These peculiar times send us all back home to reexamine our Nigerian-hood and even go further. We knew, and I warned, that the 2023 elections would have consequences for relationships especially as it took on a tribal and religious coloration from get-go. Politicians did what they had to do to win elections – including the Muslim-Muslim ticket (which could at once bust the myth of the overload and relevance of religion in our politics, when at the end of 8 years the religious diversity of Nigeria will still be preserved or even strengthened), the use of religious fanaticism and tribalism (when a certain presidential candidate moved around and sent messages to clerics to the effect that one of his formidable opponents was not Muslim enough, and that his tribe must vote for one of their own), or when another candidate went into overdrive by coldly capitalizing on religious anger, tribal anger and youth anger. Perhaps we would have got away with these, but for the fact that unfortunately most Nigerians have not developed the capacity for complex debates and enough emotional intelligence to understand that there’ll always be another time to try in politics. And it looks like the so-called educated and well-monied are far worse than the proletariat.
The fallout of all of this has sent many of us back ‘home’ to get in touch with our roots. For me, it hasn’t shaken my belief in Nigeria, but it has exposed to me the fact that many Nigerians are still not matured for democracy, what with the way many are still praying and working towards the truncation of the success of the President-Elect – with some asking the military to take over or Interim National Government and others praying that he should die summarily. The latest drama is of that ‘obidient’ guy who came on an Ibom Air flight shouting for people not to allow Bola Tinubu become president such that he had to be deboarded. It is alarming enough and I warned when some Nigerians set about this slippery slope. Home and abroad, these folks have been working hard at truncating our hard-won democracy, even contributing money for protests and whatever else may happen. Pastors in Nigeria have mounted their pulpits to instruct their members not to recognize a popularly-elected president. They probably need to be reminded about why Nigeria adopted Presidential system of government in the first place, through the 1978 Constitutional Conference. It was because of the dastardly, and indeed gut-wrenching, imbecilic and bestial manner in which Nigeria’s first attempt at Parliamentary governments ended in 1966. Because of the lack of popular respect for a Prime Minister, in 1978 eminent Nigerians decided that we should go for a situation whereby a contestant that obtains majority votes with a good enough spread, becomes the President. And of course there was no attempt or intention to confer any superiority on people who live in the Federal Capital – even with latter amendments – contrary to what a section of these same unruly folks are saying.
In the middle of all the electioneering, there was the struggle for Lagos, which marked the crescendo. Indeed the elections turned into some sort of war for the soul of Lagos. There was the rise of a certain Gbadebo Rhodes, which sharply divided opinions. Many who had voted for the Labour Party ticket three weeks earlier, decided to switch. But there was intimidation on voting day, with pockets of violence, just as happened in every other part of Nigeria and almost every state. The manner in which the entire electioneering went on, generally led to one’s reexamination of the concept of tribe and nationhood. There was an instance in which traditional rulers in parts of Lagos started revoking titles they had given to people from the southeast of Nigeria. There was the question of whether indeed Lagos is a no-man’s-and which every and anyone could come to abuse. Lagosians and Yorubas at large had to put up a defense because as they say, even the madman has relatives. Lagos was considered a damsel with enough brothers to defend her honour. And the attitude was that even though a man pays dowry and performs a large wedding ceremony, even bequeathing a damsel with all the shiny little toys in the world, that does not entitle them to ripping off her soul and taking her for granted. I am not very big on tribal issues and do not believe that Nigeria be split up along tribal lines. I believe that we have not tried enough – and intelligently enough – to make the best of our country. I believe we have not studied enough of the histories of how nations are built. And because many suddenly find that they have voice these days with the advent of social media, we are being led to Golgotha by the half-baked views of some of us. Usually, it is the shallowest amongst us that sounds loudest – and that gets the most followership in this age and time for obvious reasons.
So, those of us who were liberal were made to determine and face up to one crucial fact; that charity begins from home. And that one will be a compound fool if you forget whence he descends, and whose son he is. At issue was the subject of fairness and equity. That has been decided, no matter that there are dregs of bitterness everywhere. Respect and equity should be reciprocal everywhere. And anywhere we go, in spite of the constitution of Nigeria that permits anyone to settle anywhere, it is trite that we show respect for local customs and not be the disruptor of that which people hold dear. Yes, migrants into any society do help to catalyze change and boost economies, they even often provide the best public leadership, but such agency and intervention requires wisdom and emotional intelligence. There is also the need to draw attention to the fact that this is a universal issue, for Nigerians have gained a terrible, almost-hopeless, reputation for drawing the ire of citizens of many countries around the world for the sheer reason that they violate local laws, act and speak in ways that grate the nerves of locals where they settle and do business, and are generally disrespectful of local customs, norms and mores. The world is a global village and proper behavior is the same everywhere. Indeed there are countries that migrate than we do – for example China, and Philippines – but their people seem to face their work and meld into the societies that they go to. This is a learning moment for Nigeria.
I am unabashedly for One Nigeria. But I do not forget from whence I came. The lesson of the moment is that we can be all about one Nigeria, while maintaining the integrity of our other constituencies. Good behavior and good thinking reinforce one another. So, there is a way to ensure that your village, town, city, state, your church, your mosque, your sect, and Nigeria rises with the tide of your good thinking and positivism. It is lack of requisite emotional and social intelligence, and a narrow world view, that leads many to think that there is a mutually exclusive relationship between all or some of these constituencies. I am a Nigerian. I am Yoruba. My Dad hailed from Akure, Ondo State, and I grew up partly there and mostly in Lagos. These are my constituencies and I love every one of them to death, just as I love Nigeria as a whole, as well as Africa and humanity. Everywhere and every place that I have had direct interaction with, retains a pride of place in my heart, and that shouldn’t be too hard for anyone to understand. In fact, one would be a phoney if one loves and defends Nigeria only to leave one’s other constituencies while hawking the idea of One Nigeria ad nauseum. Indeed, the more vulnerable constituencies need one’s attention, defense, intellect, even investment first, before the bigger ones which retains everyone’s attention (including foreign investment) and access to much more resources. Some regions in Nigeria have since understood this, and it so happens that this region is where you find most people who today seek to demonize those who seek to replicate the same strategy for their own constituencies; people who ma having had their Eureka moments.
This missive is therefore directly to the Yorubas, the tribe – or nationality – into which I was born. This could also be adopted by other nationalities, ethnic groups and tribes if they believe it is apposite for their own repositioning within Nigeria and the world at large. We don’t have to wait for other nationalities (whose cultures may naturally clash with ours) to come and teach us how to change for the better, or to prod us and rudely jar us awake from our reverie. Change is the only constant in life anyway. We have thousands of professors of sociology amongst us but we seem to have lost the ability or willingness to self-introspect, take lessons and reposition. But if we don’t use our own assets, human resources, wealth, and intellect to reposition our spaces and step up to the times, who will? And we have good cause to now swallow our pride and learn lessons, especially from the southeast of Nigeria, where they understand the value of their space and will protect same with everything they possess.
The following are the problems we must immediately deal with. I will be very brief about them, believing that as the Yorubas say ‘abo oro la n so fun omoluwabi, to ba de’nu e a d’odindi’. Half word is enough for the wise and rounded thinker:
- We must stop running away from home: Yorubas have deserted their own villages and towns en masse. Our towns are epitomes of poverty, with mud houses falling where they stand. We need urban and rural renewal. And this is not only a role for government, but for all of us. Unlike Igbos who first build their mansions at home before building elsewhere, Yorubas usually disdain their hometowns, and our assets are scattered around the world – especially Europe and the Americas. By this act, we have given up already and our children will no longer come this way. This is tragic!
- We must stop running away from each other: Our culture is a little suspicious. Because of the rooted belief in the supernatural, we often impute evil thoughts to people around us. This is evident in our movies – which reflect our culture. This is the key reason many of us totally abandon where we are from and seek glory abroad. Yorubas are the majority of people currently japa-ing; even those with good jobs. We are also reputed not to be eager to help each other. This manifests in a positive way some times, as we are known to be often objective. We don’t mind disowning any of our own who has messed up somewhere.
- We must deal with the problem of illiteracy: Chief Obafemi Awolowo graciously gave us mass education through his Free Education programme. The truth is that the Free Education programmes, even from the get-go, was paid for through increased taxes, with the balance done through borrowing. This means that Awolowo prioritized education, simplicita. However, we have been unable to carry this project forward. We cannot continue to rely on old glory. Education needs financing, and because we have rather lost out on the money game (as we are not pushful people), we are also losing out on the education game. We should take objective looks at recent WAEC and JAMB results and smell the coffee. We have some of the worst illiteracy crises in Nigeria today. These problems are calling us to do something big and new, like Awolowo dared to do.
- We must get involved in real entrepreneurship and production: While all the debate raged, someone from southeast Nigeria wrote that the only businesses Yoruba people own in the east, are churches. This is true. For some reason, our people are the forerunners in the religion business. Fair enough. But back home, the only business we seem to do is to open hotels and beer parlours. We need to be more daring and get involved in real entrepreneurship and production – like factories. It takes guts. This is also directed to our younger ones. We should not seek the comfort of easy services, small businesses, or paid employment only. This is time to be valiant.
- Our churches can be repositioned as centres of productivity: Flowing from the above and given the success of some of the biggest churches in Nigeria, I believe that our churches should pray to God and hear whether He could use them to reposition industry in Yorubaland and Nigeria at large. I am aware that Nigerian churches have amassed huge cashflow – sometimes in the trillions of Naira. Good fortune. But even though I am too lowly and worldly to advise, still I will tell them to look at this suggestion. The Nigerian church could transform several industries, like textile, beverages, paper, tyres, construction, renewables, agriculture (including value addition), and so many more. I don’t also think there is anything in the Holy Bible that forbids the church to be a major agent of change and repositioning in a society… all to the glory of God himself. The church in Nigeria has done a lot for the people, admittedly. But to whom God has given much…
- We must become aspirational and fear less – in politics and business: We cannot sit on our hands, complaining and whining about how other nationalities are pushing us out of our own space. We need some daring, like I noted in (4) above. We can see the number of young Igbo people contesting for elections everywhere in Nigeria. He who dares, wins. At least sometimes. Our culture of being reserved, quiet, biding our time, hiding away fearfully, and so on, we must push forward positively. We must teach our children to also be more competitive in this winner-takes-all world. It is what it is. It is better to negotiate from a strong position, not from positions of victimhood. We must do more business (including the importation and buying-and-selling) and get involved more in politics. This means that the few who have been lucky amongst us should hoard money less and help ventures more. We must find a new vision about ourselves and humanity.
- We must reinvest our resources at home: As different from building at home, we must consciously seek out opportunities to invest back in our area/town/cities. The opportunities are there. This does not stop us finding the best professionals to run these businesses for us. Even in the study of international finance, there is something called Home Bias, because abroad, people have been known to take a liking for investments near their homes. I recall speaking to one Ekiti man about investing and building at home, and he flared up, reminding me of the witches and wizards. I told him that if witches and wizards exist, they are probably everywhere. He wasn’t convinced. But we cannot give up.
- We must reverse the predilection for japa; Japa is a Yoruba thing. We are the ones always running from Nigeria even when nothing is chasing us. Of course, once we have a negative feeling about Nigeria, it’s difficult for the country to deliver positives to us. It’s a simple law of nature. Many Yorubas see japa as a thing of pride. They want their children to speak ‘phoneh’. We want to walk into other people’s well-manicured countries – which they built on their sweat, tears and blood – and ‘make it. This is usually an illusion. For every one person who settles down never to return, 10 others are frustrated in that venture. Let us have another look at Nigeria, help ourselves, and stay to enjoy the land that God has given us – to manage, and hold in trust for our children.
- Our Owambe problem; Yorubas are known to be free spenders in weekend-ly parties where musicians sing their praises. I always observe curiously where the cash flows in such events which gulps billions of Naira in our land weekly. The money ends up with importers of champagne, expensive clothes and expensive drinks in the main. A small proportion goes to owners of event centers, caterers, makeup artistes, logistics providers. The owambe business shows us up to be bean counters and people addicted to their own praise-singing. Someone wrote an article the other day asking ‘where are the Board Members that Ebenezer Obey sang about? Where are the Obokun Club members of Ilesa? Or the Oroki Social club of Oshogbo?’. Whereas this praise singing thing is our people’s way of catching their own self-actualization, perhaps we need to start moving away from the wasteful spending that goes with it. If there was anything Emefiele’s cashless policy helped to tweak, it must be this Owambe business. Let us just be careful and more perceptive.
- The Lagos Problem and Opportunity; This article started about Lagos, so it may as well close about Lagos. Lagos is the precious crown jewel of the SouthWest of Nigeria, and by extension, the Yoruba people. Lagos is actually Nigeria’s crown jewel, and we must admit that those who live in Lagos are blinded by the light – they cannot see the transformation going on around them. I just left Lagos as I concluded this article, and Lagos is a great place to live in today. I visited the Lekki Conservation Centre yesterday. Amazing. I had to send a comment to the active, youngish governor, congratulating him on his LagRide, LagBus, LagFerry, LagMetro, and other transformative projects that have changed the lay of the land permanently. I hope Lagos sustains this and does more. Commuting is less of a nightmare. Lagos will surely deliver a great deal more in the coming years. But Yorubas also have a Lagos problem. I have interacted with core Lagosians who say we from other states are riding roughshod on them. Some feel left out because they are a minority in their states. I believe this could be redressed. Someone suggested a core Lagosian governor like from the Cardoso, Doherty, Randle, and other families as next governor after Babajide Sanwoolu. Why not? But we must commend the vision of President-Elect Bola Tinubu, in making Lagos a very pan-Yoruba state with a touch of other regions of Nigeria since 1999. Perhaps by so doing, he created a ground force, a first line of defense, for Lagos. Perhaps that is why the Southwest people feel more ownership of Lagos today, being even fiercer in her defense whenever the voice of core Lagosians are drowned.
I will add two extras without numbering them. Lagos is the home of the music industry in Nigeria. And this is big given how the industry has conquered the world. Even Nollywood is resident there. The problem, however, is that a lot of the money made in entertainment – especially music – never comes to Nigeria. They get diverted to tax havens by the advisers and promoters of our musicians. This then means that we are sitting on a mirage. We have the fame for the industry, but not the liquidity. This is something we must correct through a stakeholder approach.
Lastly, we need thought leadership, beyond politics. Bola Tinubu is a great political organizer and visionary. But what about others? They don’t need to be in negation of his thoughts and ideas. I am too young and insignificant to be in that pantheon, but what I have attempted here is just that; some attempt at thought leadership. It looks like a lot of our leaders’ energies – outside politics – have been rather negative. We cannot be fighting Fulanis today, Igbos tomorrow, and Tinubu the next day. Where is the positive thought? How are we encouraging ourselves, our younger ones to take on the world? How are we positively reforming society? How are we calling out those who are conning society? We have a big problem with yahoo-yahoo fraudsters (who have got so much respect in our land; the land of so-called intellectuals), oloshos and runs-girls (which is what poverty has driven our girls to), sports betting and gambling (which is ruining millions of our youths especially in the poor areas), religious charlatanism (with conmen seeing fake visons and ripping off our people, and our people praying when they should be working or looking for jobs), low productivity, drunkenness, mediocrity in our educational and other sectors, a degree of laziness, lack of imagination even in our urban planning, abandonment of our old cocoa farms amongst other legacies. It will also pay for our state governors to synergize because two eads are better than one – just as two pockets. These are issues for our thought leaders to constantly grapple with. I hope this my short missive ignites comments from our elders and many others, for positive change to commence and be sustained in our land. Agba o ni tan lor’ile ooo.
NB – My apologies for my usually long writeup. In matters Nigeriana, and given our many problems, the Yorubas advise that ‘ko ko ko la n ran’fa aditi’. I guess that means the Yorubas understood and understand the power of repetition, especially in an age where attention deficit is a pandemic, with so much information barrage. That said, perhaps there is more than one reason to be proud of our heritage. We come from a deep place. I recently started to study the works of Late Professor Sophie Bosede Oluwole, a philosopher extraordinaire and have been blessed by it. I also began a study of some of the Ifa corpus from the works of Late Professor Akinwumi Ishola, and was amazed to find a lot of math, science, philosophy, chemistry, history, economics, enveloped in one body of knowledge. For example, our ancestors used 0,1 binary math in determining explanations about phenomena. The Opele can only give 256 possible combinations and permutations, which is 8 squared multiplied by 2 squared, equals 256. These 256 different possibilities were memorized and recognized on sight by a Babalawo or indeed anyone who went through the training. The reason the colonizers did not obliterate this body of knowledge was because they had respect for it. And also, even those taken as slaves from here to all the parts of the world retained that knowledge such that today, Yorubas in Nigeria would rather NOT be associated with such a grand and complex corpus that is theirs to flaunt, but all of us are born again Christians and Muslims. Perhaps this deliberate shirking of our heritage is at the bottom of some of our plights today. Does my curiosity make me a Babalawo or to stretch it, an evil person? I don’t think so. Knowledge of whom we are and our history, will only bring back our pride and rocket us forward, profoundly.