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For Pyrates and their confraternity by Lasisi Olagunju

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Like graceful, snowy egrets basking in the afternoon light, the Pyrates Confraternity sailed out last week on the streets of Lagos. In white and scarlet, they did it with much noise and got lots of shrieks from owls and bats of the night. It was their outing; the beauty of their song triggered the chat I had with some friends who thought the song melodious but inappropriate. The pyrates sang about “Baba” whose hands shake and legs quake and yet insists that it is his turn to be king. Some felt the seadogs counted the toes of the nine-digit emperor in his very presence. But the song writers and the singers mentioned no name! The singers did the music and the dance in Ikeja in broad daylight and without wearing masks. Perhaps that is why the wizards and witches of Lagos are angry. The owners of Lagos think their ravens are the only birds permitted to kill and eat names and fames at noon – and at night – without consequences.

There is a time allotted for every activity under the sun. Some things are done at night – like rites of passage, calabash opening for the egregious, deposition rituals. Shakespeare says it better: “Deep night, dark night, the silent of the night,/The time of night when Troy was set on fire;/The time when screech-owls cry and ban-dogs howl,/ And spirits walk and ghosts break up their graves,/That time best fits the work we have in hand,” (King Henry VI, Part 2). The pyrates chose not the darkness of the night to do the work they had in hand, a war on entrenched political piracy. It was better done in plain sight of the day. They made the high sun guide their boats as they sailed and danced on the floors of the palace and announced to the diseased baálè that his mother was a witch.

Three things are the most precious in this world; one of them is “to say a word of truth before someone of power.” That is from Imam al-Shafi (767-820 AD), Arab Muslim theologian, writer, and scholar and the famed first contributor to the principles of Islamic jurisprudence. I am not a seadog, but I sail with the pyrates on this bold voyage of truth against Long John Silver and the piracy on our high seas. Long John Silver is a character in Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel, Treasure Island. I read his enchanting story 44 years ago in Secondary Modern School; difficult to forget. There are others: King Solomon’s Mines (1885) and Allan Quatermain (1887) – both by H. Rider Haggard. Today, when I see characters and treasure-hunting movements in our politics, I race back to the books of that era and pick characters assailing our moral castle. Long John Silver is a compelling, piratical character described by a critic as “treacherous and willing to change sides at any time to further his own interests.” But he is also courageous and “wise enough to save his money, in contrast to the spendthrift ways of most of the pirates.” The narrator says of Silver’s physical health: “His left leg was cut off close by the hip, and under the left shoulder, he carried a crutch, which he managed with wonderful dexterity, hopping about upon it like a bird. He was very tall and strong, with a face as big as a ham—plain and pale, but intelligent and smiling” (see Treasure Island; 1883, page 82). “He was brave and no mistake” – but a robber.

Someone listed courage and passion as the primary strengths of sailors and their captains. I note the Pyrate Confraternity’s statement after their ‘subversive’ act. I read their August 9, 2022 statement and their resolve to continue to use their… “compelling songs to advocate for good governance and accountability!” I saw other things in that statement: Those at the event were over 2,000 and they “came to Lagos from all over the world.” So, they were not all Igbos – Peter Obi’s people! There were more attenuating claims in that press release: The confraternity “does not mock or discriminate against the physical condition of any person”; it does not do politics or endorse candidates but it is “committed to the enthronement of a just society in which no one is discriminated against based on tribe, religion, gender or disability.” Fair enough. But that is what those railing against the procession for healthy governance are against. My kinsmen will be happy if the seadogs endorse their tremor as our future’s stabilizer.

Waist beads are seductive accessories of beauty; every African mother used to string them for their girl-child. The bells of the beads rattled desire in the past; today they provoke the right to be voted for by kith and kin of contenders to the throne. The beads are on arrogant display in the Yoruba political space; they say all of us must string them for the waist of a presidential candidate because he is our child. The àwa l’ókàn people want joiners in their anger with the seadogs and their song for health. They wonder why some of us sing along with the pyrates.

And I ask why they are angry. Did they hear their candidate’s name in that song of grace? Did they not say that their candidate was fit body and soul and raring to go? Is there a kábíyèsí (ask-him-not) in a democracy? No. So, why should the decrepit be what they present as captain in the present turbulence? And they say no one should shout even with a song! Did they not know what happened to the palace where arúgbó (the very elderly) died and olókùnrùn (the invalid) was selected as the successor? That particular palace became a continuum of sorrow and sadness. Of what use is a democracy if all it offers are pains and tears of infirm leadership?

The choice for next year is a hot-button. Eject bed bugs from your home; allow bat bugs into your life. That is the meaning of choosing a bedmate from among the evil. They are all blood suckers who snack on the life of the careless. And, you know, BAT itself is a dangerous pet; it is the primary host of not just bat bugs but also of deadly viruses, including the Ebola virus. I have friends who say they love BAT because he is a generous bird of good portent. And I ask: really? I am a Muslim, my friends are Christians. I ask them to read what their Bible says in Isaiah 5:20 about good and evil; darkness and night; bitter and sweet. My friends confess that today, tomorrow, they know the contesting options are not pleasant; but we cannot walk away from all of them. We must make a choice. They think the 2023 choice is not exactly Hobson’s take it or leave it. From what we have, we must vote one. That is their position. And their choice evokes confusion in conviction; they bet on a creature that is both bird and rat – or that is exactly neither; a flying rat. My friends think the thought of The Knight in Cheikh Hamidou Kane’s ‘L’aventure Ambigue’ (Ambiguous Adventure): “He who wants to live, who wants to remain himself, must compromise.” They think dressing the owl in feathers of light would make it stop heralding death and disaster. No. It won’t. And I told them so. I added that their man’s battle cry, ‘Èmi l’ókàn’ sounds like hemlock, the poison that killed Socrates.

There is a slithery complementary diet to the èmi l’ókàn menu. It is omo ‘eni kò s’èdí bèbèrè ká f’ìlèkè sí ìdí omo elòmíràn’ (you don’t leave bare the shapely waist of your child to bead your neighbour’s daughter’s). They forget that not all waists deserve beads. What if the child does not have ‘idí bèbèrè’? Moshood Abiola, God bless his soul, had a proverb along that line: “A string of beads is too large for Toad’s waist, twerking Snake now offers her own!” I wish someone would be out soon to tell truth to the entitled kingmaker who wants to be king. He should wake up to the reality of his not being an Awolowo or an Abiola. Bola Tinubu of the APC is no Obafemi Awolowo, the first Premier of Western Nigeria during whose time children of the poor became English speakers. Everyone becoming literate was thought not possible until the leader came and led responsibly. There is an everlasting song acknowledging that service: “Ayé Awólówò yí mà ti dára/Àwa omo t’álákà ns’òyìnbó…”(This Awolowo era is good/children of the poor are speaking English). Again, Tinubu is no Abiola, billionaire businessman who did good to strangers abroad and to folks at home (King Sunny Ade acknowledged that in a famous song: MKO se f’álejò, ó se f’ónílé). Tinubu inspired songs too. He was in Lagos as governor and we heard folks chant ‘jeun s’ókè’ – the ancestral pre-chorus to Fayose’s song of the stomach. Every leader is his own songwriter. Abiola was the first chancellor of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso. Tinubu is also a past chancellor of LAUTECH. What legacies did each of them leave behind in that ‘small’ hole? Check history; ask parents; ask ex-students.

So, to whom will your vote go: the herdsman, the patient or the miser-exaggerator? That was an old classmate, a King Cobra in our Great Ife days, cynically asking whom I would vote for in the 2023 presidential election among the three leading candidates. ‘Patient’ here is a customer-care noun used by caregivers in hospitals for their clients. It has about seven synonyms, all ghastly. And, maybe, ‘patient’ as an adjective will also be apt for the invalid. ‘Herdsman’ today is a metaphor for mass murder and abduction for ransom; the hurricane of pains and torrential tears soaking homes across the country. The exaggerator overstates things. ‘Miser’ is a tight-arse or tight-ass person, a squirrel, hoarder of treasures. To whatever constitutes treasure, I add truth and facts and their derivatives. So, why should I vote at all? And why not? We can choose the least of the evils, another friend counseled. I told him I don’t like evil; I set fire to all evil forests.

Like the Pyrates Confraternity, I have no candidate in the coming election. And I continue to struggle with that decision. What comes then if everyone makes no choice as I insist? If we desire peace and good life, this thing we call ‘democracy’ can’t give us, no matter who is there at the top. I vote for a renegotiation of what we have. I ask my friends to go back to our good old Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar; the “hooting and shrieking” of the bird of the night “even at noonday, upon the market place.” What follows that very bad omen? If Abubakar Atiku of the PDP wins, in six months, the country will convulse and become rent – North versus South. You will see frontline columns along old fault lines. If Tinubu or Obi wins, we should expect the banditry of the North to become more global, encouraged by their enablers and very uncontrollable. Fighting the terrorists will become suicidal for the government. This will happen as the government trembles under the weight of northern blackmail. Those who birthed the felons will become riotous if a Tinubu or an Obi government fights terror the way it should. The pushback from the South will be decided and decisive. Our nation and its democracy will convulse. It will happen.

 

Strictly Personal

Independence, Whose Independence? By Festus Adebayo

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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 a good job of conflating the frills of the rituals as a representation of our national joy and unity. Children looked forward to the symphony or National Day orchestra, the 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 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 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 a sense of rightness. The 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 resources and the Alakan’s government had abundant water resources. 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 was 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, in 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 died as recompense – “enikeni to ba dan wo, Asalailu ni o si mon lo,” said Epo Akara.

For 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 the shot, the Hyena cleared his throat and began to speak. He bemoaned the Tortoise’s self-righteousness, stating, in that deep Yoruba aphorism, that everyone could haggle with the launderer but not an Ato’le – one stricken by incontinence of bedwetting.

The next day, as they were hunting in the forest, Tortoise then provoked discord. He looked straight into 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, the 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 brink 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 the 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. The 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 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 makeup Nigeria have differences. Let’s recognize them. The 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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Strictly Personal

The likes of Dadis issue orders that people dare not oppose by Jenerali Uliwengu

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Captain Moussa Dadis Camara — remember him?—is back in Conakry, Guinea, claiming that he has chosen to come back to “clear my name which has been dragged through the mud.”

Does this kind of action depict a man so full of bravado that he can come back to a place that is literally his crime scene and claim innocence, or does he want to tell us something we have not been told as yet?

Three years ago when Dadis was head of the military junta ruling over Guinea, hundreds of men and women gathered in that stadium in Conakry at a rally protesting military rule that has plagued the country since the founding president of that country, Ahmed Seku Ture, was overthrown after his death in 1989.

Yes, I am saying that on purpose, for Ture had been such a terror to his people that they had to wait until he was taken sick and then flown to Morocco where he died, and his people could now overthrow him! That is how a military coup d’etat was carried out on a dead president!

Relinquish power

Now, this Dadis had come to power courtesy of another military coup and had shown no sign he was planning to relinquish power any time soon, and his people had gathered in the stadium to tell him he had to leave.

Instead, he ordered his soldiers to open fire, and a bloodbath ensued; more than 150 unarmed civilians lost their lives. Apart from the deaths — themselves horrendous enough—the soldiers unleashed a raping spree in which tens of young women and girls were gang-raped, tortured, and maimed — many dying on the spot or shortly thereafter, succumbing to the ordeals they had suffered.

According to many eyewitness accounts by even people who had become inured to the barbarousness of West African military thugs, that day had not been experienced before.

After that horrific incident, Dadis fled to neighbouring Mali, where he has been living in soft-cushioned exile until he decided to come back home “to clear my name”.

It certainly will be interesting to hear what he has to say in his defence, and it will certainly be a riveting story as prosecutors lay down the charges and call to the stand as eyewitnesses those who saw and experienced the massacres and the rapes first-hand.

We all know what a bloodbath looks like, or we think we do. We have recollections of Sharpeville in 1961 and Marikana in 2012, for instance, two incidents in one country, perpetrated by forces supposedly diametrically opposed but unfortunately bound together by a shared callousness where black lives come into collision with the interests of capitalism.

Onto the bloodbath in the Conakry case, add the scenes of mass rape, and a scene emerges that is hard to visualize.

Some of the women who have gone on record have shared stories of untold brutality and suffering which have had repercussions on their reproductive health ever since, heart-rending narratives that would make a brute monster break down and cry bitter tears.

Law and order

I am intrigued and want to know what this Didas will want to say in his defence.

Was it a case of trying to re-establish ‘law and order’ as we hear our rulers say so often, that people were threatening to sow chaos and disrupt normal lives? Had the military junta at that time received intelligence suggesting the protesters were enemy agents sent to bring their (itself illegitimate) government down?

Hardly. Neither of these feeble excuses would hold water, because there is no evidence to suggest there was interference from outside, and clearly indiscriminate shooting of unarmed civilians and rape is no way to establish “law and order”.

But Dadis could benefit from an unstated defence that would be understood in some quarters, even if not spelled out. That he gave orders to shoot because he saw a threat represented by the demonstrators in the stadium as an attempt to reinstate so-called civilian regimes are in fact all military except in name.

Any time

They have given up any attempt to persuade their people to approve their policies, of which they actually have none; they have ruled by issuing orders that their people dare not oppose; all too often when their people showed signs of wanting to rebel, they were kept in check by the same brute military force that the likes of Dadis and others are now using. Morally, there is no justification for castigating Dadis and his boys.

But all that does not explain the overkill in civilian body counts, and the rapes. Dadis will still be up shit-creek without a paddle.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: jenerali@gmail.com

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