Their excellencies’ tent
The return of the six Epe school boys was a significant victory in the fight against organised crime in Nigeria, especially in Lagos. There is no doubt that the kidnapping industry is a well-organised empire where the heartless and the wicked dominate. They are the ones who could get the arms, the safe houses and the secret bank accounts where the money is salted away. They must have learnt one or two things from those brilliant government thieves who stored the loot in the soak away pits or the latrine. The Epe boys of Model College, Igbonla, Epe, are home to the loving embrace of their parents and loved ones. That crime has been solved, but many of the criminal gangs are still abroad.
Kidnapping is a national and international crime. That was why it commanded the attention of the six governors of the old Western Region who met Monday, July 24 in Abeokuta, capital of Ogun State. The six were men of high caliber. They are politicians and they know that kidnapping may also be politics by other means. It was good that both the governors of Ondo and Lagos cooperated fully to get the children freed. They now need to free their people from fear.
Abeokuta, the city where the governors held their summit, is one of the modern cities of Yoruba land. It was founded by the Egba people in the 1830s in their attempt to free themselves from rampaging enemy forces. The Egbas, under the leadership of Sodeke, the statesman and Lisabi, the soldier, built Abeokuta into a stronghold that was able to withstand hostilities from different quarters especially from Dahomey Kingdom and Gezo, its great warrior-king. One of Gezo’s regiments was made up of purely female soldiers. It was considered by Egba soldiers a thing of great dishonour to be killed or captured by the ferocious female soldiers, the amazons.
The founding of Abeokuta was one of the aftermaths of what the late Professor Jacob Ade-Ajayi called the Revolutionary Years. The Yoruba Civil Wars of the 19th Century led to the destruction of many states and cities including Oyo, the capital of Oyo Empire, Owu, Igbon, Iresa, Ikoyi and Ijaiye. Many of the refuges found new homes especially in Abeokuta, Ibadan, Ogbomoso, Ile-Ife, Osogbo and Shagamu. After almost 100 years of wars and bloodshed that fed only the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, the leaders finally agreed to a truce in 1893 brokered by the British imperialists who had earlier seized Lagos in 1861.
Today, Yorubaland is facing a different kind of war, more intractable and not amenable to the blunderbuss and the muskets that were used in Igbajo battlefield during the Ekitiparapo War (or Kiriji War). We are now in a more complicated world than we experienced when Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his successors presided over the fortunes of the old West. When Awolowo formed the Action Group, AG, the motto of the party was “Freedom for all and life more abundant.” The AG tried to live up to that motto by instituting social programmes, including free education, whose impacts are still with us today. When the AG reincarnated in 1979, again under Chief Awolowo, it declared its four cardinal programmes: free education, free health service, integrated rural development and full employment.
If you know the programmes of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its archrival, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), then you are better than me. I don’t know their programmes. What I know is that those who succeeded Awolowo as the ruler of the old West, worked very hard to keep the legacy of excellence and of free education. Chief Ladoke Akintola, who succeeded Awolowo as Premier in 1960 did not tamper with free education and free health service. He also went ahead to establish the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), as his predecessor had announced. I can just imagine if the scenario is today!
There was an interregnum by Dr. Koyejo Majekodunmi before Akintola regime was terminated with the coup of January 15, 1966 which brought in Lt. Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi. None of the military rulers who succeeded Fajuyi; Adeyinka Adebayo, Oluwole Rotimi, Akintunde Aduwo and David Medaiyese Jemibewon, tampered with the free education and free health service of the old West they inherited. In 1968, during the Civil War, when then Colonel Adebayo, the governor, tried to increase taxation to fund the social services, it led to the Agbekoya (Farmers reject suffering) uprising led by a farmer, Tafa Adeoye of Akanran village, near Ibadan.
All the governors who met in Abeokuta were benefactors of those social programmes. Like most of us, none of them is sure of the quality of those programmes anymore. I doubt if any of them would allow his ward to attend any of the public schools under their care. Today, if His Excellency has a sore thump, he is most likely to quickly scammer into that place whose address I cannot remember now. These are the inheritors of Obafemi Awolowo, Baba ‘Layinka, the great man who proved to us that it was possible to have a good government.
We are looking forward to more meetings by Their Excellencies. They should remember that only one man was doing the job now being done by the six of them. We expect them to handle it with devotion and competence for they are educated men who have met records of excellence on the ground. When Awolowo took the job, there were no guiding maps and no reassuring precedence.
When Lisabi and Sodeke led their band to Abeokuta, their duty was to create a new city, a new state and a new world. The governors’ assignments are not less arduous, though they are not asked to build a new city or build a new state, but they have to follow the straight and narrow path delineated by their predecessors. They are to make life more abundant.
In 1966 when Indira Gandhi was campaigning for the office of Prime-Minister of India for the first time, she delivered a simply message: “My name is Indira Gandhi, daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru. Vote for me, and I will build you houses.” India had gained independence from Great Britain in 1947 after a protracted struggle led by the great Mahatma Gandhi. Nehru, Gandhi principal apostle, became the first prime-minister of India. By the time his daughter was campaigning, India, an ancient country mired in poverty and illiteracy, had millions of people living and breeding on the street. Housing was a major concern especially in the big cities.
Like Indira Gandhi did, we also need simply messages from our leaders. What are they going to do about the unemployment pandemic? What of housing and education? What are their plans to produce food, improve electricity and take the initiatives in the building of new rail lines to link the Yoruba states with Lagos? At least from their resolutions, they have taken the first tentative step to ensure regional integration that may ultimately restore regional government.
When others are moving forward and you are standing still, it means you are actually going backward. Lagos had its first street light in 1898. Ibadan had the first television station in Black Africa in 1959. Western Region use to produce the best cocoa in the world in the 1960s and 1970s. By 1967, the West had a higher standard of living than Spain. In 1970, the University Teaching Hospital, UCH, Ibadan, was rated the 9th best hospital in the Commonwealth. Today, where are we?
Nigeria is changing but not necessarily for the better. Twenty-five years ago, who could have predicted that kidnapping would become a profession in Nigeria. Not knowing where you are may not be a matter of visual deficiency; it may mean seeing the right things but be unable or unwilling to interpret the image. It may also mean a lack of perspective. Sherlock Holmes, the great British detective, once went on an expedition with his friend, Dr Watson. They decided to camp for the night and go to sleep. In the middle of the night, Holmes woke up and nudged his friend, Dr Watson, awake.
“Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see,” Holmes asked his friend.
Watson replied: “I see millions of stars.”
“What does that tell you?” asked Holmes.
Watson, after a little pause, replied: “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.”
After his speech, he turned to his friend. “What does it tell you, Holmes?”Holmes was silent for a minute, then spoke: “Watson, you idiot! Someone has stolen our tent!”