When Chief Obafemi Awolowo died in 1987, amid a deluge of musical tributes in his honour, a line among those offerings stood out evergreen. Sang by Fuji music lord, Kollington Ayinla, while extolling Awolowo’s panegyrics, he sang: “ookan ile l’osa gbe, Baba Yinka//eyin t’o funfun kii gbe koro enu”.
This line profoundly articulated the open life of Awolowo, as well as his trackable history and pedigree. As short as the lines were, they drilled deep into the most granular of Yoruba concepts of openness and transparency. Literally translated, it means that shrines that people are proud of are erected in open family compounds and it is a misnomer to cover a set of sparklingly white teeth with flabby duvet of lips.
Shrines in Africa were held, partially or wholly, as reserved places for magico–religious or even ceremonial functions. Their traditional worshippers or priests consider them sacred and as groves where ancestors lived. Those groves were also places and channels of communication with humans by the gods and were dedicated to the worship of deities, war heroes believed to have transformed into ancestors, or sites of burial of nobles in a community. Trees, water and rocks are wrapped around these shrines and altars and they together form an important totem of the environment, the corpus of the Yoruba belief system. As important as these shrines are, most Yoruba deities and shrines are erected in the front of compounds.
So, whether as Christians, Muslims or animists, there is a unity of prayer points of parents that God should give them blessings that cannot be hidden. One of such blessings is that the children on whom they spend so hugely excel upon graduation, especially with a first class. Every week, newspapers celebrate such achievements in interviews with such graduates. Those are blessings that cannot be hidden. In support of full disclosure of a worthy past, Yoruba say that only a malformed or deformed hand is hidden under the bowels of a garment – “owo ti o sunwon ni gbe abe aso”.
On Sunday, October 17, 2021, TheNews magazine published what it said was the “most comprehensive Tinubu interview about his early life, struggles abroad, against the military, governorship, others”, “a marathon interview he granted” where he “spoke about his rugged beginnings, studies in the US, struggles against the military for the actualisation of June 12, the current democracy and others”.
In the interview, the man who would later become the Nigerian president said he performed so brilliantly at the Chicago State University (CSU) that “at the end of the term, and still on the Dean’s list, Professor Jesse came around to inform me that he would employ me to manage the Accounting laboratory for the institution… I was given a scholarship to become a tutor…I was challenged and severely under pressure to keep up my grades as each semester rolled by because if my grades dropped, I would lose the scholarship. It was quite challenging and in the end, I graduated top of my class and I was recruited as an Accounting major…I was on the Dean’s list; I was in line for the award for the overall best accounting student as well as that of the university scholar’s award….”.
Recently in a September 7, 2023, press release from Aso Rock, on the fringe of the G-20 Summit, during an interactive session with Nigerian students studying in the South Asian country, President Tinubu recalled his academic prowess while he was an undergraduate at the Chicago State University, describing himself as a brilliant student. “Good education brought me here and I am happy to stand before you here as the president of Nigeria. I started small. I was a security guard. I was a tutor in school. I was a brilliant student. I joined Deloitte and was trained by one of the biggest accounting firms in the world, because of my education.”
Those are indeed words of encouragement. His grass-to-grace story should encourage any youth that they too could reach for the zenith of achievements in life if a US cab driver could become the president of the most populous black country in the world. So when, shortly before the judgment of the presidential election petition tribunal, ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar was rumoured to have approached a United States of America court to subpoena CSU so as to obtain university schooling records of President Tinubu, many of us laughed him to scorn. Why would Atiku take politics to this demeaning level? We reckoned that Atiku would be so legally gas-lighted in the US that he would not try this nonsense again all his political life.
In the application, Atiku had alleged that Tinubu’s academic records were inconsistent. In a dramatic way that stunned virtually all of us, the American court granted Atiku’s application through a judgment it delivered last Tuesday, September 6, by magistrate Jeffrey Gilbert. He then ordered the production of the school documents of Tinubu in 48 hours and the deposition of the administrators of the CSU under oath. If granted, Atiku sought to demonstrate that the man who occupies Nigeria’s foremost office is ineligible to be president of a country like ours. As Professor Olatunji Dare once wrote in his profound mastery of the English language, this was becoming curiouser and curiouser. Atiku’s reliance was on sections of the 1999 constitution (as amended) which unambiguously void the aspirations of anyone who willfully tampers with their certificates for the sake of vying for political office.
Both Tinubu and his alleged alma mater, the CSU, have maintained that he attended the institution. [b]CSU is however demurring from authenticating his certificate under oath. The man who in newspaper interviews excitedly mouthed his first-class degree at CSU is also now spiritedly arguing against the release of the results to Atiku. His argument became the untenability of the documents in Atiku’s appeal at the supreme court. The former vice president was however unwavering. Before the order could lapse, Tinubu suddenly approached the court under a Ms Nancy Maldonado of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago, for an application to delay the order and submitted that releasing his school documents to Atiku had a fatal potential to damage his life. “Severe and irreparable harm will be done to Bola Tinubu if the records are released,” the president’s lawyer told Maldonado. Arguing further, the lawyer said that if the court released the documents to Atiku, great harm that “cannot be taken back to the bottle” would be done to him. Immediately, Ms. Maldonado agreed with Tinubu’s lawyer on the severity of granting the order on the part of Tinubu and thus stayed the order pending further arguments on the matter.[/b]
In all this, I am at a loss. Me thinks somebody proud enough to grant interviews articulating his academic brilliance should have no issue at all mounting his first-class certificate on global billboards for all to see. That done, political enemies like Atiku Abubakar would have had no other option than to lick their wounds.
The Chicago court drama reminds me of one of Joseph Folahan (JF) Odunjo’s folklore with the title, ‘Afose d’elede’ – Afose has morphed into a pig. Literary critics and folklorists say that the past and the present inter-relate in a strong way. A writer, educator and politician who was best known for his works in Yoruba children’s literature, Odunjo, in 1951, won a seat in the Western House of Assembly and was later appointed Western Region’s first minister of land and labour by Chief Awolowo. He communicated Yoruba values through folklore and myths. Folklore, a strong imprint from our past, relates strongly to present social and sociological conditions. Odunjo, just like D.O. Fagunwa, was greatly respected for having shaped the minds of generations of Yoruba of western Nigeria, especially through his highly famous Alawiye series. The series transformed into a book from the oral folklore and stories of traditional society told at moonlight after dinner. With this, he was able to communicate the values, beliefs and literary skills of the people. Using fictive characters (human or non-human) like tortoise (Ijapa and his wife, Yannibo), ghomids, (ebora) streams, animal kingdom, human kingdom, etc., he intermixed itan (myths) and alo (folklores), the former more believable because they are factual, dependable and historical than myths, to convey the reality of the time. The calamity in this, however, is that such folklore has not been preserved into posterity like Tom and Jerry.
‘Afose d’elede’ is themed to preach that regardless of how long they gestate, flourish or span, hidden evil manipulations will go awry someday. The narrative is centred around a gang of felons in a village who specialise in the nocturnal theft of villagers’ property. This particular day, they had stolen a very huge pig called elede and to escape scrutiny, gilded the hapless animal inside a wooden coffin. Local hunter sentries however lay ahead of them that night. As they advanced from their village into the town, two men shouldered the casket like a mourning party. One of them stood in the front of the casket with his left hand tightly holding a full-grown cock. He plucked its feathers intermittently with the right hand. As he did this, following in the ancient tradition and custom of the Yoruba, he invoked incantations, amid a cultic rendition of a sober song interceding for intervention of the spirits for the dead.
What this man with the cock was acting was what is called the tradition of “adiye irana”. In order to seek easy earthly passage to the hereafter for the dead, Yoruba believed that adiye irana, with its process of plucking the feathers of a live cock as the first in line of a hearse party, the enchanter was interceding for the dead so that the spirits could grant them eternal sojourn. In another way, the cock was meant to “ra ona” – literally, buy the road/way – for the dead. The cock is the cash, the bribe if you like, for the sentry of heaven – Onibode Orun – to wave the dead in and on to eternal bliss. Elasticising it into an aphorism, Yoruba say “adiye irana kii se ohun a je gbe” to remind us of the inevitability of justice, now or later, in this life or in the hereafter.
The sentries however confronted the advancing “mourning” party and demanded to see what was inside the coffin. Sounding shocked at the temerity of the sentries, the gangsters told them that right inside the casket was the body of the late Afose, a notoriously powerful medicine man from their village renowned for transforming into all manner of animals in his lifetime. His notoriety and native medicine powers transcended his’ to other villages. In death, Afose still retained his powers, said the gangsters, so much that if the coffin was opened, Afose could, as usual, transform into any animal he desired. Not dissuaded, the sentries stubbornly demanded that the coffin be opened, nevertheless. Upon being forced to lift the lid off the coffin, a pig’s oink confronted them. This necessitated the gangsters to chorus that the body of the notorious medicine man had indeed transformed into a pig – Afose d’elede! In the melee of the pig that had suddenly been set free from its imprisonment, the felons burst into the song, “Afose d’elede, a ti wi tele!” and escaped into the bush.
The way it stands, the age-long miasma of cloud shrouding Tinubu’s certificate and past may become an Afose d’elede that is fast coming home to roost confirming, indeed, that regardless of how long it gestates, flourishes or spans, manipulations, like the felons’ casket, will go awry someday and the world will see the original content of the casket.
No matter what part of the political, ethnic or class divide one may belong, the ongoing judicial tackles in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago should bring huge embarrassment to every Nigerian. That a country which advertises a surplusage of academic laurels and achievements among its citizens in America, Europe and in very many parts of the world is being administered by a man who rushes from pillar to post to spread thick pullover over his academic documents is enough embarrassment to last Nigeria a lifetime.
The drama in that Chicago court is sickening. As lawyers say, the objective test to determine what a reasonable person who is faced with the kind of allegation against Tinubu will do is to allow Atiku Abubakar have his way at the CSU through the court. Muzzling Turaki Adamawa off those academic documents, for whatever reason, is akin to carrying a coffin containing elede and staving off all entreaties to open the content of what is claimed to be the dead body of Afose.
By the way, let us play the devil’s advocate by interrogating what may lie at the back of the president’s mind for seeking to block the revelation of the results. Ego? Why should Atiku act as an interloper in a matter that does not concern him as Tinubu’s academic documents are strictly his business? The answer is that Tinubu is no longer a private person and by poking his nose into political office, he has lost every right to his privacy. As such, anybody interested in his academic records should be allowed access to them. Then, the president’s lawyer exploded what sounded like a nuke inside the Chicago court. According to him, granting Atiku access to Tinubu’s certificates will cause “severe, irreparable harm”. With this last averment, I am of the opinion that our president must sack this lawyer for this very incriminating statement and for attempting to deny the proud alumnus of CSU the opportunity to put Atiku to shame and an opportunity to buga with his First-Class Honours degree in Business Administration.
[b]I have attempted severally to navigate through this claim of “severe, irreparable harm” by the president and I must confess that I am marooned on a desert island. How? It stands against reason that a man will pay foreign lawyers multiple of thousands of dollars legal fees to argue in court that a tight lid be put on documents relating to an academic journey he had flaunted to the world as excellent. When has harm ever come the way of anyone simply because details of their academic records became public document? Why would a man who promised to run a transparent government demur from same transparency when it comes to openness of his past? To an ordinary and reasonable person, it would appear that releasing the result, on the contrary, stands to benefit the president immensely. First, the growing community of tarbrush of fraudulence, forgery and shadiness being affixed to his name would cease. It could even put a lie to and render unfounded the allegation that the president’s ancestry is wrapped in shawl. Releasing documents of his schooling in Chicago would afford us an opportunity to harangue Atiku as indeed a meddlesome interloper who is shopping for straws to hang on to in his quest for the Nigerian presidency. More fundamentally, a Tinubu who rose to power on the cusp of attracting A-list technocrats should never be found with the inelegant act of hiding details of his own academic records. Did he appoint those A-list persons without peeping into their certificates?[/b]
The optics of this “severe and irreparable harm” thesis is very dispiriting. And annoying too, if you ask me. It seems to reinforce the belief by haters of the president that his past is shady, unwholesome and not worthy of being known by a global audience which thirsts after purity. That is why I think he should fire his US attorney. I am very sure our noble, pure president never sent him to make that demeaning claim. As bad as Nigerian leadership has been since the collapse of the First Republic, never had Nigeria been confronted with a graphic acquiescence to narratives of forgery by its leadership as this. This global embarrassment is almost proportionate to the disaster of Hiroshima and Nagazaki. To reinforce how bad things are, an Encyclopedia Britanica search on our president comes up with this embarrassing entry “Many of the details of Tinubu’s early life, education, work, and finances are unclear”. They all feed the trough of this unfair claim of forgery and obfuscated past.
The uncommunicated, but unwillingly communicated communication arising from this helter-skelter run to hide Tinubu’s certificate in Chicago provokes the question, is our president an Akudaya? Did he spring from Mars? Akudaya is an ancient core Yoruba belief that roaming spirits of the dead acquire human flesh like a living wraith, get disconnected from their past and begin life de novo elsewhere. There have been stories of akudaya who married, gave birth and lived life to the fullest; until those who knew their past suddenly surfaced. Its closest synonym is the British apparition, a resemblance or prototype of the living or dead, or the German doppelganger. The doppelganger, mostly used in horror literature, is a dip into German folklore which doubles down on the concept of the existence of a spirit double, “double walker” or a person’s non-biological look alike. So, which one of these is President Tinubu?
To further compound the unpleasant narratives, this great man’s biography, detailing his youth, friends, challenges and victories, his humongous achievements and rise from zero to the pinnacle of office have never been written as a biography or autobiography. I am told there are no plans to ever avail of us of this potentially rich narrative. Curiouser and curiouser still, I must confess.