how are you?” he asked, tugging playfully at their cheeks. The littluns drab, faces contorted and did not utter any response. He rummaged through his breast pocket and brought out two of N1000 notes and handed them to each of them and their faces brightened up in joy momentarily.
“Nwako you didn’t stay up this late in school when you were their age. This is a case of tiredness and hunger. Please take them home.”
“Yes, my Prof. They insisted on buying one for the road. We’d soon hit the road. They don’t ever get filled. Who would believe they left with a fat lunch box early this morning. Now, say thank you Prof,” he ordered. The boys gawked without spitting words, admiring their notes.
“Dr. Nwako, we know you do not belong to this constituency, but we need not remind you that before you is our incoming Dean and he has excess capacity!” Dr. Nwuche declared gloating, standing with a half tumbler of beer motioning reverently at Prof. Maraibe.
“It is not something to be said in whispers. Bracelets are too conspicuous to be viewed with the magnifying lens. Faculty of Arts deserves some TLC!” he declared his declaration accompanied by a tumultuous ovation.
“You know, the best brains are preserved in alcohol. The life of an academic is not that of sadism, it’s time to make this profession desirable. I have paid my dues in this University. What nobody can call me in this University is an AMP. Never, I’m not an Absent Minded Professor neither am I a Professor with a small ‘p’ I want to be your Dean and liberate those in chains. I’m coming to make the burden light for your likes. My deanship will harvest professorial promotions in quantum, promotion across all cadres, take my words, it’s a promise. I swear by this Earth,” Prof Maraibe proclaimed, gathering sand from the floor.
“Exactly my Prof. We know you. In the roll call of who is who if you are not mentioned, we know the counting was done by the enemy. Prof yours is a case of one who started feasting before the feast. Prof you’ve won this election, if Madam Scholar my neighbour who served under you when you were H.O.D became a self-appointed campaign manager among even nonteaching staff, you should know you have won, landslide!” he declared triumphantly before the enthused cheering supporters while Prof Maraibe grinned from ear to ear.
Faculty members began to arrive at the faculty building as early as 8:00 am that fateful Tuesday morning for the Faculty of Arts, Elim State University deanship election. As at 8:30am, the expansive faculty parking lot had been garrisoned by different vehicles. In the hallway leading to the faculty boardroom, faculty members gathered in little clusters exchanging pleasantries amidst hearty and impassioned throaty guffaws, clicking of fingers and impassioned embraces. Some were quietly seated already in the boardroom, their heads buried into their phone screens while awaiting instructions on the proceedings for the exercise. At about 9:05, Prof. Ndubueze, the Deputy Vice Chancellor Administration, walked into the room briskly in company of the incumbent Dean, Prof Ikeobi. The sound of the gavel by Prof. Ikeobi restored tranquillity.
“Decorum, please!” he intoned.
“Distinguished colleagues, it’s my pleasure to welcome you all to this important exercise. I’m truly delighted also to welcome in our midst, the Deputy Vice Chancellor Administration of this great University and the presiding officer of today’s election, Prof. Franklin Ndubueze. Prof Ndubueze needs no introduction in this University, he is Franklin and I strongly believe that today’s exercise wouldn’t fall short of frankness.”
His remarks ended with scarce, low-spirited applause by a number of people. Nwako observed faculty members’ reluctance to applaud the Dean at the end of his remarks. Thick applause could be interpreted as open endorsement. At this point, tension was growing gradually. The prying eyes of the two contenders and their foot soldiers, like itinerant detectives trying to get a clue, darted from one person to another. His eyes met with Prof. Ikeobi and he looked at him in askance, he was seated beside Dr. Echiejile of the History and International Studies Department. At intervals, Dr. Echiejile prattled about in his words, the new child that shall be birthed with the election. Nwako marked him as one of Prof Ikeobi’s traducers from his proverbial submissions. A quick headcount that sufficed as accreditation staggered at a hundred and twenty. Immediately after, yellow sticker papers were distributed as ballot papers, with the instruction to write in full the preferred name of the candidate. As voting proper continued, Nwako’s vigilant eyes caught two younger colleagues in the Department of Igbo Language, Mbata the visually impaired and his bosom friend discussing in hushed tones and whispers. He saw Mbata willingly surrender his ballot to his bosom friend and immediately his suspicion rose. To satisfy his curiosity, Nwako kept up and watched him inscribe Prof. D.O Maraibe on the sticker. He felt it was the usual camaraderie usually felt among new hires which usually fizzled away as quickly as the complexity of the human character unfolded. He decided he would not take what he had seen at the surface value. On the other hand, he saw Dr Echiejile brandish his sticker to him in the manner a child who was given more chocolate than his pair would do, this he did with unimpeachable assurance that Prof. D.O Maraibe whom he had written his name in caps on the sticker would win.
Panic set in and mood totally changed after balloting was concluded and counting about to begin when two elderly and weather-beaten men shattered the tranquillity when they walked majestically into the boardroom. The scenario was akin to the pensive, charged moments before the priest’s declaration of a couple where dissenting voices were called and a head rears up in dissent. The men had been sent by the Registrar with proxy votes of faculty members on study leave abroad.
“Don’t announce yet, Sir” one shouted
“A Daniel has come to judgement!” the other reified. Necks spinned in the direction of the baritone voice and eyes popped out in surprise. The murmuring in the background lapsed into full-blown agitation. It was indeed a dicey situation. Prof dexterously sampled the opinion of five elderly professors and in unanimity, it was decided that the proxy votes be discountenanced since they arrived after accreditation. The dissenting voices continued to rage even after the presiding officer had hit the gavel to rule.Rev.Fr Prof Nwachukwu was appointed by Prof Ndubueze to count the votes. While Rev. Fr. Prof Nwachukwu raised the ballots to the full glare of everyone, faculty members chorused in unison, he began from one and ended at fifty nine, votes garnered by Prof. Ikeobi same was repeated until the chorus of sixty one for Prof Maraibe. At the last count, Prof Ikeobi lost his cool and sauntered out of the boardroom. The jubilant crowd besieged Prof Maraibe and it rained congratulations. Immediately the DVC left, the crowd did not disperse. They gathered in circles discussing the events of the previous minutes. From the hallway came a cacophonous crashing sound of dishes. It was so loud and unsettling that people ran in the direction of the din. There laid shattered pieces of plates and food spilled on the floor. Eye witnesses said the visibly infuriated Prof Ikeobi encountered a girl while leaving the boardroom who was bearing a tray of food, making her way to the boardroom, and vented his frustration on her. The report was that he intentionally upturned the tray in her hands. The young girl who survived the rage of a don stood shocked, mouth agape.
“Stupid! Stupid!! Epicureans and hedonists. You choose container over content!” The witnesses reported he bellowed as he walked out fuming. The gnawing question was who ordered the food? Nwako spat out in distaste, the ensuing melee was regrettable. He turned around and bumped into Mbata and his benevolent friend.
“Good afternoon Dr.”
“Good afternoon, Agubooo…”
“Yes, Agubosim, how are you doing.”
“I’m fine Sir”
“Good afternoon Dr Nwako”
“Good afternoon, Mbata”
“How are you? Good to see you!”
“I’m very fine Sir.”
“Yes, I have been meaning to say this. Your friendship is indeed trust personified and it’s very gratifying to know. Keep it up okay. It goes to show one can find a friend, colleague and confidante in one person, such a rare privilege. Trusting your friend with casting your ballot, truly uncommon”
“Yes sir. We’re now brothers. But it’s sad, our candidate lost out. Prof Ikeobi is a fine academic and I truly admire him”
Nwako shrugged like one who had been stung by a bee from the revelations made by the conversation.
He was indeed. Regardless, everyone was a winner, there was “No victor, no vanquished.” They had barely finished the conversation when Agubosim, who had remained uneasy, interrupted and made frantic efforts to lead his friend away. No sooner had Mbata and his confidante left than Dr Eburuo, one of Prof Ikeobi’s henchmen who stood beside them dejected, lost in thought flared up. It was evidently clear that he overheard the conversation.
“I said that this election is fundamentally flawed! Somebody voted for another. It’s a contravention.” He argued vehemently and spiritedly before a few faculty members who only looked on without spewing anything. As he canvassed the argument, and made his way out of the faculty building, Nwako was petrified. This alone could open a floodgate of litigation and plunge the faculty into anarchy. While he trudged towards his office he saw Prof Ikeobi’s office wide open. Since he became Dean two years ago, he sparingly opened it. He walked in and behold it was Dr Echiejile saying soothing words to calm the frayed nerves of the disillusioned don.
” You fought a good fight my Prof. I voted for you. Many really voted for you. Hold your shoulders high, he who claims absolute victory by a margin of just one vote is deluded. You are great, my Prof”
Nwako cast furtive looks at him and the description that came to his mind was the proverbial cat of nine lives. Nwako and Dr Echiejile decided to leave after saying comforting words to Prof Ikeobi as the earliest callers to the office as more people poured in in low spirit, like mourners. They were outside when the mercurial Dr Echiejile began again
“Power is transient, it is the permanence of impermanence.”
“You must be among those denied promotion for the paucity of pub….”
“If it were only for promotion, I would not have bothered. He used his deanship to take my promotion and peace,” Dr Echiejile decried in an emotion-laden voice. Nwako stopped, befuddled.
“Yes, he snatched my mistress. This loss serves him right. He who calls me a miserable Dibia shall be afflicted with miserable diseases”
Nwako bent his head and shame couldn’t let him look at this exemplification of the bread and butter academic.
About the Author
Abara Chukwuebuka is an academic staff member of Imo State University, Owerri. He has written a number of children’s fiction and poems in English and Igbo. His works have been anthologized in Ekwe Echiche and Ogele. He currently lives in Owerri.