Sunday September 3, 2023
Prof Akinwumi Isola’s Efunsetan Aniwura (1981), his first play written in 1961-62 while he was a student at the University of Ibadan, is highly celebrated. It is a historical drama which reflects proceedings of the 19th century reign of the heroine, second Iyalode (Queen of women) of Ibadan, Efunsetan Aniwura. Aniwura – one with a surplusage of gold – a fiery, Egba-born but wealthy Ibadan slave owner and merchant, held the title from 1867 – 1874. The unwritten law among the coffle of slaves she kept was that no female slave must get pregnant. Thus, when Adetutu, one of her female slaves was audacious enough to get impregnated by a fellow slave called Itawuyi, upon hearing the news, Efunsetan’s immediate but fierce retort was, afefe ti fe, a ti ri’di adiye! Translated, it means, the wind has blown and the hidden rump of the fowl has been exposed.
So many reasons have been adduced by historians for Efunsetan’s outlawing of procreation among her over 2000 slaves. One was the emotional instability she emerged with from the death during labour of her only daughter child in 1860. This necessitated an absence of a progeny to inherit her tremendous wealth. This powerful Ibadan woman chief, aside her many slaves, also owned several farms, exported agric produce to Porto-Novo, Badagry and Ikorodu and traded in tobacco, while also manufacturing a local product called Kijipa which she exported to America. Efunsetan also traded in arms and ammunition and was on record to have granted credit facilities on ammunition she sold to Aare Latoosa and his warriors in 1872 while they were on military expeditions.
As a result of the psychotic depression she got from her barrenness, Efunsetan took out Providence’s denial of a child on her slaves. She inflicted unbridled injury on them through verbal abuse, corporal punishment, threat of killing them – Orun la’la! – and in some cases, cold-blooded murder. To God, who she regarded as the architect of the tragedy of her barrenness, Efunsetan vented her spleen on every of His creations, the society He created and her neighbours. She once ordered her slaves to beat Old Ogunjinmi, a palm dresser, to death, his crime being encroachment on her property. Efunsetan also punished her male slaves for tardy execution of their daily chores by tying them to trees. She also blatantly refused to assist anyone in need (reference to the brusque maltreatment she gave Akinkunle, who sought financial assistance for his ailing son). All in all, historians claimed that Efunsetan ordered the decapitation of over 41 slaves, including pregnant Adetutu. This cruelty was one of Aare Latoosa’s three-count charge against Efunsetan, leading to her deposition as Iyalode on May 1, 1874. Though she paid all the fines levied against her for these obviously politically motivated allegations, she was murdered in what was regarded as state murder, orchestrated by Latoosa, through two of her slaves, on June 30, 1874.
However, a feminist re-reading of Akinwumi Isola has accused him of recuperating and contextualizing, within the Yoruba socio-political and economic narratives of the late18th and early 19th centuries, a continuation of the masculinist oligarchy of traditional Africa in the play. The unbridled cruelty which he painted of his eponymous protagonist and heroine, Efunsetan Aniwura, is perceived to be a fictionalized misrepresentation of the great heroine, especially taking into consideration the unequal relations of power between the male and female gender of the time. Indeed, several studies have vilified Isola for unfairly reinforcing this image of a wicked, atheist and self-centred woman in his perceived pejorative representation of Efunsetan.
The Efunsetan Afefe ti fe, a ti ri’di adiye expresses excitement at the final unraveling of a long-held secret, the denouement of a cryptic play whose ultimate exposure ends in tragedy. Literally, the hen’s naked and ugly rump is hidden from view by feathers that give it a seeming aesthetic beauty. The moment the breeze blows the feathers, exposing the contours of the rump, the hen is presented to the world in its original form – the bumpy, uneven surface – as opposed to the smooth, feathery assemblage of quills that the world saw hitherto.
Last week, Ogun State quaked like a city afflicted by a thunderstorm. Respected journalist-turned politician and Chairman of Ijebu East Local Government, Wale Adedayo, was the wind that blew the feathers off the Ogun hen’s rump. As the thunderstorm raged, it left hanging in the space a foul and smelly tang that was offensive to the nose. In a petition addressed to former governor of Ogun state and a leader of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) Chief Olusegun Osoba, copies of which were sent to the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, (ICPC) Adedayo called for the investigation of Governor Dapo Abiodun, alleging that he was a kingpin of the mismanagement of local government funds in the State. Specifically, the now suspended chairman claimed that Abiodun withholds statutory allocations paid to councils in the state from the federation accounts. He also alleged that this blind thievery began immediately Abiodun took over the reign of office in May, 2019, leading to “zero allocation” of funds to develop the councils.
Adedayo also claimed that ecological funds due to the councils too had “developed wings without trace” as well as an N8 billion sum released by the Buhari government to the 20 local governments under the SURE-P assistance. This, he said, was also swallowed by the Abiodun administration, with no single payment to the councils. Adedayo claimed that upon enquiry from the state government, the councils were reportedly told that the deductions were due to funds the councils reportedly owed the state government, to which Adedayo said, “But I know for a fact that my Ijebu East Local Government is NOT owing Abeokuta one Naira!”
Allegations of theft of local government monies by state governors in Nigeria have had a long gestation. Several scholarly offerings in the area of local government administration have contextualized the local government as where the elusive redemption of the poorest of the poor of Nigerians can come from. This is because of its centrality and proximity to the grassroots of locality administration. However, local government administration is itself suffocating under the strangulating hold of corruption and fief grips of state governments who see them as cash cow where they can get easy largesse, allegedly filching the bulk of their heists from them and resulting in total asphyxiation of grassroots governance. Farida Waziri, former EFCC Chairman, in discussing this blight of corruption, once noted that “…waste of government resources at the council level had reached monumental proportions. The local government council in the country could not explain the mismanagement of over N3.313 trillion allocated to them in the last eight years. …a whopping sum of N3,313,554,856,541.79 was allocated to local government across the country.”
Local governments did the magic of the highly talked about developments in Nigeria during the First and second republics. From locally sourced revenues like tenement rates, motor park fees and allied taxes, councils raked in sufficient money to construct roads, bridges, award scholarships to deserving students in their localities and had enough for other social services. However, since the Ibrahim Babangida government, local governments have gradually lost steam, arriving at this lamentable intersection where governors have collectively offered to be pallbearers of the remains of council administration. The most dispiriting aspect of cries about massive bleeding of the blood of local governments is that successive federal governments, though aware of this fraud, have kept silent.
To ensure that their thievery of local government funds goes undetected, many of the 36 state governors perfected several methods of hiding the sleaze and the loot. In a Premium Times report, the authoritative newspaper was told by sources among local government chairmen in Ogun State that monies enter council accounts in the morning, and they develop wings by evening.
The other pattern adopted by some state governors, which I have on good authority is also deployed in Ogun State, is swearing council chairmen to traditional oath. The recitation of the oath is that anyone who swears to it would never reveal the cryptic details of the local government heists. A traditional African justice system concept, oath-taking involves some curse and attracts the wrath of the gods for sanction against breaking of allegiance. Promises and covenants made during recitation of the oath must never be broken and if this is done, curse is believed to land heavily as recompense upon the perjurer for breach of promise.
I was told that the Ogun chairmen, shortly after they took office, were made to swear to the oath of non-disclosure of details of the council heists. Wale Adedayo, known by the sobriquet, Babalawo, steeped in the practices of traditional Africa, must have been persuaded to squeal by his conscience and the means he possessed to unlock the code of the oath he took alongside the other chairmen.
But for the fact that EFCC and ICPC are perceived to be either dead as dodo or gasping for breath, some characters should be in the cell now. State governments are alleged to have so compromised operatives of the commissions that they can only bark but would never go after well-heeled and federal government-connected state governments like Ogun to bite them. Otherwise, the modus operandi of discovering the veracity or otherwise of the suspended Ijebu local government chairman’s claims against the Ogun State governor are too clear for any feigning of pretense.
Baring its fangs, the state government deployed over 100 policemen and thugs to storm the secretariat of Ijẹbu-East Local Government Area last Thursday. The instruction from above to councilors was to form a quorum to suspend Adedayo as chairman. The Department of State Services was to later detain the Chairman. The Ogun State House of Assembly also began to probe the alleged diversion of Local government funds, directing the state Accountant General and all members of the State Joint Account Allocation Committee to appear before it.
Wale Adedayo deserves commendation by all lovers of truth, accountability and traceability of Nigeria’s joint patrimony for his audacity to be different. This is why, with his graphic revelation of the alleged pattern of stealing of council funds by the Ogun State government, Nigerians should be egged on to equally, severally and jointly ask that that the federal government drills down on the truth or otherwise of the allegations. If the Abiodun government is thereafter found not guilty, Adedayo deserves censure for defamation. If the reverse is the case, government should be made public example of so that other governors can loosen their vice grips on the neck of council administration in Nigeria. The Bola Tinubu presidency must show that it has zero tolerance for the incubus of corruption by showing interest in the Wale Adedayo allegations. If it does not, it will be an ugly optic of connivance by government at the federal with its “good boys” in the state to steal the people blind. That Abiodun is a member of the APC as the president makes this need to double down on the allegation of corruption more pressing and auspicious.
Having said this, the twist that immediately occurred after Adedayo had leveled the allegation has not stopped confounding those who had raised cymbals in celebration of the anti-corruption credential of the now suspended council chairman. Shortly after the news of the petition hit town, local government chairmen in Ogun State, led by their leader, Hon Babatunde Emilola-Gazal, were reported to have filed down to beg Governor Abiodun who has the Swords of Damocles hanging over him. In a viral video, the chairmen, like a conquered fiefdom, prostrated to the governor “to forgive” their colleague.
As part of the twist, Adedayo was also said to have been part of the begging crowd, donning agbada. He was alleged to have made spirited attempt to beg the governor to forgive him, saying it was ise Esu, devil’s work. This is why I am personally afraid for the suspended chairman. I doubt if he had heard the fable of afi fila p’erin – the man who killed an elephant with his cap? Fully translated, it is afi fila p’erin, ojo kan ni’yi re mo, meaning the man who kills an elephant with his cap enjoys the adulation of his exploits only for a moment. Gbemisola Adeoti, in his article entitled “‘Border-neutering devices’ in Nigerian home video tradition: A study of Mainframe Films” in the book, African Theatre: Media & performance, edited by David Kerr and Jane Plastow, further drills down on the afi fila p’erin concept. It is a fable of a man who was carried shoulder high for his magical exploit of killing an elephant by merely swinging his cap at the animal. No sooner he had done this than the villagers began to run away from him. “The man who kills an elephant with his cap will soon earn the reputation of a murderer…It is a lesson in moderation, a value that is grossly lacking in post-independence politics in different parts of Africa,” said Adeoti.
If Adedayo didn’t understand this, he should then race down to I. B. Akinyele’s highly authoritative Iwe Itan Ibadan which contains a far more believable and relatable story with same teaching. Akinyele was Olubadan of Ibadan from 1955-1964. In the late 19th century, Ibadan took wars to neighbouring Yoruba towns, one of which was to Ilesa in today’s Osun State. The war was called Ogun Ilesa and it occurred in the late 1860s. Balogun Akere, highly resented among other warriors, led the battle for the Ibadan. There was thus mutiny among the Ibadan forces who perfected plans to get rid of their army General. As the warriors sat on how best to commit the regicide, one of them called Ajobo Seriki, originally from Ikire, cleared his throat and told them that if the Ibadan warriors would promise not to pay him with evil, he would help rid them of their General. According to him, he had a loin cloth, bante which, upon wearing it, and if he prostrated even to an Iroko tree, it “would fall before daybreak.” If he thus wore it to prostrate for Balogun Akere, within three days, he would die. When he was given a collective go-ahead and he went on all fours before the Balogun, the General died on the third day in 1869. His friend, Oyewo, also died the third day and it was reckoned that Ajobo Seriki prostrated to him as well. From the war front, Balogun Orowusi was appointed as his successor and he later became Baale, the head chief of Ibadan.
When the war ended and they got back home in Ibadan, an inner conspiracy among the chiefs of Baale Orowusi erupted and it was directed at Ajobo who had now been made Balogun. Ajobo had become stupendously rich and highly loved for his generosity and philanthropy. This further incensed the other chiefs, coupled with Ajobo’s own arrogance of power. For instance, when an Owa of Ilesa was to be appointed and emissary was sent to Ibadan to pick a nominee, it was to Ajobo the emissary went and he handpicked a nominee. This riled the other chiefs who ran after the emissary and the nominee and killed them. This became the main charge against Ajobo, reified by the chiefs and Baale Orowusi who ordered Ajobo to leave town or commit suicide in June 1871. Ajobo however enlisted kings like the Alaafin, Awujale, Alake and Aseyin to help him make peace with Orowusi and the chiefs. The Ibadan monarchy had already acceded to this mediation, especially when Ajobo promised to come the following day to prostrate to them for atonement when, overnight, someone went to the chiefs to ask if they had forgotten that it was Ajobo who prostrated to Balogun Akere which led to his death. The next day, the conspiracy thickened and Ajobo was asked to leave Ibadan or commit suicide. He chose the former and early in the morning of a day in August 1871, on his way out on exile to the Ijebu area, to hand over the staff of office back to Baale Orowusi, he prostrated to him. Orowusi died that month.
The two stories of Afi fila p’erin and the fall of Ajobo should tell the suspended chairman of Ijebu East local government that, as commendable as his anti-corruption fight is, it contains gross implications. First, in a Nigerian politics that shares physiognomy with cesspool, it may mark the end of his sojourn with politicians at the top because he has killed elephant with a cap and murdered Ogun State’s Balogun Akere with his bante. Second, such fights as his, akin to biting the bullet, are battles of no return. Only proper valiant undertake them. No one fights such battle’s haphazardly. Once a fighter places their hands on the plough, it would be a fatal mistake to turn back. As the Yoruba say, he who differently seeks the head of an ahun – tortoise and its legs cannot but have the totality of the ahun. The chairman should ask the biblical Lot’s wife why she turned to a pillar of salt. It was half measure determination. Again, no one stands under a roof and throws stone at the rooftop. After writing such damning petition, the now suspended chairman should have tendered his letter of resignation. The rest battle should have been fought from without.