By Bolanle Bolawole
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Our people have a saying: If you are sent an errand like a slave, deliver it as a free-born. In other words, apply wisdom when running delicate errands. And remember the son or daughter of whom you are – except you lack a worthy pedigree! The Yoruba understand that messengers do find themselves in the dilemma of getting sandwiched between the rock and the hard place. “Yoruba bo, nwon ni” a messenger should fear the one who sent him on an errand and not the person at the receiving end. Don’t shy away from your duty but critically consider the situation before acting. No two circumstances are exactly the same. Consider, for instance, the story of “the captain and his fifty” in 2 Kings 1: 1 – 12. While the first two captains and their fifty soldiers (or policemen) perished for lack of tact; the third captain saved his own life and those of his fifty men by applying wisdom. He delivered the king’s message quite alright but also escaped the wrath of Prophet Elijah.
Men under authority, like the Centurion in Matthew 8: 5 – 13; Luke 7: 1 – 10, in the exercise of the onerous responsibilities of their office often find themselves caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. That must have been the situation the police officer, widely adjudged to have acted rudely to the Lagos State Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, found himself in last week. Again, the Yoruba have a proverb: “Oba ran ni n’ise; ise Oba di jije, sugbon odo Oba kun” The king sends his messenger on an errand that must be quickly delivered; unfortunately, Oba river (that transverses the road) overflows its banks and cannot be negotiated. Such a catch-22 situation! The police officer in question made his choice: he delivered the slave’s errand he was sent like a proper slave. He took the side of his Abuja masters – where his bread, presumably, is buttered. For his “performance”, he could get some dough, a slap on the back and promotion may smile on him pretty soon – as it reportedly happened to the butchers of #ENDSARS youths at the Lekki toll gate in 2020! But since the officer is said to be Yoruba, he could have acted differently had he considered the totality of his people’s wise sayings quoted above. Many present-day Yoruba youths, even adults, are no longer conversant with their roots – its traditions, culture, proverbs, nuances and, above all, its Omoluabi ethos. A Yoruba Omoluabi does not identify his father’s house with his left finger. The Yoruba have a name for any such errant child.
In line with another Yoruba proverb; you need not belabour yourself searching for the insects (kokoro) devouring the vegetables as they lurk right within the stems of the vegetables. The Yoruba have always been the enemies of one another: The enemy within (ota ile) that opens the door for the enemy without (ota ode); and the death within (iku ile) that allows the death from outside (iku ode) to strike. The crisis that unhinged Obafemi Awolowo and his Action Group party in the then Western Region was engineered by Awo’s very close acolytes (SL Akintola, Remi Fani-Kayode, et al). It was a Yoruba judge (George Sodeinde Sowemimo) that sent Awo to prison. The military Head of State (Olusegun Obasanjo) who said the best candidate might not win the 1979 presidential election is, well, presumptive Yoruba. The same man it was who went to South Africa to declare that MKO Abiola, winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election judged the freest and fairest in the history of the country, was not the Messiah the country needed. MKO, when he started his Concord group of newspapers in 1980, reportedly gave it just one charge: Stand between Awo and his presidential ambition! The Mr. Twelve Two-Thirds (Richard Osuolale Abimbola Akinjide) who provided the legal jargons that justified Shehu Shagari’s 1979 election victory was Yoruba; the Chief Justice of the Federation who presided over Awo’s petition at the apex court (Atanda Fatai Williams) was Yoruba and the man who hilariously handed power over to Shagari is Yoruba. Two prominent Yoruba sons (Justice Akinola Aguda and Dr. Tai Solarin) played prominent roles in the movement of the Federal capital from Lagos to Abuja. We have only Aguda House, which houses the vice-president, to show for it! The promise that Lagos would be given a “special status” remains a pipe-dream! Yet, a presumptive Yoruba man was president for eight years and another Yoruba man has been National Leader of the ruling party since 2015; none of them deemed it fit to help Lagos redeem that pledge. The man who, as president, could have helped Lagos but chose, instead, to make more troubles for it, in the manner of pervert Rehoboam, biblical King Solomon’s son ((2 Chronicles 10: 1 – 11), is Yoruba. Yoruba land, and history, is dense with the selfishness of one Yoruba person against another; and of the wickedness of Yoruba leaders against the entire Yoruba race itself.
Some say Alafin Aole’s curse still ravages the Yoruba in the same way biblical Noah’s curse placed on Ham and Canaan purportedly ravages the Black man (Genesis 9: 20 – 27). In totality, however, our bane, as Nigeria under Buhari has graphically shown for all to see; is leadership failure. Africa and the Black race boast an illustrious history. Mark my word, whenever Africans overcome their plague of bad leadership, they will catch up, even overtake, the rest of the world. It sounds improbable – but it will happen – if the Lord tarries! And may He tarry because the Black man must not end up in its present despicable state! The mineral resources are there in abundance; human resources, too. Africans are no pushover in every discipline and in all areas of human endeavours. The short span of time that it took the Asian Tigers, even China, Singapore and the others to shrug off poverty and underdevelopment is evidence that it will not take eternity for the Black man to accomplish the catching-up. Fortunately, the formula for development is not that much of a closely-guarded secret as Coca-Cola’s! One reason why many Nigerian are beginning to support calls for their country’s break-up is that, going by the experience of countries like Malaysia, Singapore, India, Pakistan, to mention but a few, a break-up may be the wake-up call and catalyst needed by the various components making up the country to kick-start their respective development. Small but prosperous countries living in peace with their neighbours are to the preferred to a big-for-nothing, disease and squalor-ravaged, backward-ever, forward-never, clay-footed giant like Nigeria. But I digress!
Some have wondered why Sanwo-Olu, “a whole governor”, stooped so low as to stand before a “lowly police officer” and begin to receive “lectures” on what is, and what is not! Sanwo-Olu appeared eager to get the Magodo imbroglio quickly resolved and he showed leadership by leaving his comfort zone to get on-the-spot assessment rather than sit back in his office and be fed with all manner of jaundiced reports. His on-the-spot assessment was also expected to buoy confidence in the conflict resolution efforts and reassure everyone concerned that the matter was receiving attention at the highest level of the Lagos State Government. From my own privileged walk in the corridors of power, I know much public good is served when a governor goes on the streets regularly, like Ayo Fayose did when he was governor of Ekiti state. But there are those who argued that Sanwo-Olu could have sent his ADC, CSO, SSA (Security) the Lagos CP, etc. All said, the bottom line is that the police officer in charge of the “occupation forces” that invaded Magodo on whomsoever’s orders missed a golden opportunity to etch his name in gold. He has now, unfortunately, written it in the book of infamy. Were he to demonstrate the proper Yoruba ethos of an Omoluabi, he would have excused the governor and whispered whatever he had to say into his ears. I am certain that were that officer Hausa or Fulani dealing with a Hausa or Fulani governor in a Northern setting, he would have shown more decency, decorum, civility and respect for “constituted authority” (apologies to the late Oyo State Gov. Isiaka Ajimobi!).
Should Sanwo-Olu also not have known better than to ask an “ordinary” CSP to call the IGP or AGF on phone? Yes and no! In a normal setting, no one expects due process and the line of communication to gift a CSP the powers to reach directly to the IGP or AGF – but these are no normal times in Nigeria as we have seen again and again. Discipline, due process, professionalism, decency, decorum, accountability, openness and transparency have all been thrown to the dogs. Beyond whether or not a sitting governor was ridiculed and our collective sense of decency assaulted, what played out at Magodo was a disgrace to our democracy. The explanation offered by the AGF only added insult to injury. Since when did this government become enamoured of the rule of law and the sanctity of court judgments? How many court judgments did they spurn concerning the ex-NSA, Dasuki Sambo? Have they obeyed the court orders regarding the Shiite leader, Ibraheem Zakzaky and have they paid the damages awarded Sunday Igboho for the brazen and illegal invasion and destruction of his residence and property, killing and maiming innocent citizens in the process?
The sternly-worded statement by the South-west governors on Magodo is ok but not enough. The Magodo incident bears clear testimony that we still run a unitary system inherited from the military. Little wonder the military were responsible for the Magodo mess, but since 1999, four successive civilian administrations in the state, including Sanwo-Olu’s, should have straightened out things and died the matter. From reports, Lagos State government officials were tardy, greedy, corrupt, irresponsible – even complicit – in the way they handled the matter over many decades; they slept over their right and deliberately or inadvertently gifted the so-called “Omo Oniles”, whose claim to Magodo is described by some as preposterous, if not dubious, the upper hand. But now that the chickens have come home to roost for LASG, no one in his right senses will say the so-called Magodo land owners did not explore the whole gamut of the law. And there could be other Magodos loading in other parts of the state! Oh, how I loathe the shenanigans of “omo oniles” not only in Lagos or Ife (Obafemi Awolowo University land-grabbers, for instance) but everywhere they rear their ugly head!
While the public anger directed at the police officer talking back disrespectfully at Sanwo-Olu is justified, we must understand that this problem is systemic. The officer in question was just a man under authority, acting on the ubiquitous “order from above”. Between Sanwo-Olu and the officer’s “Oga at the top”, it is obvious who he would obey. The Magodo incident also clearly shows that our police force is far from being professional. Sadly, rather than professionalize it, our leaders exploit it, only to turn around to vilify it once they are out of power and are at the receiving end of the same outfit’s well-known shenanigans. To arrest this kind of embarrassment, we must restructure the country. State governors, legislators and others hitherto opposed to restructuring should begin to give the idea a second thought. A restructured Nigeria will dismantle the present system where State governors are the chief security officers of their states only in words and not indeed. In the specific case of Sanwo-Olu, the Magodo incident is an eye-opener that should help redefine his stance on the imperatives of the Southwest regional security outfit codenamed Amotekun.
(Published in the “On the Lord’s Day” column in the Sunday Tribune newspaper of Sunday, January 9, 2022).
*Former editor & chairman of the editorial board of The PUNCH newspapers, BOLAWOLE is a columnist with the Sunday Tribune (ON THE LORD’S DAY column) and the New Telegraph newspapers (TREASURES column every Wednesday). He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.