By Festus Adedayo
This is what Kurumi’s Ijaye looked like after it was attacked and defeated by Ibadan forces in 1860/61: “Old people, men and women and young children were being carried to the river Ose to die,” wrote John Iliffe in his Poverty in Nineteenth-Century Yorubaland. He continued: “Whilst many others were left to perish in the streets. There being no food for them, that many, in order to obtain the means for subsistence, put themselves and children in pawn and others even sold their relatives to procure food to eat.” A Baptist missionary was reported to have taken responsibility for feeding some fifty children who he evacuated to Abeokuta, while his Anglican counterpart, in October 1861, selected 20 of the distressed children to cater for. It was so bad that some parents resorted to begging, an act alien to the people’s culture, while some others were picked in very terrible conditions on the streets. Their dying parents, in their last wishes, pleaded with missionaries to rescue the children from ominous deaths in the face of hunger. Read and re-read the above and more in Iliffe’s piece published in The Journal of African History, Vol. 25, No. 1 (1984), pp. 43-57 by the Cambridge University Press).
Does the above description not fit the present state of the Nigerian nation? It was as a result of Kurunmi’s obstinacy. Last week’s protests against hunger in Nigeria reminded students of history of dreadful scenes that accompanied the siege and capture of Ijaye in 1860-2. They provoked a powerfully evocative imagery of a country in abeyance. Ijaye, a city-state, was originally an Egba town whose inhabitants were driven away by some warlords in 1833. By that time, veteran of multiple wars and despot, Kurunmi had built Ijaye into a prosperous military powerhouse that could be compared to Abeokuta and Ibadan. Like every conquistador, Ibadan had consolidated its military strength and was attempting to become a sole power in Yorubaland. A year before the war, at the death of Atiba Atobatele, the Alaafin of Oyo, the ascendancy of his son, Adelu, to the throne had caught the ire of Kurunmi who believed that custom and culture had been put in abeyance in the coronation of Adelu. He reckoned that Adelu should have died with Alaafin Atobatele. Kurunmi thus chose not to recognize Alaafin Adelu. So, when one Abu, a very wealthy lady who resided in a town under Ijaye called Ijanna, died intestate and Adelu, according to custom, sought the reversal of her wealth to the Alaafin, Kurunmi fiercely resisted it. He even took captive messengers sent by the Alaafin to execute the customary demand on Abu’s property. This provoked Alaafin Adelu who then ordered Ibadan warriors to declare war against Kurunmi and his Ijaye. The war was so fierce that, against the conventional warfare weaponry of bows and arrows that Kurunmi was used to, Ibadan warlords devised a totally unconventional strategy. At a war council meeting held in Ibadan on April 10, 1860, war generalissimo, Balogun Ibikunle, raised the standard of warfare by cutting off food supply to Ijaye from the Oke-Ogun flank and reigned bullets on Kurunmi and his warriors. The war was so intense that Kurunmi’s sons, which included his eldest surviving child, Arawole, were killed and the despotic Kurunmi himself died in June, 1861. He was buried in a secret sepulcher by the head of his slaves called Abogunrin.
Last Monday, youths and women in Minna, Niger State recreated that traumatic scene in Ijaye. They blocked the Minna-Bida Road from the popular Kpakungu Roundabout, in protest against their disaffection with the “suffering under the Bola Tinubu government.” The protests were soon to spread like bushfire in the harmattan. Though the cries of agony have become singsongs in Nigerian homes in the last eight months of this government, these protesters were the first to bite the bullet by taking to the streets of Minna. In epigrammatic description of their plights, the women and youths drew the graph of unbearable and biting hardship, death and hopelessness.
The Minna protests can, however, not capture the Ijaye-like trauma that Nigeria is facing today like a viral video which trended same last week. A group of market women in Ogun State was shown in the video calling for the resignation of Nigerian President, Bola Tinubu. Their grouse? Tinubu had been tame and tepid in curtailing the astronomically soaring prices of goods and foods in Nigeria. This has resulted in traumatic and biting hardships. The women’s despondency even provoked them into making some very scary and fundamental statements about the president and his government.
The women berated the Tinubu administration. Having thus badly performed in government, so said the women, in their estimation, Tinubu had disappointed Nigerians, particularly the Yoruba. According to one of them, “he (Tinubu) has disappointed us in Yoruba land, he is not behaving like a Yoruba man,” while another said, “this problem is too much. If you can’t solve our problem, don’t add to it.” After drawing the upswing curve of food prices in Nigeria, when asked what they would do if they came face to face with Tinubu, they said, “We will beat the President… we will beat him. What he told us is not what he is doing.”
Indeed, during his campaign round the country, Tinubu had promised life abundant. As hyperbolic as it may sound, the essence of a group of feeble women voicing their desire to beat up the symbol of Nigeria is in need of an examination. One on one, brawn-wise, it is doubtful if they could physically beat Tinubu up. Again, these were women who may never have the opportunity of standing before the majesty of the Nigerian president. So, was that “beating” up the president a mere exaggerative claim or it was representative of a desire for a castration of his government? In what way can the women beat the president? Could it be that the women were so frustrated and depressed about the hunger in the land that they have lost the tenderness associated with their gender?
But, situations of existence can render men effeminate, pushing women too to acquire the masculinity of the male gender. When castration of fervor and ability is under discourse, my mind hovers over my favourite South African short story entitled The Dube Train, authored by Drum magazine journalist, Canodoise Themba, otherwise known as Can Themba. Themba was one of the collectives of Apartheid journalists like Nat Nakassa, who blended journalism with creative writing. This they used as social commentaries against the ills of the white government and the crass disconnect of government from the pains and pangs of the people. In the said Themba story, set in a busy train coach heading for Dube Town on a Monday morning, a woman is physically assaulted by a tout called tsotsi and the passengers say nothing. A woman then spanks the men “Lord, you call yourself men! You poltroons! You let a small ruffian insult you. Fancy, he grabs at a girl in front of you…. might be your daughter…if there were real men here, they’d pull him off and give him such a leathering he’d never sit down for a week.” Then the tout pulls a knife, stabs a man who nonetheless hauls him out of the train, to his death. The passengers winced, without a whimper. The ending that Themba gives the story is what fascinates me here and in which I find a corollary with the Nigerian situation of intense hunger: “it was just another incident in the morning Dube Train” as “the crowd is greedily relishing the thrilling episode.”
Like the woman in that Dube Township train that Monday morning, it took women of Niger and Ogun States to voice the anger of Nigerians with the Tinubu government over the gnawing hunger in the land. Also, like the passengers in the train, Nigerian men seem to have lost their balls, looking the other way from the agony in the land. They lament the cost of living that is hitting the firmament and food prices that are a whiff off the cloud in their closets. Yet, Nigeria is fast getting to that intersection the Ijaye people got to when “many, in order to obtain the means for subsistence, put themselves and children in pawn and others even sold their relatives to procure food to eat.” The Ijaye crossroads is reminiscent of the famine and hunger in biblical Samaria where two mothers, hungry and unable to endure the pangs, agreed to mutually devour their children for supper. It was a very challenging, governmentally rudderless time in the city of Samaria which was under siege and embroiled in an unprecedented food scarcity. Like Nigeria. The Samarian hunger resulted in mutual cannibalism. Already in Nigeria, the economy is pushing the people to Samaria. We witness the extremes of crimes which even criminologists find no corollary to in crime literature. Pastors are faking their own kidnaps so that they can extract illicit profit from their congregation; sons are killing their parents for rituals. It is, Samaria, here we come. Even during the Nigerian civil war, things were not this traumatic. Nigeria is suffering one of its most painful economic crises post-independence and the leaders seem to be picking their teeth.
Festus Adedayo is a Public Policy Analyst.