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Iwondere: A metaphor of those that go a borrowing


There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though the universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. – Ralph W. Emerson

They once lived half a world apart. The fish in the sea. The fisherman on the shore. Frictions were very few between the kingdoms. Fish rarely went ashore and the fisherman dare not launch into the deep. It was nature’s pre-established harmony and for long, it stayed that way. But not for too long.


The fish family was prosperous and contented with nature. The fisherman had neither. Man without the fish was poor. Yes, very poor. Like Robinson Crusoe on the lonely Island of Despair, he has lost his way and original place in nature. And having stayed too long on the shore, with a premonition of the bliss overseas, he longed for a share in the fish kingdom! Certainly, the kingdom had its own worries too. One of it was the sport of chop and chop among some wayward aquatic species. Out of boredom, they played the game of regurgitation using trespassing small fries as puns. Some of them became carnivorous and unlucky fishes didn’t return to the waters. After all, eja l’eja je san’ra – fish eat fish to get bigger! But it was a family pastime; nothing untoward. Fish has no feelings. Nothing is good or bad until thinking makes it so.

Yet, there was order – or so it seems. Strict unwritten codes and conformity ruled. It was accompanied by harmony, freedom and social cohesion. Inhabitants multiplied in droves grew to old age and died natural deaths. The kingdom lacked nothing is needed for survival. Natural development is naturally slow but the most sustainable of all forms of progress. The habitat was never hot, cold or uncomfortable. It was as happy as a house without a roof.

The fisherman saw it all and to his agony too. The fish didn’t leave his head even when he slept. He became their king and presided over their affairs in his dreams. He woke up confused. Is he a man that dreamt he was a fish or a fish now dreaming he is a fisherman? He must unravel the mystery and the key lies in gaining the fish kingdom. He fetched his net, spear and even a Dane gun to raid the fish kingdom. And like Peter in the Bible, he toiled all night, but in vain. He had no Jesus to work a miracle here. Since the fisherman learnt to shoot without missing, the fish too have learnt to fly without perching. The hide and seek could have lasted a lifetime.


On one lucky day, heavens smiled on the fisherman. Right before his eyes were answers he was seeking. It was contained in his leftover ogogoro that he, in error, left behind on the shoreline when he wandered off. He returned to find it empty and on its side too. He was clearheaded enough to recall he didn’t empty the jar. He looked around for clues as he pondered on the theft. Then, he saw the laid path as the water pushed back the shoreline. The stealing party was from the waters. Is it the fish? The fisherman’s face lit up with delight. “Where have you being all my life?” He raced to fetch his fishing net (Iwondere). It was already worn-out of futile overuse but it didn’t matter right now. He had it laced with the best of drinks available, edible remains and launched forward. Within seconds, buffeting and struggles ensued underneath. The weight of the hook caused him some shocks. He choked with the joy of a lottery winner and fainted.

Ifa (or Afa in Igbo) once narrated the foregoing myth of a paradise lost. It was a warning metaphor for early supplicants to be wary of everything foreign or things supposedly free. Ifa summed up the fate of the fish family thus: “Ohun ti won kii wun won, oun olohun nii ya won l’ara. L’o d’Ifa fun Iwondere, tii se alabarin eja. (Theirs or the indigenous never appeals to them; they hasten as everything foreign. This divines for the fishing net, which became the nemesis of fish).” The moral is this, had the fish not opened their mouths to freebies, they would not have been caught by the fisherman. Evidence on ground did not suggest that our early African fathers heeded the warnings of Ifa. With the clarity that always accompanies hindsight, anti and post-colonial works like Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958); Fanon’s The Wretched of The Earth (1963) and Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972), among others, recalled the misfortune that befell the black continent when it opened its shores to colonial interlopers. Like the fisherman at the shore of his newly discovered world, the colonialists simply erected a house at the shore of the African sea and told the world he had built a pond for his new-found export business! Since then, the centre has never hold.


But what Ifa, Rodney, Fanon and Achebe would today find most shocking is that very little has changed in the lust for everything foreign. The hapless fishes wouldn’t still shut their mouths and cravings from everything foreign. Though the reign of control had changed hands over and over; not the fortunes of the fish family that didn’t learn from the predecessor’s fate. They still salivate at everything foreign even when ‘bait’ is written on it. Check the statistics. They were once decorated as the world-leading guzzler of French Champagne because they drink like the real fish. They simply forget that the real deal is in their rich vegetation of sugarcane and palm tree that abound in the interior. In 2019, they spent N2.5 trillion on imported finished products of crude oil, which they have in abundance at the backyard. They are one of the highest producers of cocoa, yet import everything chocolate. Everything must have a foreign label to be acceptable. So, does anyone still wonder why a dollar now cost N460! What is it with the fish family?

Lest we forget, ori l’eja ti n baje – the fish rotten but from the head downwards! Having stayed too long in the fishy business, their leaders have become fish or its surrogates. For them, the taste is everything. The kingdom needs not to be rich to satisfy the unending appetite for everything foreign. It only needs to borrow from the willing lenders and their former fishermen. Another $22.7 billion-plus $5.5 billion loans are on the way for consumption! One should admit that some modern businesses require loans to thrive. But this leadership is in what type of business? Is it the chop and chop fishy type? Is it a business that has viability design and repayment package, or one that bequeaths the misfortune to future government and unborn generations? Isn’t it the type that in recession pays a whooping N27 billion for the renovation of its National Assembly Complex, and awards N1.7 billion consultancy job for the Abuja airport second runway project? Who cares about the agbon-magbe or inexhaustible trillions of debt burden already on the ground? Not the lenders, because they know that the loans, no matter how much, soon always leave the spendthrift borrower to find its way back to the lenders – with the capital and interest intact.

Indeed, we can pardon Ifa’s anachronistic understanding of modern economies. But Orunmila did understand that ‘the borrower is forever a slave to the lender’, and ‘he that goes a borrowing goes a sorrowing’. His are virtues of prudence and moderation; enjoining all to cut their coats according to the cloths, so as not to perish in servitude and slavery. Should these fish be recolonised by the Chinese, as the latter is already doing in some African countries, it is most likely the fish will again call it the will of God. But let’s not forget that only the dead fish go with such a flow. Ire o!

Dr. Oyebade is a member of The Guardian Editorial Board.


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