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October 28, 2017

Gani Adams : what future for our traditional leadership?

Gani Adams : what future for our traditional leadership?

Gani Adams

By Morenike Taire

Indeed, we Africans had it going good politically before the interregnum that was the slave trade. Peter Cunliffe-Jones, in his celebrated work of non fiction  My Nigeria, made no bones about his informed opinion that the conundrum in which Nigeria and most of Africa finds itself is the very direct consequence of the transatlantic slave trade and the colonization of the continent by Europe.

Gani Adams

Stretching for almost half a millennium,  the trade in slaves across the Atlantic cannot be said to be a flash-in-the pan sort of event. It changed the nature and essence of Nigerian society, Cunliffe-Jones had argued in his historical book. The geographical space had become a wasteland with greedy warlords seeking hapless captives with which to enrich themselves through the trade.

Some of them had become so stupendously wealthy that they had created a vicious cycle in which they were untouchable and were the only survivors. Needless to say, the Empires upon which their political powers rested continued to decline until they failed altogether. Other accounts and historians writing about this period corroborate all of these.

Historians as well as researchers such as Cunliffe-Jones have suggested it was easier for African leaders to sell their compatriots into slavery because slavery was already an institutional part of the African society. A household in much of Africa is not considered prosperous if it did not have slaves. The slaves were not much different from indentured and other servants, and there was every possibility for slaves to have access to the same opportunities as the freeman.

Even in this trying period, there were high levels of political organization in many of these so called empires. In Yorubaland, this was particularly so, as much of the practice that is currently known as Democracy was already being practiced there.

To say that this level of sophistication in government and statecraft has dropped phenomenally is to understate things. But sophistry and high organization are not the automatic cures for the consequences of corruption. In spite of these, foreigners were able to swoon in, take charge and get rid of dissenters in the seeming blink of an eye. Nigeria was born, as well as all the other nation states whose borders were defined not by language or commonality in cultures but by negotiations regarding the mineral and other resources to be found in the area.

Indigenous governments were stepped down from this time onwards; by force at first, and then by expediency. The quest for self rule a few decades down the line killed the final live coals of the old order, putting paid to any possibilities of the fire being stoked and bursting into flames once more. The way the Yorubas governed themselves over millennia was dead and gone, perhaps forever.

When the British handed over power, it was to an elite which they had first educated even at their own schools. Perhaps this first set of would be nationalists knew first hand how things had been run in the previous era, but they were in no hurry to return to the way things had been. They had been groomed in a certain manner, and they were anxious to apply this grooming in practical terms. It seemed only natural to adopt the government style of the colonialist.

The traditional rulers of the time who had stood on the sidelines pending such a time as would allow   for their reinstalled relevance, might have been bitterly disappointed by this. Ahmadu Bello,  the first and only premier of the Northern Nigeria region  who was also the Sardauna of Sokoto, a major traditional ruler, was soon to be assassinated in the infamous coup of 1966. The only link between the two era had thus been obliterated for good.

And it has been a struggle ever since. 57 years post-independence and we are still not quite clear as to what to do with our traditional political institutions. They seem kind of cute but serve no practical purpose in the modern scheme of things. Regardless there has been a proliferation of baales-   junior/regional, monarchs , particularly as title holders became beneficiary of government largesse . More recently, they seem to have found a niche in the ceremonial arm of politicking.

The role of the Aare Ona Kakanfo, a traditional Oyo chieftain, is one whose relevance is definitely under question. Much as the Yoruba speaking people make a song and dance about the qualifications or otherwise of Otunba Gani Adams to hold the great title, it is not a matter strong enough to preoccupy the nation at this time.

Neither is it a matter to occupy the sectional interest of the Yoruba. If Otunba Adams is lucky     enough to get to keep his self-imposed ambassadorial role he will have to ensure it does not come into conflict with this new role which by description is anything but ambassadorial.

Clearly, Adams’ political positioning will be enhanced by his ascendancy to this role, securing the interests of his sponsors while splitting the general interest of the Yoruba in the national scheme of things.   In any case sectional pundits will find it to be against even their political interest on the long run.

If Otunba Gani Adams’ ability to sell Yoruba culture to the world is enhanced by his latest role , we will all be more enriched by it .