A professor friend who works abroad is home-sick. He recently asked me: “I want to visit home. I am scared. What do you think? Will I be safe?” I didn’t know what to tell him. Those of us at home carefully select where to go in Nigeria and when to go there. Our country is a jungle: people get killed; people get captured for ransom; people come out unhurt. Who gets what is not made known to us. Going to the farm, to the mosque, to the church, to the market is war. It is crazy. If governments exist to protect lives and property, then we can say there is none here. All pretence to governance is absent; the sole thing that is working is politics. Everyone appears to have given up. If we have stopped asking ourselves how to save this structure from collapsing, should we also stop discussing how to escape a structural collapse? While our politicians are campaigning for the next elections, their terrified people are bailing out of the country. The people already see the current storms as a certain indicator of an impending collapse. They know that roofs caving in, windows opening and slamming shut amidst cracking columns make escape too late. They are responding to the warnings and the shots. They head towards where they can see light, some through the doors, many through the windows. Check the immigration offices for the number of applicants for international passports. Ask questions at embassies and foreign missions. Go to the departure halls of our international airports. For those too poor to think of life outside here, the refuge is in prayers and desperate survival measures. What we see daily are a terror-stricken citizenry who think Nigeria may not be saved and are desperate for safety. Unfortunately, the Yoruba who have always been at the front in demanding a restructuring of Nigeria for the safety of all have dropped the elephant for the cricket of opportunism. They are singing ‘àwa l’ókan’.
The ensemble singing the ‘àwa l’ókàn’ song say the route they currently take is a shortcut to a restructured Nigeria. They know what they say is deception. The parallel is what a 21-year-old conman did to a mosque in Jigawa State last week. The felon approached trusting worshippers and custodians of a community mosque with an offer to rebuild and make the worship house more modern. The people thanked and embraced him as a ‘progressive’ and watched as he tore down their prized structure bit by bit. To their horror, their helper sold the roofing sheets, he auctioned the planks and every item of value he met in the mosque and ran away. He was arrested. They were lucky. The ‘àwa l’ókàn’ band leaders are already stronger than the law. No one will be able to call them to account. When they finish the turn-by-turn gang rape of Nigeria and its people, every victim will be asked to say thank you to the big man with the big gun. Already, the country is in trouble in their very hands. Their solution is to ask us to wait till next year for their deliverance service. How many will be alive then?
There is a huge wave of movement of scared, scarred souls from the north to the south. We see it every day. In the south, there is an exodus abroad. I regularly hear of south-west people selling homes and lands to push themselves out of Nigeria. Those who can afford it but are too old to run are making their children run. British-Somali poet, Warsan Shire, says “no one leaves home unless/ home is the mouth of a shark.” Those are the opening lines of his very solemn poem on what could make a people run away from home. The title of that poem is actually ‘Home.’ It has very many instructive lines that make it fit perfectly into the displacement happening before our very eyes. Shire says “you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well,/ your neighbours running faster than you,/ the boy you went to school with who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory is/ holding a gun bigger than his body./ You only leave home/ when home won’t let you stay./ No one would leave home unless home chased you/ – fire under feet,/ hot blood in your belly…” This exactly is the situation with Nigerians in Nigeria today. Home is chasing us. Those not yet abducted by bandits face economic terrorism. We are all displaced. And, notwithstanding the burning ember under the feet of the people, leaders of the south-west this moment make their people sing ‘àwa l’ókàn’. They tell the people that an election coming up in seven months’ time will soothe the pains they spent years inflicting on the people. They know it won’t. The election will complete the rout; it will empower the rapist to increase the rounds; the aggressor will be more aggressive; the election will make people more unsafe, more certain of pains.
There is an animal in the forests of western Nigeria called òfàfà (tree-bear); its renown is in its very loud voice (òfàfà f’ohùn s’akin). The Yoruba are very loud; they are, perhaps, louder than the Israelites who pulled down the walls of Jericho with cries and wailings. When you hear the Yoruba today say ‘àwa l’ókàn’, they mean it is their turn to rule Nigeria. Like that bear with a shrill voice, there is a political tribe in south-west Nigeria today bellowing ‘àwa l’ókàn’ into the flutes of a demand for what they think is their turn to have. They want their idol to be the next president of Nigeria. There is nothing wrong in politicians angling for advantage, but there is a lot of wrong in persons who voted for reforms and against elections last year queuing today behind a politician’s ambition.
A fundamental shift from a principled position is a crack in the spine. I thought the Yoruba agenda was a solution born out of a sincere appreciation of the dire situation we are in. This people took a long look at the bedridden behemoth called Nigeria and concluded that the only medicine it needed to rise and shine was ‘restructuring.’ Shrill, insistent calls were made for a rebuild of the decrepit structure. The world heard them loud and clear and we thought we were heading somewhere positive. The drummer has, today, changed the beats; the drum now beats the drummer. Everyone today talks of next year February and the next elections. I wonder how anyone or any part would believe that the next election, with the character of the candidates in queue, will stop the ravaging banditry and the madness that have ragged the entire country. It is a disgraceful surrender; a terrible betrayal of a cause some of us thought was worthy of our effort.
This time last year and the years before, the song on the moderate side of the streets of Western Nigeria was about restructuring. On the extreme corner of that space, it was ‘Yoruba nation’ and its separatist refrains. Both were reactions to the master-slave federalist court that has been holding in Nigeria since 1966. The noise gave hope that the ‘Wall of Jericho’ would fall for the people to excel and live happy. Then, today came and a breeze of silence started wafting across the land from the usual shouters of true federalism – all because someone with a very deep pocket has won the presidential ticket of a major political party. A frenzied preparation for a presidency that won’t profit the displaced and the terrorized has supplanted the collective wisdom for safety. What if that contest is lost? Are the restructuring warriors going to resume the abandoned agitation after their possible defeat? Or do they think the gnomes who profit from the present tragedy will hand over their ancestral privilege and simply go home empty-handed? Dog was advised to deploy wisdom the day he dreamt of sacrificing Wolf to his ancestors. Where I come from, we say the wisdom that would make Toad dream of killing Buffalo should teach the killer how to eat the big game. It is not wisdom for a wise man to die every day at the backyard of a foolish man.
The àwa l’ókàn people see their 2023 journey as a moving train. They are so sure. No one should seek to stand in their way. A new president will be born and he will be their man on Saturday, 25 February, 2023. How many days away? 236 days. No one will and can stand in their way to power, they say with all certainty. They forget that the terrorists of the north have no respect for trains and movements. In Kaduna, they waylaid and shot at a train and abducted every specimen of humanity they found in it. The captives are still in captivity. That incident was a proverb about what Nigeria as it is can do to any enterprise. If and whenever Nigeria happens to the Yoruba again, it will be deja vu. No one should shout marginalization and form a NADECO. You said Nigeria should not pound your yam, you would eat it boiled, and you had your way; now, pounded yam is ready, you are holding out your plate again. I thought we all agreed that Nigeria as presently structured is forever flawed and won’t work unless it is rebuilt? That we’ve all dropped the restructuring ball today is a repudiation of wisdom. The principles of federalism, of justice and fairness which the Yoruba trenchantly espoused this past decade are melting in the fires of one man’s ambition. Sadly, the man has no national or regional pretence. He said it: his agenda is personal, his slogan is ‘èmi l’ókan’; his turn is Yoruba’s replacement for restructuring of Nigeria.