Grace Ego Omoni
If an individual does not know his or her root, then such a one has no idea what the future holds for him or her in the traditional African society especially where the patrilineal family system is practised. Among several ethnic groups in Nigeria, the Yorubas and the Ukwuanis in the South West and the Niger Delta respectively, the identity of the individual is held in high esteem. The nomenclature or heritage of the family is known and preserved through their cognomen known as “Orikri” in Yoruba and “Efa otutu imusu” in Ukwuani. The cognomen of the family talks about the attributes of the family stock.
According to Akinwowo, the cognomen refers to the praise, chants, recitations and poetic lyrics of achievements of a group’s ancestry which are intended to provide a great amount of historical or biological information of that person’s identity. The purpose is to preserve a record of the valued past of the family the person comes from and to spur him or her to greater achievements in emulation of their ancestors. In fact, it fosters hope for the individual. Often when a child wakes up early in the morning to greet, the parents burst into praises and chants about the family’s exploits in the past that made them outstanding in their ancestral vicinity either in terms of bravery or the profession in which they are noted for.
A child who fails to exhibit such characteristics or ancestral attributes embedded in the cognomen of the family is often suspected as a bastard leading to paternity questions by the father or other family members secretly or outright ! Fathers of such children accuse their wives of infidelity and traditionally find ways to discover the truth. The above history is given to help the reader understand that in our African society, identity is of utmost importance for an individual’s social and cultural survival. Anything that will cause the individual to have issues concerning his or her identity as a member of the family is often greeted with pains, shame and sorrow.
Today, the issue of paternity fraud has become so rampant that many families have been disrupted. It has led to controversies, unknown illnesses and even deaths. The reader will agree with the writer that cases of promiscuity, adultery, infidelity and all sorts of sexual misdemeanor have become the order of the day among the young and the old, the single, the unmarried as well as the married, the highly respected and low, the have and the have not. In time past, married women rarely engage in extramarital sex or else, she would have to face the wrath of the gods.
Nature has a way of exposing this evil and the woman is made to confess. For instance, the child or the woman in question may fall sick and defy all manner of treatment and may even die if she failed to confess. The man who also knows that the wife committed such a crime and failed to tell his family members might also be afflicted with inexplicable occurrences until solutions are sought traditionally.
Paternity fraud as noted earlier is very much in our midst. Sometime past, there was this young man who could not get his wife pregnant. The twin sister to the wife who also was married had had her own children. Their mother was worried and sought trado-medical help. There and then, they were told that the husband was answering the name of one who was not the father. The young man forced his own mother to say the truth and to take him to his biological father. There was a legal tussle! The other man sued for damages and asked for millions of naira as compensation for the investment in the child. It was after this that the young man started having his own children.
The mother was thrown out of her marriage and the new father could not marry her because he had his own legal wife. The woman became the greatest loser! A recent one was that of a young woman who had two sex partners, got pregnant and was forced into marrying the richer of the two by her parents. Nature proved them wrong for she eventually had the child, it was an albino! Everyone in the village knew the paternity of the baby. The mother of the girl’s other sex partner happened to be an albino! That was how she was sent packing to settle with the biological father of the child. There are so many other instances. A friend told me how a 63-year-old man was brought to her family even after the death of their father. The sibling could not deny his paternity because they all saw the perfect resemblance between their late father and the man.
In this article, the following sub- topics will be briefly discussed: Parent and Parenthood; Paternity Fraud; Causes of Paternity Fraud; Consequences and Counselling Strategies.
Parent and Parenthood:
During marriage ceremonies, one of the prayers people hold in high esteem is that of the new family being blessed with children, hence the alligator pepper is used for the blessings because of the belief that it symbolises fertility. Being a father or a mother is greeted with pomp and circumstances. Thus, a parent is a person’s biological mother or father. A parent is one from whom a child is descended. The term generally refers to the natural biological or natural father and mother of a person whether they are married or not. At times the parent could be a surrogate, adoptive, foster or guardian but in this write-up, the parent here is limited to the natural or biological person(s). Parenthood is the state of being a parent. Specifically, it is the function of being a parent.
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Parenthood is the function the father and mother assume when a child is born. They have the responsibility to give spiritual, emotional, educational, financial and social care to the child. Married couples anxiously wait for them to become parents but when the waiting is prolonged, there the trouble starts. Some engage in extramarital affairs that lead to paternity matters. Sexual pervasion prevalent in the society has led to serious pathetic paternity issues and these have made men to become aggressively agitated against female culprits and most often seek to be convinced whether they are actually the father of the children born to them and in whom they are investing . Again, many of these children exhibit characters not found in the ancestral history of their families as indicated in the cognomen. This has heightened the doubts in the men whether these children possess their genes; hence, the question, “Am I the real Dad?: Paternity Matters.”
This may be a new term but its occurrence in the society is as old as man. Paternity fraud occurs when a man is incorrectly identified as the father of a child. The underlying assumption of paternity fraud is that the mother of the said child deliberately misidentifies the biological father. Of cause, in our society an old aphorism asserts that it is only the mother that knows the father of her child. In other words, while maternity is a matter of fact, paternity is a matter of opinion! When a mother deliberately gives false information to the husband as being the father of a child at birth after being pregnant for some other man, it is referred to as paternity fraud. It can also be called misattributed paternity, paternal discrepancy or paternal unknowingbility.
About a year ago, the media carried the news of a bank managing director who was actually the biological father of the children of his female subordinate in the organization. The revelation led to the eventual premature death of the legal husband of the woman. The society was mad at the story and demanded justice. Many children today are in the dilemma of searching for their real biological fathers and men/ husbands are also secretly nursing the fear whether they are the actual fathers of the kids they are raising and investing in. Paternity issue therefore arises when a man is claiming to be the biological father of the child while the mother is denying or when the mother is claiming that the man is the father and the man is denying the paternity or when a child demands to know his or her actual biological father.
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Causes of Paternity Fraud:
Some of the factors precipitating this phenomenon in Nigeria and worldwide include:
a) Promiscuity: This is the practice of multiple sex partners without discretion. Men and women are involved. Sexual weakness is prevalent among adolescents, the young, the adults as well as the married and the unmarried who engage in indiscriminate sex habits. Many are into multiple sex relationships with no regard to societal values and norms. The entertainment industry is part of this problem of promiscuity with films presented to viewers who fail to differentiate between make belief and reality. When viewers put into practise these negative presentations in films, the result is unwanted pregnancies which they deliberately give to their husbands for those who are married or to any man of their choice if unmarried. This is indeed paternity fraud in action!
b) Infidelity and Adultery: The terms refer to sexual acts by men and women who are married outside their marriage. It is also called extramarital affair. Infidelity refers to any violation or betrayal of the mutually agreed rules and boundaries of an intimate relationship. When it occurs, it is typically viewed as marital betrayal. Some women go into it as a retaliation or a revenge mission against their cheating husband. Other causes of adultery or infidelity are poor communication, low self-esteem, delayed pregnancy and infertility problem between husband and wife. It is the act of the man or woman having sexual intercourse with a partner other than his or her spouse.
In fact, any sexual liaison other than ones’ husband or wife is infidelity. It means that the person has committed adultery and a breach of mutual contract in Christian and civil marriage. In traditional or Muslim setting, it may not be tenable for the man for they practise polgamy. Again in our African society, the gravity of infidelity or adultery is of a more serious offence on the part of the woman. Infidelity or adultery can lead to paternity fraud when pregnancy is involved. The woman has the tendency of fraudulently or deliberately presenting the child as the husband’s own to avoid shame.
However, if the man is suspicious, he is likely to contest the paternity. Again many have given reasons for such acts. Some say that it might be that the husband cannot father a child and since society frowns on infertility, the woman goes out to get one to save the face of the husband. However, if it is a unilateral decision by the woman alone, there is bound to be paternity matter. Either that the real father of the child will come back to claim the paternity of the child or the real husband will totally reject and goes to the court or to the traditional council to prove that he is not the father with evidence and medical backup. It should be noted that women who cheat on their husbands lose respect in the society and it might cause them their marriage especially when it pertains to paternity issues.
c) Poor Orientation: Many people have poor orientation about the sanctity of marriage and why it is necessary to exercise decorum in practising extra-marital sex outside marriage. They also have poor knowledge of what it does to the nuclear and extended family. Inadequate training on marital issues by parents, religious institutions and counselling centres are part of the problems of paternity matters. From the religious point of view, sex outside your marriage is sin and there are consequences before God and man. Added to the above are girls being forced to marry men they do not love. Greed for wealth is another probable reason especially if the spouse is poor and she finds another man enticing her with money. Again some women are of easy character and may not be satisfied with staying with only one man.
Consequences of Paternity Fraud
a) It leads to distrust between husband and wife.
b) It disrupts marriages and leads to divorce which will eventually affect the upbringing of the children.
c)It leads to health hazards and premature deaths. Out of frustration, the man or the woman might decide to commit suicide.
d)The extended family may decide to ostracize both the child and the mother and even their own son if he refused to let mother and child go.
e) The child of controversy may become permanently and emotionally devastated leading to deviant behaviour or even suicide. Such a child loses his integrity in the society. Some people will deliberately mock and rebuff such a child in order to have the opportunity to make him know that he has no identity in the society.
f)The woman loses integrity in the society and becomes the object of ridicule.
g) It leads to conflicts and disunity in both the family and the society.
h) The socio-economic status of the family may change for the worse.
i) Couples should attend marriage counselling sessions before tying the knots.
ii) Parents should teach their children the rudiments of marriage and sanctity of fidelity. The girls must be counselled to shield the pride of womanhood by being decent.
iii) Couples should go for fertility screening before plunging into marriage.
iv) Seminar on sexuality education is mandatory before and after marriage.
v) Churches, schools, health care givers and religious bodies should from time to time give frank talks on marital matters such as husband-wife relationship, coping with delayed pregnancy, fertility issues as well as consequences of cheating, infidelity and promiscuity.
vi) Doubting couples should go for DNA tests.
vii)Go to paternity courts instead of taking laws into their hands which might result in more scandal or murder cases.
viii) Couples should be taught strategies for coping with stress and emotional incapacitation due to paternity matters.
ix) Couples should learn to be patient and wait on God as well as seek medical help from gynecologists when there is delay in getting pregnant by the husbands.
x) Parents should desist from coercing their daughters into marrying men they do not love.
xi) The content of the school curriculum should include marital counselling as a subject and just embedded in home economics.
xii) The government, voluntary organisations and private individuals should establish counselling centres where issues pertaining to marriage are addressed.
xiii) People should learn to stop this madness of promiscuity ravaging the society. Women especially need to exhibit self-control. Sexual intercourse is not food!
xiv) The entertainment industry should be selective in the films produced and presented to viewers. Those promoting indiscriminate sex practices should be scrapped and government needs to monitor the producers’ activities and place bans on illicit films from the market.
xv) Intending couples should compulsorily visit the hospital to know their genotype and Rhesus factor. These will help them to determine whether they are compatible in terms of child bearing or not. Please Christians take note. God will not give you sorrow. Every good gift comes from God. So if your Rhesus factor is not compatible with your would-be spouse think twice before you continue with the relationship. Parting at this early stage is better than infidelity and engaging in paternity fraud inside marriage.
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Paternity fraud is fast taking over our valued cherished family system. The rate of paternity fraud in the world today is alarming. Women shamelessly talk about their extra-marital affairs in court when being questioned. In fact, women have lost the pride of womanhood in our society especially in the western world and Nigerians are copying them forgetting their ancestral root! There should be a rethink. Many fathers are no longer sure whether the kids are their real biological offspring .
Most traditional families are fast losing the attributes of their ancestral achievements found in the children born into the families. Premature deaths and disillusionment are now rampant in Nigeria. There is the need for society to go back to the roots. Women, you are being challenged to please show respect for womanhood. Be role models to the younger generation. Desist from adulterous acts and be content with your marriage. God expects you to procreate following the rules thereof and do not create the atmosphere for the men to ask: “Am I the real Dad?”
The price paid for a happy marriage is sacrifice. Be ready to stick out your neck to make sacrifice to keep the relationship. If you refuse to, the relationship will die and the consequence is a breakdown of law and order in the society, thus carving out a bleak future for the innocent children you brought into the world.
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Prof Ibrahim Bello-Kano On Wiseman Festus Keyamo
By Tony Afejuku
I present today two out of the numerous responses that found me after the essay on Festus Keyamo appeared here last Friday. The responses are particularly electrifying in different ways as you shortly shall find out – dear, dear readers. The first response gracing the column now is from a reader in the South East geo-political territory who wishes to remain anonymous. I endorse the code of anonymity which I hereby oblige him – even though his account is in no way irritating. The second reader I am also quoting word-for-word has appeared here in the past. He is a highly radical Professor of Bayero University, Kano, who suffers no fools gladly – and treats no one he disagrees with strongly with kid gloves. I hope Minister Festus Keyamo, the junior minister of our central labour ministry, and you my readers, our ever-watchful compatriots, will find today’s contributions positive. Of course, you will find interesting why Professor IBK’s stands as it stands in the title. His sharp submission is a certain and surely useful shorthand for what many patriotic compatriots will call Fine man and Boy Fine Festus Keyamo’s new identity as the column adumbrated last Friday. We hope Festus Keyamo will soon become Wiseman Festus Keyamo after reading us today. I say: easy, helpful and happy reading.
Reader Anonymous: Sir Afejuku, a very good day to you. I wish I could control my emotions to avoid expressing how deeply I was touched emotionally by your words of wisdom and piece of advice of naked truth undiluted to Festus Keyamo in your “Festus Keyamo: A hole of an argument.” I wish Keyamo has the wisdom and ability to understand what you meant and mean still by that, not just literally.
My brother, I did not know you before now, and I still don’t know you, but I call you a brother because you have what it takes to be called a brother and that is “wisdom and passion for truth that bears integrity.”
Can you see the reason we are where we are today as a nation? This is just how Nigeria is being run by the government and virtually everybody in it. Personal interest matters and nothing else is to the government and those in it. Our problems are not natural because the country is naturally blessed. Sometimes, yes, sometimes …. I cry for Nigeria. It’s very unfortunate what we are doing to ourselves in the name of politics.
Truth is sweet and heavier than any object, and anywhere it drops darkness shakes uncontrollably and in disarray… I want this country to work for all of us the people as we have no other one to call our own. Nigeria is our home, and no one else can build this country for us if we the people don’t build it and make it work for us. Keep speaking the objective truth. Only the truth shall set us free, my brother.
Professor Ibrahim Bello-Kano: Thank you for your masterly demolition job of Festus Keyamo’s petty and infantile attacks on ASUU members and the Nigerian lecturership. Keyamo, the ex-radical activist, the guy from a back-water village in Delta State, a village which, I read somewhere, still doesn’t have a decent main street, a modern drainage or sewage system. Keyamo is just one out of many fine radicals who, once they joined the state machine, became servile functionaries of it. The academic psychological literature is full of “analyses” of hitherto radical activists who are now willing tools of the corrupt and unaccountable state machine or an insensitive political administration. If he ever went to university and got a first law degree and still found it expedient to denigrate his former lecturers, one would wonder how he could so easily forget that he was the product of the university system. Little wonder that he could or did, in fact, forget that he would never have held a high office in or been functionally useful to, the Buhari Administration or the APC itself had he never attended a university or had never got an academic degree. Thus people like Keyamo are the typical infantile state-idol worshippers, the willing tools of mischief against good or noble causes once those causes threaten state privilege or those of its parasitic officials who routinely and conveniently forget their humble origins.
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The historical literature is full of the tragic stories of old state psychophants who ended up either being ditched by the very state machinery they served or were swept away by their own very hubris. As Henry Thoreau once said, an intelligent and independent-minded person does not willingly do the bidding of a corrupt Prince. Keyamo has sold his soul to the Devil, the one at the head of a lazy, unwilling, incompetent, and insensitive Dinner Table. Of course, Keyamo hopes to keep his subordinate seat at that Table come June 2023. But he’s yet to learn the tragic lesson of betrayal from an un-impressed state machine which has no logic other than that of its own self-aggrandizement. Hubris, arrogant over-simplification, infantile political bootlicking and selective amnesia have not yet helped anyone (in the long run). Nor would all this help Mr. Fetus Keyamo, the ridiculous petty official who hopes to keep his allegedly cool corrupt privileges induced by malignantly decent men and women, the hypocritical, debased and devilish cream of Nigeria’s intellectual resources.
Now the columnist cannot but appreciate IBK, an unblemished ultra-radical critic and commentator of Kano, and Mr. Anonymous of “Biafra” who believes in one Nigeria. If Disputant Festus Kayamo wants us to label or re-label him as Wiseman Festus Keyamo he should retrace his steps and re-learn to walk, fly, glide and travel with us as you my good readers “catch the pulse of wisdom that flows around you and it becomes a part of your consciousness like a dance of perfection.” Festus Keyamo should become a wise man by jettisoning now this regime of darkness in your country my country our country where Alas! wings of birds are powerless and dead. But the chopping minister will not hearken to any wise counsel. He will not. He is too far gone. Yes, he is too far gone. He is no more a masses-man. But that is not my problem or yours. His new cross is his new cross. Let him carry it as he chooses. Thunder!!!
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
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“Cut Soap For Me!”
By Toyin Falola
Yams do not sprout in amulets.
It is important to foreground that Nigerian society is still widely laced with traditional beliefs, practices, and other locally influenced religious practices like those seen in churches that use religious paraphernalia in their worship system. Spiritual symbolism and materials cannot be entirely separated from these practices, as different items are often administered to serve certain purposes. When one understands this, the genesis of the statement “Cut Soap for Me” becomes clear. There is a practice of voodoo baptism or head washing in traditional and other religious circles to either attract good tidings to a person or shield them from evil spirits and attacks.
In Nigeria, juju baptism became prominent among the supposed “modern youths” to attract luck. However, it became a practice among Yahoo Boys who defraud Nigerians and foreigners, especially through social media platforms. The average aspiring Yahoo Boy patronizes religious institutions to get “soap” for voodoo baptism, with the intent to hypnotize or curse victims into doing their biddings. This is one of the many spiritual steps they take to progress from “Yahoo Yahoo” to “Yahoo Plus.”
Defrauding strangers of their hard-earned money is fast becoming a culture and a normalized trade in society. There is evidence of some security personnel corroborating these practices in the name of hunting down “scammers,” as these fraudsters are locally called. In 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ranked Nigeria as the 16th affected by the menace of cybercrime. The international community was thrown into the pool of surprise when the case of Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi, dominated the public discussion. Hushpuppi was accused of defrauding his ignorant victims of about $24 million. Unfortunately, Nigeria is fast becoming a discothèque of thousands of Hushpuppies flaunting their ill-fated wealth at every instance they get and buying items at outrageous prices.
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Without effective measures to curb it, the public display of unexplained wealth has become normalized. Sadly, instead of condemning this act, the public applauds it, creating a euphoria that drives the perpetrators to progress in their malicious acts and advance their manner of display. To cause “oppression,” they intentionally take up their “E Choke” and “Who Dey Breathe” behaviours and rub their regrettable idiosyncrasies on the face of all that form the fabric of Nigerian society, subjecting young and hardworking citizens to self-doubt. The matter is made worse by uncensored musical and video content that glorify fraudulent activities by proliferating the usage of their registers.
“Cut Soap for Me” has literally become a slang to request that these perpetrators share their diabolic magic. However, the statement has progressed from requests for the secrets to voodoo to the general space whereby people jokingly ask to be taught the process or secret of one’s success. A Nigerian professor has accused me of using juju to write, begging me to lead him to my so-called voodoo man at Iwo to make the same potent magic. Eighteen hours of work a day was reduced to juju power! “Cut Soap for Me” could be an honest expression, sarcasm, or a retort to one’s failure and attempt to find a lasting solution. Whichever way, the underlying factor is that there is a representation that some have and some do not.
Despite knowing the criminality of an act, what would make a person resort to it? If a fraudulent act is criminal and socially unwelcomed, what would make one ask another, “Cut Soap for Me?” Greed, failure, and the realization of the impossibility of fruitful efforts are tormentors that plague the mind and push people to seek a way out. They are the demons capable of fraying social norms indoctrinated in the consciousness of an average person through their process of maturity. Unfortunately, no one needs a hunt to find where the nation has failed its citizens and sentenced its youth to the valley of helplessness.
The nation has failed in almost all ramifications, leaving the people’s hope bare in the cold of poverty, insecurity, and a corrupt system. When the child of a supposed affluent father begs to join the mendicant’s trail, it means that either the father is no longer in affluence or the child has been abandoned. Regretfully, Nigerians are in the two situations; therefore, they must find escape routes. In a nation with only a 33 percent employment rate and only 40 percent employed youths, as reported by the National Bureau of Statistics and Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of African Development Bank, one should not be surprised at the increasing number of “soap” users and those aspiring to do the same. It is pitiful, but it should be expected from a failing system that has refused to “cut soap” for its citizens, leaving both old and young in despair.
Expectedly, there will be consequences in the face of all the social imbalance and hardship citizens face, social decadence, including fraudulent festivals of fraud that have gained international notoriety. Where there are discouraging situations like those faced by the Nigerian youth, there is a need to reenact social values to keep them in place. Unfortunately, the institutions in the best position to reenact these values are struggling to survive. The family institutions, which should serve as the primary forte of social values, are crumbling either in the face of modernity, distractions from the need for survival, or marital dissolutions, leaving children to make early adult decisions. Religious institutions auction God’s works and miracles, celebrating the rich without minding the source of their wealth. Institutions have been stricken by bribery and corruption, producing kleptomaniac politicians who become role models for potential fraudsters. The systems have refused to “cut soap,” and it is only logical that one looks elsewhere.
In a situation where it seems like the nation and social institutions gang against people’s success, one cannot help but become desperate. When desperation is the case, discretionary approaches potentially take three natures: legal, illegal, or both. For those taking a legitimate approach to success, the statement “cut soap for me” is an expression of amazement at how others have succeeded despite discouraging odds, and also serves as a request for pointers on how to successfully climb the ladder of progress. The illegal approach makes one ask to be trained in the trade of unscrupulousness to either succeed or remain uncaught or affected by the authorities and society.
Credence must be given to the culture of “we rise by lifting others” that is fast becoming the reasonable response to the honest requests of “cut soap for me.” Nigerian youths might be many things, but they value connectivity and spread the ropes of opportunities to one another. There is evidence that the youths have been able to project one another, especially when they are in need. A common example is the intentional creation of trends and crowdfunding for individuals who announce their talents, trade, or unemployment on social media and other means. The statement thus becomes a positive confession of readiness for honest toil projected at bringing good tidings.
It is important to know that despite the odds, the conditions of the nation, and the delay in results, there is dignity in labour. Spiced with consistency, the right strategies, and the creation and maintenance of connectivity, it is not rocket science that a developmental process would materialize, and when the world throws lemons, the youth must learn to turn them into lemonades. While “we rise by lifting others” has been a positive response to positive intentions, it is also a positive response to negative intentions. From the “cut soap for me” of fraudulent Yahoo Yahoo to that of Yahoo Plus, extending the circle of menace, cyber-fraud or whatever appellation used to describe it, is a mere pronouncement that one has lost faith in a possible future, escaping into an illusion of success without process. This explains the increasing rate of ritual killings in the country in an attempt to sacrifice one for the progress of others. These individuals have forgotten that “yams do not sprout in amulets,” thus no matter the soap or a bath serious enough to turn black to white, the strokes of luck would end, nemesis would catch up, and the pods of reality would soon be ripe to show helplessness and gnashing of teeth.
Like Wole Soyinka had stated, “Don’t take shadows too seriously. Reality is your only safety. Continue to reject illusion.” To say that the Nigerian government has been totally quiet about the predominance of cyber fraud that is taking notable international reputation is to subject oneself to unnecessary oblivion. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s (EFCC) arrests and activities of these perpetrators get reported, with a surprising number of suspects reported almost every week. On June 9, 2022, the EFCC was reported to have arrested 140 suspected Yahoo Boys in Ikorodu, Lagos. On August 14, 2022, two clerics were arrested alongside the fraudsters who had employed their services.
Despite these reports, the problem has not subsided. The best explanation for this is that either there is a wrong approach to solving it, or there is no full understanding of the situation.
The Nigerian government’s approach to this problem is like cutting the branches of an intruding tree; they will keep growing. Either the tree is cut off with its roots, or one settles for recurring growth that robs one of peace. Arresting perpetrators is attacking the problem from the surface; it only makes them smarter and more cautious. The Nigerian government and society must attack the issue from the source. The government must be ready to tackle social issues capable of neutralizing and frustrating the honest efforts of individuals, provide a friendly environment for small and medium-sized businesses to grow, reform government institutions that discourage attempts to succeed, salvage dwindling standards of living, and increase the nation’s employment rate. At this point, there will be enough “soap” to go around in society.
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Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje: Man, Mentor, Monument
By Tunji Olaopa
This is my fourth essay on Prof. Akin Mabogunje. And it is the only one to be written posthumously. When he became a nonagenarian ten months ago in October 2021, I published the last celebratory article to honor his birthday. After a long trajectory of relating with this larger-than-life personality, this is how I prefigured that birthday celebration: “It is better to celebrate life than death. Life, for me, does not consist in the length of existence but in the depth of the life’s worth measured in other-regarding capacities. In other words, it is better to celebrate the lives of those whose very existence constitutes a symbolic stretch of significant influences that a person has exerted on the collectivity. A hero is one whose life transformed the way we see life itself, and makes indelible contributions to our conceptual, intellectual and national infrastructures. This is the essential way in which I conceive of the fulsome life of Prof. Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje, the grandfather of disciplinary geography in Africa, an intellectual, global scholar and patriotic exemplar extraordinaire.”
Now, the man and patriot has joined the ancestors. He lived for nine solid decades, more than seven of which have been spent serving in various capacities, from the personal and the state to the national and international. Now, he has been translated. And contrary to the Yoruba adage that we become deified after death, Mabogunje was revered when he was alive; he was a colossus. And now in death, he has become a monument.
It is ever so difficult to quantify the measure of any life; and definitely not a life that carried a full measure of providential grace, as Mabogunje’s autobiography proclaimed. “The purpose of life,” according to Robert Byrne, “is a life of purpose.” Martin Luther King, Jr. caps it: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Prof. Mabogunje surpassed this question with his devotion not only to others but also to his family. I am one of the few, I think, that straddled family and others. And that long relationship I had with him speaks a lot about the passion that defined his entire life of achievement, from scholarship to public life. My mentor-mentee relationship with Papa began many years ago when, with his late friend, Ojetunji Aboyade, they made a conceptual and practical success of reengineering thoughts about grassroots development with the optimum community – OPTICOM experiment, that exploits the principle of social capital and subsidiarity in the rural areas, especially at Aáwé, my home town. My mentorship at the feet of Prof. Mabogunje had started as shared responsibility with Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade as at late 1993 when the latter passed on. As part of Aboyade’s programme for my induction into policy professionalism which was perhaps the most rigorous mentor-mentee learning arrangement anyone could imagine, I would also consult Prof. Mabogunje on those issues of policies that touched on his expertise. I was animated with his indescribable capacity to unravel the stories behind the stories and their philosophical underpinnings as education to embellish the policy analytics dimensions. So, I developed the practice of approaching him as sounding board cum unofficial source of knowledge and teacher, and he gladly obliged throughout my career years in the Federal service and after. In the process, I got enlisted into some of his networks. This, apart from his introducing me to distinguished statesmen like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (as president, which grace brought my public administration scholarship to bear on the national public service reform process); Chief Emeka Anyaoku (who delivered the keynote at the inaugural conference of the ISGPP); to dozens of global scholars and personalities around the world, and to many development projects like the Ijebu Development Initiative on Poverty Reduction (IDIPR), championed by the Awujale of Ijebuland, HRM Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, to name just a few.
But my most significant learning experience came with the conceptual and administrative trajectories that led to the establishment of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP). Throughout all the brainstorming sessions in that experiment in institution building, Prof. Mabogunje would patiently hear you out. And you will know he is very interested in your most earnest ideas and arguments. And like a modern-day Socrates, when he noticed the gap or limitations, as your knowledge of issues played out, he would stretch the necessity of closing that gap by recommending available materials and authorities. And only then would you begin to enjoy the moments of critical engagement with him. Some of those moments led to the sharpening of the ISGPP. Indeed, over many review meetings and technical sessions, Mummy, Justice Titilola Mabogunje, would call to say, “Akin, it is enough. Do you think you are still a young man?” And then, he would check his wrist watch and exclaim, “Do you mean I have been sitting here for these many hours?” That was how dedicated he was to the matters of the mind.
That unflinching discipline is what led from the providential love for geography to an even more uncanny love for Nigeria. This is not a trajectory that anyone can claim to understand; how Mabogunje came to love Nigeria and dedicated himself to her national development and search for greatness. From transforming the study of an “arid” discipline like geography into a truly developmental one, to making Nigeria the centerpiece of his globally sound and locally relevant scholarship, Akinlawon Mabogunje defined the template of patriotic scholarship and socially relevant intellectualism. So, for Mabogunje, geography was not just a discipline, human or physical. It was essentially national—a theoretical articulation of cartographic manipulation to the understanding of Nigerian spaces and places. This becomes even more cogent within the context of Nigeria’s colonial and postcolonial dynamics. As a colonial creation, Nigeria’s amalgamation was an oddity that required postcolonial unraveling. And Mabogunje was right on hand. From his assignment with the 1962 census to the survey of the Kainji region to the delineation and mapping of Abuja as Nigeria Federal Capital Territory, Prof. Mabogunje’s ingenious understanding of geographical dimensions came to the fore in charting a path of development for Nigeria.
His expertise became especially significant with regard to what he called “realistic urban planning” that could lead to regional and national development, and the land tenure predicament in Nigeria. Land reform was especially constrained by the pre-capitalist elements of primogeniture and kinship. Mabogunje’s understanding of the significance of land speaks immediately to Hernando de Soto’s question of why capitalism has not led to the generation of wealth in third world countries, the same way it did in western society. Soto’s answer is that these developing countries, like Nigeria, hold the crucial factors of production, especially land, in “defective forms”: “houses built on land whose ownership rights are not adequately recorded, unincorporated businesses with undefined liability, industries located where financiers and investors cannot see them.” This tallies with Mabogunje’s belief that true development can only come when access to the factors of production is transformed into modern dynamics, for instance, the security of tenure and the property rights of citizens. Land use in Nigeria demands engaging with the deficiencies in the Land Use Act of 1978.
The land reform assignment eventually and inevitably devolved into a fundamental concern with grassroots and rural development. For a plural country like Nigeria, focus on the grassroots is a significant dimension of the federal imperative. And Mabogunje saw it immediately. His argument, contrary to the efforts at capacitating individuals, is to strengthen the community cooperative structures that transform the entire grassroots on the basis of subsidiarity. The principle insists that the rural areas have the potential to not only transform its own developmental initiatives, but to also enhance Nigeria’s federal strength. And indeed, he insisted, there are four internal elements that are critical for transforming the rural areas: organization, technological innovations, credit institution and market access. And it should not be difficult to see why I read providential assistance to the choice of geography as the discipline that would make Akinlawon Mabogunje—from mapping to rural infrastructure to national development.
Unfortunately, the genius of Akinlawon Mabogunje was critically restricted by the formidable retrogressive forces in Nigerian politics. The bad politics that the Nigerian political class plays has a lot to do with how and why heroic patriotism in Nigeria is essentially crippled. There is a fundamental disjuncture between patriotism and development in Nigeria. Those who have the critical expertise, especially the non-politicians, like Prof. Mabogunje and a host of others, from Wole Soyinka to the Nigerian youths, do not have the means to break into the corridors where the core policies are made to affect Nigeria positively and transformation-ally. Mabogunje served his country to the best of his abilities and capacities. But he simply kept coming short against all the factors that have been restricting Nigeria’s growth and progress since independence. And he never relented, despite his advancing age. Now he has done his bit and has gone to the great beyond. He left his intellectual and scholarly footprints all over Nigeria’s policy mechanisms. He left his ideas and ideals all scattered deeply within the context of making Nigeria a great place; the context within which he maturated, and would want others to also benefit. But most significantly, he left his imprints on the many minds that he mentored in several ways.
Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje was not just another Nigerian. In his autobiography, he narrated how he met the late Umaru Yar’Adua who asked that he be a part of his resolve to achieve a land reform. This invitation came at a point when Mabogunje, at 75, was determined to take a much-deserved rest for his aging body. And yet he accepted to serve. For all his adult life, he could not resist serving and deploying his humongous intellect and capacities to thinking and rethinking possible resolutions of the Nigerian predicament. While still alive, Mabogunje was a deeply entrenched monument that reaches deep into the intellectual, administrative and political sides of Nigerian postcolonial life. And now in death, Professor Mabogunje has now transited into a monument that reminds us all, and the political class, about what is possible when realistic policy ideas and frames of actions meet undaunting and focused political resolve in making Nigeria better. Mabogunje, like so many other patriots, believed in Nigeria. The last chapter of his massive autobiography is dedicated to an alternative set of perspectives of what he called an “emerging vision” of Nigeria. Indeed, his last sentence in the narrative of his life declared that he had lived a most fulfilling life in being allowed to play a “modest part” in the emergence of that vision. Only a patriot, who loved and lived for Nigeria, could say that. And may the soul of this giant Iroko, emeritus professor Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje, NNOM, CFR, CON, rest in peace.
.Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and Professor, National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies
(NIPSS), Kuru, Jos .
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