By Tunde Odesola
(Published in The PUNCH on Monday, January 6, 2020)
Demystification rolled to a full stop when Father Christmas travelled all the way from obodo Oyinbo to Nigeria and got employed as a hawker in Awka, a bus conductor in Oshodi and a herbalist in Daura. These are some of the various versions of the Father Christmas we see in our fatherland. In our very country, the global symbol of seasonal religious philanthropy, the Father Christmas, becomes a beggar, a fraudster and a thug. Well, that’s what a dysfunctional society inflicts on its citizens and residents – turning gain into pain – as greed supplants creed and leaders become dealers while followers whither like flowers. Welcome to Kwara!
The parable of Kwara isn’t a one-off shame. It’s one of the 36 rotten teeth in the odorous mouth of the hippopotamus called Nigeria. Kwara is the younger of the gluttonous twins (the elder being Lagos), whose distended tummies and forked incisors testify to years of political blood-sucking, elite collusion, and mass stupidity. While Kwara was a family broth served with choice wines purchased by customers’ deposits in the society’s general bank, Lagos is an ongoing bazaar on auction by a big-eyed bat, who stirs the cauldron and dishes out ‘isi ewu’ pepper soup to drunken bootlickers.
Last Thursday, however, all hell broke loose in Ilorin, Kwara State, when Ile Arugbo – the Cove of the Aged – caved to bulldozers and teargas on the orders of Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq. The Ile Arugbo was ensconced on a piece of land originally meant to house a government clinic, a secretariat, and a carpark. But the patriarch of the Saraki family, the late Dr Olusola Saraki, during his political reign, ‘acquired’ and converted the uncompleted government building on the land into an extension of his political machinery by building it up and turning it into an arena for political campaign and distribution of handouts to political hangers-on, especially old women, birthing the name, Ile Arugbo. Many people say Oloye Saraki ‘acquired’ the controversial building for political expediency because it was within a spitting distance to his residence in the Government Reserved Area of Ilorin.
In the ensuing dogfight that greeted the demolition of the house, Nigeria’s most active political group, the Association of Political Backscratchers, went berserk. At one end of the battleground were Peoples Democratic Party supporters who swore to high heavens that Governor Abdulrazaq was the very lastborn of Lucifer. At the other end were the supporters of the All Progressives Congress who vowed that the demolition of Ile Arugbo was the beginning of comeuppance for the Saraki family, who had held the reins of Kwara politics since the 1970s.
But the controversy trailing the acquisition of the land wouldn’t have risen in an organised country as the security agencies and anti-corruption institutions that investigated Olusola Saraki’s son, Bukola, a two-term governor of Kwara and the immediate past Senate President, would have long punctured the claim of the Sarakis to the land while investigating all the properties tendered as assets and liabilities by Bukola when he sought to govern Kwara, worked as a presidential aide and later emerged as Senate president – since the property was taken over by Bukola upon the death of his father. If the late Oloye acquired the land illegally and wasn’t detected till date, that means the security checks and anti-corruption investigations conducted on Bukola Saraki at each point of his political career were futile rounds of ‘the Ayes have it’. A forensic examination of the land’s Certificate of Occupancy, structural plan, and payment receipt would’ve revealed the truth.
The rivalry between the Saraki and Abdulrazaq families started over 40 years ago as a political contest between Oloye and the father of the incumbent governor, AGF Abdulrazaq, who wasn’t only the first lawyer produced by the North, but also its first Senior Advocate. Oloye edged AGF Abdulrazaq through his stipendiary politics and passed on the baton to his son, Bukola, who revoked the license of the school owned by the wife of his predecessor, Mrs Aisha Lawal, upon becoming governor in 2003.
In African culture, death enrobes saints and sinners with respect. The Yoruba have a proverb for this: “Ojo a ba ku la nd’ere.” The insatiable armed robber in military uniform, General Sani Abacha, still has monuments named in his honour across the land despite putting the economy of the nation to the sword. But all the monuments named after Adolf Hitler were changed after World War II. Nigeria, especially, must learn to call a spade by its name. Ghana is a far more decent country than Nigeria because it seeks and upholds the truth for common good.
The raging politicization of Ile Arugbo brings to mind William Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies, wherein some stranded young boys, who survived a plane crash on an island, turned against themselves and even killed in order to gain control of power. Hitherto, Ile Arugbo was an old house whose dilapidated part once collapsed and killed many people during a program. Today, Ile Arugbo is being defended by some of those who fought its originator to the death for political power. What a world!
I’m saddened that the real owners of Nigeria’s commonwealth, the suffering masses, again, got the short end of the stick in the fresh war between the Saraki and Abdulrasak aristocracies of Kwara. It was disturbing for me to watch the viral videos of old, haggard, hungry and wrinkled-up women begging for their rights to dignity as they protested the planned demolition. They were apparently unaware that the Ile Arugbo, whose demolition they sought to prevent, wasn’t in their best interest. If they knew that all they ever got from the Ile Arugbo were mere crumbs to keep them alive till the next election, they probably would’ve demolished it themselves and sought the enthronement of meaningful democracy.
About a decade ago, I visited Ilorin for a wedding ceremony. I teared up when I saw thousands of women plodding Ilorin roads on foot, some had their torn slippers on their heads. I inquired, “Where are all these women going to?” A younger colleague, Akinlolu Abayomi, said, “Whenever you see women swarming the streets of Ilorin in large numbers, it means Oloye is around.” I asked a dozen more unanswered questions.
I asked, “Is Ilorin the capital of poverty in Nigeria?” “What’ve subsequent governments in Kwara done, in the last four decades when the Saraki family reigned, to sincerely alleviate poverty and empower the citizenry? Isn’t it a failure of governance and political leadership that thousands of people would owe their occasional happiness and subsistent survival to a man, who wasn’t in government?”
I asked, “Why do Kwara political leaders use taxpayers’ money for overseas medical treatments, children’s school fees, and vacations while poverty eats up the citizenry? I left Ilorin a sad man because the following morning after the wedding, I saw thousands of the women who had trekked to Ile Arugbo the previous evening, returning to their holes with a handful of rice in transparent polythene bags placed gingerly on their heads as they talked in groups about the outing. I shook my head in thought: not even animals undergo such a level of indignity to feed.
Bukola revoked the school license of Mohammed Lawal’s wife in 2003. Abdulrazaq revoked Ile Arugbo acquisition in 2019. If the revocation of Ile Arugbo C-of-O was an act of political vendetta, Abdulrazaq will be foolish to think that Karma won’t catch up with him. Abdulrazaq should ask Adams Oshiomhole and his political godson, Godwin Obaseki, what went wrong? I’ll give him an honest answer: greed, vaunting ambition and power don’t brook no moralities. But Karma will show up in the long run, though it may be too late.
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