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Still, in defence of lasting values – Part 3

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Ekiti state.

The was the situation once upon a time. Education was Ekiti’s prime value and the acquisition of it was the supreme goal.

The educated person was a respected, but the truly revered were the exceptionally brainy.

At Christ’s School, the Oxford of Ekiti, the names of sterling academic achievers were etched in our memory’s hall of fame and passed on from generation to generation like invaluable legends.

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Who could pass through Christ’s School in those days without hearing about the exploits of the likes of Olukayode Osuntokun, Segun Aribatise, Kayode Obembe (then known as Ojo Lawrence), and Wuraola Olaofe, all of who garnered A1 in all of their eight WAEC subjects in their respective years; or Akin Oyebode whose performance in the Higher School Certificate exam of 1966 was one of the first stories of academic heroism I heard when I arrived at Christ’s School the following year for the same course?

These achievements went a long way in confirming the Agidimo Citadel as one of Nigeria’s preeminent institutions, and Ekiti as a region which softened the soil for the blooming of exemplary academic accomplishments.

Remember that all this happened in an era when examination malpractices were strange to our educational system; when miracle centres had not made their infamous/criminal entry, and unvarnished integrity was the crowning glory of the West African Examination Council.

But all this is now upon a time. Today a new god rules the waves from the nether world of nescience, a blindfold across its face, in its hand a spiked cudgel caked with dollops of the human brain.

It hears no voice except its own. The book is its implacable enemy; enlightened discourse its deafening adversary.

Permit me to quote a few lines from ‘The Spirit of Ikogosi,’ my keynote lecture five years ago, not long after the era of darkness the like of which we have just been through in the past four years:

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The book lost its allure, knowledge its aura, enlightenment its sparkle.

For the first horrible time, I heard some Ekiti people ask, as is the wont in other parts of Nigeria: ‘Na bukuru we go chop?’ The Fountain of Knowledge was muddled by political madness; its mountainous fountainhead was bulldozed by political bestiality. . . . . Thus, even in Ekitiland, Iwe du unaripose/Aogosukuru dun iparifoagba. (The book became an object so repulsive/The school bell sounded like an empty barrel).

Hand in hand with the precipitous fall in the value we place on education and rapid decline in its quality went a corresponding tumble of other elements on our grid of values.

Poor teacher education led to poor teaching skills; poor pedagogic practices and half-baked, unemployable graduates. Education lost its purpose, then its attraction. The book lost its bounce. Ignorance thrust up itself as a viable, unavoidable virtue.

As the ranks of the unemployed swelled with the addition of the unemployable, school drop-out rates skyrocketed and our motor parks, marketplaces and other open spaces were turned into crowded haunts by desperate youths with ignorance in their heads, anger in their hearts, and anomy in their intent.

These are the fodder for apocalyptic social conflagrations, ready and grateful recruits when diabolic politicians need murderous thugs at election times, for the elimination of political opponents, or the sacking of a sitting court of law, the tearing of the judge’s robes, and the destruction of legal documents.

These are the agents you need when you want to block all access roads to a whole state, or terrorise those luckless enough to be your political opponents.

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The barbarism and jungle justice witnessed in this state in the past four years is, without doubt, a consequence of the decimation of those long-enshrined Ekiti values that have featured so prominently in this lecture.

All of a sudden illiteracy became so attractive, even desirable in a state where virtually every family boasts a university graduate, and the designation ‘Professor’ used to rank close to highest in the order of enviable titles.

There grew a sickening mentality that literally made you apologetic for being ‘too educated’.

Our artisans, transport workers, okada operators, and others less privileged largely due to the bottom of the pit to which a satanically unjust society has thrown them, were inveigled into thanking their stars for not having been corrupted by education.

They were turned into the army for the enactment of wrong-headed, ill motivated civil disobedience, implementation of arbitrary political fiats and enforcement undemocratic edicts.

A one-man authoritarian rule emerged that was strange even to the spirit of Nigeria’s ‘nascent democracy.’

The incubus of demagoguery unleashed itself in a way it has never done in any other state in Nigeria. Ekiti became the laughing stock of the nation, the hellhole of country bumpkins ruled by fiat and fear, subservient like oxen who adore their yoke.

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Friends and compatriots from other states called me, asking, with a combination of shock and disconcertment: hey Niyi, what happened to the Ekti spirit we used to know; where is that enlightened bearing, that admirable pride, that stubbornly interrogative audacity, that have come to distinguish the Ekiti character for so long?

A professor friend of mine who is one of the most erudite and most respectable sons of Ekiti jocularly threatened to tell the world about his intent to defect from our eviscerated state to one of the luckier states in the southwest.

Dark humour, you might say, but one that stings like a scorpion of a particularly venomous breed.

How could Ekiti’s once impregnable rampart against political manipulation have collapsed so calamitously?

Why were Ekiti people so mindlessly satisfied with so little? How could demagoguery have succeed and spread so blissfully in the state of university professors?

Demagoguery, that cheap and hollow populism manifests itself in various dramatic ways: the ruler who stops abruptly at the marketplace, bolts out of his air-conditioned SUV, with his security detail in hot pursuit, grabs an otita by the roast corn-seller’s spot, grabs a cob, and starts eating it, to the thunderous cheer of adulatory market folks, and the frenetic clicking of assorted press cameras, for pre-paid posting on the front page of the next day’s papers, and as top news item on prime-time television.

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The next port of call in another three months or so may be the ponmon-seller’s spot; and much later, the agbojedijedi-seller’s joint.

Demagoguery is a calculated pretence, a cynical, clever exploitation of people’s vulnerability, a diabolic play-acting that keeps the exploited eulogizing the opportunistic do-gooderism of the ruler while turning their gaze away from their impoverished plight and the thieving antics of the ruler whose very policies and actions/inactions have kept the people in the abyss of penury.

Demagoguery is a melodrama and farce with a settled plot and protocol of enactment. First, impoverish the people, then try to impress them with the gravity of your specious care and concern.

Work your way into the vulnerable part of their consciousness; let them know how safe it is for them to leave their thinking to you to do for them.

Mock their poverty with occasional toys, pittance, and other tokens.

Do everything to estrange them from the truth about themselves and their condition; build yourself into a god-like inevitability in the theology of their thinking; feed them with the lie that you are there to protect their interests, and you are the only one ordained to do so.

Trick them into thinking – and believing – that in fighting for you they are also fighting for themselves.

Demagoguery is nothing but the ruler’s play on the intelligence of the people, his macabre dance on the grave of their dignity.

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The demagogue is, in soul, spirit, and design, a rabble-rouser. He derives his political capital and energy from manipulation and selfish control.

For him to succeed in doing this, he has to constantly make a rabble out of the people. And as we all know, to rabble up a people is to dehumanize them, to deprive them of their right to genuine citizenhood.

The genuine leader is not one who joins the people in the pit for one ephemeral moment for a calculated photo-op, while pretending at being poor.

Instead, he is the one who does everything to lift them from that pit, to the point where they too can live and thrive as full human beings.

The Ekiti people I used to know would have asked about the palatial lodges their ruler retired to after those choreographed stopovers at their wretched market joints; they would not have missed the criminal difference between those mansions and the shacks in which they are forced to rest their bones at the end of every enervating day.

The Ekiti people I used to know would have asked questions and invoked the spirit of their agidi-ism (stubborn insistence on the just and right) to throw off the yoke of their own abasement.

The Ekiti people I used to know would not have fallen so precipitously from their height as the brain-box of the nation to the alaterunje (shameless, obsequious, and opportunistic sponger) hellhole of stomach infrastructure and other demoms of perverted appetites.

The preceding narrative may sound to some as disheartening, but it is not half as gory as our situation in the past four years.

It is a way of telling the new Governor and his administration – and ourselves: this is where we are; this is where you have met us.

In a manner of speaking, Governor John Kayode Fayemi, you have your work so cruelly cut out for you.

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And what a task it has turned out to be! You have an impoverished populace to empower; a swarm of jobless youths to engage; rundown educational system to fix; the people’s psychological clock to reset.

Your policies, programmes, and actions must help our transition from the rule of a despotic strongman to the leadership of a democratic statesman.

In plain, specific terms, most urgent in the implementation of your meticulously laid-out agenda must be the tackling of the problem of youth unemployment.

Far too many of our energetic young people are left to roam the streets, crowd around the motor parks and city centres, anxious to work, but finding no work to do.

When you ask even those among them who are still in their teenage years “what’s your occupation?”, the answer that shocks your ears is “We are politicians”.

Yes, politician at age 17 or 18! Who doesn’t know that the word “politician” in this regard is a glorious euphemism for “thug”.

It is from the pool of these jobless, aimless, angry, and vulnerable youths that the demagogue recruits his followers, the crime king his hitmen, the religious charlatan-predator his disciples.

We must never forget the role of these mis-used, exploited human beings in the political thuggery and anarchic anomy that have reduced Ekiti to Nigeria’s laughing stock and pitiful patch in recent years.

But finding work is one thing; being educationally equipped to do it is quite another. And this is where qualitative, functional education takes the stage.

Top on the implementation list of your Restoration Agenda must be the banishment of illiteracy, mediocrity, and other demons of ignorance, the training and re-training of teachers and adequate adjustment of their remuneration, the refurbishment of educational facilities, the total prohibition of “miracle centres” and their cooked-up miraculous exam results.

And most important, a re-orientation of our people’s minds to the value of education, the indispensability of enlightenment, and triumphant return of the learning culture …. To borrow my favourite two lines from the University of Ibadan anthem, “The mind that knows/Is the mind that is free”. Let us make Ekiti the education centre of the nation again, the brainbox that it used to be. Let us re-humanize our values.

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There is a lot in your political track record that points ineluctably in the direction of healing; something in your first coming as governor that lends credence to the term “Restoration” as keyword in your current statement of intent.

Once more, here is quote from my keynote address at the 2013 Ikogosi Graduate Summer School, the first of its type in Nigeria:

A man of letters who has shortened the distance between the governor’s office and the classroom, he knows that no country can ever advance beyond the mental capacity of its people, and that education has no substitute as the sine qua non for human development and progress.

It does make a difference when the governor of your state is the type that can ring you up in the United States on his way to deliver a lecture at Harvard; or when a couple of weeks later, he is counted among the dignitaries at the lecture of a brilliant friend at Oxford.

It does make a difference when a state is governed by somebody who knows the virtues of Omoluabi and is well schooled in his Iwapele philosophy.

It does make a difference when you have a leader who is capable of thinking and feeling.

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The age of the philosopher-king may have been over, but this country and this age are in dire need of the kind of scholar-administrator/leader so prospectively typified by the Fayemi Ideal; the instance of leadership informed by answerable knowledgeability, and knowledgeability tempered and humanised by enlightened leadership. The instance of a leader who is not allergic to thinking; a thinker who is not afraid of leading.

But that promise is still unfolding, that ideal is still in the process of steady maturation.

There is so much more to think, so much more to do, so much more to accomplish. And as usual, the devil is always in the detail, in the un-seeable, in the ostensibly intangible.

It is no idle coincidence that one of the prime events of Governor Fayemi’s gubernatorial inauguration is the presentation of two books on governance and public service, written by himself. The Restoration train has set off from an auspicious station, literate and edifying:
Ekiti, a muudidu Ekiti, who put black spots.

Ba juunfifun On a white surface
Akowekowura People who write the book into gold
Alara an gbaida People whose style others can only copy
Akowekowura People who write the book into gold
Alara an gba i da People whose style others can only copy

Ekiti cannot wait for the hope and promise which that Restoration bespeaks.

So, nose to the ground, Governor, nose to the ground; ear to muffled cries, more closeness to the people, your hand on their pulse, your goal the eradication of the poverty and ignorance which debase their lives. Carve yourself a stanza in their songs.

Don’t damn them with a glance through the tinted windows of a speeding car as you drive along the street.

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Share their joys, reduce their sorrows. Let salaries and wages arrive as and when due (as happened during your first term); let us banish the uponju (desperate, extreme need) and deprivation that have turned a proud people into alaterunje exponents of the stomach infrastructure infamy Your new mandate carries the combined import of a second term, second act, and second chance.

It is a rare, significant opportunity waiting for holistic fulfilment and purposive accomplishments. And now, this benevolent atonement before I take my seat:

Didun, didunlu ‘le oloyin, Sweet, sweet is the house of honey
Omi i tan luleakan, The house of the crab never runs dry
Otin i sajojilukuireke, Juice never departs the inside of the sugar cane
Ekiti a dun, May Ekiti sound clear like a bell
Ekiti a dun, May Ekiti be pleasant and prosperous
Ekiti a dun lugba i tere May Ekitiland be pleasant and prosperous during your tenure.
Aye a ye a May our lives be pleasant.
Ugbara a torobo mi a fouropon May our days be peaceful like the stream at dawn
EkitiKete, a jaasise o. Ekiti All, may we never find it impossible Concluded.

Prof. Osundare, a prolific poet, dramatist and literary critic is a laureate of Tchicaya U Tam’si prize for African poetry, teaches stylistics in a New Orleans University, delivered this paper at Governor Kayode Fayemi’s inauguration lecture recently.


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