Why Did Governor Abdulrahman Eat the Arugbo’s Cocoyam?, By Festus Adedayo
After watching the viral video of several Ilorin, Kwara State old women, referred to as arugbo in Yorubaland, pleading with the Kwara State governor, Abdulrazaq Abdulrahman, not to demolish the Ile Arugbo (Old people’s home) built for them by the old Kwara political warhorse, late Dr. Olusola Saraki, and his eventual demolition of the property last Thursday, what leapt into my subconscious was the old folklore, “Ti nba je koko arugbo” (“If I ate the old woman’s cocoyam”) notoriously told at moonlight in Yoruba-speaking homes of the pre-colonial, up to the 1970s, era.
A three-member young male travellers, en-route their destination, had been magnanimously housed overnight by an arugbo (an elderly person). One of them however crept, at night, to steal from the cocoyam porridge kept by the old woman. They were about to cross a big river after departing the old woman’s house the next morning, when the Arugbo frantically struggled to catch up with them. She had them swear respectively that if they stole from her pot, the river would swallow them. The culprit was eventually swept away by the raging tide of the river.
“When Saraki was alive, he didn’t know us from Adam, he took care of us, sent us to Mecca and we built houses from him. Few hours before his passage, he called his son, Bukola not to forget ‘my mothers.’ Ask his wife and those who gave him his last bath… Since Rahmanu became governor, he didn’t even know whether we are human beings or not (one of them shouted, awon sanmonri ni n fun! – he reckons only with the elite)… If he demolishes Ile Arugbo, we are the ones he disgraced… We do not want to make him meet his waterloo but he should also not destroy us by demolishing the house… Some of us don’t have anything and many of us are barren. I speaking to you have no child and nothing but whenever I come here, I am happy…” she said, while praying sarcastically that Abdulrahman should not witness a plane crash, among other prayers.
Another Arugbo said: “I plead with all Alfas, all kings, to ask Abdulrahman not to demolish this house. Only a fool does what they are not up to. This is where we are nourished in our feeble old age. We plead with him but if he refuses, the Arugbo would pay him a visit.” Another elderly woman said if Abdulrahman does, Arugbo o ba ohun na je! (Arugbo would plot his downfall).
However, in the early hours of last Thursday, under the effeminate cover of the dark, like the youth who crept to the Arugbo’s pot to hurt her by stealing her cocoyam porridge, a day after these old women passionately pleaded with Abdulrahman not to eat the Arugbo’s cocoyam and thereby court their wrath, he diffidently marshaled bulldozers to the Ile Arugbo and turned the home into rubbles. But, in the words of those who justified Abdulrahman’s demolition of the Saraki property, Karma, that old sleeping dog, was merely violently woken up by the governor. From their narratives, the little sleeping dog had to be irreverently summoned to follow its ancient course. In demolishing the house, while Abdulrahman might have effectively given enough offerings to the god of Karma by giving unto the Sarakis what some commentators claimed was their rightful dosage, he may have hurt the folkloric Arugbo and the consequences may be dire.
There is ancient reverence and dread for the Arugbo in Yorubaland and, I daresay, in many other African cultures. The governor is apparently a sanmonri like his father, AGF Abdulrazaq, who was the first Ilorin lawyer and first Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and who holds the prominent traditional titles of Mutawalin Ilorin and Tafida of Zazzau (Zaria), and cannot obviously connect with the potency of the Arugbo prowess.
“I am told that there had been a long and subsisting political feud between the late Saraki and Abdulrahman’s father, AGF Abdulrazaq, who Baba Oloye upstaged in the Ilorin political chess game with his populist politics, as opposed to Abdulrazaq’s sanmonri fancy. One may thus not look farther to locate the locus of the governor’s action.”
The Ile Arugbo could be likened to the Old People’s Home model in Europe, though a very crude version of this. Old age in Europe is left in the care of specialised professionals and effectively logged into the social security net. Old people are checked into hospital-like residences run by nuns or other professionals. Now, adult children with demanding jobs and who are not able to take care of their parents, check them into these homes. Very seldomly does any government or individual run such homes in Nigeria because our culture has no space for it. If an individual takes it upon themselves to establish a scheme like this, as done by the late Saraki, all a government could do is to encourage and not dismantle it. More importantly, there should be a scholarly study of what has been drawing those Ilorin arugbo to the Ile Arugbo for about four decades now. The system is said to be that many of the elderly trek kilometres to get there every week. On the days of their meeting, the system looks for anyone of them not on seat and looks for them immediately. If indisposed, an ambulance goes to pick such a person up. It was a structure left by Baba Oloye, which he reportedly mandated his son, Bukola, to keep on his death bed.
Effectively and glibly, Abdulrahman’s government has explained off the demolition: Baba Oloye, the Saraki Senior’s alias, did not get genuine approval for the possession of the property, said to have been procured in the 1980s. The land was initially earmarked for a hospital by government and later, as the State Secretariat annex. Saraki did not possess a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) for the property, as paraded by his son, Bukola, the immediate past Nigerian Senate president. Government had even served enough notice on the Saraki family, which it not only spurned but impudently raised an army of old women protesters against, who barricaded the said property to prevent government bulldozers from reducing the structures to mere rubbles. And so on and so forth, stupidly. Even the holy writ talks about something being right but which may not be expedient. Was it expedient to demolish the Ile Arugbo, even if justified by law? What Abdulrahman may not be able to escape from is an odoriferous air of hatred, premeditated vengeance, deliberate vendetta and promotion of personal enmity to even old scores, hiding under the thin veneer of legalese and government policy, which envelopes the whole demolition exercise. This action may yet equal the action of the youth who hurt the Arugbo by eating her cocoyam porridge.
I am told that there had been a long and subsisting political feud between the late Saraki and Abdulrahman’s father, AGF Abdulrazaq, who Baba Oloye upstaged in the Ilorin political chess game with his populist politics, as opposed to Abdulrazaq’s sanmonri fancy. One may thus not look farther to locate the locus of the governor’s action. This may be the gravamen of Gbemi Saraki, minister of state for Transportation’s claim that the governor might just be using security agents to settle old family political scores.
The conversations surrounding the demolition are almost becoming the usual fare of arguments among many Nigerians in recent times. Sauced in party politics, affiliations and the puerile defence of government actions at all cost, many of the arguments lack colour; they are in the least very sickening. Not only do they lack concrete basis, they have become the escapist defence of some blind apologists who find similar excuse for tyranny, governmental irreverence and the pure abdication of responsibility. It is the same narratives that surround the Fulanisation and Hausanisation of government appointments at the federal level, a pestilence that is afflicting governance under President Muhammadu Buhari. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan did worse while holding the reins of power; the conversations go, so as to escape the rigour of logical defence of the current administration’s cronyism.
Some of the strands of defence of Abdulrahman’s action that have been trending in public include: that Bukola Saraki, while Kwara governor in 2003, inflicted a litany of vengeful acts on his predecessor, Mohammed Lawal: He revoked his wife, Mrs. Aisha Lawal’s, licence to own a nursery and private school; he dissolved all the 16 local government chairmanships in the state and replaced them with caretaker chairmen; some even said it was enough Karmic vengeance for Saraki’s alleged betrayal of Jonathan. These may jolly well be true and no one should cross the path of Karma when it is on a binge to extract its pound back, but when such binge drips of muscle-flexing known only as emblems of tyrants, the rest of society must cry blue murder and ask Karma to go about its vengeance in a lawful manner.
“Gbemisola put Abdulrahman’s naked abuse of power into apt perspective. But for a quest for a symbolic vendetta, why would the governor thirst after demolishing a property that had no personal gains for the Saraki but was put basically into public use? In one of the government releases, it stated that the property was a political meeting place for the Sarakis. So politics was the beef?”
More importantly, while the action of Abdulrahman may pass the litmus test of legalese, it cannot pass the test of expediency and certainly would be resisted by the filters of morality and decency. His arguments can be likened to that of Judas Iscariot whenever he turns up on Judgment Day. Centuries before the birth of Christ Jesus, it had been prophesied that He would be delivered to be murdered by a disciple. This prophecy notwithstanding, Iscariot would need to put up a defence as to why the betrayer had to be him, among the crop of disciples. By the time the Senior Saraki acquired the said land, about 40 years ago, I don’t want to guess what Abdulrahman’s age was then. Governments have come and gone since then, including military governors and even hostile civilian administrations like Adamu Attah and Lawal’s. None tampered with the land.
Government after government has come and gone without demolishing the said property; why did it have to be Abdulrahman? Yes, a government has to do it anyhow, whether now or thereafter, especially if it is true that it was illegitimately procured, but the actions of Abdulrahman since he took office with respect to the Sarakis, have proven him to be a man consumed by cheeky hatred and obsession for retaliation of whatever scores that he needed to settle with the family. He was reported to have approached the State House of Assembly for a go-ahead to demolish the property and also sought the legislature’s buy-in to change the name of a school named after the late Oloye. How many other lands in Kwara did he bend over backwards like this to revoke? If these are not telltales of hatred and vengeance, then the words have obviously recently assumed different denotations.
Nigerians, like this writer, who traded tackles with the junior Saraki as Senate president and who thus feel Abdulrahman’s naked tyranny was a justified Karmic riposte to his perceived constant legislative rascality, on account of the actions of the Senate he ran and its constant elbowing of Buhari, must by now have acquired the simmering down of the proverbial wife who only knows the best after tasting the embrace of two husbands. One thing is sure: Saraki would not likely abet the full-blown personal rule done by the current legislature.
Gbemisola put Abdulrahman’s naked abuse of power into apt perspective. But for a quest for a symbolic vendetta, why would the governor thirst after demolishing a property that had no personal gains for the Saraki but was put basically into public use? In one of the government releases, it stated that the property was a political meeting place for the Sarakis. So politics was the beef? The Ile Arugbo model is almost synonymous with what the Late Ariyibi Adedibu ran in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. Before his death, Adedibu deployed his expansive property to feeding the poor and wiping momentary sweats off their brows. I once visited the late Saraki, in an only encounter with Baba Oloye, on a Sunday morning at the beginning of this decade and saw cows, which had been slaughtered to cater for the palates of hundreds of the poor. The elite can pontificate on how mundane such ventures may be but to this wretched lot who found solace in the homes of Saraki and Adedibu, it was a major relief to be able to fill their tummies. A number of the elite build huge walls round their houses to barricade this same set of people from even as much as peeping into their mansions. Thus, if only for the public role it had played for decades, Ile Arugbo could effectively be tagged a public space.
The most visible motive in Abdulrahman’s action is a desire to flex governmental muscles and prove a point. That is the way of despots, not democrats. Democratic decisions are slower and take longer time to mature; they involve discussions and bargaining. The cheetah speed of the demolition and its prosecution under the cowardly cover of darkness are manifestations only seen in a power-hungry ruler who sees self as approximating government, whereas government is beyond a person in office. The so-called town planning laws being flaunted by the government as justification for fouling up the peace of Kwara were made for the peaceful coexistence of man and not the other way round. The question to ask is: How or why would a project ultimately meant for the people be prosecuted with such venal ta-ta-ta-ta gunshots, teargas canisters and war-like bravado? Abdulrahman has eaten the Arugbo cocoyam. I can hear the old woman asking him to swear if he didn’t hurt her old frame, feeble legs and grizzled hairs, with the big river raging by their side, salivating to swallow an impudent boy who has offended the elderly.
Liberty Stadium, Ibadan Airport and Akure’s Darkness
Three issues are of great bother to this writer today. One is a place which anyone who has a sense of history and visits the old capital of the Western Region and current capital of Oyo State, Ibadan should avoid like a plague. It is the Liberty Stadium, named after the man who founded it, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. It has a way of making you sick and want to puke. Commissioned in 1960, it was a historic football stadium, padded with a capacity of 25,000 seats. It was also said to have been constructed through direct labour, with the supervision of the Western Regional Ministry of Works and Transport. At its inception, it was complete with a football pitch located in the main bowl and adequately equipped with floodlights, as well as padded with indoor sports halls, swimming pool, courts for tennis, volleyball, handball, basketball and hockey. In the 1980 African Nations Cup tourney, that stadium hosted many of the games. Today, like all things bright and beautiful which Nigeria has killed, this stadium is a junkyard, a fossilised relic and an eyesore to behold.
While facilities therein have gone comatose, staff of the ministry of sports collaborate to worsen its take. The main bowl is daily hired out as theatre for musical gigs, church and mosque so-called outreaches where heavy equipment are heaved on the field of play. The roofs have caved in and the seats suffer misses that make the coloured seats look like irregular gap-tooth. One morning, this writer beheld one of the equipment loaders brushing his teeth and spitting soapy toothpaste on the field.
The second issue of bother is the deliberate attempt to engage in pure and puerile revisionism by some members of the current government. If you visit the Ibadan Airport today, you would notice that it has been renovated. Good news, isn’t it? The bad news is that, the terminal building, commissioned by the then Senate President, Joseph Wayas in 1982, has had its plaque which denotes this commissioning by Wayas, removed and in its stead is planted a plaque which says “Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria Terminal Building, Ibadan Commissioned By Senator Hadi Sirika, Honourable Commissioner of State (Aviation) On The 18th May, 2019.”
While the airport was commissioned in 1982, it is the hub of aviation in Oyo State and one of the major domestic airports in Nigeria. It is home to a terminal and an encouraging 2,400-metre-long runway. Did this so-called Sirika commission the airport? Why embark on this infantile revisionism by having the name of the man who commissioned it removed from it?
The third is the fouled up last Christmas holiday this writer had. With glee, my family and I had arrived Akure, the Ondo State capital for the festivity. Gradually, the opaque darkness of the state capital made life very miserable for us. Darkness everywhere! Sometimes, there was no supply of electricity for a full day and even two days. I am not aware of any state capital in Nigeria that is decorated by darkness that notoriously. I was told that this has been the story in the city for more than a year now. Even the streetlights powered by generators by the state government most times go off when fund for diesel pales off. Methinks the state government should seriously engage the electricity distribution company in the state, in the interest of the people, to have meaningful supply of power.
Adedayo is a columnist with Nigerian Tribune