HISTORY is bold and brainy. It is a learned teacher of the wise. Every leader by his acts of commission or omission writes his history. One hundred and twenty one years ago in Ibadan, there was a change of guard in the traditional headship. The Baale died and a new one was installed. The new Baale came with a solemn promise to sanitize and develop the rapidly growing city. And he actually did a lot of reforms while flying on the wings of the British. The 12-member town council he established to drive his reforms introduced an intense war against indiscipline. He banned open defecation; introduced environmental sanitation and comprehensive healthy disposal of corpses of victims of smallpox. On 9 August, 1897, Ibadan had a prison yard for safekeeping of deviants. The Baale also supervised the recruitment of Ibadan sons into the colonial army.
Side by side the reforms came security challenges. Thieves and killers operated in broad daylight. They moved about on horseback and even had “battle cries.” The Baale and his council members looked away; or their body language said they were not bothered at all. The town was terrorised; the people were helpless. The trauma was worsened by the complicit, cold disposition of the rulership to the people’s ordeal. The town greatly suspected the Baale and his chiefs of profiting from the brigandage. On 16 July, 1898, one of the chiefs was openly accused of supporting the tormentors of the town and he paid fines. Insecurity continued its reign. The Baale still had no answer to the security issues.
But Ibadan had a Balogun, a no-nonsense man of integrity. Balogun was a torn in the flesh of the errant Baale who prayed hard to be weaned of the intrusions of the man of war. Then the Balogun died suddenly on 5 February, 1899 and the Baale could not hide his joy. Free at last from this war hero who had ruled the regimes of three Baales before the present. From that point moving forward, the Baale heaved a sigh of relief. He could now step out, enjoy his throne and be seen for who he truly was. He asked the Alaafin to make him the Bashorun of Ibadan. The Iku Babayeye could not say no. The strongman of Ibadan had his way. He became the Bashorun and over 100 Obas across Yorubaland came to pay homage to him at his installation. History says no Baale of Ibadan before and after him enjoyed such pomp.
Every honeymoon has a closing glee. Installation ceremonies over, thieves and assassins reasserted their hold on the city. Their exiled leader came back home on horseback with drums and flutes. The town became a city of bandits; murderers became kins of the palace. Thieves graduated to armed robbers. Helpless townsmen watched robbers stomp the streets on midday robbery expeditions. The robbers even had a special song: “We are the ones that will ruin this town.” They had special drumbeats; distinctive flute sounds. They robbed and killed the heady who stood on their way. Many homes became desolate and deserted. The town was threatened. The Bashorun was not bothered, was not aware of anything or was complicit. His interest was his reign and the sweet scent of palace intrigues. The renegades too became emboldened by the inaction of power and its leashes. They knew a Nero was in charge.
The twentieth century came and the Bashorun grew very confident of his powers and ways. He backed the British and their land reforms. He supported the introduction of tenement rates and taxes. The people were yoked with burdens of fines and more fines. And they were helpless – but they enjoyed the good things their fathers didn’t enjoy. There was money from trade and business with the white man. Then the Bashorun started selling land to the white man. He enjoyed the money and the bottles of gin that came with the transactions. He intensified and escalated the business into all land the purchaser fancied. As he stole people’s land, armed robbers stole their money and cloths.
Then the people and their chiefs revolted. One day in May 1901, a rally in front of the Bashorun’s house was all the people needed to prove the fire in their hearts. The leader thought he could talk himself out of trouble but things got out of hand. There was commotion. There was a scramble for stones – the devil was to be pelted even though the people were not on pilgrimage. Stones were about to be hauled at the Bashorun and his District Officer-backer. Then a mysterious sudden rainstorm descended on the town and dispersed the incensed crowd.
It was a season of mixed blessings. There was money in privileged pockets; there was impunity too which profited the palace. It was during the reign of this Bashorun that wife-snatching became institutionalised. It was widespread- and so was the spectacle of wife snatchers running mad. Wife losers might not have money, but they didn’t lack malevolent spells with which they wrenched sanity away from wife poachers. Great things came too. Railways entered Ibadan during the reign of this Bashorun. Roads were constructed linking vital parts of the town from Oja’ba. But then, every drug has an expiry date. One sunny day in April 1902, the sun set on the forehead of this ruler. His era ended and the people looked at the balance sheet; they counted their profits and losses. And what does history say of him today? History says this Bashorun, an orator, was wise in his ways; his reign epochal in development but it was vitiated by insecurity from unrestrained banditry and armed robbery. He failed to secure his people and was recorded as a failure. The story is best enjoyed in raw Yoruba where I picked this narration from. It is there, very well told by Oba I.B. Akinyele in his Iwe Itan Ibadan (1911:129-138).
History engages the future with cheers and jeers. Whatever was seen in that bit of Ibadan history and all other histories had been presaged. Hundreds of years before Ibadan was born, imperial Rome had a number of emperors to whom nothing else mattered apart from power. There was Nero who fiddled while Rome burnt. Like the Baale who surrendered his powers to daylight robbers, Nero “allowed his wife and mother to rule for him and then had them murdered,…confiscated senators’ property and severely taxed the people.” Some commentators, however, said that although he was very skillful in playing the lyre, it was not certain that he was “fiddling” while Rome burned; but that is what history says he did! There was Emperor Maximinus who “exhausted his empire with war.” There was also Commodus (180-192 AD) who outsourced his powers completely to strange people around him. A historian said “the nicest thing said of him was that he was not wicked but that he was so stupid that he allowed wicked friends to take control of his reign.” Yet another historian said Commodus “surrendered control of his palace to his freedmen and praetorian prefects who then sold imperial favours.” The verdict of history is that he was an absentee leader.
The makers of our constitution said security is the primary reason our government exists. Herdsmen do their killings unchecked. You don’t have the king behind you and be cowardly. That is what the swag of the murderers tells. Last week, our defence minister insisted herders must be allowed to graze their cows anywhere. Appeasement was his recommended punishment for mass murder. We shook our heads for him and for our country. Then Buhari released an epochal statement and we had cause to celebrate. Our president had a change of heart on Moshood Abiola and the June 12, 1993 election. The statement honouring Abiola and June 12 was personally signed by Muhammadu Buhari and the nation carried our president shoulder-high and applauded his smart move. We clapped for him and wished he personally took charge of the nation’s security too. Side by side the news of Abiola and June 12 was the news that herdsmen had resumed killings in Benue and shut 35 primary schools in Nasarawa. The government maintained a straight face and continued savouring the sweet public relations of the smart June 12 move.
Every leader decides how he wants to be remembered. Security issues are sensitive matters, very personal to citizens across ages. Security always trumps every other regime acts and distractions. Emperor Nero was not a total failure. He got some things right, but history remembers only how he reacted while Rome was on fire. Buhari’s friend, Abacha, truly built roads and hospitals but he is remembered forever for the killings and other atrocities of his government. Their common friend, Ibrahim Babangida, introduced Primary Health Care, built the Third Mainland Bridge, Egbin Thermal Plant and Abuja City among several other stellar projects and programmes. No one talks about these today, yesterday; none will likely do so tomorrow. The only thing history talks about when IBB is mentioned is that he annulled the June 12 election.
Today’s leaders who look away as herdsmen move from North to South, killing the young and murdering the old will also leave office one day. Unless Buhari stops the killings and takes justice to the murderers who claim to be herders, whatever else he does, the history of his reign will be that of herdsmen and their bloodletting.