Dirty water and the Jonathan manuscript
Ife was a great place to be in the late 1970s. I remember our Literature in English teacher, Professor Taylor, an English man. He was one of those great teachers we can never forget at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife. One day in 1977, Taylor was teaching us at the auditorium of the Faculty of Arts and some of the students at the back were murmuring.
“Those of you at the back, can you hear me?” he asked.
“Nooo!” they chorused back.
“If you can’t hear me, why did you answer my question?”
Sometimes we think we know the answer when we are not even sure of the question. Or sometimes, the answer is the inconvenient truth and we would rather avoid it. Ife was the place to discover the truth or to be in the constant pursuit of it. Our teachers were there to help us. There was Professor Ojetunji Aboyade, our vice-chancellor who was taking us Economics 101. He would saunter into the auditorium impeccably dressed with his inimitable bow-tie, starting his teaching with the word: “Economics!” He loved teaching and when the Federal Government offered him a second term as vice-chancellor, he declined.
There were the unforgettable parades of teachers: Professor Oke; Isola Olomola; Professor and Mrs Ogunba; Okot B’itek, the Kenyan poet; Falaiye Aina and Professor Awosika, the first Minister of Education in the Western Region under Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Ife was exciting and we enjoyed the community that was geared towards total education and focusing on the relationship between town and gown with its mesmerizing motto: ‘For Learning and Culture.’ How can we forget the friends we made in Ife? Alawode, Obisesan, Ranti Gesinde, Bola Oni, Yinka Ojora-Adejiyan, Wale Amolegbe, Dokun Abolarin (now our royal father, Kabiyesi, the Orangun of Oke-Ila, Osun State,) Niyi Afuye, Afam Nwana and many others.
Some of my friends and I, including Segun Adeleke, founded the Torch Writers Club, publishers of Torch magazine. I was also involved with the Watu Wazuri Movement, a Black Power organization, where many of my friends, including Bayo Adenekan and Shenge Rahman, were also active members. Adenekan later became the general secretary of the Watu Wazuri. Ife was the headquarters of the Universe for the Palm wine Drinkers Club and the gyration was a national event. Regularly campus clubs brought in many leading Nigerians to deliver lectures or participate in symposia. Some of our favourites included Chief Bola Ige, Aire Iyare from Benin, Chief Afe Babalola, Comrade Ola Oni, Dr Patrick Wilmont, Dr Bala Usman, Professor Ayodele Awojobi and the unforgettable Chief Gani Fawehinmi.
Today, Ife has become hostage to reaction and special interests. You may know when your child or ward enters Ife, you can never be sure when he or she would graduate. If ASUU is not on strike, NASU would be and when the two are on recess, other groups led by insipid philistines would be on the march. Gone were the days of Great Ife when other universities looked up even to our student leaders to give directions on national debates. Who could forget Goddy Ogbogodor, Wole Olaoye and the late Dele Babatunde? Now Ife, built on the land of Orunmila to be a world-class university by its founding fathers, is a disfigured giant in search of its compass.
How can our nation and our race look for answers to the demanding issues of the day and the future from Ife, a great place now overwhelmed by reaction and smug self-righteousness? Those who believe they are always right, like those benighted revolutionaries of Ife, often fall into the Maginot error that put France in peril during the Second World War.
Adrew Maginot was the French Minister of War in the 1930s who advocated for stationary defence fortifications for France. Massive and stationary defence lines were useful during the First World War, 1917 to 1919. It was anticipated that the historic hostility between France and Germany may lead to another war after the defeat of Germany in the First World War. A young colonel, Charles de Gaulle, who wrote a paper for the military high command advocating mobile defence system for France was punished for his impertinence and denied promotion for many years. By the time of the Second World, it was too late to change strategy. As predicted, Germany invaded France in 1940 but the Wehrmacht rendered the Maginot line useless when it employed the strategy of blitzkrieg that relied on rabid lightening movement. As De Gaul had predicted, only a mobile defence system could have saved France.
Now some people are busy erecting the Maginot Line on our national landscape. They are insisting to the denizens of Aso Rock Presidential Villa, that the road to the future has been discovered by them. They would not want anything to do with the restructuring of Nigeria or if it would happen at all, it would be according to their own dictates. This may have persuaded President Muhammadu Buhari to take the fateful decision that he would have nothing to do with the report of the last Constitutional Conference organised by his immediate predecessor, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
There are many reasons why Buhari may find the Jonathan Manuscript unattractive. It was organised by a desperate leader who was looking for any ways that would grant him a second term in office. Secondly, most of the members of the conference were handpicked by the Presidency. We even had a situation where both husband and wife found themselves in the conference, representing the two sides of the matrimonial bed.
The conference was composed by people whom the late Kingsley Mbadiwe would have called men of timber and caliber. Many of those who served on that conference were those who have been parts of the Nigerian story for many years including the likes of General Ike Nwachukwu, Senator Daisy Danjuma, King Alfred Diete-Spiff, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, Oba Michael Gbadebo Adedeji, the Owa Ooye of Okemesi, Ekiti State, Dr Edmund Daukuro, the Amanyanabo of Nembe Kingdom, Dr Nuhu Mohammadu Mustapha, the Lamido of Adamawa and many other eminent Nigerians. Though the All Progressives Congress, APC, did not send delegates, all states were represented including the President’s Katsina State. The official delegates from Katsina were led by the highly respected Justice Maman Nasir.
But Buhari had said he was not ready to read the report of the conference nor would he take steps to understand its recommendations. I believe that it was the body language of the President that made Babachir Lawal, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, to dismiss participants as ”boys,” looking for largess from the big man. Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, former Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs who served as deputy chairman of the conference, berated the SGF for his unguided comments. He reminded the big man that the conference paraded bigger men and that, Idris Kutigi, the Chairman was a retired Chief Justice of the Federation.
As it is now, the ball is in the President’s court on what to do with the Jonathan Manuscript. If he is not interested, he should at least find time to read it and be guided by it. Ignorance by choice is not a virtue that should be embraced by any leader. One of the said recommendations of the report is that the six regional zones, instead of the 36 states should be the federating unit of Nigeria. We need to know the Federal Government views on all these demands.
Calling for the restructuring of Nigeria is not just because it is fashionable, but it is necessary. It is almost certain that in the long run, Nigeria cannot afford to continue with the needless 36 states structure. I do not believe that the Yoruba people, now divided into Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Lagos, Ekiti and parts of Kwara and Kogi States, need more than one regional government. It would be good therefore that the Federal government takes a proper look at the Jonathan Manuscript. May be the map to the future is hidden in the midst of its voluminous pages.
During the Middle Ages, people of old Germany thought magic was hidden in the midst of great manuscripts. The German then were mostly unlettered but they took their occasional bath very seriously. At least once a year, the ordinary people, in the middle of pleasant summer would be able to afford the luxury of a proper bath. So the family would pour water into a giant bath tub and the father would dive in to have a proper bath. After him, the men and then the mother and the children in descending order according to their age. By the time it came to the turn of the youngest child, the bath water would be so dark and dirty that there would be the temptation to throw away the very dirty bath water with the baby. Buhari should resist that temptation in the interest of our country. We may not need the dirty water, but we need the baby. There is no point also in keeping the dirty water while throwing the baby away.
Of course, I would not say there is no alternative to the Jonathan Manuscript. In the days of yore, one would have pleaded with President Buhari to approach the Wise Ones of Ile-Ife at the Citadel of Learning and Culture to get some illumination. But things are different now. The Wise Ones of Ife have gone on parade down the Oramfe cliff, marching into the beats of expired revolutionary songs.