The death of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, last Friday, like the death of any mortal, calls for sober reflection. May God grant the repose of his soul. However, for all of us – politicians, those controlling the levers of political power, lowly-placed people and humanity in entirety – the major lesson therein, aside the ephemerality of life, is that this passage is another wake-up call on us not to assume our immortality. If the high and mighty can fall when death stings them, no man is immortal and we should live our lives as if death is by the corridor.
For those who believe that man’s death was predetermined, Kyari could not have died via another route different from the coronavirus which led to his death. A philosopher like Kiekergaard was quoted to have said that while I will die my own death, you will die your own death. In a letter from a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and satirist, Seneca the Younger, to his friend Lucileus, he had said, “Be convinced that all ignorant men err when they say ‘It is a beautiful thing to die your own death’ for there is no man who does not die his own death.” Franco-Uruguayan poet, Jules Supervielle, also belongs to this school. He said, “The death which I shall become already moves in me freely.”
However, some existential philosophers believe that man could, by his act, swing the course of his death or even the day of death. This is where the current power architecture in Nigeria can be said to have hastened Kyari’s death. First was that, with Buhari’s statement sometime last year that Kyari, 82 years old, would superintend over all the affairs of the Nigerian state, he was making a single man, in street argot, a four-man (foreman) and a man of acutely advanced age at that. Second, when Kyari travelled to Germany on official duty to negotiate a power project with Siemens, the information was already all over the world that the coronavirus was particularly very hostile to persons beyond 65 years of age and who had had predisposing ailments they were managing. So why was Kyari, an 82-year old, with health challenges he was managing, be the one to go on that trip? Third was that, in the process of executing his four-man role, Kyari became a be-it-all and a panjandrum of power. If not, why wouldn’t the Minister of Power be the one to negotiate that power project? Anyway, in the words of Supervielle, perhaps death by coronavirus was already moving in Kyari since November 17, 1938 when he was born, until April 17, 2020 when he died.
Now, let’s talk about COVID-19
Notwithstanding your awareness of how bad things have become with the people of Nigeria, if you watch the documentary Koronu – Where people don’t think, a bead of tear will roll down your cheek. It is on YouTube. Put together by the popular, yet uncommon Ibadan, Nigeria-based broadcaster, Edmund Obilo, Koronu is a shuttle with and into the lives of a people in an area called Academy in the erstwhile capital of Western Nigeria. To put the grim picture in its true perspective, a professor friend from the University of Oxford, while sending a copy of the documentary to me, affixed a damming, yet evocative caption to it: Koronu, in Awo’s Ibadan! The purport cannot be lost on anyone who knows that Obafemi Awolowo and his team of egg-heads, right in this selfsame Koronu’s Ibadan, with a party slogan they called Life more abundant, sat to banish poverty, lack and ignorance from, if not anywhere else, the precinct of the Western Region of Nigeria.
Koronu is a documentary that literally plots the graph of the economic descent with a very sharp-edged pencil, telling the story of how, in no mistakable lingo, life has slipped sharply right down the alley for the people. In that bassy voice, the narrator sharply tells the story of a life of abundance that has become a life of sorrow; that existence-wise, in the hands of successive governments, a people primed to be the best that life could offer have become a people whose inability to fend for themselves has turned into robots incapable of thinking.
In a nutshell, from theirs and the narrator’s accounts, Koronu is like South Africa’s District Six where, in the depiction of writers like Alex La Guma, Alf Wannenburg, James Mathews etc, life was marijuana, violence, merry and alcohol. Hopelessness and joblessness intermixed in Koronu to breed a people who confessed in the documentary that they lived by the day, engaged in no mental exercise and sauce their existence with alcohol and smoke. Government is very far away from Koronu, except as emblem of decay of old infrastructure of ages past. It only pays Koronu visits every four years, when politicians, exploiting their demographics, need their votes.
The interesting thing is that every community in Nigeria has its own Koronu. Or put rightly, will have its own Koronu shortly; Koronu, in this wise being a metaphor for the army of Nigerian unemployed youth, faced by the hopelessness of joblessness, with a peripatetic mind and gene of adolescence which are already finding or will find an encore in violence, drug, crime and allied evils of youth desperation. With an estimated but conservative figure pre-COVID-19 of 40 per cent unemployed, aftermath the pandemic, Nigeria will probably have 70 per cent of such.
Contemporary or existing reality tells us that we do not need a telescope or a peep into the diviner’s plate to tell us that post-COVID-19, where in Nigeria the locusts have not yet invaded, will be a breeding ground for these colonies of Koronu people. Global economists, like sorcerers that they are, have painted a morbid picture of a post-COVID-19 globe. Putting the sorcery in the mould of Armageddon, they compared what they expect to be in the frame of the Great Depression of the 1920s.
The economics behind this grim projection is not rocket science and can be accessed by anyone. The ravaging COVID-19 pandemic has ensured that factories shut down their operations for more than a month now, with its attendant job losses. In America, 22 million jobs are said to have been lost and an unprecedented 57 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits for the first time. The GDP of China fell drastically for the first time in ages, even as governments are throwing their hands up in economic surrenders. Otherwise strong economies are projecting that they would soon hit the canvass, with hunger and famine looming large in the global horizon.
In Nigeria, the picture is grimmer and promises to be more surreal. Her economic heartbeats – Lagos, Port-Harcourt, Kano (for agricultural produces) are locked down. A friend in the agricultural sector told me that due to its inability to transport eggs to states of demand under lockdown, Oyo State poultry industry has accumulated about 150,000 crates of eggs in 7-8 days, worth about N120 million, which will be destroyed presently, with the consequences of jobs flying out through the window. Alien to data and statistics, job losses in Nigeria as a result of COVID-19 will expectedly soar. The companies that reluctantly paid salaries at the outset of the pandemic last month while asking workers to go home may not pay henceforth since they have shut down production. Banks and other economic concerns are only operating skeletally.
With successive governments whose officials had consistently and persistently Abachalized (pray, why is that word not yet in the dictionary?) the nation’s patrimony and a glut in global oil sale, with price of a barrel of crude going for as low as $20; and more importantly, with a Nigerian government known for its tendency to spiritualize governance, the stage is set for, parodying football commentator Ernest Okonkwo, the mother of all Koronu. If antecedents are to be factored in, soon, Aso Rock would witness a convergence of prayer warriors, in concert with their Muslim marabout allies, in an orgy of spiritual intercessions for the imminent cup of economic depression to pass over Nigeria. Already, with the shadow of things to come flashing in its face, the Nigerian government, faced with a 2020 budget it might not be able to finance, had cut budgetary allocations in its perceived “useless” sectors of education and health drastically. It is the right way to go for any Koronu government superintending over a Koronu people.
Proactive governments have put on their thinking caps to avert the transmutation of their lands into a haven for Koronu people, in the aftermath of COVID-19. As flippant and dissembling as Donald Trump is, he is looking beyond the health of COVID-19 into its economics. His thinking ostensibly is, the pandemic has come and will go like its calamitous predecessors of earlier centuries but what will be the fates of those who escape death in its aftermath? In the face of her melancholy of losing 30,000 nationals, America’s Trump has outlined a 3-phase guidelines of how to defreeze an already frozen economy that could begin to gasp for breath if no rescue comes its way.
In Nigeria, rather than grapple with the economic Armageddon that will surely come, we are still battling the genetic cronyism resident in the being of our government that is said to have voted a large chunk of palliatives cash to its own people. Allegedly, government has literally deployed that selfsame accursed 95 to 5% sharing modem which the Fuhrer let slip in America at the outset of this government. Even the palliatives are polluted by corrupt officials who allegedly hand over N20,000 to these “Poorest of the Poor,” take photo-shoots of the money with the recipients and coercively collect the money back, later handing over N5,000 to their victims. Pray, in what part of the globe, in a technological 21st century, with a government perceived to be grossly deficient in trust, do officials heave untracked and untrack-able cash to far-flung homes of people like this, without a corresponding system of accountability? Politicians and government appointees, as well as aspirants for 2023 are also exploiting COVID-19 to begin a junket of self-underscore and advertisement, with a rat race among themselves in sharing negligible tokens to the people. On these tokens, they affix almost yard-sized banners.
The foretaste of Koronu is already here with us. In states locked down by government, victims of governments in time past that didn’t think and the one at the moment that is incapable of thinking, are rebelling against the system. Because peaceful living is impossible for a starved people, the latent animalism, disorder and chaos in the Koronu people are climbing to the fore. Crime rates have quadrupled with criminals robbing in the daylight. Rate of scavengers has reached for the zenith of the curves and very many people have turned into beggars, literally abandoning the pride of their manhood and dignity. These are the rehearsals for the sharp realities of post-COVID-19.
For a thinking government, however, all hope is not lost. It should be the time for economic wizards of whom Nigeria doesn’t have a shortfall, to converge in boardrooms or in virtual rooms to brainstorm on available oases. Thinking caps are an absolute necessity now, or else we will all be consumed by the economic epidemic and devastation to come. The consuming anger of a post- COVID-19 world economy is impervious to cronyism, is colour or race-blind; it is blind to Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba and is certainly political party-blind. It will consume agnostics, atheists, religionists as it will make mincemeat of PDP and APC. The time to start thinking is now.
Did Ayinla Omowura kill Epo Akara’s band members in 1975?
For 45 years now, a subsisting rumour has circulated in the Yoruba music world, gaining the currency of reality everyday. It is the allegation that a fatal accident in 1975 which involved Ibadan-based musician and Awurebe music crooner, Dauda Epo Akara and which killed two of his band boys – Dauda and Omoboade – had the hands of late Apala music maestro, Ayinla Omowura, in it. The accident generated so much hoopla. Ayinla reportedly placed a spell on Epo Akara’s vehicle. The theory was that, having cursed a Dauda, Epo Akara’s powerful native drug neutralizer rebounded the curse off him, which then went to Dauda, his band member. Taking the speculation a notch higher, it was said that a few weeks after the accident, Omowura went to Epo Akara’s Popo Yemoja home in Ibadan and on meeting his father, congratulated him for having effectively soaked his son in phials that deflected his incantations off his head. In memorializing the accident where 14 of them travelled and had an accident at Alapako, outskirts of Ibadan, Epo Akara sang, Awa merinla, awa merinla r’ajo o…
In my book, Ayinla Omowura: Life and Times of an Apala Legend which will be on sale from May 6, 2020, I sought to take the wind off the sail of this allegation. Sule Epo, one of Epo Akara’s band boys, whose stage name was Oyinmiyinmi, in an interview, described this as mere rumour and indeed, baseless. He described the duo of Ayinla and Epo Akara as bosom friends and attributed the unfounded allegation to the handiwork of their foes. He said that Ayinla never cursed Epo Akara or the vehicle the band was travelling in and that the accident was caused by a huge fog which affected the visibility of the driver.
Another person interviewed was Sakaniyawu Ishola, one of Epo Akara’s band members. He joined the band in 1973. He was with Epo till his death. Sakaniyawu was in the ill-fated vehicle and he confirmed that the band boys were dead drunk on the journey. He said that on the said day, the Epo band had gone for a marriage ceremony which took place in Ilupeju, Lagos. The band met Omowura singing at the event as he was engaged to sing for the afternoon. According to Sakaniyawu, the Epo band got there at around 3pm.
“As we got there and our musical instruments were being brought down by the parker boys, Epo Akara went and met Ayinla Omowura where he was playing on the bandstand and the two brothers embraced and greeted each other. When we also began our own play, Ayinla came to the stage to salute Epo Akara. They both greeted each other again. That was what I saw,” Sakaniyawu said.
Asked how true the claim was that on that day, many of the people who had gathered to watch the gigs of the duo left Ayinla and flocked to Dauda’s stage, Sakaniyawu said it was true. He attributed this to the fact that many of those who were there had never heard the voice of Dauda before. Another source attributed it to the fact that many of those who gathered at the function were Ibadan sons and daughters who saw in Epo Akara, a gravitation towards home.
Could a line of a song by Ayinla, to wit, “won ba wa laba won fe sako, ori ere ni moto won mi a jabo – they met us in the village and are gallivanting; your vehicle would have an accident!” be the link of Omowura to the accident? Ayinla sang that song in 1973. It couldn’t have been directed at Epo Akara because the accident under reference happened in 1975.
Epo Akara, great musician and one of the best from Ibadan, literally died unsung. His house beside Guru Maharaj Ji’s den is uncompleted. The state government never did anything to memorialize him. Ayinla’s lot is different. Ex-Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State changed the face of Omowura’s home in Itoko, probably an acknowledgment of how he put Egbaland and Ogun State on the map of world musical history. Omowura’s children I interviewed for my book were full of profuse praises for this past government in Ogun. Will Governor Seyi Makinde do same for Epo Akara?