By Femi Orebe
I know Ilorin pretty well; that piously quiet, indeed, serene city where, when I lived there in the mid ‘70’s, you wont be served any alcoholic drink even right inside your room at the Kwara Hotel which, for about 3 months, was home to us, senior pioneering members of staff of the University College, Ilorin, now University of Ilorin. To have a glass of beer, therefore, we had to go all the way to Idofian, some 10 or so kilometres away.
Ilorin was both serene and scenic, a city where, though you’re a Christian in the preponderantly Muslim city, you would not mind bringing up your children there because of the peace of mind its quietude guaranteed.
I had been headhunted from the University of Ibadan as the first ever Senior Assistant Registrar in the college by no less than the foundation Principal , the inimitable Medical giant, the late Professor Ladipo Akinkugbe, with whom I had first worked as Secretary to the Ceremonials committee of the University’s humongous 25th Anniversary celebration, which he chaired. Shortly after, he got my boss, the Registrar, Mr S. J. Okudu of blessed memory, to transfer me to the Faculty of Medicine, UCH, where he was Dean. Those were my earliest contacts with him and even though I had been transferred back to my old Council Affairs office by the time of his appointment, the absolute gentleman that he is, it was to Mr Bayo Adeyinka, the University Estate Manager, he turned, to broach his interest in having me on his new team at Ilorin.
May the good Lord rest their souls and comfort the families they left behind.
Ilorin, better put, Kwara state, had military administrators and governors the state can truly be proud of; men who gave of their very best to the state.That, of course, was before the days of “misapplication of funds” – apologies late Admiral Aikhomu – and men who were not given to dynastic contestations for which the state would later haemorrhage badly.
This piece is, however, essentially not about Kwara or, of the University, despite its title. That is because the hijab war, which features in the caption, is only a symptom of the low to which Nigeria has recently sunk. It speaks to, not only our mode of leadership recruitment in the country, but governance itself – both at the national and sub national levels, arising largely from the practice of some leaders, deliberately shutting out from around them, individuals who would not play dumb. It also speaks to our increasing crudity, and how we, as a nation, have come to specialise in inanities in a country that once aspired to being a member of the United Nation’s Security Council.
Good enough, that is now ancient history.
I won’t know if you, the distinguished reader, has watched the Ilorin stone-throwing ‘hijab war’, captured in a trending Whatsapp video, showing residents of the town, on either side of the road opposite the Baptist secondary school, hauling stones at one another; so very reminiscent of some poor, unarmed Palestinians, throwing stones at heavily armed, kalashnikov – wielding Israeli soldiers.
But that is only a symptom; a symptom of the low to which our country has sunk just as it symbolises the vacuity of our political leadership, at both the national and sub national levels.
The 2015 general elections had seen Kwara people seemingly graduate from internal colonialism – thanks to: O TO GEE, and so happy were Nigerians, especially their Southwest kinsmen, who had for years agonised with them, believing that this freedom would last a life time.
Who would have believed that anything would be done to splinter that impressive cohesiveness that had, in the twinkle of an eye , banished the brutal feudalism Kwara masses had been subjected like forever.
But for where?
Like a people never tired of affliction, it has been an unbelievable, roller coaster wahala for the victorious APC, and the government it birthed after almost a millenium of the progressives being marooned in the opposition jungle, barring that brief ray of hope under Uncle C. O. Adebayo who was elected governor for a very brief period.
Given the party’s current unhealthy circumstances in which the state chairman was unceremonialy yanked off, unless the governor, and those who ensured his victory in 2019, but who he now fights with everything in his armoury, genuinely retrace their steps, and reconcile, they may soon give the mortally wounded Bukola Saraki the bragging rights, come ’2023. If PDP ends up victorious in the state at the next election, they will all come to rue the massive shellacking they served the former senate President in 2019.
I am not in the least interested in whatever decision is taken on the hijab palaver because it adds nothing to the peoples’ quality of life which is, at best merely passable.
Rather what concerns me is the mode of governance in the state. Kwara is in this crisis today for the very reasons Nigerians are suffering from actions, and inactions, emanating from Abuja.
When a leader surrounds self with friends, cousins, uncles , sundry relations and yes men, it ends up in that leader losing the advantage of solid advice from varied backgrounds which is critical in decision making.
I have no doubt whatever that because of turf wars, the governor must have been listening only to the views of his ‘friends’ since he must have shut out independently minded party leaders who could have assisted him in reaching a more generally acceptable decision on the hijab palaver.
President Buhari also suffers from this lacuna because of his excessive dependence on a very narrow circle of advisers both at the level of his kitchen cabinet, with members who are, presumably, all Northerners and, at the level of agency heads, whose advice on critical issues are needed, but who again, are preponderantly of Northern extraction. What this does is that whatever advice the President gets will be mostly mono-culturally derived. This must be part of the reasons many of his attempted policies – RUGA, Grazing routes, Livestock Transformation Plan and the Water Bill – do not sit well with Nigerians. This is also why he is seen as serving mostly in the interest of Northerners.
It is the reason, for example, why many Nigerians cannot appreciate whatever commercial advantages a railway to Maradi in Niger could bring Nigeria. It is, in deed, worse when he is seen as being teleguided, in his actions, by a mafia whose members’ inter- regional prejudices date back to the days of the Kaduna mafia.
But all is not lost if the President and, of course, the governor would change course.. The place to start is to appreciate that excessive insularity in governance cannot yield profitable results. The President, in particular, must expand the base of his team so as to enjoy the benefit of having varied, indeed, variagated, advice since some in such an expanded team of diverse ethnicities could, with all due respect, disagree with some of the President’s views, something which is culturally forbidden to his fellow Fulani who would, naturally, self gag out of respect. It is that weakness in his administration that has led to calls for a stakeholders’ meeting to interrogate the multiplicity of problems – not mere challenges – now confronting Nigeria, right, left and centre and which have led to calls for balkanisation as restructuring, once heavily canvassed by many, this column inclusive, now appears to have passed its sell-by date.
If we want Nigeria to be a truly united country which can assume its rightful place in the comity of nations, there must be a paradigm shift in the President’s governance model.
Back then to Kwara, how long ago did these people hear the civilised world again fighting over religious matters?
What exactly is the problem with us Nigerians? With all the problems we have, should we be inflicting a needless religious war on ourselves? Is hijab the Holy Book itself, or how much does not wearing it detract from a young girl being a devout Moslem? Why is a young girl whose parents should be more concerned with her making up for all she lost during the pandemic, now being encouraged to make a piece of cloth her object of adoration? To imagine that some of those kids might not even have had their breakfast that morning of a stone throwing festival. We have a lot of serious thinking and soul searching to do in this country if the world would not simply pass us by.