By Segun Odegbami
I was in Ijebu Ode yesterday at the invitation of an elderly political leader in that town. By the way, I have been told that Ogun West senatorial area will be difficult, if not completely impossible, to convince the people from that part of Ogun State to vote for me because there is an avowed commitment by the two major clans that comprise the zone to support only a candidate that comes from there.
Since the day I had signified an intention to enter the political fray, particularly as a gubernatorial candidate, I had been told this by most people, including friends, from that part of Ogun State.
Indeed, for the first time in my life, I have had to attempt to make a mental and physical distinction between the ‘different’ dialects, clans, ethnic and even tribal groups in Ogun State, without any success. I could not find it in their faces or even tongue.
It was a big shock to me to suddenly find myself attempting to distinguish between people I had always lived with, played with, worked with and socialised with, on the basis of NOT where they come from.
Amongst the Yoruba, a tribe I have grown in the past few decades to appreciate through my better understanding of a little of their history and culture since living amongst them for some 40 plus years after leaving Jos in the north of Nigeria as a 17 year old, completely detribalised and probably naive student, I had never confronted the issue of this level of ethnic or tribal breakdown.
As a child growing up in the north, living in a Hausa man’s house, sharing the same small compound with his Muslim family including two wives in purdah, and an Igbo family (the Otakpos from Onitsha-Ugbo, attending a Catholic school whilst my younger brother attended a Muslim one, with my Muslim mother and my father that co-founded Ebenezer African church, I had no ounce of tribalism in my blood.
I grew up that way.
Whilst I played football that was even more reinforced because, until the latter part of my career, we all played and represented our country at that level with the full valour of patriotism and nationalism, never distinguishing between tribes and ethnic groups.
At club level it was a bit different because after the civil war the Igbos emerged from it with a new force to fight the cause they lost during the tribal war, in the form of a football club that rallied the people and became a movement of the Igbo.
The war separated the people.
Football brought us back together.
Those were developments I experienced through the years.
But, not amongst the Yoruba.
I stayed with Shooting Stars of ibadan throughout my football career because it was a counter movement to the Igbo movement after the war. Every Yoruba man was supposed to be a supporter of that football ‘army’ everywhere n the world even though the ‘war’ was fought healthily on the football fields and that engaged, entertained and ultimately united the entire country.
There were dialect or clanish or family distinctions on the stage where we performed.
So, in Ibadan I eventually saw and accepted my new understanding that I am of the roots of Oduduwa, always remembering who my father told me as a child that I should emulate and follow – Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
My father worshipped the ground the man walked on. Awo’s picture hung permanently in our parlour in Jos throughout my childhood days. My father never told me where Awolowo came from in Yorubaland. I did not care or know until he died and I followed the news of his burial and realised he was from Ikenne, a town I had never heard of until then.
Throughout the years I became popular and well known most Nigerians did not even know what town or ethnic group from Yorubaland that I came from. And they did not even care. To most people I was from Ibadan.
Bridge the years and come closer to the present.
I have been a faithful member of the Afenifere Renewal Group for 10 years. I joined because I wanted to know more about Awolowo and his great works in Yorubaland, his teachings and philosophy.
It has been an incredible school for me. It woke me up to the sharp realities of Nigerian history, politics and culture, particularly as seen through the eyes of Awolowo and his Yoruba disciples.
In all those 10 years the group had never discussed, or distinguished, or segregated or separated any part of Yoruba from the whole of Yoruba. They spoke the same language, espoused a common vision, celebrated and promoted a common culture.
It is only in political affiliations that some differences rear their heads, yet the movement never discussed people’.
More or less, I have lived my entire life oblivious of the big gulfs between the Yoruba people. Until now!
The vehemence in even stating the difference between an Ijebu person and his Remo blood brother baffles and even frightens these days. I always assumed they were from the same stock and source. Now I know better.
That’s why I went to Ijebu Ode yesterday. To listen to an elder explain to me better why the Yoruba of Ijebu and Remo insist that I am of a different stock of the same tribe, and will not find support from there even if it is in the best interest of the people, for the reason that another mutual brother from Egba is the outgoing governor, and there is an unwritten understanding that the next governor would come from(wait gor it), Yewa! Confused?
That complicates the picture even more. Not Ijebu, but Yewa, a new addition to the on going dismemberment of the Yoruba. Soon the Egba will be fragmented in Gbagura, Oke Ona, Owu, Ake, and so on down to families one day very soon. .
I have been learning very fast. The breakdown of the Yoruba will soon become a break up of one of the greatest and most homogenous tribal groups in the world.
A 50-million educated and sophisticated people with a culture probably deeper and richer in scope and content than any other in the world, when closely examined. Those are the people embracing lower standards and values where meritocracy should be promoted and should reign supreme. Isn’t that a core demand of the Yoruba in their restructuring of Nigeria agitations and struggles?
All of these are thrown to the dogs on the altar of partisan politics?
The brotherhood disappears and daggers are now drawn between blood brothers and sisters in the pursuit of a political office.
Chief Awolowo and his colleagues in the evolution of modern Yoruba will be weeping in their graves if what I have learnt about what they left as their own legacy is true.
So, I went to Ijebu Ode yesterday to get a tutorial in the new thinking.
By the time I departed the town i was very happy to have shared my simple and innocent thoughts with the old man. I was encouraged by the understanding we both came to after listening to each other express our deepest thoughts about the future of our people, our State, the South West and even Nigeria.
Papa went into his bedroom and gave me two bottles of wine for reminding him, through my sincere expressions, about who we both are before we too are consumed and become victims of an affliction that can destroy Yoruba unity and hegemony, and records only pyrhic victories that can turn to incurable ethnic cancer.
I asked Papa: is an Ijebu leader now coming with an agenda to develop only Ijebu land?
If some leaders had done so in the past it is a catastrophe and must not result into a cycle that will diminish and destroy the fabric of Yoruba ethos and proud heritage in the end.
As my driver and I headed out of Ijebu Ode, I saw a corn seller by the side of the road roasting her corn.
That is something I cannot resist – 4 hobs of same-day roasted fresh corn, every day!.
By the way, the best corn in the world comes from Wasimi, my little village near Abeokuta.
So, we stopped to buy some corn.
I sat and was reading a newspaper whilst waiting for the driver to bring me the corn.
I heard gentle tap on the window of the car.
I woun down the glass partition.
The man on the other side took one good look at me in recognition and let out a scream, over and over again: “mathematical, mathematical’.
His screams were joined by the corn seller who leapt out of her wooden tree stump that was her seat, took one good look at me and started to sing and dance to her own version of Ebenezer Obey’s evergreen song: ‘it is a goal o Odegbami, it is a goal o Odegbami’.
She raised her voice and shouted out to me in Yoruba that she had heard the news on radio and that she and her family were joining the Labour Party because of me.
The man beside me announced that he was actually a leader of the Labour party in that area, and on the previous day, a meeting of the party had held in his house.
My driver had asked the woman what party she would join in the face of all the political confusion in Ogun State at the moment, and she had shockingly mentioned Labour. In his excitement at her response he had gleefully announced to the ‘huge’ audience of two people that I was the one sitting and reading in the car.
That’s why the gentleman, Mr. Balogun ( he has called me since then and we have struck a friendship), came to the car to check.
Would you call that a coincidence or a message from beyond?
The choice is yours.
We drove out of Ijebu Ode in high spirit.
By The time I arrived home it was dark.
I am thinking even as I type this on my phone (I am becoming adept at this, can you believe it? An analogue man like me) that this election, no matter how it ends, will serve as a big lesson, and Ogun State will never be the same again politically.
That promise, to make it the best place to live, work and invest for all Nigerians, but particularly the citizens of Ogun State, will come to pass as a result of the crucible of fire the State is passing through in the course of the 2019 elections.
I am a divine pawn in the arrangement.
Touch not the Universe’s messenger.