A reintroduction to history | LIVE TODAY



Following on from our previous outing two weeks ago, the task I have taken upon myself is a reintroduction to history. Understood as the theory or practice of revising one’s attitude to a previously accepted situation or view, what I have begun to cite is better than historical revisionism, without the pejorative characterization.

And it verges on the need to review ancestral wisdom on Nigeria’s pre- and post-colonial histriography when it comes to the means of incorporating the Yoruba into the Nigerian state in particular, and other broader sub-national groups in general. It is a task dictated by the cyclical socio-political trauma Nigeria has routinely inflicted on Nigerians since the 1914 merger. When we have an erroneous understanding of where we came from and are unsure of where we are, then we have fallen into the logic of the “garbage in, garbage out” cliché. So it’s time to go back to the drawing board and see what we may have missed in constantly questioning our past and present for remedial action. For the Yoruba, the favorite juncture of historical retrospect is the tragic socio-political implosion of the 19th century and the theme of self-betrayal to the “Fulani” enemies.

The tendency has been to overstate the definition of the encounter as that of a Yoruba penchant for treachery without an all-wise, all-conquering adversary. From this perspective, the arch-scoundrel was the Yoruba supreme commander, in whose DNA the gene of treachery was uniquely seeded. Afonja was a villain all right, but only as the most prominent of many rebellious warlords who had little awareness or conception of the Yoruba national unity that we now embrace and take for granted. First of all, it is true that Yorubaland was the Oyo Empire in a big way, but both geopolitical identities were not identical. I’m not happy to say that, but Peter Ekeh was essentially right in saying that “about 1820 an Ekiti man would have been amazed at being referred to as ‘Yoruba man,’ which he, when so was knowledgeable than would have understood a man from Oyo. In any case, an Ekiti probably needed an interpreter to communicate effectively with a Yoruba man in 1820.

The historical archetype of the Afonja corporate identity is limited to the Oyo empire. He was notoriously guilty of violating the Empire’s political order and stability, but little is said about the fact that his role as agent provocateur was essentially provoked by another rogue political sovereign, Alaafin Aole Arogangan, who ruled most of his Crown Prince spent his career proving that he was an absolute outsider to his fate as Alaafin. He died as he lived – the embodiment of a plague for the welfare and integrity of his people. He, from the shame of the Aole curse. Outwitted by an equally villainous Field Marshal in a ruse to get rid of the latter, he began to curse the entire Yoruba heritage.

If I am thwarted and defeated in my evil ways, then let the whole community be damned and burn to hell, he reasoned. “My curse be upon you for your unfaithfulness and disobedience, so let your children disobey you. If you send her on an errand, never let her come back to bring you news. To all the points where I have shot my arrows you will be carried as slaves. My curse will carry you to the sea and beyond the sea, slaves will rule over you and their master will become slaves.” What a tragic coincidence these two represented in the history of the Oyo Empire.

In choosing military and political allies, the Empire’s rebellious warlords were politically blind mercenaries, more amoral than immoral. Afonja did not seek the support of the Fulani cleric Alimi to help him fight the Alaafin. He had prevailed against the latter before meeting and wooing his nemesis. What has historically been interpreted as treason was an unintended consequence of a self-destructive violation of the political order. Apparently he did not foresee the short-term consequences of his actions, let alone the long-term consequences that would result. Given the nature of the military alliances formed by Yoruba warlords in the 19th century, they did not categorically view the Fulani as a corporate enemy – with the ulterior motive being to undermine the whole of Yoruba society and incorporate it into the Sokoto Caliphate. For example, in their liberation struggles against Ibadan imperialism, the Ekiti Parapo Confederation often saw the Ilorin/Fulani army as allies, not enemies.

As the Eastern Yoruba districts of Ekiti, Ijesha and Ondo were not close citizens of the Oyo Empire, they were insensitive and impervious to the Fulani conquest and destruction of the Oyo-Ile and the assimilation of Ilorin into the Sokoto Caliphate. Clear examples of Yoruba ambivalence toward the Fulani were routinely displayed in what remains of the Oyo Empire. This ambivalent consciousness was facilitated by the brotherhood of the Islamic religion as embodied in the theocratic order of the Sokoto Caliphate. Although the Oyo Empire had been sensitized to Islam long before the encounter with the Fulani (by evangelists from Mali), with the latter’s incursion into Yoruba territory it was intensified and fostered a sense of religious communion among adherents of Yoruba Islam and the Sokoto Caliphate.

Against the backdrop of this ambiguous historical relationship, it took the crisis between Obafemi Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola to serve as the deux ex machina for defining the contemporary Yoruba/Fulani relationship. I would argue that the enduring tendency of Southern intellectuals thereafter to idealize the caliphate as particularly adept at Nigerian power politics stems from a mental fixation on the leadership example of Shehu Usman Dan Fodio. By the end of the pre-colonial phase of the Sokoto Caliphate and Ahmadu Bello leadership era, I would rate the Fulani oligarchy as a worthy opponent. But not further so far. In fact, if we take Mohammadu Buhari’s presidency as representative, it’s safe to assume that Dan Fodio would be rolling in his grave. What is discernible since 1966 is a progressive decline in the quality (or lack thereof) of Fulani-pierced Northern machinations in the Realpolitik arena. Northern hegemony per se is not Nigeria’s problem, the problem is the twin threats of self-destructive mismanagement of hegemony – the nadir of what we are currently grappling with in the Buhari model of leadership. If hegemony has existed, it has been through the omission and omission of three factors.

The first is the self-inflicted injuries and mistakes of their fellow competitors for power. Second is the impediment to modernization that had prevented its competitors from winning all the scorched-earth tendencies of the oligarchy with which they struggle. This is a virtue that has turned into a vice in the Nigerian context. The virtue of open rebellion against modernization that has become a vice was Hakeem Baba Hamed’s recent thesis that the North can live with “its” poverty but not with the accountability of modern civilization. Third is the underground permanent guardianship of the British and perhaps the devil’s luck. Rather than taking the initiative, they have mostly responded to developments and challenges initiated by others.

The slide (howsoever conceived) into the balance of terror, military, hooliganism and politics that then became a decades-long political norm was initiated by a band of ubiquitous Igbo military officer corps who made a spectacular hash of it. And the northern gang responded with raw and unhindered bloody counter-terrorism. Confused by the bloody mess they were making, they were set on dissolving Nigeria before the guardian angel (namely the British) would step in to guide them through the jungle of civil war.

For a supposedly adept power politician, the clique’s election of the otherwise posh but timid bungler Shehu Shagari as president was a howl. At the other end was Obafemi Awolowo, who ran in the 1979 presidential election to lose her. No better alibi for failure could be better sourced than the presidential card composite of Awolowo (of the Southwest) and Phillip Umeadi of the Southeast. After the military-backed fall of the Second Republic, doubling down to the Fulani specification Mohammadu Buhari proved to be another foolish choice. Fallen into the arrogance of ignorance, he held office for a full twenty months. And then there was Ibrahim Babangida, who conspicuously botched a move that would have rebounded to his fame and that of the oligarchy he faced. In lieu of glory, he doomed Nigeria to the rule of unpretentious rogue coupist Sani Abacha and the ruinous 1993-1998 annulment crisis. Given his recurring and menacing presence in organized political violence in Nigeria, it can be assumed that he, too, is committed to the oligarchy. The question then becomes, how does an agent testify to Abacha’s description of sophisticated political survival instincts of this dominant political pressure? How does producing outsiders and dysfunctional leaders amount to a unique skill in power-political statecraft?

Most revealing is the Buhari revelation. Here was a gifted opportunity in a million to permanently seal the myth of Fulani political talent. This was a well known Fulani earthman that Nigeria was not only willing to tolerate but celebrated so much. Had he only maintained the low standard of leadership he experienced in 2015, Nigeria would have found a way to describe it as a situation where a Messiah is frustrated and overwhelmed by the existing and prevailing Nigerian context of evil. But because God was not finished with Nigeria, He undressed and revealed Buhari and what he represents in all his nakedness. What did the great Usman Dan Fodio say? “A kingdom can endure unbelief, but not injustice.” Before becoming president, Buhari was once asked what his most basic requirements would be if he were isolated from society. His reply was typically misleading and hypocritical “clean water and the holy Koran”. According to Barack Obama, power (I think) doesn’t change you, it reveals who you are. To be continued, somehow.


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