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Tag: Yoruba

SundayStarter: Olabisi Ajala: Myths, Memory(-ies) and An African Abroad

Human memory is a limited medium of record preservation; put differently, the human memory pushes to the subconscious events/matters that are not immediately usable for many reasons, one of them being to “create space” to record newer materials. She does this to avoid overstretching, thus limiting the effect of wear and tear, which set in as we age. Imagine if an individual would have to daily “remember” all events (s)he has ever witnessed starting from birth! Aware of this limitation, we constantly backup our memory(-ies) in many ways imaginable. Discoveries of human records in anthropology confirm human ingenuity in record keeping.

Like music, the written word is one of such invented memory backup/refresher. The word-of-mouth is another relevant medium of backing-up human memory in this regard. Parents tell their children and the children tell their children to tell their children’s children so that they may not forget (completely). Talking about Mr. Ajala, I believe we memory-ed him mainly via these media, namely, song (music), oral history/narrative (word-of-mouth) and the written word (book).

The accuracy or truthfulness of recorded events can be tasking to establish, particularly with the oral medium. This does not mean songs and books are more reliable. I emphasized the oral medium because of its permanently liquid/floating state, i.e. hanging in the air to be narrative-ly plucked when needed. The error margin can be high. The reason for the difficulty is, word(s) of mouth, passed from A to B, then B to C, except recorded in a different medium other than the mouth, can hardly be accurately relayed. A Yoruba proverb confirms this:

“Oro atenudenu, ti o ba din, a le” “An oral situation-report from A to B to be relayed to C is overtime always incompete, it is either reduced in content or exaggerated.”

The awareness of the possibility of inaccuracy is good. We know we have to doubly fact-check (recorded) materials for accuracy, correctness and truth. There are many oral versions of happenings while Mr. Ajala’s traveled the world. I need not remind that many of them were peppered and spiced according to the teller’s taste. Take for instance the version I heard when I was a child:

Mr. Ajala was a Yoruba man, very rich businessman. He was world-famous and traveled the length and breadth of the earth. Every country he visited he married a wife who gave him a child. All these women never knew of their husband’s past so they willfully loved, married and catered for him. They bore him children because they loved him. Mr. Ajala met his Waterloo in India. His trip to India was to be executed accordingly, but the woman he married in India had a power far too powerful than Mr. Ajala. With her witchcraft she found out her husband was a real cheat. She killed him.

Beyond the fact that Mr. Ajala traveled to India, nothing in the account could be farther from the truth. I suspect this version must have originated from a source who read Mr. Ajala’s book or only the first few pages. Aware that the book started with a chapter on his visit to India, the rest was easily garnered from fantasy. We need to commend this version. At least it did not dismiss Mr. Ajala’s adventure as a mere fairy-tale.

Chief Ebenezer Obey attempted to backup human memory as regards Mr. Ajala. Below are those popular song-lines that preserve the adventure of this unique Nigerian:

You have traveled allover the world

Ajala traveled allover the world

Ajala traveled, Ajala traveled

Ajala traveled allover the world

When Chief Ebenezer Obey waxed this song, it was an attempt at sing-praising a worthy socialite into national conscience. The song-lines did not go beyond telling us the character traveled around the world, since it was not waxed mainly to sing-praise this character alone, probably more would have been said of his adventures. However, the little was absolutely enough to impress him in our memory.

Mr. Ajala is dead. Many who knew or heard of him might have long forgotten this uncommon Nigerian, but whenever those song-lines are heard, hummed or played, the exploits of a great man are brought to consciousness and consequently celebrated. For the human memory, that Ah! and Oh! moment would come back. In that instant, the individual is pressed to tell again what he knew of Mr. Ajala and his adventures around the world.

No exaggeration, going by events related in Mr. Ajala’s book, he would fit the Yoruba character of valor whose achievements are great and excellently so, to think of such as one (wo)man would be out-of-place. So (s)he is respectfully addressed as seven-(wo)man. Remember, seven represents perfection. No doubt, Mr.Ajala’s achievement made him a world-citizen extraordinaire.

Already in Mr. Ajala’s time, he was becoming a phenomenon; he was a star. His contemporaries saw it, and his legendary status was already being celebrated while he was with them. Here an excerpt from Mr. Ajala’s book:

Well, then, sir, you must be Mr. Ajala from Nigeria. My name is Mustapha Saliu Lawal. I came from Lagos, Nigeria. My friends who met you yesterday told me about you. I have read alot about you in the Nigerian papers before I came to Russia, and one of your brothers, now in London, is a very good friend of now. I am now downstairs with two other Nigerian friends of mine. (Page 81, Olabisi Ajala, An African Abroad)

Israel’s Foreign Secretary, Mrs. Meir was quick to recognize him and his work. She granted him an interview. Hear the introductory part of Mr. Ajala’s account:

Shalom, Mr. Ajala (…) I was quick to repeat her word of greeting. Shalom, your Excellency. You will hardly appreciate how deeply grateful I am to you for allowing me into Israel after causing you and your officials so much headache. (…) It’s not often we have this kind of trouble, your bravery impressed us. We thought we should crown it. (…) Israel is as much your home as Nigeria. (Page 152, Olabisi Ajala, An African Abroad)

To many, who were already of age in the 1960s when Mr. Ajala traveled the world, he was the best synonym for globetrotting. Unfortunately, over the years, his adventure became something of a faraway “non-existent” myth. Many children born around late 1950s and early 1960s when he globe-trotted did even know Mr. Ajala wrote a book. Now, if that be so, then we can safely conclude that in the memory of millions of Nigerians born in the 1980’s and below Mr. Ajala was simply another “confirmed” Ijapa-story, i.e. a fairy-tale. I need not remind us that fairy-tales are beautifully created fictions weaved around wonderful human fantasies.

Yoruba language is a tonal language. A word may bear in it many meaning depending on pronunciation. This sense is figuratively transported/reflected for example in the categorization of apology. We say “Pele lako, o labo”. An apology can be “male”- insincerely offered or “female”- heartfelt/sincere. Same is applicable to pejoratives passed off as commendation or simply expressed to scorn. Sometimes, it can be outright ridicule. Lets take a look at some of these (pejorative) expressions coined in relation to Mr. Ajala’s adventure:

(1) “Lai kii se Ajala!” “But you are not Mr. Ajala!” (2) “Ajala ni!” “(S)he is Mr. Ajala!” (3) “O fe di Ajala ni.” “(S)he wants to become Mr. Ajala.” (4) “O n bimo kiri bi Ajala.” “(S)he makes babies everywhere like Mr. Ajala”

I understand the danger of hasty generalization in this regard and I am aware context matters, but the truth is, many times these expressions are used, they are contextually used to joke or chide the individual concerned. There are questions to ask: (1) Why is Mr. Ajala’s name often used in connection to negative comparison? (2) Why do these expressions carry in them implicit admonitions to shun the Mr. Ajala’s type of adventure? (3) How and why did we let this happen?

The answer(s) is/are definitely multifarious, but not untraceable to our perception of indigenous memory, be it communicative, collective or cultural. Simply put, we tend to look our own achievements with scorn, so much so that we are quick to single out or project only the dirty or bad sides/images/figures of these achievements. We sometimes go as far as “creating” a badness for the achievement if we could not originally find one. Mr. Ajala’s character/image, I suppose, was a victim of negative narratives, which overtime the seem to be the overarching/prevalent narratives as reflected in the pejoratives.

I started reading Mr. Ajala’s own account of his travelogue with mixed feeling. One was that of excitement. Finally, I could read a personal narrative of this legendary figure. Another is, as I turned the pages, I realized my memory of this figure was coming back to me, one after the other; I read with prejudice. I had to consciously shut them out to read him objectively.

This is at the beginning of Mr Ajala’s book:

It is quite safe to say the worst and the best about India and Indians. Without being biased or unduly critical, one can identify Indians as appallingly ignorant savages, yet they belong to the most highly cultured and literary societies in the world. One can further describe India as the most hideous and, at the same time, the most colourfully fascinating of countries- in brief, every possible antonym may be used to classify and dissect this part of the world, and none will be far from the truth. (Page 19, Olabisi Ajala, An African Abroad)

Throughout the book, I came across contradictory, yet seemingly true comparisons like these in many of Mr. Ajala’s accounts and observations of the peoples, places and countries he visited. He was modest and careful not to stamp his observation as the singularly valid opinion about these peoples, places and countries. He made clear these are his personal observations and perception of the matter. One could not but have the feeling he was telling the truth. Besides, why doubt him since many of these accounts can be fact-checked.

Like his account on India, Mr. Ajala was sincerely detailed, almost to a fault, in his encounters with everyday life in the places and of the peoples he visited. Lets return to his account on India again to establish this:

With the exception of the Prime Minister, Jawaharl Nehru(..), most of the Indian people I met(…) were snobbish and intolerant, with detestable and annoying habits. For example, you are startled out of a pleasant sleep at 5 a.m. by the sound of someone who appears to be vomiting and in obvious agony at the wash-basin. You get up, full of sympathy and ready to help, only to find someone cleaning his teeth and cheerfully clearing his throat with the most disgusting sounds. (Page 20, Olabisi Ajayi, An African Abroad).

Detailed account like this cut across the book. These down-to-earth descriptions of experiences and encounters about/with the inhabitants of these spaces are characteristics only of good and objective travelogues. One can experience life of the locals about places one is yet to visit and get a feeling of being in their midst even if the reader is in faraway Germany.

Mr. Ajala was not only interested in the living conditions and ways of life of the locals, he was keen on getting to know same about African students in the countries. Aware that racial discrimination of all color and shade were at its peak around the time he made his trips, he did not take words of assurance from government or diplomatic sources for bare coins, particularly on the living conditions of African students. In India he spoke with African students who relayed the hostility of Indian students to Blacks. In his rapport with African students in The Soviet Union, this was how he introduced his discussion with them:

Just before I came to Moscow I was reading in one of the African papers (…) a serialized article by one of three students, all of whom had to leave Russia because they were being discriminated against, taught the workings of communism and insulted when in the company of their girlfriends. The same African who wrote these articles stated that he was often publicly attacked and beaten up by young Russian hoodlums. (Pages 82 and 83, Olabisi Ajala, An African Abroad)

This introduction was provocative, no doubt. Apparently, Mr. Ajala chose to introduce his chat this way to get as much details as possible from students who were confronted with daily-living in a country that is anything but black or colored. The responses of and account of daily-life recounted by the three students resulted in a lightly heated debate, which Mr. Ajala was sure to control so it did not degenerate into an all-shout-out-affair as it wont for Nigerians (Africans); a situation where all talked at the same time without hearing the other out. Reading in-between the lines, one sees that the students agreed African student life and the level of acceptance/warmness enjoyed could be better.

His interest in matters of race and discrimination was not limited to African students alone. His demand to be allowed to visit the Arab settlements in Israel was a pointer to Mr. Ajala’s keen interest in seeing an improvement in the extremely poor living conditions of these people. The Australians he met and spoke with were not spared questions about the unimaginable persecutions being suffered by the Aborigines of the land. Mr. Ajala wanted not only answers, he seemed to be appealing to the moral sense and humanity of the persecutor and the powerful to let be of evil. We are all god’s children.

Another interesting parts in the book were Mr. Ajala’s accounts of his meetings with the Heads of States (King, President, Prime Minister) in some countries. One could not but feel that Mr. Ajala was a daredevil. He cared not even for his life to realize his goal of meeting them. I held my breath when he told of his near-death encounter to cross the No-Mans-Land into Israel from Jordan. Really, he was only lucky to escape with his skin unhurt.

Especially insightful was the account of “Drama in Meeting Khrushchev”. He could have been dead because he was shot at, but for sheer luck; fate indeed meant it well with Mr. Ajala. Mr. Khrushchev, undoubtedly the strongest man of Soviet politics, for once feared for his life. And he showed it. He was afraid and he was unable to hide his helplessness. So, a man so powerful as Mr. Khrushchev, who controlled with iron-fist the fate and lives of hundreds of millions was not immune to fear. If Mr. Ajala’s successful meeting with the Kremlin Chief achieved nothing, it at least confirmed that those who wield (political) power are just as human as anyone of us.

I will not forget to remember this: at first, I found it lightly difficult to read sentences without a pause. The reason, I found out very quickly, was the way the English sentences were constructed. They were correct Standard English, no doubt, but I realized I was not only reading a book about the past, I was practically being transfigured into the past via the English diction and sentence construction style employed in the book. All in all, Mr. Ajala’s political travelogue and partly autobiography is a good read. I strongly recommend it.

!Simply-Dunni-on-Spot !SiDoS: Palava-Series-1

Ms. Oladunni Talabi is a beautiful and wonderful addition to the AhjotNaija!BlogFamily. She is a Master student resident in Germany, young and very-full-of-life. She experiments with different forms of writing; this is one of them: Entertaining while strongly pushing for deep self-discovery/identification and cross-cultural dialogues among other interesting themes

Ms. Oladunni Talabi is a beautiful and wonderful addition to the AhjotNaija!BlogFamily. She is a Master student resident in Germany, young and very-full-of-life. She experiments with different forms of writing; this is one of them: Entertaining while strongly pushing for deep self-discovery/identification and cross-cultural dialogues among other interesting themes

Lookit me!!! Methink I’m becoming germanized ooo…! Or why should I get pissed because a guy knocked on my door without prior notice through email or whatever that he would come knocking! And that while I was sleeping like i-don’t-care in the afternoon. He wanted me to describe the heimleiter’s (housemaster) house.

Come to think of it, how did I sleep in Nigeria in noonday through the screams from my mum to get her something, which is right in front of her! Then she would be like *oh sorry you are sleeping, but still call again in five minutes thereafter!

And there would be my cousins too on the other hand doing their waka-abouts searching for God-knows-what like in a Gulder Ultimate Search (GUS) on my own side of the room.

By the way, having your own room doesn’t mean it’s yours. Anyway, I had MY OWN BED I could lay claim to. That was enough for me. I no be OLIVER TWIST who’s always asking for more..

There were mum’s spontaneous visitors too knocking on the door and you were expected to leave everything with immediate alacrity, including your *sleep* and attend to them till they leave! Who born you to do otherwise!

I must not forget to mention our dog barking for reasons best known to her. By the way, Yoruba-Nigerians believe dogs bark when they see evil spirits, witches and wizards flying to their afternoon-meeting. So our dog probably always see them flying because she never stopped barking. I wish I knew better, but since I am not a dog, how do I know.

The cocks who have decided to make your window an abode of worship-to-God would be busy making a call and finally the generator making its own kinda noise…

In these times, my patience was never stretched to its breaking point oooo… and oh, if you were pissed, or squeezed a fraction of your face or eyelid…. hehehehehe *smiles aloud*. Pity betide you! You would be making the greatest mistake of your life allowing mum see it on your face, as in you putting on a *poker-face*

If you’ve been wondering why I smile or laugh even when nothing is funny… now you know! The outcome of your *poker-face* is this: slaps that would make you see stars in broad-day light and you’d also feel like you are on a roller-coaster.

If she was not in the mood to dash you free slaps, then you were gonna have to stand for an hour while she tells you stories of all bad and disobedient children in the bible e.g. children of Eli. They ended up in Hell!

Come to think of it; I don’t know why my mum took a fancy to Eli’s children – Opheni and Phineas*Please confirm spelling in the bible and read the detailed story while you do*.

She talked to my brother about Samuel, David and the good children; and when it got to my turn; it was always these same people- Opheni and Phineas, the disobedient Eve who ate the apple, the proud Goliath who got killed by the dwarf David, Absalom who got hung on a tree by his hair!

In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if Absalom had such extremely strong and tough dreads because I still don’t understand how a tree carried someone up from the horse with his hair! I doubt this could happen with this slick oyinbo-hair o. Anyway, that is none of my business o jare! *just saying though while I go back to sleep*

Baba E Wi Hun Hun By Professor Pius Adesanmi

Prof. Pius Adesanmi dressed with a Baba-Awololwo-styled cap.

Prof. Pius Adesanmi dressed with a Baba-Awololwo-styled cap.

Baba E wi hun hun would be approaching his 100th birthday by now if he was still alive. My Dad, who passed on three years ago in his seventies, used to call him “boda”, a common Yoruba cultural honorific, possibly a domestication of the English, “brother”. Like my Dad, Baba E wi hun hun belongs in that generation of Spartan, colonial, missionary-trained teachers who were the very incarnation of Nigeria’s moral and ethical fabric from the fifties down to the very early eighties.

Surely, you remember this teacher if you are a Nigerian of a certain age. Do you remember his well-starched khaki shorts that reached down to his knees, stopping just where his long socks started their descent into his well-polished black shoes? Do you remember that those khaki shorts were pressed so hard with a charcoal iron that the edges – called “gator” in local parlance – almost cut like a razor blade?

Do you remember the starched short sleeve white shirt that he tucked in and his immaculate black tie? Do you remember his glistening black hair, about half the size of the African American Afro style? His wife combed it for him every morning, faithfully putting the obligatory “parting” either in the middle or on one side of his head, just before he went to the schoolyard for morning assembly. If you grew up in the village when Nigeria was Nigeria, you probably called him “tisa”.

The remnants of this generation of teachers, who toiled to build Nigeria alongside British District Officers, Irish Catholic priests, and Canadian missionaries of the Sudan Interior Mission, and later took over the moulding of an unimpeachable national ethos when the colonial oppressors departed, are the same people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s who now drop dead in pension queues all over Nigeria, tragic victims of a polity ruined and looted beyond repairs by younger generations of Nigerians they trained.

Before he passed on in 2007, my father used to stand in those horribly dehumanizing pension queues until I snapped and stopped him. I couldn’t take what Nigeria was doing to his dignity anymore. From the early 1960s when he made the mistake of quitting his comfortable perch in Dundee, Scotland, and returned home like other dreamers in his generation to build the newly-independent country, up until 1985, he had been “tisa” (teacher) and “pinrinsipa” (principal) to the generation of rulers that was now making him stand in those queues, exposing him to the elements in the evening of his life, especially that horrible sub-Saharan African tropical sun.

It is not easy to explain the pension queues in Nigeria to a Western audience such as we have here today. Fifty years after independence, that is how the giant of Africa has elected to treat those who forged and shaped her foundational ethos. Those of you who love to sunbathe in the summer, protecting your skin from the biting rays of the sun with all sorts of creams, should go and experience Nigeria between noon and 3 p.m. You will gain a firsthand understanding of what that country did to my father and Baba E wi hun hun in the last decade of their lives.

Baba E wi hun hun and my Dad were not asking for their share of Nigeria’s notoriously corrupt and putrescent national cake. They would never have wanted any part of that cake. You see, they belonged in a totally different moral and ethical order. Theirs is a generation that took the saying, “a teacher’s reward is in heaven”, too literally. All they wanted was what Nigeria owed them: their pension. The never got it till they died.

My father was luckier than his older friend and colleague, Baba E wi hun hun. My father has a son who – I’m sure you will allow me this immodesty – is not doing too badly as a University Professor in Canada, a son who could afford to tell the Nigerian government to go to hell and take care of his father through the kind offices of Western Union money transfer. If he can afford it, there are things a son must never allow Nigeria to do to his father: expose him to the elements in his 70s just because he is asking for his pension.

But my mom, also a retired school principal in her 70s, disagrees with me. She has other ideas about dignity. Dignity, for her, is not allowing Nigeria to get away with robbing her late husband, even if it means gathering my father’s papers every month and heading out to Lokoja, the state capital, to stand for hours on end in those horrible queues. We argue endlessly on the phone. I tell her to forget it. After all, I stopped Dad from going to the queue because it broke my heart to see him dehumanised by the generation he trained but mom won’t be deterred. Calmly and with as much dignity as Nigeria allows the oppressed to muster, she explains to me that she was my father’s wife for 49 years till death did them part, watched him mould and shape that country through the generations he trained as a teacher in Katsina, Kaduna, Minna, Kabba, Isanlu, and Egbe and would therefore never allow Nigeria to steal his entitlements.

Recently, the wicked rulers of Nigeria upped their game in the dehumanization of this generation of Nigerian seniors. I phoned my mom and she answered from Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city. What could she possibly be doing in Abuja?  Aren’t pension queues restricted to the state capitals anymore? Well, she got one of those terse government circulars (memo here in Canada). It was actually addressed to my father. Wait for this one: somebody somewhere was directed to invite my father to some ministry in Abuja to prove that he is dead so that his entitlements could be paid to his wife! Failure to come personally and prove that he is dead would of course lead to the forfeiture of his claims.

As we say in Nigeria: things dey happen! Pardon my use of “directed”. That is the language of government in Nigeria. Every government memo, every circular, starts with: “I am directed to inform you that…” That allows us the luxury of democracy without responsibility. If things don’t work, no problem, carry go. After all, you were directed by someone who was directed by someone who was directed by someone. One day, the president of Nigeria will forget himself and address a memo to his ministers saying: “I am directed…”

Let us leave one woman’s pitiful attempt to stop Nigeria from rubbishing the dignity of her husband three years after his death. Let us return to Baba E wi hun hun. Apart from being a church warden in our local Catholic parish and the scourge of kids who fell asleep during the homily of Father Léo Leblanc or Gérard Fournier, Baba E wi hun hun was one of the formidable teachers in the Catholic primary school system that was established throughout Lokoja Diocese in the 1950s and 1960s. The schools litter both sides of the Federal road from Kabba to Egbe. Isanlu, my home town, got two of those schools, one in the Ofin axis, the other in the Itedo Oba axis of the town. Both were called Saint Joseph’s. Government would later take over those schools in the 1970s and transfer them to the Oyi Local Schools Management Board (OLSMB).

Government takeover was a path to perdition for those schools. They would become part of the narrative of rust and decay that attended government takeover of Christian missionary schools all over Nigeria. My parents withdrew me from the public primary school system after only one year and enrolled me in the elitist nursery and primary school system run by Spiritan Catholic priests from France and Québec – the origins of my acquisition of the French language and acculturation into the civilization it carries. I was privileged to be a pupil of Baba E wi hun hun for one year before my parents enforced my pilgrimage to the upper middleclass elitism of the nursery and primary school system of those days.

His acquisition of the sobriquet, Baba E wi hun hun, is itself a study in the sociology of aliases and onomastics in rural Nigeria. A very broad range of traditional occupations provided ready-made sobriquets that often replaced the real names of many a matriarch or patriarch in the village. My world growing up in Isanlu was one in which I had to prostrate to say good morning to Baba Elemu (the palm wine tapper), Baba Olode (the hunter), Baba Alagbede (the blacksmith), Baba Oni gan gan (the gangan drummer), Iya oni resi (the rice seller), Iya Abiye (the midwife), Iya oni diri (the hair dresser).

Sometimes, the sobriquets came from the verbal artistry of the named. Is there a refrain that a patriarch or matriarch repeats often in situations of verbal fioritura? That refrain could end up replacing his or her real name for the villagers. For instance, there was a palm wine tapper in the village called Baba oro rinda. I never got to know his real name. Legend has it that he was so proud of the quality of his palm wine that whenever consumers of his white froth praised him, he would exclaim in his Yagba West dialectal variant of Yoruba: “oro rinda”! Standard Yoruba would have this as: “oro ni mo nda” – I tap the best palmwine! Luckily, you have all read Things Fall Apart and I shouldn’t have to explain the atmospherics of palm wine consumption in my part of the world.

It was such verbal artistry that got Baba E wi hun hun his own nickname. The future that Baba E wi hun hun and his peers all over Nigeria envisaged as they toiled in our primary and secondary schools after independence was that of a nation that was going to become the sum total of the values they were instilling in the pupils. In each pupil, they sought to build what the American historian, William Bouwsma, calls the “model of the educated man” – a psychic and sentient being socialized into an elevated sense of personal and collective honour, civic responsibility, professional competence, self respect, honesty, and integrity. Their approach to training and making us ready for the future they dreamed for Nigeria was a methodological mosaic that combined strict Christian morality with unimpeachable indigenous values. They lived what they preached. They did not spare the rod.

Baba E wi hun hun started our day at morning assembly with lofty speeches delivered in the tonalities and cadences of Yoruba verbal art forms. He loved the engagement of antiphonal call and response that is characteristic of traditional story telling sessions or the Catholic responsorial psalm. While other teachers preferred “yes sah” and “yes ma” as responses to instructions, Baba E wi hun hun taught us every morning about honesty, integrity, hard work, and dignity in lyrical declamations in which he required us to utter the refrain “hun hun” after his every sentence. It was his way of ensuring our participation and undivided attention. It was his own peculiar way of ascertaining that his message was sinking into our consciousness. For the Yoruba expression, “e ma wi hun hun”, literally means: utter hun hun in response to my proclamations.

Generations of Isanlu kids chorused hun hun during morning assembly to Baba E wi hun hun’s mandate that we should aspire to build a Nigeria ensconced in the values that he and his ilk were teaching us. The shape and condition of Nigeria at fifty` is, of course, evidence that these colonial teachers, who laboured all over the country, had cast pearls before swine. The generations that they trained, those fellows in their forties, fifties, and sixties, who are making such a thorough mess of Nigeria today, are not just content with betraying the dreams of Baba E wi hun hun. They are doing it in the most profligate manner possible. The labour of our heroes past… hun hun.

Because of the nature of the man who runs the show at the Nigerian High Commission here in Ottawa, we have been asked to assemble today and celebrate Nigeria at fifty purely as a feast of ideas, a meeting of minds, a bazaar of critical faculties, and occasion for red-eyed sobriety and head-bowing. I wish I could say the same for his hedonistic bosses in Abuja. I am not going to tell you how much they are spending on this independence anniversary. Even by Canadian standards, you will faint. I am not going to tell you that the President of Nigeria has a harem of nine presidential jets. I am not going to tell you that the President of Nigeria considers it a crime against humanity for him to travel even to the toilet with less than two jumbo jet loads of accompanying aides. I am not going to tell you that his wife travels with a “luggage officer” tucked somewhere in her Kilimanjaro of aides. The labour of our heroes past… hun hun.

I am not going to tell you that the President of Nigeria is a teacher who doesn’t seem to understand that all over that country, the teachers who taught his generation and established the ethos that should have guided us in the last fifty years are dropping dead in pension queues on his watch. I am not going to tell you that I suspect that the wicked generation now in charge of Nigeria are deliberately punishing those who have refused to die in the generation of Baba E wi hun hun. For it doesn’t make sense for a nation to entertain the world with the spectacle of the foundational generation of teachers dying in pension queues. Every one of those colonial teachers still alive is a living indictment on the looters. In those sunken eyes, the looters see evidence of the dreams they betrayed and the expectations they never lived up to. The labour of our heroes past… hun hun.

The labour of our heroes past… shall never be in vain… another old teacher drops dead in a pension queue somewhere in Nigeria before you get to the end of that song. To serve with heart and might… and they drop dead in Aiyetoro Gbede, Mopa, Ponyan, Isanlu, Ejiba, Odo Ere, and Egbe. One nation bound in… in… another teacher drops dead, his gratuity stolen by government officials. It is an insult to the labour of my father, Baba E wi hun hun, and all those colonial teachers that Nigeria is punishing as I speak for this anthem to be blared whenever Goodluck Jonathan steps into a room. The labour of our heroes past… does he even know the meaning of those words? Our corrupt state governors step into a room and that song is also blared. That is an insult. The labour of our heroes past… hun hun.

After October 1, 2010, the fumes of wine and the bacchanals will clear from the eyes of our oppressors in Abuja. They will prepare the presidential jets and the protocol officers and the luggage officers in readiness for the next jamboree trip abroad. My mother will dutifully prepare my father’s documents and travel to Lokoja or Abuja. Some government official in his forties or fifties, high on his daily dosage of bigmanism, will keep that seventy-two year old woman standing in the sun yet again. Her grey hair glinting and roasting in that sun, the wrinkles on her forehead, the ache in her knees as they threaten to give, and that tear drop, always a single tear drop whenever my mother is defeated in ways patented only by Nigeria to defeat a citizen, are, for me, the signposts to the next fifty years in the life of Goodluck Jonathan’s Nigeria.

Hun Hun…

Tanimomo’s Piece of Mind (TPoM): Advocacy for Nigerian English (Tiwantiwa)!

Mr. Tanimomo is a scholar resident in Germany. He guest-blogs on http://www.ahjotnaija.wordpress.com He is author of the popular bi-weekly: Tanimomo’s Piece of Mind (TPoM).

You cannot expunge your language from your culture and by extension your identity. Words possess the meaning we ascribe them and who we are helps us give meaning to words.

I bear no grudge against the English Language. However, I dislike the pretence the language assumes; for example the Queens English is never wrong. Only speakers in the post-colonial countries can be wrong! The language changes according to the culture of the Brits. Consequently, the Anglophone keeps adjusting all along like train-waggons attached to the locomotive engine. So we grapple with what they call pronunciation and grammar problems. I have however realized that pronunciation problems like languages are constructs too. A few examples will suffice.

My grandmother pronounces the number 7 as seh-bin; a pronunciation that will earn her the tag of a semi-literate. Interestingly, Germans pronounce the same number almost in the manner just that theirs begin with sie and not seh. No one dares call them semi-literates as a result of the non-alignment of their pronunciation to English pronunciation rules. They have their own rules and culture which are products of history, fantasy, culture and experiences.

Another example is the French way of pronouncing tomato. To the French, it is tomate. This pronunciation is close to the prononciation by Yoruba speakers of the English language. We call it: tomati. Some pronounce tomat depending on which part the Yoruba speaker comes from. So if the British and American speakers of the English language evolve and alter several pronunciations for their convenience, what stops the Yoruba speaker of the English language from doing same?

In trying to convince me to see reasons to speak the ‘proper’ English, a friend argued that for every invention, the manufacturer’s manual should be followed. To me, that argument is not valid on two grounds: Firstly, Inventions are made with the cultural atmosphere of its target society in mind. The car manufacturer Toyota does not send left-hand drive vehicles to the UK or South Africa. Secondly, inventions are products of inventions. My knowledge of the Sciences betrays me here but I am aware of the fact that inventions by Einstein, Editon, Newton and other scientists inspired other inventions. Here is an example: The invention of smartphones are not unconnected from the existence of electricity. The world started with Abacuss. now there are modern and faster computer products. Inventions need be altered to suit the times.

Some have also argued that it is easier to understand each other when there are universal rules of usage. I do not subscribe to this argument. If comprehensibility is the premise for this argument, then the argument may also be flawed. Homi Bhabha, Prof Soyinka, Gayatri Spivak are some of the best post-colonial users of the English language but they are not easily comprehensible to the ordinary man. In fact Spivak has been accused of using inaccessible euphemism and academic jargon to avoid comprehensibility.

Furthermore a constraint to this universal rule of language usage is the question of who cares for the minority in the vast sea of the major Englishes? I like food and it pains me that any time I have to write Fufu and Egusi (Yoruba/African food) etc, the words are signaled as incorrect. Thus, I have to italicize them.

And the simplest reason I have heard for keeping the Queens English is this: It is more intelligible than our languages. In protest, I point out severally that ‘the response you are welcome is the weirdest I have ever heard to thank you.

By the way, I have learnt not to trust a language that says a slim person is skinny. Skinny should refer to a person with (a lot of) skin: So skinny should mean fat or something close to that if the English language was so intelligible. In the same light, how can inflammable be synonymous to flammable? Does the prefix, in- not negate?

Also, we may have to interrogate why the middle of the ocean is called sea , as in high-sea. Take a look at this too: Why should the earliest part of the morning be called night as in –midnight– in an intelligible language?

Beyond this, there is a pertinent question: What happens to words in the English language that have assumed different meaning in usage in the commonwealth countries like Nigeria? Here are some examples: A word like tribe and a sentence like I am coming do not have the same meaning as they do in the English language of the UK.

In addition, concepts in our native languages are at the risk of extinction if we keep up with the Queens-English-only-mentality. This is my proposition: Words that can only be translated loosely into English such as Alakoba, Olofofo, Ekule, Eleda among others should all be incorporated into the suppositional Nigerian English.

On a final note, let me remind of my submission at the start of this piece of mind: A language is a construct; it is an invention and it is dynamic. Therefore, it can be dynamically de-constructed and re-invented. So let the discourse begin. I strongly believe, we can all find our voice and put it into even better use by the tool of the language speak.

The Biafran/Nigerian Civil War: Of Conspirations Of Choices and Of Many Truths! By Abiola Oladimeji


Mr Abiola Oladimeji is a scholar resident in Germany

There are two theories, which are best referred to as The Two Igbo Theories, namely (1) The Theory of Igbo Superiority and (2) The Theory of Conspiracy against the Igbo Ethnic Group. I will consider both theories as Nigerian and Non-Igbo. Put differently, I will attempt a consideration as an outsider. It is important to state right from the onset that I am of Yoruba ethnic group, but I am not necessarily a die-hard Awoist. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was not perfect. I would not expect him to be because he is human. If Chief Obafemi Awolowo or anyone at all committed a wrong in my opinion, I will point it out. Culture, tribe or religion is a matter I am careful not to allow influence too greatly my judgement. I will respond to issues some raised in their analysis of Nigerian political history from the 1950’s till the end of the Nigerian Civil War. I also intend to remind that politicians can manipulate the feelings of the masses, in which only the politicians profit at the end of the day.

Nigerian politics of the 1950’s and 60’s was largely dictated and dominated by tribalism. The three major ethnic groups played a major role. Larry Diamond captures this very well in his book Class, Ethnicity and Democracy in Nigeria. Some accused only Chief Obafemi Awolowo of playing tribal politics. Such people surely have their plans to single him out. They argue that he formed Egbe Omo Oduduwa in 1945 and the Action Group was formed out of that organisation. To them, he was a tribalist because of this. They know or pretend to overlook the fact that the Igbo State Union was founded in 1934. In 1948, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe became the president of Igbo State Union. Thus, ethnic sentiments had entered the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC), the party Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe took over as leader in 1946. If Chief Obafemi Awolowo formed Action Group in 1951, how then was he to blame for starting tribal politics in Nigeria? I leave that answer to objective minds.

When Okpara (Nigerian of Igbo Ethnicity) and Sardauna (Nigerian of Hausa Ethnicity) most probably conspired to jail Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Yoruba people, who formed the largest of Chief Awolowo’s supporters, did not rampage that certain tribes hate their leader or tribe. It is also worthy to point out that Okpara had threatened to secede in 1964 after the Federal Census and Federal Election, which did not favour the Igbo in his opinion ( I would point out that this opinion is strictly that of Okpara because he acted majorly in his own interest. He only abused the name of the people with his claim to speak on behalf of the Igbo people).

Another fact in this phase of our history is this: The rivalry for Federal power between the three major ethnic groups ( Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo) had been reduced to a battle between Northern and Igbo leaders. Again not necessarily the people, the politicians were the actors. Chief Awolowo was in jail. The man subsequently imposed on the West (majorly lived in by the Yoruba) was unpopular. He was at best a puppet of the Northern establishment. This rivalry between Northern and Eastern region influenced the perception of the January 15th 1966 Coup. The coup-plotters were idealists who intended to execute a revolution. Unfortunately, the revolution failed: They could not implement their reforms and the victims of that coup were mainly Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba. I do not believe it was an Igbo Coup. I will quickly point out though that it was difficult to prove it was not. The man who took charge of government was Major-General Agunyi Ironsi. Worthy of mention is the fact that the Army General was of Igbo Ethnicity. To make matters worse, Nigerians of Igbo Ethnicity in the North celebrated the death of Northern leaders on the streets of Northern Nigeria! I will not justify the massacre of the Igbo people in the North after Northern officers staged a counter coup against the Igbo officers, but it cannot be left unsaid that those events are undoubtedly interconnected.

At this point, it was obvious the Federal government was sectional, namely pro-North. Igbo-residents in the North were not safe anymore in that part of the country. Caution and reasonability demanded that they fled the West too, though nobody attacked them in the West. The most important question at this point is two-pronged: (1) Sovereignty or (2) Security for Igbo people? Upon secession, the emergent Biafra Republic would claim the oil reserve of Nigeria in the Delta (not Igboland). The question which was less considered in the calculation is this: Could the young and inexperienced Biafran Army defeat also young but a well-trained and better equipped Nigerian Army without too much unwarranted civilian casualty? The young Major-General Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Eastern military Governor, and his war hawks were hell bent and capitalised on the sentiments of the larger Igbo people, who at that point in time were clearly traumatised. It is reasonable that many Igbo wanted to fight. They had been treated badly in the North. But could sentiment and sheer will to fight win a battle? A Yoruba adage says: You do not challenge killers of your father if you do not possess superior weapons. Unfortunately, young Major-General Odumegwu Ojukwu and his advisers risked a war.

The Federal government was not justified. General Gowon had agreed to a confederacy arrangement in the Aburi-Accord in Ghana, only to renege on arrival in Nigeria. There was speculation Chief Awolowo influenced General Gowon to renege. This speculation remain at large what it is: A mere speculation and another wind-chasing conspiration.

It is also worthy to raise the point that Chief Awolowo went to Enugu to plead with Major-General Odumegwu Ojukwu not to secede. In the middle of the night Major General Ojukwu sought Chief Awolowo to tell him that the decision has been made and there was no going back. Chief Awolowo requested Major-General Ojukwu to inform him 2 weeks earlier before the announcement of secession. This episode is narrated in the memoir of Wole Soyinka: You Must Set Forth at Dawn.

The question whether Chief Awolowo would risk the lives of the Yoruba people like Major-General Ojukwu was bent on doing hanged in the air still. The encounter in Enugu is cited only to compare it with some assertions that Chief Awolowo promised the young Major-General Ojukwu, thus indirectly the Igbo people, to secede once the Igbo did. Thus, the Igbo see Chief Awolowo as traitor. It must neither be forgotten too quickly to sentiment nor be given up to ask: Did Major-General Ojukwu inform Chief Awolowo 2 weeks prior to secession? Some even went as far to claim that the decision to secede was unanimous. Even if it was, was there any political reason or legal justification beyond “the morality of gentlemanhood” that would prevent a second thought?

Ralph Uwechue, the Ambassador of Biafra to France until the end of 1968, states clearly in his book Reflections on the Nigerian Civil War that there was a schism in Biafra: There were those who wanted secession by all means and those who placed the security of Igbo as the paramount. The latter group tried to persuade the leader of the Igbo against secession. Two days after the Biafran General and leader of the Igbo, Chief Ojukwu fled, when Biafra had been conquered, Philip Effiong said he had always counselled Chief Ojukwu negotiation for the security of Igbo was the best for the Biafran course.

Ralph Uwechue left his job as Ambassador of the Republic of Biafra, because he discovered that secession was Chief Ojukwu’s singular plan. Security was less important. He preferred to show the world Biafran children who starved than end the war! Security could be achieved through secession or negotiation, but the option of secession in this context is suicide in itself. The young Republic Biafra was not prepared to fight Nigeria in a real War. Argument to the contrary is a waste of time and sheer self-deceit.

In my opinion, it would be best to reflect on why the wrong decisions and choices were made which led to the failure of the Biafran project rather than propound a baseless theory in the name of creating scapegoats upon whose head the failure of the Biafran project is to be laid.

I am not Chief Awolowo. He knew best why he joined the Nigerian Government of General Yakubu Gowon. His decision to join the Nigerian Government did/does not make him the problem of Igbo, if Chief Ojukwu had planned and though well before secession like he claimed, then these words of his would have come true: No power in black Africa would be able to touch Igbo once they secede.

I have said earlier, Chief Awolowo was human, therefore fallible. One must not fail notwithstanding to recognize his brilliance. In fact, it is even this humanity which speaks strongly for the recognition of his brilliance. Thus, it can be said in praise that Chief Awolowo’s brilliance won that war to a large extent for the Federal side. If that explains the hatred, it is understandable. It must be made clear that Chief Awolowo did not risk a war for personal gains; he did not capitalise on the state of a traumatised people and brutalised nationhood. A study of the personality of Chief Ojukwu would help to understand the decision-making mechanisms and machinations which eventually culminated into his choice for war.

Some also raised some wishful accusations against Chief Awolowo, but the man answered those questions. Here is a link to the interview in Abeokuta, where he addressed the issues of starvation, the 20 pound policy and other baseless accusations against his person http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/newsflash/exclusive-chief-obafemi-awolowo-on-biafra-in-his-own-words.html

I am always shocked each time I listened to claims like this:

(1) Igbo are the best in everything

(2) Other Nigerians hate Igbo because they always achieve better than other tribes.

In the 1950’s, one Dr. Sylvester Anieke, an Igbo, who trained in Canada as a medical doctor, claimed he got a PhD in Medicine. He got a job at the University of Ibadan. Rumour had it way and he was forced to resign. Years after, this same Sylvester Anieke was forced on the University of Ibadan as Chairman of the Governing Council. This misconduct is well documented in Wole Soyinka’s memoir: Ibadan, the Penkelemesi years. This saga, among others, throws doubts into claims of Igbo supremacy theory at all cost.

It is not much of a surprise anymore after having read the article of Dr. Johannes Harnischfeger, a German who lived in Igboland. He describes the discourse in Igboland about the theory of Igbo supremacy and the purported conspiracy theory against them. He pointed out the Igbo-belief in a Jewish root and historical connectivity to Jewishness. They are the purported Jews through the theory of the lost tribes of Israel. They believe they are God’s own people. Others around them are thus pagan and inferior. The cited article is a must-read to better understand this jingoist argument. Here is the link:http://www.afrikanistik-online.de/archiv/2011/3042

Scholars have claimed that Yoruba people are also part of the lost tribe of Israel, but nobody is interested in this myth in Yorubaland, here is another article by emeritus Professor Dierk Lange in an attempt to connect the Yoruba people with Israelhttp://dierklange.com/pdf/LOST_TRIBES_OF_ISRAEL.pdf

The Igbo people have the right to believe whatever they want, but the perception about themselves will definitely shape how they see others. An objective reflection would help a lot.

Thinking that the way you cook your own food in your own culture or tribe is the best and others are inferior is the height of jingoism. It is very dangerous. Here is a worthy reminder: Should they be led to war again, only the masses would fight and suffer the most like it happened in the defunct Republic of Biafra: Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu had enough to eat. One would even think he would commit suicide when Biafra lost the war. He did not. He simply fled.

Children, who did not tell Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu to fight, suffered and were wasted! This need not repeat itself. I want to state clearly here that not all Igbo people believe in the aforementioned conspiracy theories, but the more left unchecked, the likelier the possibility of an ever-increasing followership and believers. Unfortunately, winning followership and faithfuls at any cost- therein lies the ultimate goal of conspiration theorists and peddlers of such irresponsible mercantile.

Notice: The opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of http://www.ahjotnaija.wordpress.com

Civility is demanded when commenting. Comments will be forwarded to Mr. Abiola Oladimeji for response if neccesary.

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