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IKECHUKWU: NIGERIA: A YORUBA ADAGE

By NBF News
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THANKS to Mr. President, Prof. Attahiru Jega's INEC and the resolve of Nigerians, we can speak of free and fair elections today. As with every election and contest, the 'dust bin' has struck and swallowed up ill-advised ambitions and cured some people of the delusions they mistook for certainties until the very last moment. Some of those now offering explanations for the outcomes were absolutely sure of victory until the results came out. The results point to fundamental changes in the Nigerian psyche, suggesting that we may no longer operate like a people affiliated to Bedlam, or members of the Church of Antioch; which church got its reputation from the behavior of its members. They all claimed to have their own prophesies and visions, the way our political pundits and spokespersons of various political interests each 'knew' everything that would happen in Nigeria, until reality brought them back to their not very sharp senses.

Four years ago Umaru Musa Yar'Adua was sworn in as President of the federal Republic of Nigeria. He was not only a graduate, but had a well-earned Master's Degree. His deputy was, like him, a former lecturer. The latter had a Doctorate Degree. Forthwith a nation that had made a byline of saying 'we have never had a graduate president' got a surfeit of sorts. The deputy was loyal, simple and humble; some even said 'annoyingly loyal' in the face of what they considered deliberate provocations. When the President fell ill, his deputy did not put on any airs. If anything he made his low profile drop a notch or two lower. When the deputy was sworn in as Acting President he still did not unleash hell on those his advisers felt should be matched off to the political undertakers of our time. Finally he took over as President. Now he is back. On the good side of his profile is the fact that his victory was not contrived and his personal reflexes are accommodating and reassuring.

One thing is sure in all of this: none of the several brigades of political conspirators who have hitherto defined our national character is in control of the political forces raging through the land today. This holds the positive prospect of freeing us from the kleptocratic conspiracies of the last fifty years and enabling Nigerians to continue to make decisions the way they made on June 12, 1993. The feared negative possibility before the elections was that everything may spin out of control and saddle us with a fast-forwarded national political Armageddon. This possibility is called to question by our national history and political trajectory. There is something good in the fact that 'national' consensus can no longer be reached by making calls between Sokoto, Minna and a few other cities. For four years we were faced, daily and hourly, with issues of grave national concern that no major political player placed on the table; or controlled while it was on the table. Daily and hourly, we were faced with extremely dicey turns of events and political fortunes for which, and about which, no one was sure of the final outcome.

Forthwith it was no longer possible to go home and sleep because you have got assurances from some political big men and women about your political future. The new realities and patterns, if they continue, will lead to a time in the future when Nigerians will only remember the present time with embarrassment. If this is not the Hand of God at work, I do not know what is! Could it be that Yar'Adua's service to this country lies in his death, rather than his life? His death made Nigerians, so deeply at home in their ethnic, religious and other fault lines, to have a non-northerner take over and complete the tenure of 'the North'. The mere mention of such a thing at a constitutional conference, or at any serious political forum, a few years ago would probably have brought about a conflagration of sorts.

Yar'Adua's death has constrained Nigerian politicians to face genuine political facts for once; away from the rehearsed political inevitabilities they always inflict on the people as necessities. Is Yar'Adua's life and his death in office the instrument used to give us true federalism, genuine respect for the Nigerian constitution and the strengthening of faith in one another and in the nation? Has the man's death not thrown up challenges, realities and demystifications that may ultimately make us a better people and a more mature nation?

The issues we are now resolving, even if they look confusing and confounding at the moment, have been the reasons for several military interventions and many constitutional and unconstitutional conferences. After more than sixty years of shadow boxing, real struggle for nationhood and true leadership has begun in Nigeria. Is Nigeria being restructured at the level of ideas and primordial sentiments, in spite of the political class? Is it true that the dispositions, expectations and even demands of Nigerians are being forced to accept political permutations and emotional challenges and group trauma that will birth something better?

It was anathema to think of someone from the South South as President. The logic of it at the time was that 'they' would run away with everything if you give them power, in addition to the oil which they already have. Well, here we are today. The roof has not come down, has it? It was also anathema to think of people from certain parts of the North holding certain positions within their own states. But the same non-contrived providential conspiracy of circumstance that made Jonathan President also ensured that Kaduna State got as Governor a man whose geographical extraction within the politics of his own state was historically not taken too seriously in the power equation. The President is from the Niger Delta and the world has not come to an end!

Which brings us to the title of this piece, a theme one feels constrained to revisit, after over a decade of an earlier comment on it, in The Guardian. Unlike then, our situation today is that we have a dated elite class that Providence is forcing not to keep fanning the dead embers of a fire they nearly succeeded in using to burn out much of the inherent good in Nigeria. The Yoruba would say: Olori buruku, m'aba temi je (literally, one with a bad fortune, do not ruin mine). The word 'ori' refers to the physical head, but more importantly to the 'inner' head; destiny, or fortune.

A literal, everyday translation of this adage would read somewhat like this: 'May the one with evil fortune (lit. the already damned/condemned) not 'infect' me with his ill fortune (damnation)'; may one with ill fortune not come and spoil things for me'. This is actually a prayer. Ori is a central concept in Yoruba mythology and it also seen as eleda (creator). Therefore to be seen as one whose ori/eleda is already damned/condemned is to be irreversibly and irredeemably doomed. In the case under reference, an era and a way of doing things that is irrevocably doomed to be swept away by the Hand of God should not reverberate badly on the glorious dawn before us.

The Igbo equivalent of this is Onye chi ojoo, bulu ajo chi gi gaba (literally, one who is already under the spell of an evil spirit (chi), go with the forces that have taken possession of you and let me be). Just as Ndigbo do not give the title of 'Ide ji uno' (The Pillar that Holds the Forth) to a stumbling drunkard, Nigerians must no longer rally behind those who remind them more of their differences. Just as Ndigbo also do not give the title of 'onu na Ekwuru Oha' (The Voice of the People) to someone who speaks with difficulty, Nigerians should henceforth refrain from projecting those who emphasize division for their personal benefits while their people suffer untold hardship.

The smart thing to do now it to ensure that one does not get drawn into the attractions of what has already expired; so that it does not take one along in its death throes. Those who will not take a cue from the currents in the air will try to redouble all efforts towards rebirthing what has expired; but to no avail. It will be a very difficult struggle and many who are not led into temptation will definitely find it on their own. It is characters of the latter group that inspired the Yoruba saying: 'A dog that will go missing will never heed the whistle of its minder'; as well as the Igbo saying: 'The fly that has no adviser will follow the smelling corpse to the grave'. As we welcome a new day, let it be seen in the quality of persons that will be part of governance, going forward. It is time for Nigeria as an entity to survey the terrain and say: 'Olori buruku, ma ba t'emi je o!!!

• Dr. Ikechukwu is of the International Institute of Leadership and Governance.