Aṣeni Within: The Lesson of Yoruba Tragedy, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
Why are we no longer a strategic people? We are long on bluff, showboating and short on planning, organisation and execution. The enemy within does not describe what some of us feel or think of those who should lead us and beat the path to a great future for us and our children. The adjective for what we feel is more of an “Aṣeni within”…
Perception! What we do and how we do it contribute immensely to the image others have of us. For long, our elders have put those of us who respect culture, cherish traditions, who are neither elders nor youths, in a difficult situation. We are torn between respecting hierarchy and risk being seen as tolerating closed-mindedness and egocentric blindness on one hand; or be seen as disrespectful, which is not an Ọmọlúwàbí thing to do. We have found ourselves at the crossroads now and we need to ask ourselves salient questions. Do Yoruba elders think of how the rest of us see them? Do they understand the negative perception they have given the younger demographic since Chief Abraham Adesanya passed?
Why are we no longer a strategic people? We are long on bluff, showboating and short on planning, organisation and execution. The enemy within does not describe what some of us feel or think of those who should lead us and beat the path to a great future for us and our children. The adjective for what we feel is more of an “Aṣeni within”, because an Aṣeni does not often look or feel like an enemy. What we feel about the Yoruba tragedy is not the Afẹ́nifére ideal but the Aṣenibánidárò archetype that is akin to Afẹ́nifébi as the manifestation of what our elders represent; a close antonym of Afẹ́nifére. Almost every single day, I often wonder where we, the Yoruba as a people, are headed. What is our development strategy within the Nigerian nation state? How long can we continue on this nebulous path without cooperation and a clear-eyed agenda, regardless of politics and religion? In the past, I have asked myself: “What are the things our ancestors did not see, that defined us? What are we seeing now that points to the future of the Yoruba?” I answered a few existential questions in a keynote I delivered at the centennial of Kiriji war organised by the Yoruba Academy in 2016.
After the liberation of France from Nazi occupation at the end of the second world war, Charles de Gaulle, who had a healthy disdain for the political elite, said, out of exasperation: “if you ask three French to form a political party they will end up forming three”. It was a fitting Gaullist way of expressing dismay at the constant bickering and infighting of politicians. Chief Bode Thomas quoted de Gaulle while admonishing troublemakers in his Oyo constituency in 1951. The same applies today to the Yoruba political establishment. The dissolution of the sixteen-person executive of the Yoruba World Congress (YWC) makes one to wonder at which direction de Gaulle was addressing his observation. I am not aware of the framework through which the sixteen executives were originally selected. But it does not appear as if they were elected, and it sounds rather disturbing that the body does not seem to be guided by any constitution. The crisis in the YWC and the dichotomy between the Afẹ́nifére and the Yoruba sociocultural elite points to what is wrong with us. It is shameful that our fathers and elders are not thinking of the legacy they are bequeathing to the next generation. Under their “leadership”, the lead handed to us by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in education and commerce has evaporated. The fight is mostly about self, naked power and money. Unfortunately, more money and power, along with selfishness, has pauperised everyone. Naked power, selfish interests and incestuous deals may have created fat bank accounts, trained children abroad and built many houses but where are the jobs and infrastructure? Where are the industries? Where is real development and a bubbling economy? Many who claim to represent us have stolen our yesterday, our today and even the future from their own grandchildren. Many of our children who have been trained through money from graft or real sweat, in the best institutions of learning abroad are either ensconced there or are back home, to become disc jockeys and entertainers. The jobs in law, engineering, health, manufacturing that we envisioned for them are nowhere. The few available are now slots like winnings from the gaming machines at the Las Vegas strip.
What do the Yoruba need? The short answer is: We need capable, selfless leadership that is attuned to the demands of development in the digital age. Before we take a critical look at those offering to lead us, we need to reflect on the Yoruba Tragedy – a lack of conscious philosophy of action. The development of Àmọ̀tẹ́kùn pleased everyone and created a rallying point because it shows a conscious philosophy of action.
We cannot move forward and march into development if we refuse to subscribe to a Yoruba Spirit, a set of ideals that must never be broken, infringed upon or dishonoured, regardless of our political, religious, social and economic differences. It is also pertinent to know that no group can survive for long without internal democracy and the path to grooming a new set of leaders. Our elders often set these things up with a know-all mindset, thus making infiltration by fifth columnists feasible. It is a shame that YWC is cracked and infiltrated as we approach a critical juncture, when we need a vanguard to act as a rallying point and a defence mechanism. It is sad that a body with the promise of becoming a progressive fulcrum in the defence of the Yoruba is embroiled in a bitter political crisis. My advice to all elders whom I hold in high esteem is to watch it. They must not forget the admonition of the English nationalist politician, Enoch Powell that “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.” YWC can only survive and grow in strength if it is rebooted as a mass democratic Yoruba organisation, and not a tool of political actors.
What do the Yoruba need? The short answer is: We need capable, selfless leadership that is attuned to the demands of development in the digital age. Before we take a critical look at those offering to lead us, we need to reflect on the Yoruba Tragedy – a lack of conscious philosophy of action. The development of Àmọ̀tẹ́kùn pleased everyone and created a rallying point because it shows a conscious philosophy of action. Everyday, the stoicism of our people gets tested and taken for granted. We need leaders who will build hope in us, even if much hope is doomed. We want leaders who will make choices for us, even though we know all choices come at a cost. We need leaders who will lead us with dignity at a time of loss, because enduring loss with dignity is one of the true measures of a human being. We cannot be strategic when we make each other the centre of a hate campaign. We need leaders who brace intellect with impulse. This time demands not only Àmọ̀tẹ́kùn security but Àmọ̀tẹ́kùn politics, Àmọ̀tẹ́kùn economics, Àmọ̀tẹ́kùn education, Àmọ̀tẹ́kùn health, Àmọ̀tẹ́kùn agriculture, Àmọ̀tẹ́kùn commerce and industry. That is why we salute the South-West governors for their commitment. They have shown that intellect must be braced by impulse. Regardless of propaganda and sabotage by those who felt nothing should work unless they originate it, the governors have shown the value in impulse as a kind of instinctive ethics. They did what they had to do to with courage to keep our people safe and secure.
The Yoruba yearn for real, inclusive, responsible and egalitarian leadership. Not too long ago, we had a Yoruba current that was in play since the 1920s, based on the belief that government must be in the interest of the majority and not a few. We want it back. What our region needs is a leadership that believes in the tested and true that was once our pride. We need leaders who believe in the Yoruba current, not those who repudiate it. We do not want mercantile leaders whose playbook is straight out of Tammany Hall politics. We resent the antithesis of an ideology straight out of the Babangida playbook of graft and patronage, with a heavy dose of demagoguery which necessarily requires hideous enforcers and thugs. We reject the gradual development of clientele states based on influence peddling and what the South Africans refer to as State Capture. State Capture has resulted in seeking to own the apparatuses of state by individuals or groups. We reject it!
I call on us to resist smear campaigns and the urge to pull each other down because of politics. It would not be in our in our interest if we allow the blindness of hatred to propel us to promoting people who will subvert the Yoruba current… There is a lesson we must not fail to learn. The politics of Yoruba emancipation cannot succeed when it is driven by thugs, bullies, political hucksters, and crooks. Yoruba ronú!
State Capture is alien to us. Ẹnìkan kìí jẹ́ àwádé. The Yoruba is by culture welfarist and egalitarian. Throughout our history, we have never tolerated the political economy of fascism. That is, the subordination of the state to corporatist interests. Our people are hungry, angry, without capital and upward mobility. We are at the most critical juncture we have ever been since the end of the Kírìjì war. In his last major speech, Chief Obafemi Awolowo predicted the fusion of the thesis and the antithesis into a synthesis leading into a formidable patriotic, nationalist front. Does anyone want the dubious distinction of standing in the way?
I call on us to resist smear campaigns and the urge to pull each other down because of politics. It would not be in our interest if we allow the blindness of hatred to propel us to promoting people who will subvert the Yoruba current. Regional dignity is critical to any programme of regional renewal. The idea of Yoruba oneness achieved after the Kírìjì war needs to be restored now! Hope in what we can achieve as a people of common ancestry, culture, traditions, and language, however quaint, is essential and must be revived. There is a lesson we must not fail to learn. The politics of Yoruba emancipation cannot succeed when it is driven by thugs, bullies, political hucksters, and crooks. Yoruba ronú!