By Festus Adedayo

NEWSDAILYNIGERIA The most appropriate representation of the impending 2023 presidential election contest for the Yoruba is what is called the Odun e’gun or the Egungun Festival contest. It is a festival-cum-contest in which masquerades file out in their rainbow coloured regalia, with a mammoth crowd gathered to watch them dance. As at today, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Yemi Osinbajo are the Yoruba’s two biggest masquerades in this odun egun. The Alagbaa, one entrusted with the traditional right to preside over the ancestral rites of the festival, is however a Fulani – Muhammadu Buhari. By the way, the Alagbaa is very central to every masquerade festival. He is a hereditary chief who heads the Egungun society and who determines the tone and tenor of the festival. Preparatory to the contest, the Alagbaa of the 2023 Nigerian Egungun Festival had literally decapitated the masquerades, succeeding in destroying the masquerades’ worth and credibility in the estimation of the mammoth crowd at the marketplace.

The masquerade festival is also a time to offer sacrifices to divinities, one of whom is Èsù-Òdàrà, known as the mediator divinity. The Yoruba do not joke with making such propitiations to their dead. It is believed that if the wrath of these divinities are not appeased and, in this case, through the Egungun festival, incongruities will besiege the land, so much that rats in the forests will lose their divinely ordained squeaking sound and birds, their chirping – “eku o ni  ke bi eku, eye o ni dun bi eye.”

The masquerades, wearing long, multifarious colourful robes to court the aesthetic sense of the spectators, are masked according to the insignia of the spirits of their deceased ancestors and are welcomed to the marketplace by shouts of excitement and melodious drumming. The Egungun then file in to perform several shades of dances. Although humans but generally considered to have transmuted into spirit beings on account of their regalia, the Egungun is expected not to be in conformity with the sedate norms of this world, and are thus held on leash by men who wield cudgels, preventing intruders from coming close to the spirit beings. Worshippers then dance to the percussions of the bata drum and in the process, become possessed by ancestral spirits, with those holding the whips flogging everybody within the precincts of their whips.

A religious practice of the people that has lasted centuries, the Egungun Festival is a ceremony in which the Yoruba honour what they perceive as the annual return of their ancestors to the world of the living. At the marketplace, when the Egungun dances eclectically to the front to contest, it invokes the spirits of its ancestors long deceased, precursors of such interventions with the people, to grant it the grace of making brilliant dancing strides in the contest and go home with the village’s trophy of success.

For the Yoruba, however, even at this preparatory stage for the Nigeria’s 2023 Egungun festival, it is getting ominous. The omen writ large is that, even with Tinubu and Osinbajo dancing this spasmodically to the crowd’s frenzied excitement, the opportunity for the Yoruba Egungun to coast home with the trophy by succeeding in occupying the Aso Rock seat of power in 2023 is becoming almost a mirage. Either as a reflection of that hunch or premonition, in the last couple of weeks, especially on the social media, Yoruba analysts and commentators have drawn three unpleasant anchors and images in the service of an explanation for the race’s impending plight. One is that they are drawing a similarity between the 2023 contest and the First Republic’s consuming fight between two of their recent ancestors, Chiefs Obafemi Awolowo and Samuel Ladoke Akintola. Second is that, these analysts are  fleeing into Christian eschatology to locate their plight in a similar relationship that went haywire in Israel some 2000 years ago, between Jesus the Christ and his sidekick, Judas Iscariot. The third of their engagements is to go into the ancient Yoruba narrative of the curse of Alaafin Aole who, miffed at his betrayal, had reportedly cursed generations thereafter that they would be afflicted by rancour at critical points of their national development.

Whichever way you choose to look at their dilemma, the Egungun still represents the best explainer of the Yoruba crossroads. A secret society, on the day of the Egungun festival, masquerades come to the marketplace in various long, coloured regalia to perform the dual roles of deity, listening to the requests of the living who gather by their feet in supplication and who are then believed to carry the supplicants’ requests back to their ancestral community in heaven, ultimately depositing them at the feet of Olodumare – God. Thus, women facing challenges of procreation beseech the masked spirit to grant them children and the people, as a whole, ask for continued guidance of the spirit being. The Egungun, in high-pitched voice, in turn, prays for the supplicants, to which they answer ase (amen).

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By especially going back to the First Republic to excavate the ghosts and personas of Awolowo and Akintola as referents and explainers for the 2023 contest, I submit here that this trait has always been part and parcel of the Yoruba. Indeed, in African cosmology, ancestors play very conspicuous and important roles in current realities. They represent very important sources of power and are believed to be capable of acting on behalf of or against their descendants. Ancestors also function as divinities, even though they exhibit less spiritual power than the gods – Orisa, somewhat. When a descendant of an ancestor faces existential challenges in life, s/he goes to the family grove, offers sacrificial offerings and invokes the destiny – Ori of his/her fathers in heaven to intervene in his/her plight. Ancestor worship is very central to the religion of the Yoruba.

While the two big masquerades, Tinubu and Osinbajo, prepare to dance in the marketplace, their supporters have been invoking several epithets, parallels, epigrams and symbols as prologues to explain the two masquerades’ impending dancing steps. The epilogue has been in the form of a narrative put in the public sphere that Osinbajo, a foremost professor of law and former Attorney General of Lagos State, was moulded by Bola Tinubu. Indeed, the strategy of interfacing Tinubu with the public by his supporters, has been an audacious carving of the ex-Lagos governor in the mould of the Yoruba god, Orunmila, the Orisa of wisdom, knowledge, and divination. Orunmila’s epithet is that of one who moulds the destinies of his appendages, the “mo’ri mo’ri omo tuntun.” Tinubu’s apologists have since cited people at the top who, upon coming in contact with this Orisa, had their destinies moulded by and catapulted to the top.

One of a series of devious stratagems used in the service of this bid is in drawing a parallel between Awolowo and Akintola’s feud of the First Republic as an explainer of the interface between Tinubu and Osinbajo. This came to the fore with brute force immediately after Osinbajo’s declaration for the 2023 presidency. Upon examination, however, this can be found to be very hollow, shallow and lacking in any rigour of historical understanding. Let me explain.

After being systematically rigged out of the 1959 federal elections, Awolowo decided not to go back to his premiership of the Western Region. This was unlike the Eastern Region premier, Nnamdi Azikiwe, who accepted Prime Minister Balewa’s overture to form a government with him, thereafter becoming Nigeria’s only ceremonial president. Azikiwe left his turf in the hands of Michael Okpara, a medical doctor with a very strong mind of his own, while Ahmadu Bello of the Northern Region sent a junior politician, Balewa, to the centre to become Nigeria’s Prime Minister.

It is no longer news that although Akintola  was his deputy in the Action Group, Awolowo favoured either Anthony Enahoro or Chief FRA Williams as his successor. He however had to succumb to party elders like Dr Akanni Doherty and Akinola Maja, who articulated the need to pick Akintola who had then become the deputy leader of the AG after the death of Chief Bode Thomas. In his own words, however, Awolowo maintained that those who dissuaded him from picking Chief Williams as his successor were Chief S. O. Gbadamosi and Dr Akanni Doherty.

In late 1961, the Action Group constituted a group of young men who prepared memoranda for a cogent ideology for the AG. The party’s Federal Executive Council meeting thus agreed on the adoption ofdemocratic socialism as its ideology and, among others, that, “nobody, especially government or party functionaries must have more than one plot of government land; fringe benefits and perks for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries were slashed; and thirdly, the Party pronounced that the Party was supreme and that anybody who held office did so at the pleasure of the Party and that anyone who held any governmental position must see that his policies were either laid down by the Party or were in line with Party policies.” This did not go down well with the premier, Akintola who mocked the ideology of democratic socialism openly. More fundamentally, while Akintola believed that the West should bond with the North to gain power at the centre, Awolowo believed that the West must go eastwards in seeking allies.

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To buttress this, Akintola, in his witty aphorisms on government policies, slammed the Managing Director of the Nigerian Railways, Dr Ikejiani Clark for nepotism in his recruitment of staff into the railway company. This he did in his famous, ikeji a ni, iketa a ni” speech and in the squabble for the vice chancellorship of the University of Lagos between Professor Eni Njoku and Saburi Biobaku, Akintola played on the Yoruba’s common denominator of “death” in the names of the V.C. contestants and asked why the Lagos university community would prefer someone who ate dead bodies (literal translation of Eni Njoku) as against someone who did not want to die (literal meaning of Biobaku).

What the above signifies is that the duo of Awolowo and Akintola disagreed and fought on the place of their Yoruba people in the scheme of things in post-colonial Nigeria and not on inanities of who made who and who betrayed who. I scooped many documents, newspapers and magazines on the tiff between Awo and SLA and never for once did I stumble on that petty magisterialism of Awo ascribing Akintola’s rise to the premiership to his imperious power. So, when supporters of, especially, Tinubu try to reduce the contest to betrayal, it smacks of a spurious attempt to leave substance of the right of a sixty-something-year-old man to aspire to any office in the land, and pursue shadows of tar-brushing him as a turncoat.

In the last eight years of Tinubu and Osinbajo people’s sufferings under Buhari, both of the principal characters never demonstrated any fidelity with these people or the boldness to wear their Yorubaness on their lapels. They never demonstrated that their people’s plight was worthy of any amplification and resolution. When kidnappers killed and ransomed their people of the South-West without let, the duo of Tinubu and Osinbajo bonded with the Alagbaa in his taciturn cold-bloodedness. They even literally abetted him in his nepotistic embrace of his Fulani people and discarding of others. While Tinubu told the world that to become the Nigerian president has been his lifelong ambition, Osinbajo has not demonstrated that he is possessed of any unique love for his Yoruba people, nor that Yoruba people should queue behind him as a matter of mutual kinsman fidelity. Yes, while in their respective political offices, they have both favoured their political and religious clienteles – apologies again to Professor Farooq Kperogi – I am not aware that any one of them bent over backwards to articulate the plight of the Yoruba in a different pitch, in a federal Nigeria under Buhari.

With the above in mind, it then means that those haranguing supporters of both Tinubu and Osinbajo on account of their disparate views, citing the so-called Aole curse of disunity among Yoruba, are merely walking on a barren historical route. While it is a good feeling to have one’s kinsman as president of Nigeria, the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency exemplifies that Yoruba wise-saying that one’s benefactor is not necessarily your kinsman – “ajumobi o kan t’anu…” It is arguable if Yoruba’s South-West was not the least in consideration of development among Nigeria’s six zones under Obasanjo.

So, while the two masquerades – Tinubu and Osinbajo – prepare to have their individual days at the marketplace to dance, the Yoruba should clap their hands for anyone of them that catches their fancy, and they should feel free to get scintillated by their multi-coloured Egungun masquerade regalia. They may mop up as much frills and personal excitements as they can from the eclectic dance steps of the masquerades, get entranced by their beautiful costumes and be awed by the whiplash that each of them lashes on each other. To now Yorubanise the presidential bids of these masquerades and approximate their travails and baggage as that of the Yoruba race’s is absurd and inappropriate, and something in the mould of a journey doomed to fail.

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Dele Bello, Oseni: When squash players die, do their racquets die?

On January 10, after a tiresome game of squash at the Ibadan Recreation Club, I walked upstairs to the gym section. As I began a bout of expelling the recalcitrant mass of protoplasm that had made my midriff its place of hibernation, it then occurred to me that, for months, I hadn’t seen the man who single-handedly procured the equipment in the gym, while he was chairman of the section, Dele Bello, affectionately called DB. So I put a call through to him, which went unanswered. The second day was his birthday and I typed a goodwill wish that I sent to his WhatsApp. I prayed for his quick recovery. The last time we both played squash, late last year, he had barely played one game when he “scratched.” It was obvious that ill-health had seized the fair-complexioned, and otherwise agile gentleman.

Typical DB, he replied my message: “It has been a challenging time in the last four months. Your prayers are working. As for squash, even if I lay off for years, you are not a threat at all. ‘Odo to ba t’oju wa kun, ko le gbe wa lo,’ meaning that the river whose rain droplets began to gather in one’s presence cannot wash the person off shore. As we do before and after a game of squash, I told him that he was no match to me and that his river allegory couldn’t hold water. “It is just like Obalola (Prince Segun Oseni, an elderly squash player) giving that river allusion,” I said. DB ended his message by saying, “The days I am going to freely surrender my position are ahead. Don’t be too much in a hurry.” How prophetic he was.

A few weeks after, precisely on the morning of March 9, with the difficulty that fuel scarcity had caused, I lamented to a colleague how DB’s sickness had caused me so much strain. An ex-National Oil top shot and owner of a petrol station in Ibadan, DB’s fuel station was a place of refuge for every Tom, Dick and Harry during scarcity. How was I to know that a day before then, DB had given up the ghost in far away South Africa due to a brief illness? He was 61 years old. Called to the Nigerian Bar a couple of years ago, after leaving Lead City University as one of its first set of students who the NUC non-registration of the university kept away from the Law School, in my usual taunting, though older, I always called him my junior.

On the evening of the receipt of the news of DB’s departure, we all gathered to mourn him at the Squash Section of IRC. Prince Oseni had been a bit ill, with repeated complaints about his shoulder. The second day, we received the shocking news that he too had passed on, making it two icons of the section struck by the hammer of death within 48 hours. Like DB, Prince Oseni was avuncular, personable and was a great admirer of my writings.

In our moment of mourning these illustrious squash players, a United Kingdom-based Niyi Oyewumi, ex-junior squash player and ex-Nigerian National Under-16 champion, who was then based in Borno State, brought succour to the game and mourning players. On Friday April 15, Oyewumi organised a coaching clinic under the banner of the JGM Services Ltd, with the Squash National Coach in attendance. At that fiesta, he gave out squash kits that comprised attires, racquets and canvass shoes to more than 20 upcoming players.

DB will be committed to mother earth on April 29 at the All Souls Anglican Church, Ibadan. May his wonderful soul and Prince Oseni’s rest in perfect peace.

Festus Adedayo is an Ibadan-based journalist.

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