A Day In Ibadan By Tatalo Alamu

imageThis last Thursday, a historic gathering of Yoruba leaders took place in the iconic parliamentary hall of the old Western Region. Summoned by the much respected and admired General Ipoola Alani Akinrinade, it brought out the very best and the brightest of the race. It has been said that the Yoruba people are always at their best when under grave political pressure. This meeting did not disappoint.
The cream of Yoruba intelligentsia, traditional leaders of thought, business barons, traditional rulers, technocrats, religious leaders, our consanguineous relations from the South South and battle tested representatives of the dominant political tendency gathered to chart a way forward for the region in the turbulent and tumultuous waters of contemporary Nigerian politics. Snooper was there.
In an important sense, the Ibadan summit was something of a watershed in the post-independence politics of the Yoruba people. It marked the formal end of hegemony of a certain kind of Yoruba leadership and the ascent to full dominance of another. There was a certain political élan and briskness of purpose in the air. Although regicide was in the air, there was not a word about the old political royals. The Yoruba, like all people of empire, can be very clever, classy and circuitous when dethroning their own kings.
The choice of venue could not have been more apt. It was an act of political wizardry, worthy of the greatest Yoruba political cognoscenti. Abiola Ajimobi, the urbane and witty host governor, was at his best as a discerning aficionado of the history of theYoruba race and his Ibadan people. Rauf Aregbesola, the politically focused governor of Osun state, electrified the audience with his grim agitprop. When Yemi Osinbajo made his late entry as if on cue, the entire hall erupted in wild jubilation. It was clear by then where the dominant spirit of the Yoruba resides.
It was in this storied building that the Yoruba people were first forcibly dispersed in post-independence Nigeria in a federally engineered disruption whose echoes reverberate up till this moment. Agents of the federal government acting in concert with political renegades and internally disaffected members of the ruling party conspired to unleash a memorable mayhem on the most sacred sanctuary of democratic governance.
Before that historic rupture, the Action Group led government had taken a clear lead in the political, economic, educational and social fields of the nation. Such were the radically humane policies, the revolutionarily innovative programmes, that in five years of the Great Leap Forward, the Action Group had completely transformed the Yoruba society in a way that could not have been imagined.
In one generation, the Yoruba people moved from the farm to the factory. Even our traditional western traducers were impressed. Television came to Western Nigeria before some backward and backwater European communities. It was too good to be true. But while our former colonial patrons nodded in admiration, other sectional Nigerian leaders also noted in affronted envy and cynical malice. For them, it became a question of the west and the rest of us.
Fifty three years after that historical dispersal, the nuclear fallout is still very much with us. It fed directly into the disputed and violence-suffused federal elections of 1964, the first coup, pogrom, the civil war and decades of untrammelled military despotism. It has also led to the political and economic retardation of the country on an industrial scale. As it was in the beginning, so it is at this end of the beginning; a conjuncture brimming with ruinous possibilities and fearsome portents.
Once again, the Yoruba society has been turned into a theatre of war and political hostilities with the barely literate trying to lord it over the vastly literate. Only in Yorubaland is this kind of “America wonder” possible. Those who are incapable of learning have taken to teaching, as Oscar Wilde would famously put it. In times of strife and stress and of a bitterly polarized political elite, the Yoruba political mob have always tried to seize control, as this column once warned. Have guns and cutlasses and the elite will travel out.
The consequences of this unending political gridlock are too horrendous to contemplate. In the course of time, the Yoruba nation and people have lost many of their illustrious scions and icons. From MKO Abiola who won a federal election only to be brutally murdered in incarceration, Architect Layi Balogun, another presidential aspirant, who died in cloudy circumstances, to James Ajibola Idowu Ige who was murdered in his bedroom.
Neither our women nor illustrious military scions have been spared. Kudirat Abiola was brutally gunned down in broad daylight. Mama Bisoye Tejuoso, a self-made billionaire and Iyalode Egba, and Suliat Adedeji were subject to unimaginable ritual torture before being callously dispatched.
Francis Adekunle Fajuyi who was despised and constantly dismissed as an Action Grouper by his Commander in Chief was killed while protesting the abduction of the same boss while Victor Anuoluwapo Banjo, a literary genius going by the power and potency of his letters, was finally silenced after several Biafran volleys had been emptied into him. “I am not dead yet”, Banjo continued to moan in heroic defiance of inevitable fate.
The question to ask and which was not addressed by the Ibadan summit is why the Yoruba elite have been such agreeable grist to the federal crushing mill. Morbid fear, hatred and envy we can understand as the inevitable pathologies of boxing people in different stages of spiritual, intellectual, political and economic development into a colonial cage of contraries. But the question we need to ask is why succeeding federal government, irrespective of its core ethnic affiliation, have always found it convenient to turn the Yoruba nation into a theatre of war.
It is not a question of pride or ethnic chauvinism, but as a result of their history and developmental trajectory, the Yoruba have come to accept certain minimum standards and bar of governance which they are not prepared to lower not even for any of their own wayward children. As this column noted a few weeks ago, it is a question of post-colonial political habitus. In the post-colonial colonium, all the nationalities retain their pre-colonial vibrancy and sense of identity. Here, the group-think and group-feeling are so strong that you do not need to meet at midnight to come to a consensus about what is best for your ethnic group.
The consensus emerges from the blues so to say and there is no political magic about it. It inheres in the subliminal subconscious of the people or what is known as the political unconscious. For example, nobody has begrudged Professor Ben Nwabueze when he noted that it was in the best political and economic interest of the Igbo people to vote for Goodluck Jonathan.
That was before the great constitutional lawyer began flying the famous Government of Unity kite. Intuitively, the Ijaw people also know who to vote for without being railroaded. Wise leaders know how to tap into the dominant mood and the political unconscious of their people. When they try to alter the dynamics without any corresponding historic shift in the mood of the people, they become political fools who are out of touch with the political habitus of their own people.
To repeat, the bane of modern post-colonial Nigeria is the fundamental incompatibility of habitus of its diverse people which has made it impossible for it to evolve into an organic nation. An organic nation is a cohesive community of shared values, ideals and aspirations. In the absence of an overriding national veto and ethos which can homogenize the diverse values of the diverse constituents, a restructuring of the huge amalgam of a nation into properly federating units is imperative. This is why after independence, the Yoruba people and their allies have been at the forefront of the struggle for genuine federalism.
Going forward, it will take an exceptional historical figure to override the veto of habitus by appealing to the best national instincts of the diverse people of Nigeria. This cannot be done by a leader who out of spite and contempt marginalizes a whole hegemonic bloc or who out of fear puts a vital region under military siege just to secure electoral advantage.
The Ibadan summit has gone a long way in distilling the contemporary political essence of the Yoruba people. As speaker after speaker, particularly those who were delegates to Jonathan’s confab, mounted the rostrum to denounce the confab in its entirety, it became very obvious that the main plank on which Jonathan seeks electoral reprieve in the old west has collapsed under the weight of its own inner contradictions. So also has the last shred of credibility of those who have been clinging to the sham confab as their political talisman.
In the flux and fluidity of post-colonial politics, it is not the betrayal of known enemies that hurts but the perfidy of known colleagues and former comrades in arms. In the past fifty three years in Yoruba land beginning with the decimation of the Action Group, going on to the struggle for the de-annulment of the June 12 presidential election and now the malignant presidency of Goodluck Jonathan, the fiercest battles in Yoruba land have always been between progressives and former progressives.
It may well be that these external battles are a reflection of the internal battles within the Yoruba soul itself, torn in traumatic ambivalence between a radically heady engagement with an unknown and scary future and a rearguard conservative action to preserve the gains of the immediate past. Without the colonial incursion, it is arguable that the Yoruba nation might have figured out its own engagement with modernity on its own terms and in its own right and with the flair for the dramatic peculiar to the race.
But there is no need crying over split milk. In the post-colonial hell that we have found ourselves, no Nigerian nationality or constituting units is exempt from the millennial horrors. The first step out of the debilitating debris and chaotic ruins is to see off the Jonathan calamity which is the regnant manifestation of a neo-military fascist machine gone haywire. It is only after this that we must all sit down to figure out what to do with a nation in permanent deferral and denial.
The beauty of the historic summit in Ibadan is that it is neither a vote against particular individuals nor a vote for particular individuals. It is a guarded endorsement of the future with all its scary shortcomings and shenanigans and of all the people who valiantly struggle for a seismic shift in Nigerian politics, personal foibles notwithstanding. A nation is a permanent work in progress and process and we cannot be slaves to the past. The problem is not in failing and falling but in falling and failing to get up. This is what we must keep in mind as the Nigerian ship of state once again trawls uncharted waters. It has been a historic day in Ibadan.

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