Is it that everyone has been silenced, or these times are just normal or what really is happening? One Igboman wrote a provocative piece last week challenging what he called the inexplicable silence from the South West in the face of the debilitating economic crisis in the country and, in particular, the zone’s manifest marginalization in the present power order. I read it online. He claimed that in private discussions, he found Yoruba people livid with anger at the shut-out they suffer presently but they just won’t vent their spleen in the open. Why? Are they afraid? Afraid of what and of whom? He asked.
I read the Igboman and asked: What is he really insinuating? What is his own stake in this matter? Why can’t he just concentrate on mending his own rent garment? Can’t people just mind their business for once? Questions. Questions. But then I knew there were some truths in his unsolicited advocacy. What is happening?
Yes, there are problems. Some are eating and can, therefore, not talk now. Some ate too much and today suffer constipation and cannot talk again. Some are just, by choice, dumb. But these are not the people who lead because they don’t last. Men who eat with 10 fingers are never on the radar when searches are conducted for leaders who speak for the people. The leaders who matter know themselves. They also know when their masquerade must come out to confront the principalities of injustice. The north has the President, Senate President, Speaker, House of Representatives, SGF, NSA, Heads of the Army, Air Force, Police, SSS, Immigration, Prisons, Customs, Civil Defence — then the Ports, NNPC and others – and we are still counting. Trust and competence are said to be the criteria for these choices. So, trust and competence that were present with the Yoruba before and during the 2015 polls no longer reside in them?!
And, it would have been excused if the “trusted” and the “competent” men of the moment are doing the job right for the people’s wellness. But the people are suffering and dying in manners that suggest the entire country is fast turning into one vast IDP camp. And we are silent!
The 2015 coalition that defeated the PDP was one of promise, wile and guile. A party apparently saw the others as dispensable after the war. The hunter thinks the monkey a fool. The monkey is not a fool. He has his own logic. Have you ever heard the story of the friendship between wily monkey and burly crocodile and how monkey eventually proved that raw strength and brute force alone can’t see one through life? Mounting on crocodile’s scaly back through the waters of life’s serial failures to victory, triumphal monkey yanks off his friend:
What a strong, great swimmer you are
But how dim-witted is your being
Now, I am done with you, ugly one
You can swim on to the next river.
But then, every wise person knows that there are consequences for every bridge burnt.
The Yorubaman has a very complex sociopolitical persona. His worldview is also as complex as his politics. There is this rat (eku) in Yorubaland called eda. It is always the cause or bringer of bad things. There is always an eku eda in every season of trial. And, so the Yoruba would interrogate every bad situation, identify the eku eda which “created” it and challenge that rat to find a solution to the communal affliction it caused. When former President Goodluck Jonathan felt so comfortable, big, strong and powerful and then shut out the Yoruba from his government, it was not difficult for the Yoruba to identify among them, Olusegun Obasanjo as the eku eda who inflicted the Jonathan government on them. And, so, he had to be asked to be part of the solution to the challenges the people faced in and with that government. And he was. Every Yorubaman knows who the eku eda of this Muhammadu Buhari era are. Should they, therefore, start agitations now that what they saw, resented and rejected in the Jonathan government now pales in the face of what today’s power wielders dispense to them with ease?
One sunny, harsh afternoon in 1982, I engaged my late father on the grim economic and political realities of the Shehu Shagari era. Sitting beside him under the cool, enchanting canopy of our cocoa farm, he took a long look at the horizon. His reply was “Baba t’o dake yi” (This Baba that is silent).
“Which Baba?” I asked.
“Awolowo,” he answered and then took me on a long lesson on the politics of the Yoruba. He wasn’t a politician, never went to school but had been around long enough to know that unusual silence from the Yoruba leader should give any fumbling Nigerian power wielder every reason to worry, and every sufferer of systemic privations reason to hope.
Power, to the Yoruba, is a divine test, he told me. When you use it with fairness and justice, you receive God’s pass mark, otherwise, you are a stark failure, and your place, another takes in the heart of the Yoruba.
“When you are withdrawing from a friend whose ways you no longer understand, should he hear the receding thuds of your steps?”
“No, it is not wise.”
“If a merchant was here last year to buy our cocoa and defaulted in payment, can he come again this year?”
“He can only come if he thinks we are fools.”
“And if he calls you a fool by coming what would you do? Remember he is rich and powerful.”
“We handle him with wisdom.”
“He supplies the chemicals with which we fight black pod disease.”
“Great. And without the chemicals there won’t be harvest next season.”
“Yes. We must have the chemicals.”
“Good. When the ocean charges at your vessel with fury, you do not charge back at it paddling with fury. If you do, it overwhelms you and the boat capsizes.”
“Sometimes even swinging your arms becomes a burden. What then should a man do?”
“You fold them on your head.”
“If a man takes you for monkey, how would you react?”
“I will demonstrate to him that we are no monkey; that even monkey is no fool. He is wise. He is only using his introspection to deal with the situation.”
In January this year, there were trending photographs online of a monkey holding onto a distressed puppy in Rode, India. A report quoted a Facebook post as observing that the monkey “makes sure the little dog’s stomach is full before eating himself” and “protects the pup from other stray dogs.” Interesting. “The adorable friendship,” a commentator stressed, “is a tribute to the power of animal compassion.” Should that vulnerable puppy then see the monkey as a fool for the sacrifices he made? The monkey is no fool; he has his own sense of justice, and care. And he serves justice in the right measure, at the appropriate time.
Justice is the appetiser, the main course and the dessert on the Yoruba’s political menu. He serves it daily to everyone who comes his way. He expects and demands it from every other person who interacts with him privately and publicly. So, if he then sees any fellow, partner, friend who thinks justice is a privilege and not a right, the Yorubaman has options. First, he gives the cheating fellow the benefit of the doubt, offers him advice and even makes excuses for him. Next, he grumbles. Next he shouts. Then he keeps quiet. That quiet stage of silence is the port of no return.