Independence, whose independence?

Yesterday, it was 62 years since Nigeria got her independence from colonial Britain. While some countrymen say the October 1 celebration rituals are worthy of flinging the cymbals, some others say it is a day to drench ourselves in sack clothes and ashes reminiscent of mourning moments for biblical Israelites. For decades, until the October 1 saturnalia began to lose its savour, successive governments made good job of conflating the frills of the rituals as representation of our national joy and unity. Children looked forward to the symphony or National Day orchestra, perfect chemistry of matching feet at stadia across the country and the arresting drums of police bands.

A musical rendition of this October 1 ritual that succinctly captures its mesmerizing glee is in the 1971 recorded vinyl of Ligali Mukaiba, Yoruba Apala musician. Mukaiba, widely known as Baba L’Epe, having been born in the riverine Epe area of Lagos, was a musical petrel of the 1960s, through 1980s. Mukaiba had a mellifluous and almost effeminate voice that singled him out among his peers. He was a social crusader, commentator and musical prodigy, serenading Nigerian fans and the west coast with his very sublime, penetrating Apala music. I am yet to listen to a more penetrating account of the Midas touch, arresting power and talismanic power of the female gender as evocatively delivered by Mukaiba in the track he entitled Kurukere. He sang that when a woman enters the head of a man – bo ba nwuni, to ba njaraba eni, he called it, she destabilizes all his organs of reasoning and he begins to act in dissonance to his actual person. Sorry, I digressed.

In his song which he entitled Eyi Yato (This is different) wherein he had the particular track, Ominira – independence, Mukaiba  narrated what transpired on October 1, 1971, at the Race Course. It was where the Union Jack was lowered and was eventually named the Tafawa Balewa Square, after the murder of Nigeria’s mercurial first Prime Minister.

October 1 celebrations, which have become perennial rituals in Nigeria, respect for the Nigerian flag, the national anthem and many more, are some of the totems that successive governments use as objects of nation-building.

Nigeria’s fragile togetherness has since worsened. Two very instructive fables speak to what had led us to the precipice we are in today in Nigeria. In those fables, we are covertly told that when more than one people come together, with recognized differences, there must be mutual respect for one another, equity and sense of rightness. Absence of these factors has led Nigeria’s disparate peoples to go their separate ways in spirit. The two fables got promoted in the songs of Ibadan-born Awurebe music singer, Dauda Akanmu Adeeyo, popularly known as Epo Akara.

The first fable, as narrated by Epo Akara, happened in the animal kingdom where both the Partridge, a bird which the Yoruba call Aparo and the Crab, Alakan or Akan, held occupied territories, with each controlling his own resources. While each was doing well in his own sphere, they both reckoned that there was the need to forge togetherness so that their lots could be better catered for and they could grow stronger in shared resources. The Aparo superintended over a government bountiful in yam resource and the Alakan’s government had abundant water resource. Hitherto, each and their children required what the other had.

Coalescing their thoughts, one day, they held a conference of the two nationalities. Aparo and Alakan sat on the table to discuss theirs and the futures of their offspring unborn. Aparo spoke first. He recognized that each of them had limitations in resources. After consuming the barn of yams located within his borders, Aparo said, he would need water to wash down the meal. Could Alakan open up his borders for him and his children to have access to his aquatic territory while he too would open his barns for his children to have easy access to yams?

They both saw the shared opportunities in this coming together. The deal sealed and delivered, the next day, Aparo flew into the Alakan territory with his children and they fetched gallons of water. They did this for weeks. However, on the third week, Alakan sent his children to go to Aparo’s farm to harvest yams for the family’s consumption. At the farm, Alakan’s children shouted his name and he replied garrulously, in the words of Epo Akara, “Ta ni np’Aparo?” – who is calling Aparo? And those ones replied, “Omo Akan ni” – we are the children of Alakan. Then Aparo flew into a rage, calling their father unprintable names. Alakan, in the expletives from Aparo, was unevenly shaped by the Creator, with hands and legs shaped like pincers, a boulder for chest, deceptive strides such that he walks awkwardly – “O s’oju hati-hati, o s’ese hati-hati, ab’apata laya, owo meji bi emu…”

Incensed by this sudden flouting of relational terms of agreement by Aparo, Alakan’s children went back to their father and reported their encounter with him. Convinced that they had misrepresented what transpired, Aparo himself left the river bank where he was busy with some aquatic assignments and went into the forest to meet with Aparo. The partridge repeated the same excoriation. In anger, Alakan and his children came back home and that was the end of this attempt to forge a nationality from their disparate territorial leanings.

The other allegory as told by Epo Akara in another song was the consort of four animals who came together in mutual understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. They were Lion, Hyena, Cobra and Tortoise. At the conference they held, each confessed his weakness to the others. The Lion was the first to speak. “If I am in the forest hunting, no one must dare behold my face,” he charged. Anyone who dared this, said the Lion, would have death as recompense – “enikeni to ba dan wo, Asalailu ni o si mon lo,” said Epo Akara.

For the Hyena, no one must spill sand on his sacred body. The Cobra cleared his throat and said, “You could step on my head and I will keep mute; step on my back with no blowback but anyone who steps on my tail will die.” The Tortoise on his own told his fellow conferees that backbiting was his major put-off. Anyone who does this to him provokes the beast in him.

For decades, they lived in amity and hunted games collectively. However, one day, they sent Tortoise on an errand. Assuming he was without hearing shot, the Hyena cleared his throat and began to speak. He bemoaned the Tortoise’s selfrighteousness, stating, in that deep Yoruba aphorism, that everyone could haggle with the launderer but not an Ato’le – one stricken by an incontinence of bedwetting.

The next day, as they were hunting in the forest, Tortoise then provoked discord. He looked straight into the Lion’s face. Enraged, Lion spurted sand up which hit the Hyena and who in turn stepped on the Cobra’s tail, with the serpent spraying his lethal poison on all of them, leading to their mutual deaths.

The two Epo Akara fables speak to the Nigerian so-called togetherness. While our colonial heritage is the bane of our overall crises, there has been an internal re-colonialism of our own people by our own people. As foremost Political Science scholar, Prof Eghosa Osaghae said, colonial heritage of states soldered together by force bequeathed on them a contested state. Africa is a good example. Flakes that naturally flow from this forced togetherness are the crises of corruption, violence, terrorism, economic dysfunction and many more that we face today.


Today, what can bring Nigeria back from the brinks of collapse is for her rulers to stop seeing Nigeria as an ethnic commodity, a conquered territory of the feudal North. In place of this, they must start empathizing with the people under their watch because transiting from statehood no nationhood can only be actualized when people start perceiving their president as president of Nigeria and not the President of Fulani people.  To proceed from here, Nigeria has to re-negotiate her foundation. Proceeding from here is not about throwing saturnalia on October 1 and wriggling like maggots inside the sewer of celebration that Ligali Mukaiba painted in that 1971 vinyl.

We must first acknowledge that the independence we got from Britain in 1960 is pseudo independence, which has failed calamitously. Second is for us to begin to put in place the machinery for a Second Independence, as canvassed by Prof Osaghae. We must begin to decolonize our minds, preparatory to giving ourselves an authentic Independence.

If Rwanda, a country riven by ethnic crises, could rise to become what it is today, Nigeria, with good leadership, can rise from the ashes of this hopelessness.  Like the animals in Epo Akara’s fables, the nations that make up Nigeria have differences. Let’s recognize them. Northern part of Nigeria has over the decade behaved like the Aparo. Moving forward, let us come to a discussion table and agree on how we want to proceed from here.

 

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