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Chief Philip Asiodu’s reminiscences of Nigerian Life

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
WHEN Chief Philip Asiodu reflects on the Nigerian condition, we learn very useful lessons. That is why I always read with relish every interview done with that remarkable man. And early this week, VANGUARD newspaper gave us very juicy servings from a venerable Nigerian whose long life at about eighty has allowed him to live through some of the momentous events that defined Nigerian history.

He saw the years leading to independence and has been lucky to play very active roles at different junctures in the development of Nigeria.

Chief Philip Asiodu
Chief Philip Asiodu

It seems obvious from reading Chief Asiodu, that he was lucky to have seen some of the highpoints of Nigerian development, including the achievements that came from an honest and efficient deployment of the national will and he has, unfortunately, also seen the points when the rot gradually began to set in, leading to the troubling reality of contemporary Nigeria. It is easier to stroll the shores of hindsight, but no nation can find its way out of the morass of underdevelopment, when there is no active sense of connection with what had been achieved before. Memory is a very useful navigational aid!

Unfortunately, from Chief Asiodu’s experience, the mass purge in the civil service in 1975, will rank as one of the worst decisions of post-independent Nigeria.

He was a victim; but beyond that, as an intellectual, he was also able to gauge the long term impact of that momentous decision: “I was retired and I was the number one civilian among those retired with immediate effect!

Later on, the military added an amazing phrase to our sack saying that it was done with increasing alacrity! It shows how people were not really thinking through what they were doing at that time”. The consequences were dire: “When the service was truncated and dislocated, we were left without role models to ensure that there is institutional memory…It didn’t do us good because we lost institutional memory…”

But a lot more got lost in that period of shock that was akin to madness: “In our days we used to send people to schools to get their best graduates even before they graduated. We made the civil service the preferred destination…So with the great shock of 1975, stars were driven out of the service. They made sure that the civil service was no longer the choice destination. My father was a civil servant, which was attractive then.

If someone did not die early in service, that person was sure of being comfortable. It was not the route to becoming the richest man in the country”. These were the words of Chief Philip Asiodu. And it is clear that Nigeria has continued to suffer the consequences of the choice made in 1975, just as much as the irresponsible abandonment of planning regimes has come to haunt us in practically every area of national endeavour.
The VANGUARD interview is a two-part one, which contained gems of enlightening information about the journey that has taken us to where we are today.

Governance structure
I think the interview has come at a very important time, when President Muhammadu Buhari has also begun to tackle head-on the accumulated rot of the past couple of years in our governance structure. There were processes in the past that kept systems functional and were able to assist in effective delivery of service to the Nigerian people. The problem emerged when the subversion of processes became the new way to keep going because that offered advantage to individuals to fester personal nests.

And once a country embarks on such a journey, it becomes almost impossible to halt the descent to perdition. But halt it we must, if we have to set our country back on a path of restitution.

This is why the memory of individuals as venerable as Chief Philip Asiodu, can be very useful banks from which to lend wisdom for the re-charting of the course of national re-birth. Memory is very important in creation of the new, since we cannot chart the routes of progress where we have not sufficiently identified the progress we made before and those points where we derailed.

I have always learnt very useful lessons about the history of Nigeria; the structures of its administration and the wonderful architecture of planning that allowed Nigeria to rapidly advance at certain historical junctures. At the same time, I have also seen more clearly the pitfalls that have defined the problems that we confront today!

Like prostitutes, like politicians

IT was from an online news platform Tori. Ng, that I saw the story. We might even question its veracity, but the human-interest content is very rich! It said that on Sunday, August 9th, the 2015 election of the National Association of Nigerian Prostitutes (NANP), ended in chaos, when violence broke out, following the declaration of a certain Jessica Elvis, as winner with 300 votes, to defeat incumbent secretary of NANP, Madam Felix Efoyo, who got 153 votes, while the Nasarawa state coordinator, Tamar Tion, came third with 63 votes.

The 2015 electoral committee chairman (the NANP equivalent of Professor Attahiru Jega), Franca ‘Top Up’ Chikam, had announced the result of what was apparently a keenly contested election. But Madam Efoyo was said to have “revolted and ordered” fresh election insisting that she had been rigged out.

Commercial sex workers

The election, according to Madam Efoyo was marred with irregularities. Naturally, what followed was an argument that led into a fight breaking out, according to the Tori. Ng report: “In the process, one of the commercial sex workers believed to be loyal to Efoyo broke a bottle and stabbed another of her colleague(s)”.

This scenario with the members of the NANP resembles exactly what happens with members of the Nigerian political elite. We can substitute NANP with any of the nation’s political parties and the situation would still very much be the same.
Politicians dispute the results of elections; they never accept that their opponents won ‘fair and square’ and when push comes to shove, they will get their thugs to express their frustration in the manner that members of NANP also resorted to “self-help”, breaking bottles and cracking heads!

It is the political culture that has been extrapolated into society, and reproduced by members of the National Association of Nigerian Prostitutes or could it be that these attitudes are intrinsic to the underdevelopment of our societal ethos, and are therefore taken into social engagements by the politicians and their prostitute compatriots? It is remarkable that an incumbent secretary of Nigerian Prostitutes disputed the result of elections that went against her, in the same manner that every election that is lost by a Nigerian politician had been “rigged”! Sitting tight is the in thing, whether with leaders in the prostitutes’ association or amongst members of the nation’s political elite!

And talking about prostitutes, I am not sure of when they began to organise under the banner of the National Association of Nigerian Prostitutes (NANP), but just a few weeks ago, on a different thread, I was remembering prostitutes from a different era in our national life. From the age of eight, I went to live in one of the Hausa neighbourhoods of Ilorin, where my mother came from. The Okesuna area of Ilorin is also where the oldest primary school, the Okesuna Primary School is located, and was attended by generations of children from my grandfather’s generation.

One of the attractions of the neighbourhood was the Hausa-only brothel, which had a heavily made up MAGAJIYA, who was serenaded practically every evening by different groups of Hausa musicians. Magicians, artists of different genres were almost always performing with that old prostitute holding court and we watched in remarkable incredulity because these were prostitutes and their leader who carried herself with so much panache.

The MAGAJIYA seemed to enjoy the respect of the men who came to keep her company.And there were other groups of prostitutes at Sabo Line, Sabo Oke, Mararaba, behind Niger Hotel and also on Oyo Bye Pass, that became Ibrahim Taiwo Road in 1976, after the coup which killed General Murtala Muhammed and then Kwara State military governor, Colonel Ibrahim Taiwo. Several other newer brothels would emerge during the 1980s and beyond!

Margin of society

Prostitutes, or commercial sex workers as they eventually became identified, seemed to be located on the margin of society even during the 1960s, but the fact that they were there nevertheless, spoke to the essential role that they played in society, even when the service they provided was frowned upon from the standpoint of religion, ethics and culture.

Of course, there reigned a culture of hypocrisy about prostitutes and prostitution in general, because people used their service, in very clandestine circumstances while openly staying within the frames of societal disapproval of services procured from prostitutes. The fact these women came from other parts of the country to ply their trade made them very much outsiders.

But they had a savings and thrift culture, because around our family house resided BABA GANI, a deportee from Ghana, in the wake of the deportations carried out by the Ghanaian President, Dr. Kofi Busia in 1969. He was the Muezzin in our mosque and collected the daily “Asusu” and his best clients were the prostitutes behind the famous Niger Hotel, Ilorin. They made daily contributions from January till a few days to Christmas, when they collect the proceeds of their labour to travel home for the holidays, usually returning to work, by the first week of January.
Dozens of prostitutes

The cycle then begins again; until one year, just about a few days to when the monies are normally collected, and it was discovered that Baba Gani had disappeared into thin air! A few days later, dozens of prostitutes took over the neighbourhood, many wailing and shouting obscenities! A whole year’s saving from active service had disappeared with the man who seemed an example of piety but who chose to scam commercial sex workers big time!

There seemed to be some method to the ‘madness’ of the prostitutes of that era, almost like the more gentle approach of the political elite of the period. Today the culture of broken bottles and fight over the election amongst members of the National Association of Nigerian Prostitutes resembles very much the way that our politicians act with serious consequences for the health of our society.

In fact, the kernels of prostitution seem to be central to the praxis of politics, as politicians ‘port’ and ‘de-port’ from one party to the other without any semblance of honour or principles. It is absurd that society accepts one tradition of prostitution with its politicians, but frowns at the work done and services provided by prostitutes. Talk about double standards!

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