Women Who Wanted to Beat Up Our President

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 By Festus Adedayo

 

This is what Kurumi’s Ijaye looked like after it was attacked and defeated by Ibadan forces in 1860/61: “Old people, men and women and young children were being carried to the river Ose to die,” wrote John Iliffe in his Poverty in Nineteenth-Century Yorubaland. He continued: “Whilst many others were left to perish in the streets. There being no food for them, that many, in order to obtain the means for subsistence, put themselves and children in pawn and others even sold their relatives to procure food to eat.” A Baptist missionary was reported to have taken responsibility for feeding some fifty children who he evacuated to Abeokuta, while his Anglican counterpart, in October 1861, selected 20 of the distressed children to cater for. It was so bad that some parents resorted to begging, an act alien to the people’s culture, while some others were picked in very terrible conditions on the streets. Their dying parents, in their last wishes, pleaded with missionaries to rescue the children from ominous deaths in the face of hunger. Read and re-read the above and more in Iliffe’s piece published in The Journal of African History, Vol. 25, No. 1 (1984), pp. 43-57 by the Cambridge University Press).

 

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Does the above description not fit the present state of the Nigerian nation? It was as a result of Kurunmi’s obstinacy. Last week’s protests against hunger in Nigeria reminded students of history of dreadful scenes that accompanied the siege and capture of Ijaye in 1860-2. They provoked a powerfully evocative imagery of a country in abeyance. Ijaye, a city-state, was originally an Egba town whose inhabitants were driven away by some warlords in 1833. By that time, veteran of multiple wars and despot, Kurunmi had built Ijaye into a prosperous military powerhouse that could be compared to Abeokuta and Ibadan. Like every conquistador, Ibadan had consolidated its military strength and was attempting to become a sole power in Yorubaland. A year before the war, at the death of Atiba Atobatele, the Alaafin of Oyo, the ascendancy of his son, Adelu, to the throne had caught the ire of Kurunmi who believed that custom and culture had been put in abeyance in the coronation of Adelu. He reckoned that Adelu should have died with Alaafin Atobatele. Kurunmi thus chose not to recognize Alaafin Adelu. So, when one Abu, a very wealthy lady who resided in a town under Ijaye called Ijanna, died intestate and Adelu, according to custom, sought the reversal of her wealth to the Alaafin, Kurunmi fiercely resisted it. He even took captive messengers sent by the Alaafin to execute the customary demand on Abu’s property.

 

This provoked Alaafin Adelu who then ordered Ibadan warriors to declare war against Kurunmi and his Ijaye. The war was so fierce that, against the conventional warfare weaponry of bows and arrows that Kurunmi was used to, Ibadan warlords devised a totally unconventional strategy. At a war council meeting held in Ibadan on April 10, 1860, war generalissimo, Balogun Ibikunle, raised the standard of warfare by cutting off food supply to Ijaye from the Oke-Ogun flank and reigned bullets on Kurunmi and his warriors. The war was so intense that Kurunmi’s sons, which included his eldest surviving child, Arawole, were killed and the despotic Kurunmi himself died in June, 1861. He was buried in a secret sepulcher by the head of his slaves called Abogunrin.

 

Last Monday, youths and women in Minna, Niger State recreated that traumatic scene in Ijaye. They blocked the Minna-Bida Road from the popular Kpakungu Roundabout, in protest against their disaffection with the “suffering under the Bola Tinubu government.” The protests were soon to spread like bushfire in the harmattan. Though the cries of agony have become singsongs in Nigerian homes in the last eight months of this government, these protesters were the first to bite the bullet by taking to the streets of Minna. In epigrammatic description of their plights, the women and youths drew the graph of unbearable and biting hardship, death and hopelessness.

 

The Minna protests can, however, not capture the Ijaye-like trauma that Nigeria is facing today like a viral video which trended same last week. A group of market women in Ogun State was shown in the video calling for the resignation of Nigerian President, Bola Tinubu. Their grouse? Tinubu had been tame and tepid in curtailing the astronomically soaring prices of goods and foods in Nigeria. This has resulted in traumatic and biting hardships. The women’s despondency even provoked them into making some very scary and fundamental statements about the president and his government.

 

The women berated the Tinubu administration. Having thus badly performed in government, so said the women, in their estimation, Tinubu had disappointed Nigerians, particularly the Yoruba. According to one of them, “he (Tinubu) has disappointed us in Yoruba land, he is not behaving like a Yoruba man,” while another said, “this problem is too much. If you can’t solve our problem, don’t add to it.” After drawing the upswing curve of food prices in Nigeria, when asked what they would do if they came face to face with Tinubu, they said, “We will beat the President… we will beat him. What he told us is not what he is doing.”

 

Indeed, during his campaign round the country, Tinubu had promised life abundant. As hyperbolic as it may sound, the essence of a group of feeble women voicing their desire to beat up the symbol of Nigeria is in need of an examination. One on one, brawn-wise, it is doubtful if they could physically beat Tinubu up. Again, these were women who may never have the opportunity of standing before the majesty of the Nigerian president. So, was that “beating” up the president a mere exaggerative claim or it was representative of a desire for a castration of his government? In what way can the women beat the president? Could it be that the women were so frustrated and depressed about the hunger in the land that they have lost the tenderness associated with their gender?

 

But, situations of existence can render men effeminate, pushing women too to acquire the masculinity of the male gender. When castration of fervor and ability is under discourse, my mind hovers over my favourite South African short story entitled The Dube Train, authored by Drum magazine journalist, Canodoise Themba, otherwise known as Can Themba. Themba was one of the collectives of Apartheid journalists like Nat Nakassa, who blended journalism with creative writing. This they used as social commentaries against the ills of the white government and the crass disconnect of government from the pains and pangs of the people. In the said Themba story, set in a busy train coach heading for Dube Town on a Monday morning, a woman is physically assaulted by a tout called tsotsi and the passengers say nothing. A woman then spanks the men “Lord, you call yourself men! You poltroons! You let a small ruffian insult you. Fancy, he grabs at a girl in front of you…. might be your daughter…if there were real men here, they’d pull him off and give him such a leathering he’d never sit down for a week.” Then the tout pulls a knife, stabs a man who nonetheless hauls him out of the train, to his death. The passengers winced, without a whimper. The ending that Themba gives the story is what fascinates me here and in which I find a corollary with the Nigerian situation of intense hunger: “it was just another incident in the morning Dube Train” as “the crowd is greedily relishing the thrilling episode.”

 

Like the woman in that Dube Township train that Monday morning, it took women of Niger and Ogun States to voice the anger of Nigerians with the Tinubu government over the gnawing hunger in the land. Also, like the passengers in the train, Nigerian men seem to have lost their balls, looking the other way from the agony in the land. They lament the cost of living that is hitting the firmament and food prices that are a whiff off the cloud in their closets. Yet, Nigeria is fast getting to that intersection the Ijaye people got to when “many, in order to obtain the means for subsistence, put themselves and children in pawn and others even sold their relatives to procure food to eat.” The Ijaye crossroads is reminiscent of the famine and hunger in biblical Samaria where two mothers, hungry and unable to endure the pangs, agreed to mutually devour their children for supper. It was a very challenging, governmentally rudderless time in the city of Samaria which was under siege and embroiled in an unprecedented food scarcity. Like Nigeria. The Samarian hunger resulted in mutual cannibalism. Already in Nigeria, the economy is pushing the people to Samaria. We witness the extremes of crimes which even criminologists find no corollary to in crime literature. Pastors are faking their own kidnaps so that they can extract illicit profit from their congregation; sons are killing their parents for rituals. It is, Samaria, here we come. Even during the Nigerian civil war, things were not this traumatic. Nigeria is suffering one of its most painful economic crises post-independence and the leaders seem to be picking their teeth.

 

Another angle to the women who threatened to beat the president is to ask whether Abeokuta is a land of rebellion against punishing status quo. It was the same city where candidate Bola Tinubu, against the run of play, during the APC presidential campaign held at the MKO Abiola stadium, Kuto, Abeokuta, riled against then sitting president Buhari. It was unprecedented, birthing the famous or infamous Emi Lo Kan.

 

Again, does the “we will beat him” up remind anyone of the oppressive tax regime of the colonial regime which the then Alake of Egbaland, Oba Sir Ladapo Samuel Ademola, was perceived to have abetted? Does it remind us of the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) which Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, a head teacher of a local school, spearheaded in same Abeokuta? Ransome-Kuti had galvanized a political organization with the inputs of working-class market and middle-class women under the same umbrella. Her purpose was to fight the colonial rule structure which midwifed an oppressive tax regime. She also sought to fight the reigning patriarchal nature of society which ensured that this oppression went uncensured. The refusal of many of the women living in Abeokuta and its environs to pay the tax landed them either in jail or payment of fines. Ransome-Kuti and her crew in AWU bombarded the colonial office with petitions against the Alake and the Resident between August 1946 and May 1947.

 

When the women delegation met with the Alake on October 5, 1946, still, no respite came. This culminated in the final decision by the Alake to increase the flat rate tax on women, with the active connivance of the Resident. In mid-October of that year, a mass protest erupted, made up of about a thousand women. They marched outside the king’s palace with their furious demand and legendary hate songs against the Alake. Their major demand was the abolishment of direct taxation.

 

Like the incandescent Afrobeat songs of her son, the irrepressible Fela Ransome-Kuti, Funmilayo helped the women compose a stinging song against the Alake in Yoruba, which translation ran thus: “Idowu (Alake) you have used your penis as a mark of authority against us for far too long a time; posturing that you were our husband. Today, however, the table has turned and we are poised to reverse the equation by deploying our vagina as a weapon of conquest to play the role of husband on you… O you former men conquerors, the head of the vagina has sought vengeance.” It was in part a feminist epistemology.

 

Rather than being mild on the women, the Resident furiously tackled the protesters with the aid of teargas canisters and beat them up mercilessly. The protests continued nevertheless. The women subsequently sent petitions to Britain against the Resident and Alake. On January 3, 1949, the women succeeded in “beating the Alake up” as they forced him to abdicate the throne after his deposition by the British government. He sought exile somewhere in Osogbo, current Osun State.

 

Women in the viral video, who may have been found Abeokuta as well, and their Minna counterpart, seem to be of the opinion that Tinubu needs beating up. How they want to do this, whether in the Ransome-Kuti mode or otherwise, leaves much to be desired. The presidential media office was so disingenuous that it claimed that the protests were politically motivated. What other motivation is more potent than hunger wracking the bellies of the people? What is most apparent in Nigeria today is that bringing sanity to the economy is fast slipping off government’s grips like a running hare. The economy and insecurity have defied all solutions. At the conclusion of a meeting of the Armed Forces Ruling Council in October 1986, Gen Ibrahim Babangida turned to the Inspector- General of the Nigeria Police Force, Etim Inyang, to ask for the whereabouts of two rampaging and notorious armed robbers, Lawrence Anini and Monday Osunbor, by saying, ‘My friend, where is Anini?’ Today, Tinubu too may have to turn to Wale Edun and Yemi Cardoso to ask, “my friends, where is the economy?”

 

Government keeps lapping up the refrain of seeking people’s understanding. Yet, agony, pain and hunger have become constant companions of the people. Rumours are rife that there is massive corruption and governmental heists today in the Villa. Government officials live as if Nigeria was in an unending saturnalia, rather than the recession that the country is battling. In the midst of this, Femi Gbajabiamila, Chief of Staff to the president, lent himself as an affirmation that this government relishes abandoning substance, to make mountains of hubris. He demonstrated this last Thursday at a book launch. While speaking, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives lamented that the social media had become a “societal menace” and in need of urgent regulation to avert the “great danger” it poses. Well said. To be fair to Gbajabiamila, he has been a recipient of several lacerating posts and comments on the social media which could make anyone go into depression. One of these dwelt on his law practice in America and allegations of graft as Tinubu’s CoS. No one should receive such pummeling from a medium and still seek its flourishing. Of a reality, many people have also lamented that the social media needs regulation because, not only has the social media become a home of falsities, the ease with which names are pulled down on it without authenticity is benumbing. However, I am of the firm belief that only the people themselves should regulate their networking platforms, not government.

 

Gbajabiamila must know that you cannot spank a child and still retain the right to prevent the child from weeping. A good government will curb social media excesses with its positive governance. If the CoS does not know, it is that same social media that has served as life-saving escapism to millions of people. It is what rescues them from the pure malady that has been offered the people as governance. The alternative of a platform to ventilate their grouses against government is an upsurge of mad people on the streets. Today, under this government, Nigerians are restless and on the edge. Hope is fast dissolving into hopelessness. Clue, it will appear, is a scarce commodity in Aso Rock. Inflation has reached its crescendo, the highest in Nigeria’s history, with hunger and starvation becoming regular guests in every Nigerian home. Gbajabiamila, it will seem, is not intent on communicating hope but an elimination of a major weapon which the people use to vent their anger. If you arrest protesting women of Minna for articulating the grouses of about 200 million Nigerians, cavalierly legislate against the social media, then, we have arrived at a full-fledged brutality. Our own Chilean Augusto Pinochet would then be the renewed draconian hope.

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