Yoruba Don’t Like One Another
DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN
As a Nigerian ideological statement, the prioritisation of the politics of consumption over the politics of development gathered momentum in the wake of the Action Group crisis and the supremacist struggle that ensued between the late Chiefs Obafemi Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola in the 1960s. Awolowo vacated office as Premier of the Western region in 1959 to seek the position of the Prime Minister of Nigeria and was succeeded by Akintola. After an unsuccessful run he settled into office as the leader of opposition in the Nigerian Parliament. He rose to this platform in his capacity as the leader of the Action Group (AG), the dominant party in the Western Region. There was therefore the need to carry his party along in this new role and consequently required the subordination of his successor (Ladoke Akintola) to his authority as party leader.
The latter took the position that such subordination ought to stop short of rendering him a proxy Premier at the beck and call of Awolowo. More importantly, Akintola belonged to the ideological school of reaching an accommodation with the party in control of the federal government, the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), to secure substantial patronage for the Western Region. Awolowo took the countervailing position of principled opposition and whatever sacrifice it entailed. Taken to its dysfunctional conclusion, the emphasis of Akintola on the politics of consumption is synonymous with the bane of tribalism- “a ruthless struggle for power and resources by individuals and cliques and leads to the state’s development policy being made against the interests of society as a whole”. Unfortunately, in the long term perspective of Nigerian politics, it is the cynical realism of Akintola that won out. It is this realism that is at the root of judging Yoruba politics by how successful it has become in adapting to this ideology.
Not long ago, the ideology played out in the poltics and recriminations over the removal of the former finance minister, Kemi Adeosun from office. The recrimination boiled down to the charge that it was the Yoruba, spearheaded by the Premium Times, that exhumed and orchestrated the youth corps certificate scandal which ultimately resulted in her resignation. I put it to a proponent of this tradition that if the Yoruba is guilty as charged in this instance, shouldn’t it be credited to the Yoruba as objective and modern development oriented behaviour? Here, however, is where the predisposing context of underdevelopment syndrome and dysfunction kicks in- which distorts, perverts, normalises the abnormal and turns virtue into vice and vice versa. Two things are of concern to me. One is the false extrapolation that Yoruba are thereby uniquely ill-disposed towards another and should emulate the contrasting generous disposition of the Northern region power elite. This extrapolation is then enlisted to formulate the thesis of Northern region power politics strategy as superior and enviably successful. In the first place, there is no basis for the presumption that the Yoruba are historically and uniquely ill-disposed towards another otherwise it would have been a conspicuous exception to the kinship and African extended family system. What we grew up knowing as the norm of Yoruba culture is the responsibility of successful family and community members (to employ their accomplishment) to leverage their kith and kin into upward socioeconomic mobility.
The factual and typical mentor-protege narrative of traditional Yoruba society was recently illustrated in a piece of family history. As recalled by an uncle, “The best friend of my mother was Iyasunna of Ilawe. She celebrated Christmas with us and we celebrated sallah with her and we and her children regarded ourselves as brothers and sisters. Ambassador Lasisi Fabunmi, iyasunnah’s son, and as DG NIIA gave me scholarship to go to Russia to study International Relations”
I have the courage to cite this personal example because the would be protege objectively merited the patronage offer haven academically distinguished himself in his first degree. As there is no basis for the definition of the Yoruba as self-hating, so is there no basis to commend the politics of the “North” as successful and worthy of emulation.
And no one has better articulated this criticism than fellow Northerner than Dan Agbese. In thinly veiled disdain, he contends “Audu Ogbeh, immediate past minister of agriculture and chairman, ACF, was recently quoted as saying that politics is the only industry in Northern Nigeria. His statement intrigues me for two reasons. One, I have often wondered why the north which has ruled the country longer than all the other regions put together is in dire straits. If it is only the industry, then it must be an industry that has failed disastrously. The difference between the northern states and the southern states in terms of resources and human development is clear. The south is soaring in modern development and the north is sinking in under-development. But however much we tend to shy away from it, there is no hiding the fact that politics as a northern industry is a failed industry. It has failed where it matters most: lifting the people from illiteracy, poverty and mind-boggling squalor”.
Now let’s get it straight, more than any enabler it is the contrivance of a debatable higher population and a cultivated upper hand in the balance of terror (all attributable to the machinations of the British colonialists) that account for the political advantage of the North over other regional contenders. This fundamental enabler is then complemented by the almajiri typified unquestioning herd mentality and the absence of a critical mass; and the Buhari personified unscrupulous use and abuse of of state power to entrench their ranks in power. Beyond the (Northern) primary patronage beneficiaries of this entrenched power are the secondary ones especially the conniving members of the Yoruba political elite. Very many of them would tell you the story of a personal experience of typical generous disposition of a Northern benefactor and a contrasting adversarial disposition of fellow Yoruba. Never mind the paradox of charactering a culture that condones and perpetrates preordained servitude (of order of the almajiri trado religious system) as generous.
This sociological thesis of ‘Northerner good versus Yoruba bad’ has gathered wide anecdotal acceptance and typically emanates from the ideology of the status quo in which the oppressor cadre is cast as the ideal cultural group whose ways and manners are worthy of emulation.
In this insight I owe an intellectual debt to the marxist Italian intellectual, Antonio Gramsci. He was the first to formulate such trends as characteristic of hegemonic societies in which the ruling elite propagates its own values and norms so that they become the “common sense” values of all and thus maintain the status quo. There is also the interpretation provided by what is identified as the Stockholm syndrome-defined “as an emotional response from the abused and hostage victims when they have positive feelings toward an abuser or captor”. Between these two interpretations, explanation will be found for the behaviour of the Yoruba/Nigerian when next he comes preaching the gospel of “Yoruba bad vs Hausa-Fulani good”. What I know of the Yoruba DNA is the virtue of competitiveness which has been denatured by adaptation to the Nigerian context of the prioritisation of the politics of consumption over the politics of self-sustenance and development.
To the VAT Lobbyists: Thanks But No
The Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) is literally awashed in cash and in case anyone needs be convinced, the rash of slush fund inspired experts falling over one another to defend the role of the agency as the right and proper collector of Value Added Tax (VAT) should serve as reminder. Besides his personal failings, the removal of Tunde Fowler as the Executive Chairman of the agency and replacement with someone from Buhari compliant ruling caste was quite predictable. Inevitably, the temptation to coral that ‘lucrative and juicy’ parastatal would prove too difficult to resist. If you have come across any of the tortuous logic on why the legal victory of the Rivers State is (self) detrimental to the state (and other states following its footsteps), know that rather than sense, it is the bottomless riches of FIRS that is speaking. First if the Rivers State position is the position of the law then no other argument should take precedence. Second, the utility of the legal victory is that it is federalism compliant and the stipulation that the state is a coordinate tier and not subservient to the federal tier of government.
According to Onikepo Braithwaite, “I submit that it is clear from the constitutional provisions that VAT is excluded from items 58 and 59 of the exclusive legislative list and item 7 on the concurrent legislative list and therefore does not come under the federal government’s. Ergo it is a residual matter falling squarely under the purview of the states alone.”
Pantami the Pantomime
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven” so says the scriptures. What struck me most about the Isa Pantami scandal was how desperate the man wanted to remain in office. Let us not forget that he practically renounced and disowned his religious past just to retain his plum ministerial appointment. For the Pantamis of Nigeria, it seems as if piety stops where access to power and plenty of dollars begins. The inconstancy, inconsistency and hypocrisy is eerily similar to how his mentor, President Muhammadu Buhari took Nigeria for a ride and sold us the dummy of a (fake) anti-corruption reputation. And just to prove how much impious and dishonest Mullah Pantami could be, he has now provided a rock solid evidence in a 419 procured “Professorship” at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri. Aren’t mullahs supposed to be impervious to unmerited adulation and the worldly accretions of political office? Here is a rather cryptic testimony from someone who should know, the first lady, Aisha Buhari on Pantami “The minister burst into tears after his reciter read a verse of the Holy Quran. “That is the Garden we shall give (as their own) to those of our servants who were devout,” Surah Maryam, Verse 63. In response, Pantami sobbed, “O Allah! Make me one of them. O Allah! Make me one of them!” And the First Lady admonished “Pantami please be courageous to do the right thing”. Which can only mean the minister has done something wrong, very wrong.