A Telephone call from an Old Slave


May 3, 2022

By Suyi Ayodele

While on the streets, Aborogi presents himself as a gentle, cordial, and amiable Ara Orun (heavenly being). He holds no cane; at least, visible to his followers. He goes from house to house praying for people. His followers sing, clap, and beat the drums to cheer him up. He dances dexterously and has one of the deepest guttural voices. As he sings and dances, people paste currency notes on his forehead. At times, he collects the money with his ever-outstretched palms. Then he does the unusual. He puts every dime collected in his pocket. And nobody challenges him for doing that. Aborogi is one of the old masquerades we grew up to know. He is a very uncommon masquerade, who rarely comes out, unlike other lesser Egunguns. The rarity of the masquerade makes him an Egungun agba (the masquerade of the elderly). One beautiful thing about him is that Aborogi attracts the largest of followers anytime he appears.  Why am I using the animate masculine pronoun, him, to qualify this masquerade? The cult of masquerade, we all know is masculine. Awo Gelede nikan lobinrin le mo – the women folk can only be initiated into the Gelede cult.

Aborigi’s way is not the way of normal Egungun. Among the followers of Egungun is always a trusted ‘cashier’, who keeps the daily proceeds and renders an account at the end of the day. But not so with Aborogi, who keeps all the money collected in his own pocket. Yet, people keep singing, drumming, and clapping, while following him about. When dusk comes and Aborogi is to render an account, the story changes. From nowhere, he brings out a long cane and begins to flog his erstwhile followers, mercilessly. The matter will turn to “boo lo, o yago” – if you are not ready to escape, just give way. Everyone runs in different directions. Aborogi also pursues them until no one is left to challenge him. Then he retires to the Igbale (grove), where he shares the booty with only-God-knows-who. Yet the following time he shows up, the same set of followers will be at his beck and call; they will even get new recruits! How Aborogi keeps cheating his followers and chorus members repeatedly remains a mystery. The worst part of it all is that after each year’s masquerade festival, Aborogi’s followers seek who to blame for the ill-treatment they received. No lesson is gained, no lesson is lost. Meanwhile, while the followers are assembling, waiting for Aborogi by the entrance to the grove, the elders warn them thus: Hope you people know that at dusk, Aborogi repays his chorus with evil – Se e mo pe ti ile ba ti nsu, ibi ni Aborogi fi nsan fun awon elegbe lehin e. The allegory of Aborogi, among my people, is a lesson in ingratitude. It is equally a lesson in circumspection.

The presidential election is some 11days away. That is if the election holds. I have made up my mind not to write about politics until after the election. I told myself that I would write after a winner would have been declared and the losers are left to nurse their injuries. But the Nigerian politician syndrome happened to me. You know our politicians have a penchant for not keeping promises. Like them, I am today breaking the promise I made to myself. An old man, who claimed to be “far, far above 70 years”, in his exact words, is responsible for this. He called me on Wednesday while on my way out of Igarra. The driver of the taxi I boarded knew that something was happening to me. People from that axis of Edo State speak and understand a bit of Yoruba Language. The old man, assuming he is ‘old’, called to upbraid me for not supporting “our own as a true Yoruba son”. He was bitter; he was acerbic! He was also loud, and I guessed the driver heard what the ‘Baba’ was saying. He interrogated my Yoruba paternity. He said, to be euphemistic, that I am not a free born Yoruba! You know what that means.

What crime did I commit? According to him, he had read a lot of my pieces and he felt that it was time to talk to me. In all the things he claimed to have read, he had never seen anywhere where I supported the “Yoruba cause”. And what is his “Yoruba cause”? The presidential ambition of the APC flagbearer, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Gosh! In his estimation, every Yoruba man and woman must queue behind Tinubu in the race to Aso Rock. Once a candidate wears the toga of Yoruba, everyone who answers Yoruba name must support him. The old man had time and airtime. He was generous in their use. He told me many things, unprintable, and listed two or three others he considered as “Ota Ile Oodua” (Enemies of Oodua Race). I was virtually silent all through his lengthy call, except the occasional “mo ngbo yin sir” (I am listening to you sir), whenever he asked if I was still on the call. God is wonderful. Never knew I could be that patient in my life. My pastor should be proud that I am being “Broken”. Hallelujah! He ended with a warning to the four of us he was particular about – including the one he described as “eleyi to joko si America to nta ofa sile ninu Punch (and that one throwing stones at home from America on the pages of The Punch). The two others I don’t want to mention. All of us, he threatened would face the wrath of his ancestors: “Alale Yoruba ma binu si yin” – the progenitors of the Yoruba race will be angry with you). Ha! Epe! Honestly, I felt relieved that I was not left alone in the lurch to fight the “Alale Yoruba” (laughs). Karin, kapo; yiye nii ye ni – the more we flock together, the more dignified we become- our elders say. My goodness! I just laughed within me at the old slave who was sent on a slave errand and who also delivered it like a slave!

I was still pondering over the call when the ‘old’ man’s call came again. I picked it, waiting for another round of abuse. But this time around he was apologetic. I quickly checked the time between when he first called and the new call-it was roughly a 21-minute-interval. He apologised for everything he had said earlier. He added that he just found out that I am from Ekiti. He told me he hails from Ikoro Ekiti too (I suspected he is either an Ekiti or Ondo State from his accent). Then he wondered why I did not respond to his vituperations. “Se bi èyin oniwe irohun se ni suuru ni yen ni abi kini” – is this how patient you journalists are or what? I hate to insult elders. I responded by saying that I kept quiet because I drew inspiration from my early life admonition not to argue with grey hairs; especially when I cannot find wisdom in their utterances. I terminated the call before I lost that training! He called several times, but yours sincerely refused to pick. Incidentally, the driver of the taxi appeared more intelligent. We discussed politics till we got to Auchi. He told me who he would vote for and why. I appreciated his choice of candidate and told him he has the right to trust any of the candidates with his votes.

It was after the encounter that I made up my mind to do this piece in response to the ‘old’ man and many in his rank, who feel that our problem as a nation wears ethnic colour and it is a turn-by-turn arrangement. The old man’s greatest worry is that General Muhammadu Buhari, whom Tinubu helped to power in 2015, is the one frustrating the presidential ambition of his former benefactor. He elevated Tinubu to the level of Tyche, the ancient Greek goddess, who presided over the fortune and prosperity of a city and its destiny. He could not fathom why others, especially the “Yoruba writers” he mentioned, would not appreciate the wisdom, strategy and the infallibility of Tinubu. The ‘old’ man got pissed off that “some Yoruba writers”, instead of queuing behind Tinubu, are supporting his ‘enemy’. Bullshit! I have encountered quite a few Emilokan apologists. The ‘old’ man of Ikoro Ekiti is in a class of his own. Tinubu is god to him. I don’t contest people’s gods with them. I was not part of the Tinubu-Buhari collabo. I was never privy to whatever understanding they had. My concern is a better Nigeria where life would be abundant for us all to live in. The poverty in the land knows no sex, tribe, status, or political party. The kidnappers on our highways do not ask for political party membership cards. The ravaging herdsmen on our farms kill, maim and rape Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and Kalabari men and women without discrimination. The ‘old’ caller said without Tinubu, God Himself would not have been able to make Buhari president. How that is my problem, I cannot understand. And I don’t even argue along that line with anybody. My only concern is if Tinubu was that powerful in 2015 to have single-handedly made Buhari president, why are his hangers-on crying over who is supporting him or not this time? What happened to the magic wand he used in 2015: stolen, broken, or impotent?  

The man said that the APC presidential candidate is the most politically dexterous of the lot. Good for him. Whatever Buhari is doing with Tinubu’s presidential ambition is not new. Tinubu in his sober moments would recall that he never lacked counsel before he embarked on the journey. He was warned to note the ways of Aborogi. He chose to do otherwise.  Ambition is one human passion that is very difficult to dissuade one from pursuing. My Yoruba training says there are three things you don’t advise your sibling not to pursue. You don’t ask him not to marry the woman he loves. You don’t tell him not to build his house near the deity’s shrine. And you don’t counsel your brother not to aspire to take over his father’s chieftaincy title. All those three things have their own internal ways of whipping the brat back to the path of wisdom. The North has only one business. It is called government. The region has only one passion. It is known as power. The North, unfortunately, does not know how to share the two- government and power. Tinubu, as the village Solomon, Jean-Marie Medza, in Mongo Beti’s “Mission to Kala”, ought to have known these facts about the North before he took his wares to Buhari in 2015. How his Emilokan loyalists are now blaming everyone else for their calamity of Buhari’s aloofness baffles me. In any case, assuming, for the purpose of this argument, I want to choose a candidate, must he be Tinubu? If the Yoruba race pushes forward an old, decrepit, and senile caricature as a candidate, I must support him or her just to be regarded as a “free born of Yoruba race”? Which kind talk be dat- ala Fela Anikylapo Kuti? How do people think? What is the place of competence, ability, physical wellness, and pedigree in all these? I broached this encounter with a friend, and he said maybe the ‘old’ man did not understand my position. I don’t think I care if he, or anybody else, in the Emilokan confraternity understands or not. We all cannot sleep and face one direction. While, to the best of my ignorance, I have never on this page asked anybody to vote for a particular candidate, I stand to be corrected that even if I do that, I have not overstepped my constitutional boundaries as a member of the Nigeria universal adult suffrage community.

A man who sees an ikun-infested (the deaf squirrel) plot and decides to plant his groundnuts there, should blame himself if almost all his harvest is eaten up by ikun, which savours groundnuts. If he or his hodgepodge of rude supporters turn around to blame anybody else, we need to call in the doctors. If I may ask, did Buhari’s aloofness start today? While forming his cabinet in 2015, did he not go after all Tinubu ‘enemies’ and appointed them as ministers? Why is Raufu Aregbesola, for instance, not at the Osogbo rally of the APC or has never shown his face in Tinubu’s campaigns? Oh, because some “Yoruba writers” asked him to stay off? Was Aregbesola not the “Baba Kekere of Bourdillon” for almost 16 years? What happened between them? Nonsense! How many people did Tinubu nominate in Buhari’s cabinet? Who asked Buhari to tell all Nigerians to vote for any candidate or any party of their choice? Who will the Emilokan street boys blame for the current fuel scarcity, naira redesigning, and the acute pains Nigerians are going through at the moment due to the failed policies of the same APC government? Of course, Yoruba writers! If Tinubu wins the February 25 election, good luck to him. If on the other hand, he loses, he has himself to blame. He was warned that Aborogi does not appreciate his followers. Tinubu had the choice to follow an Egugun in 2015 but he pitched his tent with an Aborogi. The dusk is here and Aborogi is at his best!  For the Ikoro Ekiti ‘old’ man, and his ilk, who think that they are the gatekeepers of the shrine of Oduduwa, may I remind them that in Yoruba cosmology and world view, Alajobi o kii gbe omo ti o ba ni ile baba – progenitors don’t favour a child without verifiable ancestral roots!

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