On Ethnicity And Godfatherism
Grace Ego Omoni
Life is based on relationship and there can be no relationship outside human communication. In other words, the bane of any relationship is communication and no action takes place in a vacuum. Human beings make it to happen but the question that one needs to ask is whether the communication is of positive interest to the people involved and that of the society at large. Does the relationship bring harmony, peace, progress and development to man and society or it breeds conflict, violence and dissatisfaction?
The modern day Nigeria is replete with numerous social vices such as destruction of lives and property, banditry, terrorism, inappropriate sexual behaviour, bribery and corruption, indiscipline, lack of trust, violence, loss of integrity, dishonesty, cheating, lack of patriotism, lack of accountability by public officers, injustice, kidnapping, unemployment, lack of unity, and underdevelopment.
These social problems emanate from a lot of issues such as godfatherism and ethnicity. So much injustice has been done to the nation, organizations and to individuals as a result of these two phenomena going on in the black world especially Nigeria. These two social misdemeanors have truncated development, unity, peace, national security, trust and economic progress in this country. There is an escalation of corruption, poor leadership, political dishonesty, lopsided appointments, inconsistent award of contracts, erroneous admissions to higher institutions of learning, greed, colossal waste in the economy, conflicts and underdevelopment.
The prevalence and notoriety of ethnicity and godfatherism are issues of national concern with people giving diverse opinions on how to curb or totally wipe them out from the nation because the phenomena are cogs in the wheel of progress and development to man and society.
The two concepts shall be briefly discussed under these subheadings: meaning, factors, effects on man and national development and measures to stamp out the incidence of these menaces in our Nigerian society.
This concept or phenomenon is central in today’s Nigeria’s political leadership and administration and a serious threat to the democratization process. It is a major social and political malaise plaguing and destroying Nigeria by the day.
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The concept of godfatherism has as its origin from church history especially among Catholics and Anglicans. In these churches, the doctrine of baptism for members is paramount. At the point of being baptized, the young Christian is given a mature godfather or godmother strong in the faith to nurture and monitor him or her to maturity when he or she is able to take responsibility for his or her actions. The godfather or godmother is expected to be role models in matters of their Christian beliefs and character moulding. From time to time, the godson or goddaughter is monitored and counselled on doctrinal matters while the young Christian reciprocates by giving skeletal services to the godfather. I vividly remember that during my younger days, my godmother would call me to counsel on how to behave as a Catholic child and I in return would fetch water for her when I pay her visits. Some others would wash clothes or go to farmlands to help their godfathers or mothers.
History also has it that the idea of godfatherism started in the U.S when kingpins of the criminal world played major political roles during elections by sponsoring political candidates financially, manipulated results to get these candidates elected and in return, these kingpins were awarded contracts by their political godsons. This indeed is the practice in Nigeria today. The rich, the powerful and business tycoons sponsor politicians during elections by providing money for campaigns, to buy forms from parties, registration, provide them with goons for their security and the intimidation of their opponents, buying of votes and outright rigging during the election period.
They also ensure that those sponsored are positioned as government administrators by whatever means. In return, contracts are awarded arbitrarily to these unqualified elements and appointments are given to unworthy individuals as compensations for the role they played in sponsoring them. These godfathers are the real problems and confusions in this country. They dictate what happens in administration, the economy, the appointments, decisions at the national, state and local government levels, in the passing of bills like the controversial PIB that has just been signed into law by President Buhari and the control of the economy to the detriment of national development, security and solidarity of the people. It is counterproductive to peace, progress and unity and encourages lopsided selection rather than election. It is characterized by abuse of power and appointments are not based on the qualified but rather on the instructions and wishes of the godfathers.
These godfathers assume the positions of warlords and preside over the sharing of the national cake thus technically vandalizing the economy and treasury of the nation with reckless abandon. This is so because they see the political sponsorship during elections as investments which must yield atrocious dividends immediately their candidates assume office and who must use the godfathers’ terms in governance. Any attempt by these political officers to exercise their own will power is vehemently resisted by their godfathers who can resort to violence and threats to gain control.
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So the politicians must serve them and carry out their selfish interests, sow terror in the nation, perpetrate corruption in all its ramifications, engage in violence with all manner of impunity, loot public fund with no one to investigate their wicked activities, wield so much power in the society without anybody challenging them. In other words, these godfathers act through their surrogates, I mean the political godsons who are under pressure to obey them whether the actions are wrong or right.
Any attempt to question or resist their demands after assuming office as leaders often lead to a serious tussle to the detriment of the nation. They turn the entire environment into war zones, violence and insecurity. These political godsons become handicapped and are forced to operate against the interests and expectations of the people they are ruling.
Factors that promote godfatherism include limited party finances, lack of proper education, lack of faith in the electoral process, poverty, greed and the activities of the social media which give subjective and false presentations about incompetent candidates in the dissemination of information to the gullible society. Again the dependency and powerlessness of potential public political officers due to their commitment to their godfathers is also a factor.
The phenomenon of godfatherism is not only seen in the political sector. It is found in different organizations and institutions. Promotions and appointments in educational, health and secular institutions are part of this evil perpetrated without shame. For instance, the appointments of heads of schools, faculties, departments and units are often based on godfatherism.
Just a few months ago a potential candidate who came first in an interview to head a higher institution was denied the opportunity by giving the position to one who was third during the interview. It happens in different parastatals and this issue of godfatherism has led to lobbying, dangerous rivalry, disharmony in organizations, dissatisfaction, frustration, infighting, antagonism, sectionalism, violence, enmity, underdevelopment, and low productivity. In fact the effects of godfatherism cannot be overemphasized.
It breeds disloyalty, delinquent behaviour, lack of effective governance, inefficiency and abandonment of project. The basic welfare of the people suffers and there are delays in national development since money for projects is diverted by these godfathers without accountability.
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The concept of ethnicity is derived from the base word”ethnic” which implies tribe as it was formerly known. Ethnicity or tribalism is another phenomenon acting as a serious impediment to national development in present day Nigeria. Nigeria is a multi lingual cultural entity from time immemorial but brought together by the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates during the colonial reign of Sir Frederick Lugard in 1914. Since then, instead of fostering unity, it has metamorphosed into myriads of hydra-headed monsters plaguing the country because each ethnic group is struggling to gain relevance and be part of the sharing of the “national cake.” Nigeria today has about 301 languages and about 1000 dialects with their distinct cultures, ideologies and challenges.
Out of these ethnic groups, three are said to be major while 298 groups are termed minor. The black man cherishes his existence and is never willing to allow his ego to be trampled upon. Ethnicity is a social phenomenon associated with interaction among members and distinguished by the communal character of their boundaries based on culture, language, values and belief system. It is behavioural in form with common objectives such as myths, beliefs, common descent, socio- political organization, religion and homeland.
Ethnicity is a belief in the superiority of one’s own cultural group and corresponding hatred or misunderstanding of other social groups according to Irukwe. Ethnicity exists in a heterogeneous society according to Nnadozie. It is a major source of societal and political conflicts in Nigeria. The inability of leaders to choose credible leaders and national outlook or acceptability is as a result of ethnicity.
Instead what we see or have are disconnected, self-centred, greedy mediocrities in governance, corrupt in all areas of life, breeding poverty and discontentment because they were planted there with this ethnicity mentality. No Nigeria will win an election without the support of his ethnic group. This is why politicians in public offices lead to give priority attention to their ethnic groups to the disadvantage of the nation’s interest.
The negative effects of ethnicity are obvious and disheartening. Oboh asserts that ethnicity practice is not so obvious in the Western World but well pronounced in Africa, Nigeria inclusive. Ethnic politics has always been the major source of tension in this country resulting in periodic outbreak of violence. It is characterized by cultural prejudices and social discrimination. The menace of Boko Haram sect and the Fulani herdsmen activities in the north and now spreading to the south is as a result of their obnoxious mentality that they have been “anointed to be rulers” of this country called Nigeria made up of diverse ethnic groups and people.
They therefore claim to own the land and can operate anywhere, anyhow with their cattle without any challenge. Someone is yet to convince me and many others when and where they sat to agree or constitute that law of ownership. Of course, the silence of those in government who are mainly breeds of the same ethnic groups is a way of asserting their claim of that supposedly superiority. Other ethnic groups are also asserting their superiority by agitating against this exclusive treatment to people who are violently encroaching on their fundamental human rights.
The recent signing into law of the Petroleum Industrial Bill by President Buhari despite the masses condemnation of some of the contents is another serious negative exercise that is not to the benefit of some ethnic groups especially those in the oil producing areas whose lands are being polluted by oil exploitation and exploration. In fact, ethnicity bias and favoritism has violated the principle of impersonality in governance. Instead it has caused resentment among the marginalized groups.
There is evidence of dissatisfaction in the award of contracts to unqualified bidders, selective payments to contractors who have completed their projects, selective appointments to public offices to favour a few ethnic groups, establishment of government projects to selected ethnic groups, treatment of citizens unequally as if they do not have qualified people to assume the positions. Again accountability is compromised in order not to indict a fellow ethnic member who has not shown competency in his area of jurisdiction.
This issue of selective ethnic appointment is condemned by Prof Joseph Richard. He coined the term “Prebendalism” a phenomenon in the political system in Nigeria which is the act of disbursing public offices and state resources to ethnic clients. It is an unconstitutional established pattern of political behavior that justifies the use of political offices for personal benefits of the office holders and their clients.
In like manner, Kessleman talks of “clienteleism, a prebendal political structure where public office holders compromise specific set of elites and ethnic clients to divert public funds for selfish private purposes. The effects are poverty, disharmony, dissatisfaction, unhealthy rivalry, selfish competition, violent conflicts, ethnic hatred, election rigging, faulty economy, social instability and insecurity,, civil, strife and total national undevelopment.
1) The different ethnic groups need intensive educational orientation. A literate society will bring the issues of ethnic infighting to the barest minimum;
2) Sensitization and seminars should be periodically organized for people holding public offices to know that they are for all and not for any selected group;
3) The curriculum content in schools should include issues of ethnicity , god- fatherism and conflict resolutions;
4) Appointments and promotions should be evenly distributed to all ethnic groups whether from the major or minority groups and based on the qualified. In other words, in prebendalism or clientelism should be totally abhorred ;
5)Passing of bills in the National Assembly after public hearing should be based on the opinion of the people and not on political party sentiment or ethnic mentality;
6)Priority should be given to national development that is beneficial to all. Awarding contracts to unqualified persons who are godfathers or ethnic brothers to compensate for help given should be stopped.
7) Courts should be established on human rights issues with a broad but well defined mandate that includes the effective protection of the marginalized ethnic groups! ;
8) Culprits who practise godfatherism and ethnicity syndrome to the detriment of the nation should be sanctioned and removed from public offices;
9) The dissemination of information by the media should be done in sincerity of purpose. Singing the praises of incompetent unqualified candidates during elections should be stopped. Integrity is far better done illgotten riches.
Ethnicity and god fatherism are two social problems that have similar characteristics and negative effects on man and society. They are cogs in the wheel of national development and are the main causes of violence, poverty, discontentment, deceits. dissatisfaction, agitations, corruption, evil activities, mindless killings, conflicts, sectionalism, lopsided appointments, unhealthy rivalries, destruction of other peoples’ and government property, failed governance, poverty level of the citizens, poor economy and national underdevelopment. Therefore, individuals, organizations, institutions, local, state and the federal governments should as a matter of urgency begin to imbibe the culture of national consciousness, patriotism, honesty and embrace fairness in handling matters of national interest.
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By Toyin Falola
“Idán no dey read but Idán de pass.”
“Idán no dey work but Idán dey eat.”
“Idán no dey stress himself.”
“Idán no dey talk but na idán dey make sense pass.”
“Idán fit dey sick, but idán no go die.“
“Idán no dey watch car for road, na cars dey respect Idán. “
Surfing through the internet in the past few days, you might have come across the various uses of Idán by the youth in Nigeria, especially my boys and girls on street corners, my adopted home. Idán would directly mean mystical magic and its adaptation to describe a person’s position as an extraordinary, outstanding, non-conformist in some instances, outliers or other forms of descriptions that the Nigerian youth use to eulogize themselves.
“Idán ni Toyin, Baba Toyin
Falola Idán gangan! “
Recently, the internet has seen different waves and versions of Idán. From the Idanship on the streets to the crowned Idáns in the four walls of any institution and the silent Idáns making moves and strategies like Sabinus. The Idáns are truly sabi and have proven to be the uncrowned Kings in their games over time. A masterpiece of their idanship is multifaceted as it cuts across borders into different spheres. It would have been interesting to see these sets of individuals line up to get awards or recognitions, but that would go against the creed and the essence of the sayings. After all, Idán no dey find awards, na awards dey find Idán. Curiosity might pick one interest in understanding how and why this term became attributed to define Nigerian youth’s doggedness and resilient spirit. Nigerians and Nigerian youths are Idáns; everyone needs to start acknowledging that.
The role of the youth in the country’s development and its projections and potential cannot be underestimated. With over 57 million youths and the Idán potential each of them possesses, Nigeria could be on the path of regaining its position as the heartbeat of the continent and setting the standard for many other nations in the world. Hence, while we discuss the degeneration of many African countries and the level of development and then consider the potential of the African and Nigerian youth, there is a confidence that with the right channels and explorations, the nation and the continent might be the global focus of development.
Nigerian youth are idáns largely because of their ability to survive any situation and still become outliers when the odds dictate possible failures. Hence, they have managed to successfully, against all odds, to keep the country in the limelight. Their abilities to survive make them the very adventurous Idáns that put them in direct competition with other youths of other countries they have found themselves, despite the limitations of being in a foreign land and policies that favor home countries. In 2017, the Nigerian government stated that the population of Nigerians in the diaspora is not less than 17 million. That was 6 years ago. In March 2023, the National Identity Management Commission stated that the Nigerians in the diaspora had an increase in the number of NIN by 563.57%. Jápa is idán; to survive in Chicago is idán!
There is a projection of a massive increase in the number because of the high influx of Nigerians into other countries in the past four years. Most Nigerians in the diaspora are youthful, and there is a high tendency that most old folks got in their respective countries at a young age. Nigerians are in virtually all countries, so, country wey Nigerian Idáns no dey, no dey, or e no get level. Na idán dey run things, dey make am get levels. The Nigerian Idáns do not mind if the country is a conflicted region or the negativities predominant there; they adapt and seize available opportunities no matter the hardship. Idán no dey run from challenges, na challenges dey run from Idán.
It is no news that despite being Africa’s largest economy, the Nigerian economy’s reflection on the Nigerian youth has been problematic. The high poverty rate, weakness of the Naira, infrastructural challenges, poor social service delivery, limited job opportunities, ethnic conflicts, terrorism, and other social troubles have created great challenges to the nation’s growth. These shortcomings have continued to deal a blow to the country’s different aspects of human and material growth. Hence, to have large numbers of mediocre, less dynamic, and unenterprising youths in such a society in the face of these challenges would not be surprising. I mean, there are readily available excuses. Despite this, a very encouraging percentage has outworked and outwitted the system to create a meaningful life for themselves. So, when we talk about their triumphs in other nations, you must know that there are millions of Idáns back home than positive outliers in the face of de-capacitating challenges. They have grown to be experts and skillful fellows that have drawn the international markets, hence, the comfort of national development. The idâns can be found across all fields doing what they know best and surviving in even things they do not know.
A walk around markets like Alaba, Onitsha, Ladipo, Ariaria, Computer Village, Katangua, Balogun, Osodi, Dugbe, Bódìjà, Oil Mill, Kasuwar Kwari, Sabo n’Geri, and Zaki Biam Yam markets, one would see the hustling spirit, creativity, the resourcefulness and Idán moments of the Nigeria youths. For instance, the Alaba and Computer Village markets in Lagos State have gained an international reputation as they stand as the home of solutions to all electronics and electrical problems. Thirteen young Idáns established Alaba, becoming a huge international space for performing Idán. The computer village, largely populated by youth, has become Africa’s version of the Silicon Valley. These markets have become the country’s starting points for many millionaire Idáns.
Politically, the youths have also demonstrated the tough spirit to withstand pressure and spearhead a movement that campaigns against corruption, bad government policies, and mismanagement of public authorities and funds. The early post-Covid period brought together a movement that changed the course of the country’s political voyage. The movement started amidst the cry for a reform that would lay the foundation for a new Nigeria as was hoped. Despite the fallout at the initial stage, an offshoot of this movement became apparent months before the just concluded general elections. A political movement that many never expected could last rose to threaten the ranks of opposition parties in the country. Even in defeat, as it later turned out, the exploits within two years affirmed to many Nigerians that change was possible. The Idáns of the no-structure party convinced Nigerians that the youths truly are a force to reckon with. The EndSARS movement also brought about reforms that have started the foundation for youthful participation in politics and manners of governmental relationships with the people. Now, the youths have dared to contest and have started occupying public positions as elected officials; they are also gradually becoming the pillars of the political determination of the nation. These feats would have remained a fairy tale if strong-hearted ones had not taken the initiative. Idán no dey tire, Idan presses on!
Another famous show of Idanship in Nigeria by the youths could be attributed to the excellent dispositions towards the entertainment and hospitality industries. Young Nigerian musicians, actors, writers, and even chefs have plied the path of greatness in their careers, beating all marks to achieve greatness and setting the nation on reputable global maps. These laudable acts became possible due to the multifaceted factors employed. Through its divisions, including film, music, comedy, fashion, and literature, the industry explored the borders of creativity well by encompassing innovations with rich African history to promote their Craft. The need for a digital revolution and the use of social media has helped bridge the goals between local audiences and their international counterparts.
These, coupled with partnerships with existing industries from other parts of the world, raw talents, creativity, and individual perseverance, have propelled it to a global powerhouse. The industry can boast confidently of young enterprising entertainers with numerous awards to their names and international reputation. The face of global music has been changing with the promotion of Afrobeats and the adoption of African music cultures. Tems, Burna Boy, Wizkid, Sikiru Adepoju, Jenn Nkiru, and others in the diaspora like Henry Olusegun Adeola Samuel (Seal), Helen Folasade Adu (Sade Adu), Lekan Babalola, Hakeem Seriki (Chamillionaire), and Kevin Olusola have all won the Grammy Awards with several others having been nominated. Several of them have performed on international stages with tens and hundreds of thousands of audience, even more than local musicians in those countries could pull.
Davido’s live performance at Fifa World Cup, Tiwa Savages’ King Charles III Coronation performance, and several other songs from Nigerian artists have become some of the most streamed globally. Aside from these musicians, performing artists like Lateef Adedimeji, Kunle Afolayan, Mr. Macaroni, and Taooma are Nigerian entertainers who have broken the mark in their trade, adding to the long list of those making the continent proud. Most importantly, these Idáns are influencing cultures across the world. I must also commend the achievements of Nigerian sportsmen and athletes like Victor Osimhen, Asisat Oshoale, and Tobi Amusan in contemporary global sport, without forgetting those that have set the marks in the past.
One might have wondered what fate Nigerians have in the academic world. Have the youth been able to go against all odds despite failing systems and challenges like the ASUU strike? Nigerians keep setting the standard among their counterparts around the world, and there are various reports of their possibilities of doing well when they get to the midst of students from other parts of the world. “Idán too sabi”
However, before you fall for phrases like “Idán no dey read but Idán de pass,” “Idán no dey work but Idán dey eat,” “Idán no dey stress himself,” “Idán this,” and “Idán that,” you must know that what characterizes these Idáns is their hard work and low-key efforts that have made them stand out. While those statements might just be comic expressions by the youth, they are understatements of Idán’s huge efforts to disguise. Else, you run the risk of becoming Àdánwò.
My Country Our Country Called Nigeria
By Tony Afejuku
My country called Nigeria which is your country their country our country is an extraordinary country of evasions. We don’t need to prove or disprove this as the fact everywhere on the ground, in the sky and on and in the waters and on the underground carefully and easily formulate this claim that is more than a claim. The position or truth of the matter of my claim is that my thought and mind and head and heart are on a common platform with the movement of what you might or should accept as a point of view that is a point of view that is obviously and really more than a point of view yearning for a revolution. And do I really mean a revolution? And to what end and purpose is the revolution? To prove that Nigeria does not belong to the bigwigs, the top bureaucrats, the Aso Rockists, the presidencynologists and the rest of the exploiters and oppressors of the people, the masses, the middle classes, the academics, professors, teachers, students and workers of all shades and colours generally.
When I saw what I saw and which you definitely and probably saw a few days ago on telly, our blood, your blood and my blood, certainly boiled and craved for the blood of our oppressors and deceivers – all of them. Of course, I am referring to the spectacle of the inauguration of the new president, yes, of the new president, the sixteenth president or President the 16th, of Nigeria. The Abuja Eagle Square event beamed live in our rich television stations showed our elegant oppressors in their rich and real measure of oppressive and exploitative value. And your blood was pierced and wounded to the extent that you wanted immediately counter-measures of the severest and worst kind to take over your country from the decadent personages of decadence, who have ruined and are still ruining your country my country and our country they desperately want to own as their personal country and property.
My spirit of populism rebelled against itself and its allied spirits when the deceiver and dissembler of a military general of Daura was being given his final respect as president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Nigeria that were significantly armed warriors against the people and masses in a manner that confounded even their sensibilities and sanity. The general was getting his final military salute and was leaving us to rot and perish in our annihilated states after a presidential election that our exquisite justices are now presiding over on the grounds or no grounds of petitions of petitioners from APC’s rival political parties and their presidential candidates.
Buhari was nothing but a killjoy. His regime in the main was a call to arms and decadence and hatred. Man against man. People against people. Ethnic group against ethnic group. Section against section. Clan against clan. Rank against rank. Brother against brother. “Class against class” – as Jean-Paul Sartre would put it. Under Buhari there was quarrel everywhere. There was warfare everywhere. “With a patient, mortal enemy, no quarter can be given: it is kill or be killed, there is no middle way. And no time for sleep.” I remember this quote which I am lifting from Jean-Paul Sartre’s essay on Paul Nizan. Buhari rekindles this in my mind that is thumbing through articles and essays and books of all regimes of decadence and of tyrannical tyranny and despotic despotism which Buhari is an exquisite essence of. May Buhari and his kind of flatulence never see the light of day again in our land – this land of lands and lands that must remain our own forever and forever. I call upon all of us who are ready to formulate now a forever programme of populists and populism to keep us on the alert and programme of populists and populism to keep us on the alert and stimulate our streaks and vitality of dissent any time any day anyone with the propensities of Buhari and his team of crushers dares to emerge again in my country your country our country which they do not own because it is not theirs to own.
Our ethical and moral populists must be prepared to plant in themselves deliberate hardness against the strongest inclinations that will compel any future president of Nigeria to trample on the autotherapy of any Nigerian. It is important to stress this point. Each populist must be prepared as never before to challenge any negative and anti-people policy and feature in the physical and mental make-up of our president, this president or any other president.
In his inaugural speech on Monday, May 29, 2023, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu whose presidential fate and destiny are still distinctly un-settled and unstable dared the people with his arrogant declaration that oil “subsidy is gone.” At the time of my doing this column in the deep night of Tuesday, May 30, 2023, the negative effect of the declaration had already sent wrong or malicious signals about his less than one-day presidency everywhere in the land. The Jagaban must not be a killjoy like the Daura personage of malicious hatred for the generality of the people of our country. If I was in his shoes (but I won’t because I can’t because of my calling), I would have garlanded myself in the wish to be soothed by the people by, for instance, warming towards our university egg-heads by releasing to them their seized salaries of eight months or so on account of their legitimately legitimate strike. President Tinubu must realise that the people and masses up to now still feel a profound mistrust of him and his political party following what Buhari did to them and the way and manner INEC conducted the presidential election and declared Tinubu the winner. The Jagaban must give thought to this. By the way, I have in my possession his 11th January, 2012 well thought-out essay when ex-President Jonathan dared to excise oil subsidy. Let me quote the Jagaban: “By this sly piece of paper, the federal government breached the social contract with the people. This government, which owes its existence to the people’s desire to be governed by someone more humble than elitist, has turned its back on the collective will. By bureaucratic fiat, government made the most fateful economic decision any administration has made since the inception of the Fourth Republic and it has done so with an arrogant wave of the hand as if issuing a minor regulation.” The point I am making here is that he who has become our sixteenth president must encourage the people and masses not to lack enthusiasm in his presidency no matter how short or how long it may be. And our acceptance of him must be based on his shining presidential policy that must not be short of patriotism that should give us recuperative strength and powers.
The Populist Movement consisting of selfless veterans and non-veterans of the same selfless hue is absolutely alive. Nigeria must remain your country my country our country in the true spirit of your country my country our country. In this wise our pleasure must be full of patriotic perplexity. And we must luxuriate in the intoxication of this perplexity. The expectedly measured grace of the new landscape which you must lead and inspire us to recreate must be part of the substance of it – and should extend beyond that. The rest will be captured in my fresh patriotic poetry in the making.
Afejuku can be reached via +2348055213059.
Remembering The Aworeni Clan Of Ile Ife: Connecting Educational Experiment And A Philanthropic Spirit
By Tunji Olaopa
This piece, for me, is an exercise in hagiographic historical reconstruction, as well as a celebration of friendship. There are so many gaps in our sociocultural histories and trajectories that require intellectual attention and cultural curiosity in ways that increasingly fill out the history of ideas, figures and issues in our social history. I believe the Aworeni clan of Ile-Ife constitutes one of these critical points of history that require filling out. And with most sociocultural histories, one can only keep putting the puzzles together without ever achieving a perfect and coherent fit. One can only hope that a significant dimension of the objectives of journalism and media reporting in Nigeria will be diverted to the excavation of such histories that serve as the foundation of a people’s sense of self and of cultural knowledge.
Anyone familiar with the educational trajectory of the 1970s and 1980s in the Southwest would immediately remember the name of the ‘notorious’ Chief Johnson Adedapo Aworeni of the Adesola High School fame. I came into the knowledge of his notoriety as a student of Awe High School, where Chief Aworeni was once a principal. Chief Aworeni, as I will narrate in a moment, was an educationist and philanthropist of the sort whose activities had a most unintended consequences that seemed to undermine his objectives of allowing so many children to achieve educational advancement. This endeavor cast Chief Aworeni in a bad light as someone who bastardized the essence of education, something that the Awe people—from many of my pieces about my hometown—take very seriously as a sacred issue.
Chief Johnson Adedapo Aworeni
And so, in 1989, while I was at the Lagos State directorate of the Mass Mobilization for Self-Reliance, and Economic Recovery (MAMSER), I met one Abimbola Aworeni at the Thorburn Avenue, Yaba office. When he introduced himself as “Bimbo Aworeni,” that last name struck a historical chord immediately. I was quick to pose the next logical question: “Are you related to the Chief Aworeni of the Adesola High School, Ibadan fame?” Of course, he was! He was one of the sons of the great and “notorious” chief. And in a typical lively and jovial manner that I would grow used to, Abimbola owned up and made fun of the extreme qualities of his father. But then, he celebrated him as “a unique philanthropist and a kindhearted lover of the downtrodden who will give all to give others a better life.”
My curiosity about Abimbola’s father eventually led both of us into a lifelong relationship that ensured that we always were readily available to attend to each other’s need when the occasion arose. The past tense I have used for Abimbola Aworeni is indicative and tragic: he passed away on the 15th of May, 2023, and quite so untimely. This news is painful because no one should ever lose a dear one—Abimbola was a brother and a friend after my heart; and one of my regrets is that I was not able to keep up with his joyful philosophy of existence and relationship given that I was too taken in by the necessity of juggling critical professional and research responsibilities that prevented me from socializing and keeping up with equally critical relationships. And what best way to celebrate my friend than to begin a preliminary historical protocol of excavating the significance of the Aworeni family in the history of the educational and philanthropic dynamics of the Southwest.
Let me complete the story of Abimbola’s renowned father. Chief Aworeni was practically a self-made man who started climbing the educational ladder with distinction from a very early age. The doggedness that saw him through secondary school equally kept him pursuing distinction all through a first degree in economics, a second degree in history, a postgraduate diploma in education, and a law degree all from the Universities of London and Ibadan. We will probably not know what turned Chief Aworeni’s attention to education, but he not only made the rounds of the most famous secondary schools in the southwest—Ibadan Boys High School, Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife, MacJob Grammar School, Abeokuta, Ijebu Ode Grammar School, Awe High School, Awe, etc.—as a teacher and principal, he also probably picked up, along the way, his populist orientation that made him one of the most influential philanthropists in the Southwest in his days.
The Aworeni Scholarship came to signify the emergence of a spirit of unrestrained giving that was tied to the Ile Ife root of the Aworeni, but that transcended that cultural boundary to encompass all indigent students who qualified by simply demonstrating a need to learn. He demonstrated a cultural patriotism that was determined to lift all indigenes of Ile Ife beyond the limitations of ignorance into the sublimity of education and enlightenment. And his open-minded philanthropic philosophy would ensure that he threw wide the net of empowerment to as many as would be willing to learn. And it was only logical that Chief Aworeni would eventually establish a school to accelerate the realization of his desire to encourage many less privileged candidates to pick up a pen and get an educational foundation. The Adesola High School, Ibadan was the institutional embodiment of the Aworeni scholarship and the philosophy of empowerment that he stood for.
And this is where the zeal to shine the light of enlightenment on many dark minds led to the opening of the floodgates that would burden quality education with the deadening quantity of overloaded classrooms. Chief Aworeni was not careful to measure his populist philanthropy with the realistic assessment that one school cannot take all comers. And this is not just about the available infrastructures; it was also about the quality of education such students can be provided with. A perceptive reader would have made the connection between Chief Aworeni’s educational experiment and Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s free education project. Unlike the former, the latter was founded on a well-laid out educational policy that also involved taxation to achieve a level of required funding that made the project a success. Chief Aworeni’s enthusiasm was simply borne aloft by his populist eagerness. It was as if Chief Aworeni was too impatient to countenance any hindrance—including educational planning—to his ultimate goal of adding values to people’s lives, especially the underprivileged whom the state had abandoned to themselves, and to a life of indistinction.
This is where Chief Aworeni’s educational philosophy and philanthropic spirit should first be applauded. Azim Premji, the Indian businessman, aptly summarizes Chief Aworeni’s philanthropic sense: “The responsibility of philanthropy rests with us. The wealthier we are, the more powerful we get. We cannot put the entire onus on the government.” Philanthropy complements the efforts of the government in transforming the lives of the citizens; and hence, this made Chief Aworeni a significant part of the rendering of the educational history of the Southwest. Unfortunately, populist philanthropy does not always serve the objective of an education that is functional and optimal, especially the type that a citizen requires to become a good member of society. It would seem that this was the point at which people of Awe took exception to the educational “philosophy” of the great man.
But then, maybe Chief Aworeni was just not well understood. This was definitely a man that was deeply motivated to domesticate his philanthropic spirit to the service of his community. That, all by itself, is a worthy contribution to the well-being of the community members, and makes the initiator of the community service programme an ambassador to note. It would seem however that the weight of attention has been focused more on the negative side of Aworeni’s populist philanthropy rather than on the larger picture of what he did and why he did it. We only have the collective appreciation of those who scaled through the overload of the Adesola High School, and the many others who benefitted from the Aworeni Scholarship, to thank for representing the success of the unsung philanthropist.
At a deeper level, Chief Aworeni calls into play the relationship between education and philanthropy, especially in a postcolonial context like Nigeria where the state seems to have abdicated its responsibility towards the creative harnessing of the human capital that could be deployed towards communal and national development. It likely will be a difficult research endeavor to determine the extent to which the beneficiaries of the Aworeni scholarship and goodwill have contributed to the developmental dynamics of the Southwest. But there is no denying the fact that he did the best that he could within the constraints of his time and context, as well as the limited resources he had which he distributed with all joy to the needy.
No wonder my departed friend—his son—Abimbola Aworeni, who goes by such nicknames as Bambo and Skolobi could be very proud of his “notorious” but unique father who damned every consequence to be relevant in his own way. He loved his cultural root; and he loved people even more, wherever they could be found who needed help to make their ways in life. And that was what he directed his entire life attending to. I am glad I met the scion of such a large heart. May the gentle soul of my dear friend, Bimbo, rest in peace.
. Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and Professor of Public Administration.
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