…the culture of ‘kabiyesi’ is the purveyor of sycophancy and bootlicking that has become the norm in our public and private corporate relationships. Everyone is merely un-daring to speak the truth to the powers that be. It is a phenomenon that is replicated in all spheres of society.


The word ‘kabiyesi’ or its expanded form, ‘kabi o kosi’, is a Yoruba expression that loosely means, Who dares question you? However, in its brutal form and essence, it connotes unbridled totalitarianism and naked oppression. It is used to adulate kings who were considered second to none and only lower than the creator. Over the generations, the concept of totalitarianism seems to have infected virtually everyone in a position of authority.

While the word itself might have originated among the Yoruba people of Nigeria, Benin Republic, Togo, and an almost insignificant number found in Ghana, its application and relevance have become pervasive across Africa.

From domestic ‘kingdoms’ to public and private offices, the term is generously applied. The basic tenet of the ‘kabiyesi’ ideology pertains to a culture that forbids the asking of questions – any question at all – from ‘constituted authorities.’ Doing this is regarded as insubordination, and hence clearly unacceptable. A boss in an office considers it an affront for anyone to ask him or her to explain the rationale behind the many policies forced down the throats of subordinates. Little wonder, the other day, Governor Ajimobi of Oyo State had to remind students who had ‘bombarded’ him with questions and exhibited ‘unruly behavior,’ who the ‘constituted authority’ was. It is a culture perpetrating of silence in the face of tyranny and subhuman treatment. ‘Do not dare’ is its profound ethical code. If you must dare, then be ready to face the consequences. I recall my days as a young accountant, when our then chief accountant would always tell us to wait for our time before being in the decision-making position. One day, many of us summoned courage and asked him whether it would be possible for all of us to ever become the chief accountant eventually. He did not like our effrontery at ‘challenging’ his authority. That we paid dearly for. The only exception being those who quickly ‘restituted’ by paying nocturnal visits to his home and sought appeasement with gifts for ‘madam and the children’. The rest of us paid dearly for our intransigence.

Now, anywhere one turns to, we see people ensuring that no ‘mortal’ encroaches on the power ‘conferred’ on them. No space is spared this oppressive tendency in our body polity. It is ridiculously carried even to boarding houses, where seniors seize the provisions of juniors without batting the eyelid.

To progress as a society and contribute to humanity, we must not only discard this oppressive concept, we must equally count our losses and determine never to pass through this route anymore.


How do people progress when they cannot even seek clarification on the instructions given to them?

Even a query that is designed to seek clarification about an ‘unusual’ occurrence or behaviour by a subordinate, has been turned into a weapon of intimidation and oppression in the hands of the “kabiyesis” in the workplace. People are laid off on the basis of the number of queries they have received within a determined period. No consideration is ever given to the proprieties of the answers to those queries. I wrote petitions in the past (not necessarily because I am from Ekiti), but in response to some obnoxious queries pushed down my throat. I vividly remember an instance where, after a fact-based petition, my query and answer were not only withdrawn, a peace accord was quickly negotiated with me. The icing on the cake was the ‘bashing’ of an envious colleague who instigated the query in the first place.

Needless to emphasise that the culture of ‘kabiyesi’ is the purveyor of sycophancy and bootlicking that has become the norm in our public and private corporate relationships. Everyone is merely un-daring to speak the truth to the powers that be. It is a phenomenon that is replicated in all spheres of society. The public sector, private sector, religious organisations, even community associations, are all invested with the dangerous ‘virus’ of ‘kabiyesism.’

To progress as a society and contribute to humanity, we must not only discard this oppressive concept, we must equally count our losses and determine never to pass through this route anymore.

Again, I am #JustThinkingAloud.

Oluwadele L. Bolutife, a chartered accountant and a public policy and administration scholar, writes from Canada.