We had an unusual vice chancellor in Ife in the mid to late 1980s. His name is Wande Abimbola, professor of Yoruba Religion, Language and Literature. He loved his students and his students loved him. One day, he warned a sea of protesting students about the real Nigeria and its ways: “My children, don’t let us play into the hands of our enemies…”
“Who are the enemies?” some loudmouths in the crowd fired back at the VC.
“You know them. We all know them. They are in Dodan Barracks. They don’t like us…” I was in that crowd, and like almost everyone there, we got the message and each of us quietly spoke to our big and small intestines. Because we were a thinking crowd, not a mob, the course of that protest was altered and its scope was limited to the campus. The initial plan was to hit the highway and shut down the university town. God bless the soul of Yinka Odumakin; he was the Students Union Public Relations Officer. God bless the soul of Barrister Niyi Adewumi; he was the Speaker of our parliament. Yemi Adegbite was the Students Union President – he is a big man somewhere in Canada now. These gentlemen, and others in the union’s Central Executive Council (CEC), gave us responsible leadership; they were selfless and effectively in charge. They knew that the cause they led was just but they also knew that what the vice chancellor said was the truth. Nigeria, from expected and unexpected quarters, kills.
I remembered this incident two weeks ago as I watched a viral video of some unruly ‘Yoruba Nation’ agitators somewhere in a riverside part of Ogun State. They were attacking soldiers of the Nigerian Army and recording the same for the world to watch. They played into the hands of Nigeria, and, unless they stop or change their course, they will be flying the plane of their cause into the storms of Nigeria. How would attacking poor soldiers advance the objective of having a dream nation of theirs? In life, we take decisions, some wise, some stupid, but every action has at least a consequence; every solitary, stupid step taken has a cost which is almost always paid. The men I saw in that video had probably watched too many action films. But what about if I ask them to go read what deep thinkers say about the realities of life in practical terms? Darren Shan, Irish writer of horror and fantasy stories, wrote about how real life acts and he warned that it is not nice; that life is nasty and cruel. “In real life…if you cross a busy road without looking, you get whacked by a car. If you fall from a tree, you break some bones. Real life is nasty. It is cruel. It doesn’t care about heroes and happy endings and the way things should be. In real life, bad things happen. People die. Fights are lost. Evil often wins.” Shan wrote that in his ‘Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare’.
There is a proverb among the Yoruba about things not going wrong where there are elders. Every Yoruba toddler is told that àgbà kìí wà l’ójà, kí orí omo tuntun wó (elders do not sit in the marketplace and a baby’s head is bent). The Igbo have a variant: An elder does not sit at home and watch a tethered goat deliver (Okenye anaghị anọ n’ụlọ nne ewu amụọ n’ogbịrị). But this proverb notwithstanding, can you remember the South-East problem, the interminable siege, the bloodletting and the low-intensity war going on there? How did they start? Going to Igbo land today is like going to the terror enclave in the North-East and the banditry republic of North-West Nigeria. There were unfortunate killings in Anambra State at the weekend – gunmen killed soldiers; soldiers killed gunmen – and those were just the latest in a series of violent actions that daily hoist Nigeria as a failed state.
Physical attacks on soldiers and snatching guns from troops anywhere in the world is criminal – and plainly suicidal. The act of killing oneself intentionally is the dictionary meaning of suicide. I had no problem recognizing what those guys did in Ogun State as attempts at self-murder. I wrote earlier about actions and their consequences. There is an order already from the army authorities as published a few days ago by SaharaReporters. It is enough beacon to a bloody future unless sense takes over from senselessness. The order reads: “Following attack on troops along Owode-Ilaro road by angry mobs and the recent attack by some criminal elements on troops of 65 Battalion during a rally conducted by members of the Yoruba Nation at Oju Ore roundabout along Sango-Ota-Idiroko road which led to the snatching of a rifle from a soldier, I am to convey to all officers and soldiers deployed on internal security operations to shoot to kill anyone who attempts to snatch troops’ weapons while on duty. Additionally, troops must act in self-defence to protect their lives, that of colleagues and weapons at all cost.” The Nigerian Army has a duty to protect its men and their tools. You don’t misbehave simply because Nigeria is a poultry of endemic bad behaviour. I wish I could tell those agitators to be wise and avoid falling into the sea of life while avoiding the rains of Nigeria. There is no life jacket for them or for anyone; those empowered to provide safety nets are outside, busy making dotty demands for their turn to raid the market. In Nigeria, it is the privileged bandit that is pampered and forgiven; the child of the indentured has no such privilege.
Our ancestors did not fight all wars. They fought some and sidestepped some. They told us that they did so because Alágbára má m’èrò, baba òle ni (the strong who lacks tact and thoughtfulness is the father of the weak). The Ashanti people of present-day Ghana were a strong and resilient people. For more than a hundred years after the British had colonized their neighbours, they remained largely free of foreign rule. But because they didn’t know what war not to fight, they lost it eventually. They fought and resisted the British and its intrusive rule from decade to decade. Like one Aare Onakakanfo, when there was no war to fight, they stoked the fires of one somewhere near home and violently put it down. Their resistance to the British was recorded as the Anglo-Ashanti Wars, and they were four (or five); the first being in 1806, the last in 1900. The Ashanti were initially fortunate as serial victors. They later ended as victims of their own excesses. At the third in the war series which started on January 22, 1824, the Ashanti overwhelmed the British forces but by their post-victory conduct, they gave themselves names they shouldn’t have answered. They killed Governor Charles McCarthy who led the British forces; they wiped out the governor’s men and then did the unthinkable: they barbecued and ate the governor’s heart so “that they might imbibe his valour, and his dried flesh and bones divided among his conquerors as charms.” The late governor’s skull was gold-rimmed for later use as a drinking-cup by Ashanti rulers. That was gross and it was bound to have consequences. The opportunity for the consequences came finally in 1900 when the Ashanti were provoked into a rebellion by the British. They took the bait and the final confrontation, called the War of the Golden Stool, finished them. The Ashanti failed tragically; their capital, Kumasi, was destroyed and from that day on (till 1957), the people and their land came fully under British rule. The owners of Nigeria drop baits too. It takes the wise to ignore them.
The terrorisation of Nigeria has left the South-West as the country’s last oasis of security. Today, that speck of greenery suffers violence, and it happens daily. Burning sands of bandits from the north are whistling into the west’s patch of peace. Do the ‘strong’ men taunting soldiers in Ogun Waterside know that the real war is already being fought somewhere else in their land? The enemy they should fight is shelling the homeland from the forests, left and right, of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Elders should tell those angry men to leave the eczema of their corridor of anger and go confront the banditry war raging on the expressway. That is where their armour against assault rifles is needed.
Three weeks ago, one Mrs Taiwo Fatunmbi lost her 40-year-old husband, Temitope, to bandits very alien to Yorubaland. This past weekend, the distraught woman told the Nigerian Tribune the story of how it happened. “We were on our way to Ibadan from Lagos. The incident occurred after Onigaari axis, less than 20 kilometres to Ibadan. As we were driving on the highway, two of the guys (kidnappers) came from the bush on our side of the road. They started shooting, spraying the road with bullets. The bullets pierced the back door where our two children sat. They are nine and seven-year-old kids. It was not more than five minutes that I told the younger one to stop resting on the door that the incident happened. I was seated beside my husband who was driving. The two gunmen that first emerged wore green khaki trousers, black top and wrapped white and black muffler on their necks. They did not cover their faces. They wielded big guns but I don’t know the name or type…They started shooting indiscriminately and the bullets came in through the back door where my children sat and pierced my husband in his back on the right side. Another one entered through my own door. In fact, several bullets hit the vehicle, but two entered. The one that came in through the door where I sat pierced the seat and went to my husband. It would have penetrated my body if I had relaxed on my seat. I was dodging because of the several bullets flying around. My husband didn’t feel it immediately. He continued to drive so that we would get away from the gunmen. However, my daughter started calling my attention because one of the bullets grazed my son’s hand. My daughter told me to see the blood coming from her brother’s hand but I was telling her to stay calm. Then she shouted: ‘Mummy, mummy, see blood on daddy’s back!’ At that time, I shouted ‘Jesus!’ I held the spots where blood was gushing out as if a tap was opened. My husband said ‘wow! What is happening?’ I tried to pacify him. He then said he was not having strength. By then, he could no longer accelerate properly. His speed reduced. I was trying to encourage him to move because the gunmen were still behind us and still shooting. We were three vehicles moving together at that time, one of the vehicles, a white SUV, swerved as if the driver wanted to park. It eventually parked. The second one passed by us and was in the fast lane, and we were in the middle lane. As the vehicle was slowing down, I encouraged my husband to still move forward so that I could take over driving from him. He looked at me and said he was not having the strength. The next thing was that he lost control and swerved off the road into the bush by the roadside. The vehicle moved a little bit and had a somersault. The bush covered us so much that nobody would have known we were there. My husband’s head was down. The engine of the vehicle was still running and the four tyres were up. I couldn’t help him…” The man died.
Now, where are the elders? There are reports of a deterioration of sense and security in Ogun State’s axis of anger; a volcano is simmering at the theatre where the video of men attacking soldiers was shot. The South-West should not go the way of the South-East; or of the North-West and the North-East. Everywhere you turn, there is a generation of anger that is very tired of the disappointment of Nigeria. Anger rules the country, north to south. The angry want a country that respects rights, that treats all equally; that offers opportunities fairly. They don’t have such a country. The big masquerades in Nigeria eat all the bean cakes; the small fries take the big canes – to entertain, to beat and be beaten. Nigeria offers neither obligation nor belongingness to anyone not inducted into its power circles. Angry youths see a Nigeria of contagious blisters, an Orwellian Animal Farm which offers no water to the thirsty and does not care if the sick dies. They have an abusive country, an insulting behemoth that respects no one without privilege. The boys in the video who are taking on soldiers, and daring them to shoot, cannot be happy with the life they live. And this is where the voice of the elders is needed. They should stop watching and picking their teeth like the insouciant Londoner in the Villa. There should be a shrill counsel to the angry not to kill themselves because they want to live. The sea does not rise in fury and the boatman rows into it in fury (òkun kìí hó ruru k’á wàá ruru). A Yoruba nation of broken bottles, clubs and bayonets cannot be desirable to anyone – òpálánbá lówó, kùmò l’éyìn orùn, sé b’ójú se rí rèé tá a fi nj’obì l’ójà oba?
*By Dr. Lasisi Olagunju*