Last week at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Iseyin, Oyo State, Olusegun Obasanjo, former head of state, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the republic ordered “traditional rulers” from Oyo State to stand up and show some respect to the governor, Mr. Seyi Makinde. They of course all stood up.
Obasanjo’s action did rile many “traditionalists” and conservatives, who are invested in the “volk.” The action was deemed a humiliation of the “kings of Yoruba land.” Among those who reacted badly was Mrs. Taiwo Obasanjo (Martins), a former wife of the former President, (for the records, General Obasanjo has denied that relationship). She berated General Obasanjo for such an act of disrespect to “traditional institutions.” In her own words, sent as a quick reaction titled, “OBJ Vs. Oyo Kings: A plea for forgiveness,” Taiwo (Obasanjo) Martins wrote:”Obasanjo should not have treated the kings with open contempt and humiliation in order to correct them and revealing their secret that they bow for him privately.”
She went on to plead on behalf of her family for forgiveness. Obasanjo quickly dismissed her and stood firmly on his actions. Another key reaction came from the man they call the Oluwo of Iwo, Mr. Abdulrasheed Adewale Akanbi, who was so miffed that he declared in a piquant huff: “Yoruba traditional rulers are not uniform(sic) men anyone can command at will. I don’t blame him, those royal fathers who stood up to obey such an embarrassing direction are to be blamed.” I dare to wager that Adewale Akanbi can huff and puff in the solitude of his quiet cove in Iwo, but if he had been present at Iseyin, he would have stood up, no questions asked. If he dared to defy Obasanjo on some “traditional ruler,” or “Yoruba Oba” presumption, it would not be beneath the former General to order him taken by the scruff to the podium, and lie him down.
Obasanjo would then have proceeded to publicly administer six of the best on his “princely buttocks.” The heavens will also not fall. It is not unheard of on such matters by Obasanjo. That is also where I draw the line with him: no man deserves to be humiliated. No man must be forced to stand up, or bow or kneel before another man. Perhaps that’s the Igbo part of me speaking, for we Igbo find it abominable to bow before another. The first thing the true Igbo mother, the chief custodian of Igbo culture, tells her child is: “gu zoro!” or “Ku lie oto!” (each phrase means, “stand and hold yourself high.
Do not bow!” It doesn’t matter the circumstance of their lives, because every Igbo is equal: rich, or poor, or even titled. The difference is that the aristocracy of the titled, when it comes to occasions, when titles are honored, have certain designated privileges. But all titles are open to every man, born to the land, whom the Igbo call, “Di Ala” – Lord of the land – whenever he is able to complete his rites. It may not be in this incarnation, but in the next. There is no higher sovereign entity than the Di Ala.
There is no greater force in Igbo land than the sorority of the daughters of the land – the “Umu Okpu,” or the “Umu Ada.” They are like the Supreme Court of the land. They arrive only when there are no other pathways to compromise in the land, and the force the men, their brothers, to settle any disputes. If they feel a threat to the land of their fathers, they arrive fully girded up as a body, to compel the men to organize a militia of young men to defend the land.
On such occasion, they arrive with war songs, the fresh palm frond, and the “Ogbu-Adani,” the short cutlass, which every traditional Igbo woman owned, because in times of yore, the Igbo woman was a combatant or warrior, who was well-trained to defend the land militarily, as Olaudah Equiano did testify. They always organized the rear guard of Igbo military defence; a fact which the British colonial administration did not understand, until the women demonstrated a high capacity to organize and dismantle the attempts by the British to make kings in Igbo land in 1929.
The daughters of the land were so powerful that no man was buried in the land, unless these women authorized the men to bury him. If a man was known to have defied the mores of the land, and committed abominations while alive, at his death, the daughters of the land will arrive with a song: “Tu fuo nu nwa ruru aru, Echi le amuta ozo!” (Cast away the evil and abominable child, tomorrow we shall give birth to better than he!”) Such men are never buried on the land. They are taken either to the crossroads or to the “Grove of the Spirits,” to be interred.
Those who defy or harm the daughters of the land, or a child of a daughter of the land, provoke the goddess of the land, Ala. No one wished to do that. It is true, Christianity and European ideas of modernity, destroyed and contained the power of the Igbo woman substantially, but they are still a vital force among the Igbo. The real Igbo woman does not bow to any man – she stoops to lower her frame, with her still head held high, when she comes to salute her man, or elder relations. But traditionally, to no other man. As a matter of fact, her knees are not allowed to touch the ground.
She is made to rise before they do. When she lowers her frame, the man to whom she stoops, is obligated to touch the back of her shoulder in a symbolic act of veneration, indicating that the shoulder of the Igbo woman is the foundation on which the Igbo home is established. It is much like the Catholics and their veneration of the Virgin. To the Igbo, the woman is the living embodiment of the vital force of the earth goddess. She is to the Igbo, like Isis, the sister and lover of Osiris. These are the women who also begin to instruct their children never to defile themselves by bowing to another, because the Igbo belief system and the idea of the Igbo self, posits that “Onye Igbo,” is not just human.
We are taught from childhood that we are gods living in a human body in this incarnation, accompanied by our CHI; that unique part of the Godhead, Chukwu, which we took individually, and which dwells within us individually. Gods do not bow to men. It is considered abomination for the Igbo to bow, or be forced to bow to another. It is “Nso,” because it is a form of spiritual death. It is akin to submitting your “Chi” to another. It is a symbolic act of spiritual suicide in the Igbo mind. So, the REAL Igbo, do not bow to anybody. It is in fact an attitude and a worldview they brought to the new world.
Which is why when I read Ralph Bunche, the African-American political scientist, and Dr. Azikiwe’s friend and instructor at Howard University in 1928, who was very instrumental in founding the United Nations in 1945, say of himself: “ We are a proud family. We bowed to no one, we worked hard and never felt any shame about having little,” quoted in his biography by Brian Urquhart, I knew immediately he was of Igbo stock, through his great-grandfather James H. Johnson, the Baptist preacher and freedman from Virginia. It is as a result of this attitude, and belief, that the Igbo do not make kings – never mind the contemporary heresies called “Traditional Rulers,” which Obasanjo, ironically created in Igbo land in 1976, following the Dasuki pane reports.
According to the Igbo, in their most pristine thought, before contemporary revisionists began to reinvent it: “Igbo enwegh Eze. Nani Chukwu wu Eze Ndi Igbo.” That simply means: “the Igbo do not make kings. Only God is the king of the Igbo.” Even this God – the only force Igbo people recognize as their king – does not even compel the Igbo to bow before him. It is this oddity of compulsion that I do not understand. I write this, for two reasons: to demonstrate to the reader, particularly Nigerians, the idiocy of Femi Fani-Kayode’s quip about Obasanjo.
Says this extreme, Neo-Nazi type right-wing and conservative dog-whistler: “What we witnessed when OBJ insulted our traditional rulers in Oyo state yesterday was the Obi spirit which is now firmly embedded in him at work.First he was at a gathering in Awka where the Yoruba race were labelled “political rascals” by some Igbo leaders without a response from him and now he has the guts and effrontery to tell our traditional rulers to jump up and down like yoyos and clowns?” Fani-Kayode had to invoke that thing he desires but which he cannot be: the Igbo.
But there is nothing wrong with the “Obi spirit.” It is the sovereign spirit. Second is, I do not agree with Obasanjo’s public “humiliation”, of these petty-fogging “kings.” However, I agree with Obasanjo that they are a joke. They are constitutionally irrelevant, and do not represent or reflect contemporary Yoruba desires. I have advocated that all these mud empires, and “Ancient kingdoms,” without army, police or territory, should be abolished.
As Obasanjo fully, clearly demonstrated, and as I have always held, there cannot be two captains in a ship. These Kingdoms, Emirates, Sultanates, Empires are dead. In their place is a constitutional Republic called Nigeria, which was founded for good on their graves.