(Publisher in The Punch of Monday, April 9, 2018)
The thrifty history behind his mane notwithstanding, as one of his acolytes, I should warn Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, not to visit some Nigerian university for now, otherwise, a pair of covenant shears would scissors his crown-like shock of wispy hair – sssha! sshaa! ssshaa!, and the spongy white strands of knowledge would cascade to the floor of ignorance. I would’ve offered the same advice to the greatest reggae musician of all time, the late Bob Marley, if he was planning to visit Nigeria this perilous period.
Latin language is dead. It died thousands of years ago when it ceased to be the native language of Latium, a central-western region of Italy, where it was spoken with flourish during the gleam of the Roman Empire reign. Today, Latin emits the embers of an unenviable afterlife. Latin wasn’t completely buried with the emergence of Italy as a modern nation state. Rather, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Catalan, Provencal and Romansh languages evolved from it. Latin gave the world the word ‘emeritus’. Growing up as a starry-eyed teenager with a curiosity for highfaluting English words, the title, Emeritus Professor, struck me with fascination back in the day when Professors Ayodele Awojobi, Chike Obi, Chinua Achebe, Claude Ake, Soyinka and co were the guiding lights to a nation groping in the vortex of self-discovery. Then, I had thought ‘emeritus professor’ was superior to a ‘mere’ professor. I never knew emeritus is another word for retired. I never knew emeritus is a Latin word for ‘veteran soldier’.
I know universities confer emeritus statuses on distinguished retiring or retired professors. But I don’t know who conferred the title ‘Emeritus Governor’ on a former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. For the fact that no Nigerian politician has been as influential, all-permeating, robust and dominant as the Lion of Bourdillon since 1999, I won’t contest the title. I think it’s richly deserved.
Another Nigerian, though not a politician, but who’s also making waves in his calling, is Bishop David Oyedepo, the founder of Living Faith Church Worldwide. Both Tinubu and Oyedepo have quite a number of things in common. They’re both from Muslim backgrounds as Oyedepo’s dad was a Muslim from Omu-Aran in Kwara State. Both married Christian spouses. While Tinubu clocked 66 last week, Oyedepo will clock 64 on September 27, this year. Whereas the net worth of Tinubu’s stupendous wealth isn’t in the public domain, Oyedepo is reputed to be one of the richest clerics in the world. I’m sure the net worth of Tinubu’s wealth, if made public, would draw more daggers from enemies than praise from supporters. Both are Yoruba leaders who leave no hair on their pates. Both studied in the US. Today, they’re orphans, who actualized their dreams in Lagos State. And both aren’t strangers to controversy.
Oyedepo’s Covenant University, Ota, was in the eye of the storm again, last week, when a cross-section of Nigerians condemned the cutting of the hair of some students of the university by authorities who deemed their hair bushy. Arguments have oscillated between the university being a citadel for the cross-fertilization of divergent academic ideas, and the university being a place where man-imposed ethics must shave off individual freedom, wearing the cassock of utter obedience.
To buttress what they deemed as hypocrisy, online commentators uploaded the picture of Oyedepo sporting a bushy hair in his younger days. They also uploaded a six-member family picture of the Oyedepos, where one of the two young men standing behind the bishop and his wife, Faith, wore a trendy crew cut hairstyle. Not done, some commentators condemned Covenant authorities for using the same hair clipper on the erring male students in succession – without sterilization, raising health concerns over the risk of disease transmission. While some commentators were of the opinion that the university’s laws must be absolutely obeyed by students, who, upon admission, pledged allegiance to Covenant’s rules, some said Covenant’s regulations mustn’t supersede the Nigerian Constitution, which provides for self expression, freedom and human dignity.
In all of these, I stand by the words of a two-term British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, a Jew, who said, “A university should be a place of light, of liberty, and of learning.” I think it is high time Nigeria began to raise a new breed of future leaders that wouldn’t be cowed into blinded religiosity against demanding a better deal from the wasted generation currently leading the country. I reckon that except Prophet Elisha who was bald, all the great Jewish leaders in the bible wore long hairs – Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Abraham, Samuel, Samson, David, Solomon, the Messiah, Jesus Christ; etc. Pictures don’t lie.
But the Jagaban Borgu told a black lie last week. I won’t dwell on the impropriety behind the categorization of a type of lie as white and another type as black. Basically, a white lie is described as a harmless or trivial lie while a black lie is described as harmful, evil. With President Muhammadu Buhari in attendance, Tinubu, delivering a colloquium speech to commemorate his 66th birthday in Lagos, told his audience that the All Progressives Congress never promised Nigerians “honey and sugar”. Haba! Ogini kwa? What then did your party promise Nigerians? Serpents and stones? If not in deference to old age and respect for the beautiful and ageless Oluremi, your wife, I would’ve called you a blinking liar because I was personally at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos, where the APC presidential primary held in December 2014. If ‘change’ is not a promise of “honey and sugar”, is it a continuation of the Goodluck Jonathan ruinous years? When you led Buhari to campaign grounds nationwide, urging Nigerians to vote for him, did you promise them suffering?
Tinubu told his birthday audience, “Yes, when we came in, we came in with a whole lot of hope… thinking and believing in ourselves, that we can change Nigeria… Life is not interesting without challenges. We didn’t come with a political party showing our logo as honey and sugar, our logo is (a) broom bound together, (symbolizing) united Nigerians, focusing against terrorism, against corruption, and to promote the economic revival of the country.” Latin is not a language of betrayal, but like the betrayed Julius Caesar, I ask, “Et tu, Tinubu?”
Inadvertently confirming that he had been shut out of the Buhari Presidency in the last three years, Tinubu said, “We have a nation to rescue; we have a good leader to emulate and we have hope. We have reduced the propensity for corruption… I will submit a proposal on how we can stimulate the economy.” Sir, what’ve you been doing in the last three years? Watching the economy chained by inflation?
Tinubu mocked former President Olusegun Obasanjo, saying, “My grandmother used to ask me to write letters to her. Somebody is writing letters now, letter of politics these days. As if they’ve not been there before. Bad belle letters!”
With barely a year left in Buhari’s tenure, Tinubu said, “I’m happy the President can change the course of the ship wreckage – the ship of this country that’s headed in the wrong direction. To steer the ship back or anchor before redirecting it, which, of course, is necessary.” Steering the ship for three years?
For the black lie told by Tinubu, I wonder what Oyedepo would have done to his hair if he was a student of Covenant. Need I speak Latin again? Ok, I’ll. I concur with the Latin phrase which says “acta non verba” – meaning “deeds, not words” – are needed for Nigeria’s development because “barba non facit philosophum” – “a beard doesn’t make one a philosopher.” And I’ll leave President Buhari with the words of a fellow Roman military commander, Hannibal Barca, who said in Latin, “Aut viam inveniam aut faciam” – meaning: “I will either find a way or make one.”