Yoruba: from restructuring to àwa l’ókan


A professor friend who works abroad is homesick. He recently asked me, “I want to visit the house. I’m afraid. What do you think? Will I be safe? I didn’t know what to tell him. Those of us at home choose carefully where to go in Nigeria and when to go. Our country is a jungle: people are being killed; people are captured for ransom; people come out unscathed. Who gets what is not known to us. To go to the farm, to the mosque, to the church, to the market, is war. It’s crazy. If governments exist to protect lives and property, then we can say there are none here. Any claim to governance is absent; the only thing that works is politics. Everyone seems to have given up. If we have stopped discussing how to prevent this structure from collapsing, should we also stop discussing how to escape structural collapse? As our politicians campaign for the next election, their terrified people are leaving the country. People are already seeing the current storms as some indicator of an impending collapse. They know that the collapsing roofs, the windows that open and close slamming amid creaking columns make escape too late. They respond to warnings and shots. They head to where they can see the light, some through doors, many through windows. Check with 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, refuge is in prayers and desperate survival measures. What we see on a daily basis are terrorized citizens who think that Nigeria may not be saved and who are desperate for their safety. Unfortunately, the Yoruba who have always been at the front to demand a restructuring of Nigeria for the security of all have let go of the elephant at the cry of opportunism. They sing ‘àwa l’ókan’.

The ensemble that sings the song ‘àwa l’ókàn’ say that the road they are currently traveling is a shortcut to a restructured Nigeria. They know what they say is deception. The parallel is what a 21-year-old crook did to a mosque in Jigawa state last week. The criminal approached worshipers and trusted guardians of a community mosque with an offer to rebuild and make the place of worship more modern. People thanked him and embraced him as a “progressive” and watched him tear down their precious structure bit by bit. To their horror, their helper sold the roofing sheets, he auctioned off the boards and all the valuables he came across in the mosque and fled. He was stopped. They were lucky. The ‘àwa l’ókàn’ band leaders are already stronger than the law. No one will be able to hold them accountable. When they have completed the gang rape in turn of Nigeria and its people, each victim will be asked to say thank you to the big man with the big gun. Already, the country is in trouble in their hands. Their solution is to ask us to wait until next year for their deliverance service. How many will then be alive?

There is a huge wave of movement of scared and bruised souls from north to south. We see it every day. In the south, there is an exodus abroad. I regularly hear of people from the south west selling houses and land to push themselves out of Nigeria. Those who can afford it but are too old to run run their kids. The British-Somali poet Warsan Shire says that “no one leaves the house unless the house is the mouth of a shark”. These are the first lines of his very solemn poem about what could scare a people away. The title of this poem is actually “Home”. It has very many instructive lines that make it fit perfectly into the movement that is taking place before our eyes. Shire says “you only run for the border when you see the whole town running too, / your neighbors run faster than you, / the boy you went to school with who kissed you dazed behind the old tin factory is/ holds a gun bigger than his body./ You only leave the house/ when the house won’t let you stay./ No one would leave the house unless the house chases you/ – fire underfoot,/hot blood in the belly…” This is exactly the situation with Nigerians in Nigeria today. The house is suing us. Those who have not yet been abducted by bandits face economic terrorism We are all displaced. And, despite the burning embers under the people’s feet, the chiefs of the south-west are at this moment making their people sing ‘àwa l’ókàn’. They are telling the people that an election in seven months ease the suffering they have inflicted on the people for years. They know that This will not be the case. The election will complete the rout; this will allow the rapist to increase the rounds; the aggressor will be more aggressive; the election will make people more dangerous, more sure of suffering.

There is an animal in the forests of western Nigeria called òfàfà (tree-bear); his fame is in his very strong voice (òfàfà f’ohùn s’akin). The Yoruba are very noisy; they are perhaps louder than the Israelites who broke down the walls of Jericho with cries and moans. When you hear the Yoruba today say “àwa l’ókàn”, they mean that it is their turn to rule Nigeria. Like that shrill-voiced bear, there is a political tribe in southwestern Nigeria today who bellows “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’s nothing wrong with politicians chasing an edge, but there’s a whole lot wrong with people who voted for reform and against elections last year lining up today behind the ambition of a politician.

A fundamental change from a principle 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 in which we find ourselves. These people looked long and hard at the bedridden behemoth called Nigeria and concluded that the only medicine it needed to rise and shine was “restructuring”. ‘Strident and insistent calls have been made for a reconstruction of the decrepit structure. The world heard them loud and clear and we thought we were heading into a positive position. The drummer has, today, changed the rhythms; the drum now beats the drummer. Everyone is talking today about next February and the next elections. I wonder how anyone or any party could believe that the next election, with the character of the candidates lining up, will stop the rampant banditry and madness that has torn the whole country apart. It is a shameful surrender; a terrible betrayal of a cause some of us deemed worthy of our efforts.

This time last year and years before, the song on the moderate side of the streets in western Nigeria was about restructuring. At the far corner of this space was the “Yoruba nation” and its separatist refrains. Both were reactions to the federalist master-slave tribunal that has been held in Nigeria since 1966. The noise gave hope that the “wall of Jericho” would fall for the people to excel and live happily. Then today came and a breeze of silence began to blow over the land of the usual criers of true federalism – all because someone with a very deep pocket won the presidential ticket from a major political party. Frantic preparation for a presidency that will not benefit the displaced and terrorized has supplanted collective wisdom for security. What if this contest is lost? Will the restructuring warriors resume the abandoned hustle and bustle after their eventual defeat? Or do they think the gnomes profiting from the current tragedy will cede their ancestral privilege and simply return home empty-handed? Dog was advised to unfold his wisdom the day he dreamed of sacrificing Wolf to his ancestors. Where I come from, we say that the wisdom that would make Toad dream of killing Buffalo should teach the killer to eat big game. It is not wise for a wise man to die every day in the garden of a foolish man.

The Awa l’ókàn people see their 2023 journey as a moving train. They are so sure. No one should seek to get in their way. A new president will be born and he will be their man on Saturday February 25, 2023. In how many days? 236 days. No one wants and can stand in their way to power, they say with all certainty. They forget that the terrorists in the north have no respect for trains and movements. In Kaduna, they attacked and fired on a train and removed any human specimens they found there. The captives are still in captivity. This incident was a proverb of what Nigeria as it is can do to any business. If and whenever Nigeria comes to the Yoruba again, it will be deja vu. No one should cry marginalization and form a NADECO. You said Nigeria shouldn’t pound your yam, you would eat it boiled, and you did what you want; now the pounded yam is ready, you hold out your plate again. I thought we all agreed that Nigeria as it is currently structured is forever flawed and will not work unless it is rebuilt? The fact that we all dropped the restructuring ball today is a repudiation of wisdom. The principles of federalism, justice and equity which the Yoruba have insistently embraced over the past decade are melting in the flames of one-man ambition. Unfortunately, the man has no national or regional pretensions. He said it: his agenda is personal, his slogan is “èmi l’ókan”; his turn is the replacement of Yoruba for the restructuring of Nigeria.

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