A picture is currently circulating of Abia State Governor, Alex Otti, addressing a group of people with his portrait on the wall behind him, where it should be by order of protocol, but an empty space where that of President Bola Tinubu should be by virtue of that same protocol.
It is being flaunted by those adamant on not acknowledging President Tinubu “as their President”, whatever they might think such utter nonsense might really amount to, and of course condemned by those who see it for the dangerous development it actually is.
That Mr Otti has refused to place President Bola Tinubu’s portrait on his office wall is, of course, not at all a simple matter of a Governor having a choice whether to do so or not.
It is a different kettle of fish altogether if someone like vote wasting phenomenon, Sarah Omakwu, keeps pouting nonstop never to “recognize” President Tinubu as her President – she is, at the end of the day, just another private citizen, just as entitled to her rights as to her delusions.
Mr Otti, on the other hand, is the Governor of a state comprising one of the federating units of this country and he is most certainly not at liberty to ventilate his political grievances as some schizophrenic bigot or hysterical tribalist might be inclined to.
What he has done by thus undermining the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria, is not even merely condonement of REBELLION (or, in this context, SECESSION) but outright approval promotion and sponsorship of the same.
This is a very serious matter and must be taken just as seriously, for in seeking to undermine constituted authority in this most visible and crucially symbolic manner, Otti has made himself into an active participant in rebellion.
Perhaps, some might want to shrug off what Governor Otti has done as ultimately inconsequential and just some infantile excess better ignored.
Indeed, “what is the importance of a presidential portrait on a wall, anyway?” they might wonder.
Well, by that token, we might as well ask what is the importance of referring to a President as “Mr President” and maybe not as “hey you there, how far?”
For those who might be ignorant as to the significance of a mere photograph, there is a compelling reason why all over the world presidential portraits and those of other categories of heads of state are conspicuously placed in such places as post offices, train stations, banks and government buildings where they are most likely to be seen by the greatest number of citizens.
The practice is a device for asserting the authority of the state and legitimacy of the government.
It is taken so seriously, even in those jurisdictions with ceremonial heads of state, that the moment Queen Elizabeth II demised, the entire machinery of the British state immediately proceeded about replacing her portrait with that of her son who had thereupon ascended to the throne and become King of England!
Alex Otti is not the first Governor with an axe to grind with a President in this country and is not entitled to challenge our constitutional order because his tribesman lost an election.
At the height of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s wickedness against then Governor Bola Tinubu and the people of Lagos State, Asiwaju Tinubu still kept his portrait on his office wall and in all public buildings across Lagos throughout his tenure.
Former Governors Nyesom Wike and Samuel Ortom, easily former President Muhammadu Buhari’s most implacable adversaries, never once took down his portrait from their offices or government buildings.
If Alex Otti says he is waiting for the courts to deliver their verdicts before recognizing President Tinubu as President of this country, then his own portrait ought not to be on his office wall, as well, since his mandate is similarly being challenged in court!
But, all of that is really beside the point; the offices of President and Governor are creations and creatures of law and the protocols pertaining thereto are not up to the whims, caprices or mere preferences of anyone, not even the occupants of those offices.
What is really happening is the latest manifestation of a poisonous dimension Peter Obi and his ulta-bigotted and rabidly ethnicist rabble are insistent on foisting on Nigerian politics.
It must be fiercely rejected and the legitimacy of state power, authoritatively asserted.
There can be no question of allowing a governor “to do what he likes with his office”, for by that standard, we might as well allow Mr Otti to use his office as the staging post for high treason contrary to the Constitution of the Federal Republic.
It is clear what Otti and his co-travellers are up to in Abia; they are testing the waters and will keep escalating their excesses in geometric proportion to the extent to which the Nigerian state proves itself to be so weak as to allow them get away with them.
I cannot imagine what Alex Otti and his cohorts might have been thinking – if, indeed, he was thinking at all – when he decided upon what might seem, at face value, a most sawdust-headed stunt but is actually a clear and unambiguous challenge to the authority of the President of Nigeria.
Whatever delusions their ethnocentrism and religious intolerance might have misdirected them into, we simply cannot, as a sovereign independent country, have a situation whereby we have a President, recognized as such by, and, according to law, and yet tolerate some other authority that is similarly a creation of law to howsoever seek to detract from the authority, prestige and legitimacy of the highest office in the land.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the President of Nigeria, therefore Peter Obi’s President and Alex Otti’s President.
Indeed, President Tinubu is Alex Otti’s President where Alex Otti is not his Governor.
Bola Tinubu is also the President of absolutely every other Nigerian including the most implacable “Obidients” currently applauding Otti’s unconscionable excess.
While these children of discontent and apostles of hate may elect to wallow in denial, Mr Otti is a public official, indeed an elected one like his President, Tinubu, and he will just have to place President Tinubu’s portrait on his office wall and everywhere else in Abia, wherein it normally belongs, or God help him.
Less than two years from now Alex Otti will be sixty but if in his case wisdom has not come with age, then he will just have to suffer the consequence appropriate to rascals and fools.
Governor Alex Otti of Abia State is playing with fire and will soon find, the hard way, that if you play with fire, fire will burn you.
JESUTEGA ONOKPASA, a lawyer, was a member of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Presidential Campaign Council and writes from Abuja.