An old photograph currently sits regally in the living room of a top Nigerian politician. Shot sometime in 1954, some 67 years ago, ostensibly in the old Osun Division of the Western Region, it was taken after a meeting of monarchs of the Division with Premier of the region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The meeting had in attendance almost all first class Obas of Yorubaland. They wore their beaded crowns of Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colours hue. After the meeting, the photo session took place.
In the photograph, on the front row was the Premier, sitting in the middle. He wore a resplendent white agbada. Of particular significance was that, Awolowo had his cap removed and held in his hands, apparently in reverence to the Obas. To the left of Awo was Oba Samuel Adenle, the Ataoja of Osogbo. On same front row was Oba Adetoye Laoye, Timi of Ede, donning his animal skin crown. On same row were: Oba Lawani Adeyemi, Akirun of Ikirun; Oba Mosees Oyinlola, Olokuku of Okuku and four other natural rulers. Standing behind Awolowo, without his cap on too, was Chief S. L. Akintola, who by then was the Deputy Leader of the Action Group party. SLA was flanked by other apparently lesser Obas and other people who, from their dressing, must have been chiefs and aides of the Obas of the Osun Division.
Last week, some 67 years after, in the same Yorubaland, a similar meeting held and consequently, another photograph emerged. That photograph spoke eloquently and unambiguously about the tidal wave that has swept off importance, dignity of Yoruba traditional rulers and replaced them with arrogance of the governmental elite. The venue was a security meeting held in the Oyo State governor’s office in Ibadan. Present there were governors, security chiefs and Obas of the Southwest geopolitical zone.
They included Governors Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), Gboyega Oyetola (Osun) and host governor, Seyi Makinde. Like the earlier one held 67 years ago, after the meeting, it was time for a photo session and this was the sitting arrangement: The governors, like some matadors, sat on the front row and behind them, standing like cowed captives, were first class natural rulers in Yorubaland, ranging from the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, to the Ooni of Ife and others.
After the Ibadan meeting, I asked a foremost traditional ruler in Oyo State what the place of the Yoruba was in the current precarious equation. He sent me this text: “Take a look at the picture (taken) at the governor’s office yesterday. The Obas stood behind the governors. It cannot happen in the North. We are just being treated like table water on the table during official functions.” It is the same trouble with virtually all parts of Southern Nigeria. After quaffing champagne and whiskey of immense proportion, governors piss on the faces of their monarchs. The other day, Nyesom Wike of Rivers State tongue-lashed the traditional ruler of Omuma, King Onyekachi Amaonwu, whom he accused of shaking his head while he, the Emperor with gruffy voice, spoke.
“Stop shaking your head! You!You! You are one of those who are causing problem. They gave you chieftaincy, you’re a young boy, you don’t know what to do with it and then when I am speaking, you’re shaking your head like this… He will just go and wear something bigger than him. You will think he is an elderly man. I remember when I was in school, he was running around.” Wike lampooned the monarch.
Pens are reputed to be mightier than swords. So are photographs. They are mightier than a thousand words. Photographs evoke metaphors, imageries and diverse interpretations. Krista Neher, an influencer, was quoted to have said that the human brain has a cheetah-speed power to process images 60,000 times faster than words. In a November 15, 2020 piece I wrote entitled The Starved Lion of Kaduna, I cited the award-winning photograph of Kevin Carter, which appeared in The New York Times of March 26, 1993.
It was the picture of Kong Nyong, a famine-struck Sudanese boy, initially thought to be a girl. Nyong had collapsed of intense hunger and lay on his face in the hot dessert sun of Sudan, with an empty food bowl hidden beside his face. In the photograph, Nyong also had a beaded necklace of his Sudanese nationality jutting out of his feeble neck. He was said to be on his way to Ayod, the United Nations ration centre in Sudan, a journey of about a half kilometer. All of a sudden, his strength failed him and he collapsed. That picture, which went mega viral, led to Kevin Carter winning the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in 1994. It also provoked events leading to him committing suicide.
Two issues, one interfacing the other, engaged my thoughts as the week that just ended rolled to a close. The first was the photographs above which spoke harmlessly but evocatively about the power of pictures and their constructive and destructive ability. Like Carter’s, it spoke so glibly about the current situation of the Yoruba people of Southwestern Nigeria. This provoked my delving into the second issue personified in a character called Arogidigba in the book Ireke Onibudo, one of the works of D. O. Fagunwa, Yoruba’s pre-colonial master of fantasy literature. Fagunwa deployed phantasm as a tool of literary imagination. Piecing the two issues together and placing them side by side the two photographs above, you can get an explanation into why Yoruba are easy preys in the hands of their present-day Arogidigba.
Aside the photographs, let me delve into the second issue. In pursuit of his phantasm as a literary tool, Fagunwa created queer characters to reinforce his obsession with the fantabulous. In all of his creative and imaginative endeavours, he forged a retinue of unforgettable gothic characters whose names made hairs on the skin stand up. One of such is the ebullient, mythic character he labeled Arogidigba. Sounding almost like some kind of onomatopoeia, Fagunwa’s characters were all carved to create evergreen effects in the mind. The characters were ebullient in their roles and names, garnished in descriptive imageries that drop the jaws in wonder of his literary prowess. The Fagunwa descriptive power was so high that his mastery of labels of animals earned him the sobriquet of a writer-taxonomist.
In Aditu Olodumare, for instance, there was an illustration of Baba Onirugbon Yeuke, the man with a weirdly bushy beard, who cradled his tobacco pipe mysteriously and sat on a hilltop, beside the cusp of a rock. Appended to his illustration in the book was the description: Baba onirugbon yeuke eni ti n gbe ’bi gegele okuta. The characters are also Ajantala, Ogongo Baba Eye (Ostrich, the King of Birds), Ibembe Olokunrun, Aramanda Okunrin, Anjonnu Iberu, Esu Kekereode, Olohun Iyo, Ojola Ibinu and ad infinitum. Each spoke to the character of the characters, thus making this mysterious writer to enrich the mind with fables. Oh, Fagunwa was in a class of his own!
Sorry, I digressed. Another Yoruba great master of cinematography, Tunde Kelani, refreshed our memory of Fagunwa during the week. (By the way, TK clocked 73 last week; Happy birthday, sir). In one of his cinematographic works codifying for posterity imperishable Yoruba literary works, Kelani got Fagunwa’s Ireke Onibudo, written in 1949 read, from Pages 63 to 76. It was the story of the protagonist, Ireke Onibudo, whose boat capsized while on a voyage on the sea. He then found himself right inside the bottom of the sea, arrested by mythic fish world police and taken to the court of the King of the Sea called Arogidigba. Arogidigba was a gothic character who bore an admixture of features of a human being and the physiology of an aquatic being. She also had a long tail affixed to her voluptuous body.
Fagunwa’s descriptive power is awesomely and powerfully deployed here as he brings his characters to you in scarily unambiguous manner. Soon, Ireke Onibudo was shepherded to the front of Arogidigba, whose imperial and beautiful palace, festooned with ornaments, had the inscription, Palace of Arogidigba, King of Fishes. It was there Ireke Onibudo realized that, to celebrate her anniversary on the stool, Arogidigba specifically asked for fleshes of human beings as propitiation to her marine deities. This was reason for the deliberate capsize of Ireke Onibudo’s boat.
As fish palace guards moved to drag their captive to the presence of Arogidigba, the regal fish god shouted an epigrammatic description of humanity which you cannot but find apposite: “Hold it! Human beings must never get close to me! Who is a human being? He is a scorpion that inflicts immense pain on his fellow being, a rattlesnake under the grass; an object poised on a destruction of humanity. Human being possesses a blunt sword and walks aimlessly on the surface of the earth. Who has your God-given majesty, man? Human beings couch daily devious plans against fishes! Small and big fishes are preys in your hands. You kill them aimlessly….” She promised to make Ireke Onibudo’s entrails fill her pot of soup that night.
Now, I return to the two photographs earlier described. Separated in time by 67 years, at a structural level, they speak eloquently and unambiguously about the regression in estimation and importance of the relationship between Yoruba political and natural leaders. 1950s and 1960s Nigeria was when natural rulers and traditional title holders played significant roles in the leadership and governance of their people. All those monumental achievements in Awo’s name could never have been achieved if the traditional institution was playing the united but separated seeds-of-a-walnut role to government. While Sir Adesoji Aderemi was Governor of the Western Region, Odemo of Isara, Samuel Akinsanya, was Minister without Portfolio, between 1952 and 1955. So also was the Aholu Jiwa II of Jegba, Oba Claudius Dosa Akran, who intermixed politics with traditional rulership. He had earlier been nominated as head of Jegba, Badagry quarters in 1948 and appointed traditional leader in 1950. He represented Badagry in the 1951 parliament and was a major member of the Action Group of the Akintola rump who later became regional Minister of Finance between 1962 and 1966.
At the superficial level, the photo issue may sound very inconsequential on the list of the problems that assail Yorubaland. It is however symbolic of the total malaise; of William Butler Yeats’ things that have fallen apart and the falcon that cannot hear the falconer. There is a master/servant relationship today between Southern governmental leaders and their natural rulers. Castrated by the constitution and relegated to playing second fiddle in their jurisdictional enclaves, security-wise, Nigerian governors are powerless. On the insecurity that currently afflicts the south, these governors cannot be said to be strategizing enough, in concert with their natural rulers. These rulers have the ears of their domains. The synergy needed to smoke out blood-sucking Fulani herdsmen who kill and maim their people is absent within them, whereas together, they and the traditional rulers can eliminate the Fulani menace without firing a single shot.
I must however add that the quality of natural rulers has dwindled shamefully. This is the Satanic outcome of appointments of less-than stellar persons into traditional stools. On revered stools today are acknowledged fraudsters, drug addicts and vacant-minded ones. Many of them mount the stool so as to be able to superintend over sales of wide expanse of lands. No one in their right senses can take such characters seriously. One of them recently said, like one under the influence of cannabis, that he would take in smoked out murderous Fulani herdsmen into his domain. Can you blame the governor of his state if he does not strategize with such a fellow?
Right now, Nigeria is literally quaking and gasping for breath. Untrained Almajiri children, the born-trowey – apologies to Patience Jonathan – who, Awolowo warned decades ago, would be our national albatross, have now grown full throttle. They periodically reify their angers against the iniquitous Hausa/Fulani feudal system which literally threw them away, shortly after their births and almost the moment they were weaned. This is manifest in their abduction of schoolchildren, and how they seek ransom from offspring of their leaders who made their lives miserable from infancy. They unleash bloody recompense against the Hausa-Fulani elites and by consequence, the rest of Nigeria.
While growing up as almajiri, they were at the mercy of the northern elite who heap left-over foods at them to eat. Today however, the table has turned. Having now grown into adulthood, that selfsame elite is at their mercy as they kidnap their children and make life unlivable for them. They are the willing recruits of Boko Haram in the Northeast and are the notorious bandits of the Northwest. As at last week, security tracker said that 222 people were killed, 103 kidnapped in seven days in Nigeria and a preponderance of this figure came from the North. The previous week, one of the fat maggots of that feudal system, who today cannot go to his homestead because Boko Haram insurgents have made his ancestral abode inaccessible, blamed southwest leaders for not providing leadership. You would think he was writing a script of dramatic irony.
But in all these, what is the response of southern Nigeria to the impending doom being ferried down South from the North? Reports had it that, towards the tail end of last week, foodstuffs from the North were being stopped in Jebba and diverted to neighbouring African countries. To me, this is great news. It looks like this is the point where the true federalism we canvass and howl about would come into practical manifestation. This should be a wakeup call on the south. Let the South double down on food production.
Do southern Nigerian governors know that they should have a strategic response to the ruinous violence from the northern flank? Because these governors are castrated by the constitution, their traditional rulers are the most appropriate organ that can activate the Southern agenda under the backcloth. Today, Sheikh Gumi, a visceral hater of anyone whose descent isn’t from Fouta Djallon, is traversing northern forests and is not arrested for being an accessory after the fact of the spate of killings in the north.
That same system that chose to be blind to Gumi as accessory after the fact of kidnapping and killing, is alive to its responsibility and attempting to arrest Sunday Igboho. Igboho is merely seeking to rescue his people from the hands of people who, in the name of Fulnai nationality, want to wipe them off inside their own domain. Gumi is spewing out very foul outbursts against offspring of those who cultured, from birth, their own children away from a life sans education. In demanding a nebulous amnesty for gun-wielding forest-dwelling bloodhounds, Gumi wants the north to eat its cake and have it. His method is to get the Nigerian state to dedicate chunks of its national proceeds from the oil dredged in the Niger Delta to placate bandits. These are the same people who the Northern feudal system born trowey and have become its open sore. What nonsense!
Neither Muhammadu Buhari, who is the Arogidigba of this destructive system and under whom the Nigerian state has become finally castrated and comatose, nor Yemi Osinbajo, who can conveniently be said to have been captured by Arogidigba and her comity of flesh-eating beings within, can help southern Nigeria formulate the answer needed to the current nuisance of the Nigerian state. You heard the chronology of thoughts of northern governors, senators and top office holders in the last couple of weeks, in defence of killers of their people. Their voices are in support of the same bandits whose lives they fractured right from birth. You think it was a happenstance? No! It is a strategy.
The North, like the Arogidigba, seems to have arrested the South and deactivated its reasoning process. After holding the South captive, it began to spew century-old phlegm on its face like that mythic fish god did on Ireke Onibudo. Similar to what Chinua Achebe said in his The Trouble with Nigeria, the problem of strategic thinking is the trouble with southern Nigeria. The earlier a forward-looking strategy is developed, the better for that region. Not doing this will make Arogidigba harvest Southern Nigerian entrails inside its bloodthirsty pot of soup.
Economic Empowerments Initiative : Another First From O’ First Group
Saturday April 3rd , 2021 recorded another unusual event in the ancient city of Ogbomoso in Oyo state when scores of people were empowered by the Ogbomoso First Initiatives (O’First Group) with economic tools worth N50million for sustainability and wealth creation.
The group, which was pronounced the first community group to have established a Behavioural Action Care Centre in Nigeria by the Executive Chairman of the NDLEA , Gen. Buba Marwa (rtd) also scored another first as a non political group to Empower people with items of such magnitude.
O’First Group is a group of professionals, kind-hearted people who are determined to use their influence, God given wealth and opportunities as well as knowledge to have positive impact on the society and make it a better place for all to live. It’s major concern is not just about today’s healthy living but the future of Ogbomoso and they are making frantic efforts to ensure that the ancient community is drug and crime free.
The leadership of the benevolent group are conscious of the fact that, poverty and crime has deeply permeated the society, hence, the need to reduce its unholy influence is by making provision for the vulnerable and putting in place facilities than can correct and control the effect of drugs which is the root of the increasing crime rates in the society.
Beneficiaries of the economic empowerment programm are vulnerable members of the society including widows, Artisans and aged people with a low chances of survival in this the harsh economic situation in the country.
Items distributed at the event include, Industrial Sewing Machines, complete Unisex Saloon Kits, grinding machines, Motorcyles and bicycle Generator among others .
Folakemi, a middle aged widow with four Children said , ” I am grateful, I don’t know what to say but I know this will boost my income and I will be able to feed my children and educate them with less expectation from siblings and friends”.
Similarly, some members Ayotosimi Foundation Widow group were full of praise and appreciation to the leadership of O’first group for the support which they claim came at a time when its mostly needed.
Also, Ogbomoso South Police State and Ogbomoso Area Command were giving motorcycles to enhance movement of officers during surveillance and patrol for effective security.
President of the group, Barrister Olusegun Adekunle, a retired permanent Secretary from the Federal Civil Service , in his remarks informed that what motivated the free distribution of valuable equipments to the beneficiaries was borne out of the group’s numerous aims and objectives which included poverty alleviation, discouraging youths to eschew drug abuse, to remake the undesirable elements back into the community with a view to allowing them be useful to themselves through various empowerment programmes and vocational trainings
He added that the essence was to corroborate the efforts of the government to create wealth and tackle poverty in the country and as the name of the association implies ; Ogbomoso ‘First Group, the charity begins at home
Adekunle, who identified a nexus between poverty and crime and the need to tackle them said “we have a lot of people who are widows, helpless, vulnerable and we have to systematically uplift them in such a manner that it can lower the temperature of Insecurity and poverty. We can’t leave everything to government, the society, the Community must play its role, we must all come together”.
Òtunba Báyò Babatunde, the Pioneer President of the group, also implored all the beneficiaries to make the best use of the items cheerfully given to them and equally enjoined them to emulate the spirit of diligency and hardwork being displayed by one woman who was empowered by O-First about three years ago with a motorcycle but who has now enhanced her business by purchasing additional three of such motorbikes, due to her perseverance and dedication to duty, saying that, what the group just did is to resurrect lives of the needy in the spirit of the resurrection of Jesus Christ..
Professor Sola Adepoju, DG Forestry Research Institute, Bishop Morohunfolu Moradeyo, Engineer Muftau Open Salawu, Aresa of Iresaapa and others who spoke at the event, jointly commended the group for their ingenuity in lifting people out of poverty, just as they urged the beneficiary to make best use of the working tools.
Opinion: IBADAN, Honour to the undeserving | By Wole Arisekola
According to an American lawyer and politician, who served as the 30th president of the United States from 1923 to 1929; Calvin Coolidge, said ‘no person was ever honoured for what he received but honour has been reward for what he gave.’
All over the world, conferment of chieftaincy titles on deserving personalities is a way of expressing gratitude for impactful gestures of individuals that have through their magnanimity and benevolence benefited the awarding community whereby gratefulness of the people is bestowed on the beneficiaries of such titles in recognition of their irrefutable impacts with anticipation of continued purposeful living to further enhance the lots of the title awarding community.
Invariably, for conferment of chieftaincy to be worth the while, there must be convincing evidence of the presence and stupendous proofs of positive influence of title beneficiary widely felt and appreciated by the members of the title awarding community, otherwise, such titles become a scam.
The above depicts is the current trend in the award of Chieftaincy titles by the exalted throne in Ibadanland, Oyo State of Nigeria.
Chieftaincy titles come in different worths and diverse values. Some may be taken for granted while others must worth the status. The title “Agba Oye”, which refers to “High Chief”, is supposed to be preserved for an individual of perpetual influence who has grown through the ranks relentlessly providing shoulders for others to learn on and bringing widespread soccur to all and sundry remaining unwavering and unflinching in his positive impacts on the community over time without being found wanting over a reasonable length of time.
The Late Chief Harry Ayoade Akande, the immediate past Agba-Oye of Ibadanland, was known for enormous wealth. He lived in extreme affluence with a record of being rated one of the richest black men ever lived but never had any conspicuous impact on the community that awarded him with one of the most revered titles of the land.
As they say, once bitten, twice shy. If the most prestigious title of Ibadanland was given in error in the past, caution ought to be taken to avert the repeat of such a gaffe. A deserving personality for the esteemed title of Agba Oye of any community ought to be a man with a household name in the community with convincing impact and evidence of kind gesture is felt and acknowledged by all and sundry in the community.
Late Mufutau Ajadi Lanihun of blessed memory was never a big title holder but his name resonated with philanthropy, care for the downtrodden and peerless love for Ibadanland. Such is the worth of an individual deserving of a respected title in Ibadanland.
Curiously, the recent installation of Engr. Kola Karim as the new Agba Oye of Ibadanland leaves some questions unanswered – Who is Kola Karim in the social, religious, communal and philanthropic spheres of Ibadanland? What has been his credence in the Ibadan traditional council, his contributions to societal development of Ibadan city, his evidence of impactful living among the downtrodden not to talk of ingenious associations, the Olubadan palace itself and the central council of Ibadan Indigenes?
The Ibadanland ought to have outgrown ‘titles for sale syndrome’ whereby only the highest bidder takes the weighty honour of the land. This makes titles become cash and carry.
Conversly, the award of the revered title of Agba-Oye of Ibadanland puts the beneficiary of the title under spotlight to prove his worth as deserving of the title, otherwise the title is considered awarded in error.
Consequently, in order to redress the hideous trend, all concerned stakeholders and prominent sons and daughters of Ibadanland must be involved in the selection process of whoever is deserving of titles from the exalted throne of Olubadan since title holders are not only subjects to the Kabiyesi but also have the sanctity of Ibadanland to preserve and the interests of all and sundry in Ibadan to protect.
Aare Wole Arisekola writes from Ibadan.
The President Is A Sick Man: Buharis’ secret surgeries inside Oneida yacht
The President Is A Sick Man is the title of a book written by Philadelphia-born award-winning American journalist, Matthew Algeo. It is a chronology of the medical travails of President Grover Cleveland, lawyer, statesman and one of the most famous public speakers of his time. Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States of America, from 1885 to 1889 and 1893 to 1897. The book chronicles how inexorably linked the health of a president and the health of the nation are.
Cleveland was America’s first and only two nonconsecutive-terms president in history. He was also the first democrat to become the American president in 28 years. Famously renowned for always speaking the truth, he was regarded as a very virtuous man, so much that his most memorable quotation, ramped up into a cliché, was “Tell the Truth.” Like Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari whose minders ingenuously chiseled out an alias, Mai Gaskiya, of out of his simple lifestyle which, unbeknownst to the generality of Nigerians, was a façade that covers gross latitude for egregious corruption by the people who surround him, America was later to find out that, wrapped up inside that Cleveland shawl of “telling the truth” was the most untruthful cover-up in American history, far more scandalous than Watergate. What revealed Cleveland’s real persona was his battle with mouth cancer and an extraordinary, even if political cover-up of this infirmity that lasted almost a century, garnished with a successful attempt to keep it from the American people.
Cleveland had assumed the American presidency on March 4, 1885 as the second bachelor president in her history, after James Buchanan. Critics called Cleveland debauched, due to his penchant for “bringing his harlots to the vicinity of the White House.” However, on July 1, the summer of 1893, Cleveland suddenly disappeared from the radar and couldn’t be found anywhere in the White House. Or anywhere in America. It was a challenging time when America was embroiled in what newspapermen labeled, in oblique vernacular, “The money question.” America was teetering on the brinks of financial and social chaos. The economy was threatening to kiss the canvass; unemployment figures were competing with the firmament in height; banks and factories were shutting their gates with reckless abandon and stock prices were in a free fall.
On May 5, 1893, two weeks shy of his 56th birthday, the second day of his swearing in at the Capitol for a second term, Cleveland noticed a rough spot on the roof of his mouth which, by the prodding of his wife, Frances, prompted the invitation of the president’s friend, New York surgeon and Cleveland family physician, Dr. Joseph Decatur Bryant, to look it up. Bryant diagnosed oral tumour, malignant in nature, “an ulcerated surface with an oval outline about the size of a quarter of a dollar.” He called it a “bad looking tenant” that should be evicted post-haste.
Right from the 5 BC, cancer had garnered the notoriety of the most dreaded disease in human history. America of the 19th century was no exception, nor President Cleveland himself. He was thoroughly afraid. The dread was such that, even Greek physician of the Age of Pericles, Hippocrates, also known as Hippocrates of Kos or Hippocrates II, who was renowned to be one of the most outstanding personalities in medical history, was quoted to have urged that “It is better not to apply treatment in the cases of occult (internal) cancer; for if treated, the patients die quickly; but if not treated, they hold on for a long time.” The fear was that, if the cancer afflicting Cleveland had gone into metastasis, the lower part of his left eye socket would be removed during surgery and thus permanently impairing his vision.
On July 1, 1893, President Cleveland got lost inside the Oneida, his friend, Commodore Elias Benedict’s yacht. For five good days, he was declared missing. William Williams Keen, America’s most famous and celebrated surgeon of the time and a team of other surgeons, performed the surgery to remove the cancerous tumor that had grown dangerously and embarrassingly on the president’s upper jaw and palate. The most shocking aspect of it was that, one very enterprising newspaper reporter, E. J. Edwards, later got the information and reported the secret surgery. Cleveland’s Garba Shehus descended on the journalist with the highest acerbity ever. They even labeled him “a disgrace to journalism.” It was not until decades later that one of Cleveland’s surgeons exposed the startling disappearance.
I told this long story so as to be able to bring the Nigerian and African experience of the Cleveland disease – not the disappearance per se but the stunt of keeping ailments out of the people’s klieg by elected presidents, in focus. While some may argue that the Cleveland covert surgery legitimizes many similar equations in Africa, the fact that this happened in America, in the “dark age” of the 18th century, delegitimizes such argument.
Drawing shawls on the health status of African leaders today while they suddenly disappear to undertake their own surgeries inside Cleveland’s type Oneida yacht has a history behind it. It is the mentality of continuation of the great empires and monarchies of Africa where kings were perceived to be infallible, super-human and incapable of falling prey to the afflictions of plebeians and common people. African leaders, seeing themselves in same mould of kings and emperors, believe that they must not be heard having failing health, nor their health status made public. In what other way can it be said to them that, no matter one’s status in life, no one is immune to death and health failings?
This trend that I call the Kabiyesi mentality, has bred a pandemic of leaders of Africa who, almost like 19th century Cleveland, “abdicate their thrones” covertly to seek remedies abroad, without the knowledge of their people.
In October, 2016, that was how President Peter Mutharika of Malawi disappeared from the radar, at which time he was 76 years old, suddenly undertaking his own surgery inside Cleveland’s type Oneida yacht. He had gone to attend the United Nations General Assembly mid-September and didn’t come back until October 16. This provoked speculations in Malawi that he had died, with his cagey aides failing to divulge his whereabouts. There were later disclosures through the grapevine that he had vamoosed to some parts of Europe to attend to his health. Same was the story of Gabonese President, Ali Bongo, son of Omar Bongo. At a time in November, 2018, Ali was said to have been “seriously ill,” with speculations rife in the air that he had died after suffering from stroke. He was just 59 yearrs then. Findings however later revealed that he had not died but that was holed up in a Saudi Arabia hospice.
Oil-rich Angola’s Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, who ruled the country from 1979, also eloped to Spain to have his own surgery-inside-Cleveland-type Oneida yacht. He had sought medical remedy to an undisclosed ailment in May, 2017. It was after about three weeks of his noticeable absence from the public that his foreign minister, after pressure from the opposition, confirmed his unceremonious absence. Again, until his death at age 95, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe was always dashing in and out of Singapore hospitals. In the same vein, Benin Republic’s Patrice Talon was perhaps one of the rarest breeds of that African leadership caste to make public disclosure on what ailed him. After the 59-year old president, who took over from Thomas Yayi-Boni, disappeared from the radar for about three weeks, his minders, on June 19, 2017, released the information that he had undergone two successful surgical operations in Paris. He said doctors had found a lesion in his prostate.This further necessitated another surgery in his digestive system.
Last week, Nigeria took her own ample shares of African presidents’ unwitting communication of their superhuman status to the public. President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria had jetted out to the United Kingdom to undertake his own surgery-inside-Cleveland-type Oneida yacht, “for routine medical checkup.” In March 2017, the then 74-year-old president had suddenly appeared on the radar, after unceremoniously disappearing for seven weeks, from January 19. He had jetted to the UK to treat an ailment which till today is undisclosed, flakes from which stoked the general perception that his failing health had grossly been responsible for the ungoverned space that Nigeria had become for the period of his presidency.
It was so bad that some cynics wickedly alleged that the character that was flown back to Nigeria after the weeks of treatment in a UK hospice was a Buhari look-alike from Sudan and that the original had passed on. Buhari too didn’t help matters. Anytime his minders fail to put on the latch and he speaks ex-tempore, the president gives them public relations migraine, veering off course into irrelevances like a wandering spirit. This is why they only release him for photo-ops, taking care that he does not get any media engagement. For how long is this window-dressing going to last?
The only known communication of Buhari’s ailment by the presidency was the claim that he had an ear infection, an ailment that took him to the same UK in 2016. On May 7 of same year, Buhari went back to the UK for “further medical checks,” necessitating his before-now voluble wife, Aisha visiting him. His Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, acted as President during this interregnum and Nigerians, who had witnessed a previous Katsina kinsman of Buhari, Umaru Yar’Adua, dying in office, were wary of this continuous absence.
Whether he personally learnt his lessons from “the mistake” of temporarily dispensing power to his ngbati ngbati VP or that the Villa cabal felt threatened by Osinbajo’s superlative three months performance in office, it was obvious that they both dreaded such equation ever happening again. So, this time around when Buhari hopped into the presidential jet to his UK infirmary, his minders, seemingly emerging from sleepless nights of studying the constitution, obstinately announced that he would not vacate power to anybody, as the constitution allows him to spend his two weeks projected stay with medics in the UK.
There must be a genetic dysfunction in African presidents which necessitated them not disclosing their health status. Worse still, they try to hold on to power like an adhesive, in spite of and despite their failing health. Let leaders, especially African leaders, who have the tendency to be unduly secretive, disclose the facts of what ail them to their citizens. These citizens will in turn pray for their leaders’ recoveries. On the claim that the opposition would capitalize on the disclosure to torpedo them, let who is immune from sickness and death throw the first stone.
If the health failings of the presidents are such that they cannot function in office effectively, since presidency is not a birthright, let them step aside and their deputies step in. Of course, those who profit from the power stagnation arising from the incapability of ailing leaders would fight tooth and nail to continue to pad them up. Don’t they know that there is a metaphysical and indeed, physical link between the health of the president and the health of a nation? No one needs any peep into the Ouija-board to know that since Buhari came back from the infirmary in 2017, he had literally and figuratively ceased to be capable of administering Nigeria.
The most germane question to ask is, why hasn’t Buhari constructed a world-class hospice similar to the one he visits periodically and shamelessly in the UK, in his six years of being president? Is it naivety, inability or sheer incompetence? The billions of dollars voted to resuscitate an abiku Port Harcourt refinery will no doubt build twice of such and stuff it with world class medics.
Those who argue strongly in defence of Nigerian sovereignty should well know that that same sovereignty is seriously bayoneted by the Nigerian president being a captive patient in a foreign hospital, subjected to the medical suzerainty of UK nationals, on their own soil. There is no doubting the fact that all information about Nigeria and what ails her president would by now be in the hands of the United Kingdom government. So what sovereignty are we talking about?
Administering Nigeria has since been done by proxies. This is why Nigeria has been very sick, from all ramifications.
Consequently, all manner of afflictions, ranging from security, social to economic, have been attempting to down the Nigerian ship of state. Now imagine how many Nigerians have died, literally and metaphorically, due to the absence of firm, knowledgeable and perspective Nigerian leadership and presidential power since Buhari took ill. This is why many members of the cabal who forcefully make Nigeria’s presidential corpse to walk are spending blood money and occupying blood-encrusted offices. The blood of those who die or get incapacitated due to lack of grits of presidential power, in that un-Godly process, is crying for vengeance.