By Bolanle Bolawole
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Professor Babafemi Badejo is not a stranger to this column. Today he takes a look at the ”japa” syndrome walloping the South-west Nigeria especially as well as regaled us with his findings on a latest trip across the border to neighbouring Benin Republic. Are we making progress in this country or are we regressing? Read on: “Mr. Rufus and Mrs. Esther Sami were our treasured neighbours until the cold hands of death snatched the kind and supportive Mrs. Sami on October 9, 2022. I could not but attend her funeral at Imaka, Ijebu-Ode, Nigeria on November 25th and 26th, 2022. Imaka is next door to Imagbon, where the Ijebu people gallantly fought the British in 1892. The Ijebu tried to resist British colonisation but lost. A few months later, in the same year, the Fon people (a major ethnic group in Benin Republic), fought the French a second time at Adegon, near Cotonou, thinking they could halt the European’s incursion but they also lost in spite of the bravery of a regiment totally made up of women – a special breed known as “Mino” (our mothers) who constituted a third of the Fon fighting forces.
The French and other Europeans acknowledged the gallantry of these women who they dubbed “Amazons”, borrowing an appellation from Greek mythology. These brave women-fighters had shown their strength in fighting and conquering other ethnic groups in their neighbourhood. I was shocked when my third-year students scoffed at me when I told them that the Ijebu people gallantly fought the British and could have won but for the maxim gun the British had developed and some Yoruba treachery. Sad that the teaching of history was being wiped out by Nigerian leaders thereby robbing our children of so much that could build their self-confidence in today’s world! I understand that Hollywood has shown some interest in the courage of the Amazons. I also read that Lupita N’yongo interviewed the last Amazon many years ago. She has since passed on leaving Lupita and others to tell the story.
An important portion of Mrs. Sami’s funeral, for me, was the sermon or homily delivered by the Rt. Reverend Dr. Peter Rotimi Oludipe of the Ijebu Diocese of the Nigerian Anglican Communion. Aside from entreaties to live a worthwhile life, he addressed an ongoing problem in Africa (especially among Yoruba children), with respect to the “japa”, syndrome (emigration of our best brains). He pointed out that we invested so much on our children only for them to leave our shores to meet shortfalls in the manpower needs of the West rather than stay here to develop our own land! It is true that our children can only look for work in the big cities of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt etc., and, these days, in London, Washington, Ottawa, Berlin, Brisbane, Singapore, Johannesburg, etc. While we celebrate remittances, we are being re-colonised as our best brains leave for the servitude involved in the brain drain that is developing other lands to our chagrin.
The Bishop, in his sermon, left out the responsibility of Nigeria’s leadership deficit from local, state, and federal governmental levels for the “japa” syndrome. Good governance and less stealing could have made Imaka to be just about 10-15 minutes of train ride to the heart of Lagos and about two hours or so to Abuja and Port Harcourt. And with constant power supply, there will be no need for Imaka sons and daughters to move to the outskirts of Lagos in search of greener pastures. This is not to talk of investments at Imaka or in neighbourhoods like Ijebu-Ode if there had been well-planned infrastructure. While Ijebu people dance annually at Ojude-Oba in their beautiful regalia, the city that had major industrial ventures as I grew up is now a shadow of its old self. It is surprising to note that Adeola Odutola once thrived as an industrialist with his base at Ijebu-Ode. Nigeria’s leadership deficit has made stealing of national patrimony a competitive art in which huge figures of thefts are announced daily. And who has Nigeria prosecuted over Panama, Paradise or Pandora papers as has been the case in less corruption-friendly climes like Finland? Why, then, does anyone think the new round of media hype over the Gudaji files will amount to anything?
Nigeria’s children are voting with their feet and are abandoning the country to our misleaders. There is a subtle but greater damage to family systems and relations. For many parents, it is a thing of joy to spend time with one’s grandchildren but we now have a big void in our life. The younger ones to take care of us as we grow physically weaker and require hospital runs are no longer available. Business ventures to replace such needs will grow. However, immediate and extended family parties at Christmas and New Year, which are great opportunities for socialization, are becoming unnecessary. In their place, the older generations need to look out for themselves. So, when my long-term friend, Eusebe Hounsokou, implored that we spend December 24-28, 2022 with him and his wife, we, without any qualms, eagerly accepted to make the journey to Abomey-Calavi (sister city to Cotonou), Benin Republic.
The first time I visited Cotonou, it was the capital of what was then known as the Republic of Dahomey. Then came Lt. Col. (and later General) Mathiue Kerekou’s coup of 1972 and his regime’s declaration of a “revolution” in 1974. The revolution resulted in the change of the country’s name to Benin Republic. The people succeeded in forcing Kerekou to undertake a Sovereign National Conference in 1990 and he lost the following election to Dr. Nicophore Soglo, although he returned to succeed Soglo again. During my Christmas 2022 visit to Cotonou, I started wondering if Nigeria had a hand in the 1972 Kerekou coup. Nigeria had just ended its civil war in which its immediate neighbour to the West, Dahomey, under Justin Ahomadégbé-Tomêtin, had made itself readily available for French support to the Biafran side during the Nigerian civil-war. Similar was the situation with Félix Houphouet-Boigny’s Côte d’Ivoire, which concretised its role by readily providing asylum for the Biafran leader, Odumegwu Ojukwu.
I could not remember much about border crossings in 1968/69 but the situation was bad in 1997 when I returned with my young family and a visiting friend. Nigerian policemen stopped us at a few checkpoints but I talked my way through to the Seme-Krake border where I hired an agent to process my car and passengers to drive through. For the return journey, we chose the Idiroko border post and the Benin side was difficult with an insensitive official who demanded bribe payment per passport. On the Nigerian side, I easily leveraged on my being a lawyer to argue that I be allowed to return home without paying personalised tolls to security agents. However, my lesson for subsequent visits was to avoid direct dealings with Nigerian security officials anywhere near the border. So, I negotiated with a chartered vehicle driver and did not interfere in his dealings. The police and immigration officials demanded and received bribes in our face.
In one post, the driver did not want to give a bribe. A police sergeant demanded and held his gun firmly as if he would shoot if not paid the bribe. The way he held his gun was scary and made me wonder about all the crocodile tears being shed by the Inspector-General of Police over the extra-judicial killing of Mrs. Omobolanle Raheem on Christmas day. That was one incident too many, more so after our #EndSARS experience and the fact that another resident of Ajah, Mr. Gafaru Buraimoh, had been killed at the same police station 18 days earlier. If the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), had lived up to the expectations of its logo and had raised hell on the December 7, 2022 killing of a hapless Nigerian, we could have been spared the repetition of the killing of Mrs. Bolanle Raheem at the same Ajiwe police station.
Why do we need border police at the intervals of metres and at several checkpoints? A new border post had been opened after our 2016 visit. At the border, the driver advised us to wait in the car as he went to stamp our passports. He knew what to pay the syndicates on both sides of the border. I saw nothing and asked no questions! He brought our passports duly stamped. A citizen of Benin Republic took charge of driving us from the border to Jonquets, a central motor park in Cotonou. As we drove towards Jonquets where my friend was to meet us, I observed that motorcyclists ferrying passengers, called Okada in Nigeria but “Zemidjan” in Benin Republic, operated on a small portion of the road demarcated for that purpose. I remembered that privately-owned motorcycles dotted the road in the 1968-69 period; unlike in Nigeria. They moved like swarms of bees as there were fewer cars. Motorcycles jostling all over with passengers reflect failure in planning mass transit for people.
As we approached town, I could see jerry cans with labels of 450, 475 or 500 written on them. Those were legal points of sale of petrol smuggled into Benin Republic from Nigeria. In contrast to such prices, it was 650 cfa at petrol filling stations. There were hardly any cars buying petrol at those stations! Christmas lunch on the following day was great. Tilapia, goat suya and chicken were in abundance. I could not but disobey my dietician who had counselled me against taking more than a few grams of protein per meal! Though I also stay off alcohol, I knew from working at the UN that one is not a good friend if one turns down wine with a meal at the residences of a Francophone colleague!
We discussed Dr. Arikana and her cries on the “pact for the continuation of colonisation of African countries” when they were being given flag independence. My friends called it the “secret pact” and noted that no political leader ever talks about it as they are either beneficiaries of the perennial looting of Africa or are afraid to die, since they saw what happened to Sylvanus Olympio in Togo in 1963, Patrice Lumumba in Congo, Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso, etc. However, this problem is not limited to French erstwhile colonies. We need to look deeper at post-second world war relationships between the countries of the North and those of the South. Academicians like me have failed Africa as we continue to teach without learning from the late Claude Ake that Social Science is Imperialism. It is sad that we did not come up with any way forward to avoid the active re-colonisation of Africa that our leaders have acquiesced to. Dr. Arikana was fired at the African Union for speaking up for Africa and no African government, including her own, raised an eyebrow!
We rested fully on the 26th and celebrated Noella Masirika’s (our hostess) birthday on the 27th. In addition, we went on sight-seeing, especially at the diplomatic enclave facing the beach. The beach, in the 1968-69 period; was very beautiful. There were palm trees covering the landscape. It was fun being offered coconut drinks those days. This time, however, the slightly reddish sanded beach was barren but with coconut trees being re-grown in some portions. The beach also hosts a well-deserved statue of a giant Amazon woman poised as if protecting the presidency opposite her, with the National Assembly to her left.
Badejo, a former Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia, is currently professor of Political Science and International Relations at Chrisland University, Abeokuta, Ogun state, Nigeria.