The Black Cross: Racism, Xenophobia, And ‘Tribalism’
By Toyin Falola
The existence of some strata has been societal norms from time immemorial. People have been defined by the circumstances around their birth, social status, wealth, and many other factors that could fit into several societies. Africans, people of African genetic traces, those with high concentrations of melanin, and others of different origins have been valued on the pedestal of their skin colour or origin. Racism is a global error, but there is a need to pay attention to black people’s dilemma. Outside the shores of Africa, they face different levels of racial discrimination; within Africa, there is a likelihood of xenophobic apprehensions by one’s countrymen toward African “foreigners,” and when back in their respective countries, their kinsmen remind them of the ethnic differences overblown out of proportion.
The people of black skin are strongly of African descent either to the early contacts of Africa with other parts of the world, including Trans-Saharan and Trans-Atlantic Slave trades, as well as contemporary migrations of Africans to the Americas, Europe, and Asia. For centuries, people of African descent have been put below social standards with others as many early significant individuals, including scholars, doubted their ability to reason like the rest of the world. They have been wrongly construed without identity, history, spirit, conscience, intelligence, or reasonableness. Africa, Africans, and people of African descent had to embark on different endeavours to create rebuttable grounds for the misled presumptions of the African identity or blackness. This historical inferiority perspective of the African people, especially occasioned by the long period of the slave trade, has created bias consciousness against black people. There are countless occasions of embarrassment where black people are asked on the streets for their tails or thrown bananas as monkeys. Although Africans and blacks do not need to prove anything, they have set the pace in global scholarship and developments and, as such, underlined the psychopathic instincts of a racist that has blocked all channels to reasoning.
There are not less than 200 million people of African descent in the Americas and million others in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world. Although there is no more frequent lynching in the South than in the 19th and 20th centuries, systemic lynching and racism are deafening and depressing. There are laws set up in countries and their respective institutions and systems to discourage racism, but the problem persists due to its transformation into subtle forms. Enforcement of human rights laws and policies has been a major challenge in countries that are the champions of the free world. President Biden, recognizing these dynamics of systemic racism, described it at the early stage of his administration as “destructive”, “corrosive”, and “costly”, especially because of its fast rate of tearing apart the fabric of the society. In a 2021 FBI analysis of Hate Crime Statistics, a single-bias analysis showed that 64.5% of victims were discriminated against as a result of Race, Ethnicity, or ancestry. In 2018, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health conducted a survey that showed that 57% of black Americans have stated that they were discriminated against in terms of pay and promotions at their workplaces, 51% have been subjected to the usage of racial slurs at a point or the other, 21% noted that they had intentionally avoided medical care facilities for themselves and their relatives because of the fear of outright racial discrimination and 60% stated that they and their families have been subjected to undue suspicion by the police and law enforcement agencies because of their colour. In another survey of the same year by BBC on November 28, 2018, it was noted that the racism rate is between the range of 63% and 20% in EU countries, with Finland having 63%, the UK at 21%, and Malta having 20%.
One of the most common sectors that have attracted several racial abuses is the football sector, where players, coaches, and individuals are subjected to the unchecked excesses of fans. Romero Lukaku, Dani Alves, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, Didier Drogba, and loads of black players have at one point been harassed on the pitch whether they were doing fine or not. Sake, Sancho, and Rashford faced harsh racist abuses when England crashed out of the Euro 2020. Moise Kean, who is of Ivorian descent, Alex Sandro, and Blaise Matuidi, of the Juventus Team in Italy, were racially abused by Cagliari’s fans in August 2019; particular racial interest was taken in Kean. Unfortunately, Kean was blamed for having provoked the attack.
African migrants who have left their countries searching for greener pastures have learned to swallow their “pride” when faced with undue suspicions. Several Black people who have decided to school outside Africa have difficulties settling down because of the discriminatory attitudes of many of their colleagues. There has been a tendency that black and migrant children in schools to be about four times more likely to have out-of-school suspensions, and they are more than twice as likely to be arrested for school-related offences. African migrants are largely treated as unwanted visitors who cannot protest because they lack assurance to protect their rights. Africans deciding to visit, stay, study, or work overseas must be aware of possible racial abuse and discrimination. This is not to say that overseas communities are toxic in their entirety. However, an allusion is strongly made to deforming systems that tolerate the few racial assailants and allow racial subconsciousness to grow. This has led to constructive slavery, human trafficking, and other ranges of harassment. The death of George Floyd has raised another consciousness in contemporary society and has given voices to others that suffer similar ordeals but are swept under the carpet.
Discrimination is not solely an issue of whether you are black, African, or white. At least many things could be said about racial sentiments by some supposedly distinguished Africans, like Kais Saied, the President of Tunisia, who has faced intense criticism for his racism and hate speech comments early this year against people of Sub-Saharan Africa, who are core blacks. Saied had stated that Tunisia needed to take proactive steps against “hordes of illegal immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa” and qualified their migrations thus “The undeclared goal of the successive waves of illegal immigration is to consider Tunisia a purely African Country that has no affiliation to the Arab and Islamic nations.” Saied could have been right if he had purely frowned at illegal migration, which is criminal, but he went below the belt by making such divisive comments, considering his position in Africa. A similar issue could be found in Libya and the Maghreb as several Africans, especially from Sub-Saharan, who aim to cross to Europe through that route, were subjected to inhumane treatment in slave auctioning. It has been reported that being Black in Libya is difficult, and stigmatization could knock one into depression. This African version of discrimination snowballs into xenophobia from African citizens to migrant Africans in African countries. You see, the shouting woes on discrimination are not just putting the White on the receiving end but every human that has failed to accord basic regard for others: the collective protection of our humanity.
Xenophobia has become more deplorable for moving from mere prejudice against people of their cultures and countries and apprehension of fear and hatred towards people of different backgrounds to outright physical assaults, lynching, arson, and other unspeakable inhumane actions towards others. Xenophobia in Africa has been growing since the 1960s, and those that were charged with duties to curtail it have done so with no full commitment. Several reasons explain xenophobic reactions, but they lack any form of justification. In Angola, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa, the reactions were caused by economic ignition. War terror was the triggering cause in Kenya and Chad, politics and economics in Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Gabon, criminal rhetorics in Congo Brazzaville, Tanzania, and Burundi and politics in Congo Kinshasa. The exodus of about 900,000 to 1,200,000 people from Ghana, the arrest of about 4000 Somalis in operation “Usalama Watch” in Kenya, the repatriation of Beninese from Gabon in the late 1970s, the expulsion of about 100,000 Congolese from Angola in 2004, the expelling of about 50,000 Angolans from Congo Kinshasa in 2009, the “Ghana must Go” agitation in Nigeria, and the South African’s xenophobic violent attacks on Africans in 2008, 2015 and 2019 with its adjoining revenge, and other discriminatory reactions and prejudices are some of the worrisome discriminations in the continent. The story of Nathalie, a grade 10 student in a Cape Town public school who immigrated to South Africa in 2019 with her family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and was harassed for being chosen as the class monitor, is a pitiful example. Several other individuals who are legal migrants and have prerequisite requirements and qualifications face this type of discrimination and harassment every day because of their nationality.
It would be wrong to say that countries should not look out for their citizens and protect their interests thereof, but the promotion of human rights and regard for humanity, no matter the origin or social status, must always come first. Illegal immigrants should be treated and dealt with without abusing their basic rights, and legal migrants should be treated as much as citizens without discrimination. Africa needs to hold up to a level of consciousness of togetherness and understand the progressive gains in collaborative economies.
When you decide not to go overseas or even migrate to any African country, discrimination waits for you in your country as an African in the form of “tribalism”. One of the characteristics of Africa is its diversity and variety of cultures. To cite the example of Nigeria, there are more than 250 different ethnic groups across the nation with over 500 languages. Ghana has about 70 ethnic groups; there are about 40 groups in Uganda, 42 in Kenya and three major ethnic groups in Rwanda. The diversity has left many minority groups, marginalized groups and others agitating for representation and recognition within their countries. This has been the major fuel for “tribal” discrimination across Africa. Today, several nations face insecurity for “tribal” differences or reasons not far from it. Unfortunately, the gap is becoming wider with more agitations emerging gradually. Such apprehensions in African countries are physical and constructive as individuals lose lives, jobs, properties and other things they hold dear.
Fighting discrimination in the form of racism, xenophobia and “tribalism” is difficult because of the array of stakeholders involved. However, there is a need for Africa to take a strong stance as one, and the role of the African Union in this endeavour is paramount. The Union should carry out collaborative actions with countries with consistent racial apprehensions and make their position known to other international bodies. Moreso, the same attention should be given to African countries and promote African unity, not at the level of what can benefit the respective countries as a whole but individual consciousness to tolerate people. In addition, human rights laws and policies put in place to capture the menace of discrimination should be revisited, and more efforts should be directed towards implementing and enforcing those laws.
Most importantly, individual African countries need to step up regarding social responsibility and development to not keep pushing human resources outside its shores in need of engagement. When there is a favourable economy and social system that would allow the growth and enhance the standard of living of its citizens, emigration, at least permanent emigration, would be reduced to the minimum. Furthermore, Africans, Blacks and other discriminated individuals should always look within the system to explore solutions to racial and xenophobic abuse. When there is a fear of disregard, consultation should be made with available NGOs and groups to stand for protection.
On the home front, an international or continental approach may not be as adequate as anticipated. Pan-Africanism is the pre-eminent solution, but it is growing rather slowly. Thus, for now, the solution is national. First, each African country should engage in structural reconsiderations to figure out the underlying motivations and causes of division. More so, there should be institutionalized efforts to erase traces of “tribalism” from every state entity and provide general consciousness and experience to reduce it. In doing this, several stakeholders of different ethnic groups must be engaged to reduce ethnic gaps and ensure equal representation in politics and social activities.
Let us always remember that lives are lost to the dangers of racism, pangs of xenophobia, and brutalities of “tribalism”. Efforts to resolve these issues do not just mean that one is saving a person’s life but saving a generation, rescuing mental breakdown and giving voices to the voiceless. I anticipate a time when there will not be reports or incidents of racism, xenophobic attacks, and ethnic apprehension for 365 days. This year is gone; I hope to see it next year.
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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