Reading Tunde Fagbenle’s column “Saying it’ The way it is” in the Sunday Punch of June 1, 2014, I was flabbergasted with the twists and turns of the article which sought to suggest what elementary anthropology deemed to be a human factor to be a Yoruba factor. With Mr. Fagbenle’s pedigree of classy erudition and intellect, I expect his approach in that article, especially given the subject matter, to be more even-handed and panoramic so as not to give unintended impressions and conveyed unsavoury insinuations about the Yoruba people.
One of the major challenges of some sections of Yoruba intelligentsia has always been their readiness and eagerness to sell short their race and their people in trying to satisfy others. Or at times, in attempt to be seen to be fair, some of them would even risk being unfair to their people and paint them insalubriously. The Fagbenle article in question is seen in this mould by this author. And the article by Dr. Femi Aribisala that informed it is not different in any way.
In the first instance, the story told by Dr. Aribisala could not have been “the only side of the story” in what transpired between him and Professor Gabriel Olusanya. It is impossible for the rest of us (except those who have intimate knowledge of the situation) to decipher what other variables played any role in that situation for that matter. If he had such experience repeatedly to the extent he was willing to paint all the Yoruba intelligentsia and or leadership across the board with an ignoble brush as contained in his and Dr. Fagbenle’s articles, there could have been other variables involved that resulted into his “unpleasant experiences.”
Experience, they say is the best teacher. But if what Dr. Aribisala’s experience has been able to teach him is only that the Yoruba “does not help their own”, then he might have certain personal inhibitions that have not served him well. But this is not say that there are no Yoruba intelligentsia/leaders who would not lift a finger for a fellow Yoruba, but my contention is that this is not a unique phenomenon exclusive to the Yoruba of any stratum but a human factor. Where there are such people unwilling to help, there are always so many others willing to do so. It is just a human phenomenon, but an exclusive characteristic of the Yoruba or any other ethnic nationality across the planet.
I do not know either Dr. Aribisala or Professor Olusanya personally. I have no idea what happened between them. But whatever it is or was, would not really matter right now. What matters now is the suggestion as transmuted by Mr. Fagbenle in his article referenced above that it is a Yoruba characteristic not to help their kind or “pull up” their fellow Yoruba, when evidentially this is not a Yoruba malaise but a human one.
Dr. Aribisala may be correct when he postulated that “The Boko Haram Are Not Northern Nigerians.” Boko Haram may not all be Northern Nigerians, but Northern Nigerian leaders have courted them, tolerated them and sought to use them as political instruments until everything boomeranged. Even then, it still does not make every Northern leader evil and devilish. There is nothing wrong about conveying some positives about Northern Nigerians and or their leaders as Dr. Aribisala did. In social science, we all are disposed to the theory that no person or group of persons, not to speak of an entire race of a people, is completely bad or good.
What is wrong is for Dr. Aribisala to allow his personal disagreement turned hatred for and of Professor Olusanya blind him into making intellectually untenable statements that could call into question his pedigree of erudition. To suggest that the “True Northerners are the most upright, most accommodating and most humane of Nigerians,” is toxic and injuriously sentimental. Unless he does not want to be taken seriously any more in the arena of public discourse, he could not be making such intellectually vacuous statements.
This statement by Dr. Aribisala cannot stand on the pedestal of scrutiny, congregate in the comity of facts, mingle in the community of anthropology or hibernate in the mix of History. To categorically state that “True Northerners are the most upright” is an insult to other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria who have at one point or the other produced men of sterling characters in the leadership of this doomed country.
I do not know the basis for this kind of untenable claim by Dr. Aribisala, but it is very much unbecoming of an intellectual. What research has he done to conclude that the “Northerners” are the “most upright” than say the Igbo, the Edo, the Ibiobio, the Yoruba, the Efik or other Southerners? Is Dr. Aribisala auditioning for his next appointment under the “expected Northern Presidency” after President Jonathan’s tenure? Is this why he is willing to drag the Yoruba intelligentsia and leadership in the mud to get a medal?
Given the travails of the country under the leadership of the “Northerners” since 1960, how much integrity would this statement carry that “Northerners” are the “most upright” of all Nigerians? In the face of contemporary history and the facts available, how “accommodating” have the Northern Nigerians been? How humane could we adjudge them in the face of what all of us know? Yet, given the same history and facts, could we possibly conclude that all Northerners are blood thirsty, mean and wicked? No. This is where the fallacy of Dr. Aribisala’s and Mr. Fagbenle’s reductionism lies about the Yoruba not wanting to “pull up” theirs.
In an attempt to echo Dr. Aribisala, Mr. Fagbenle regurgitated some of the former’s positions. In the course of that, sweeping statements were made about the reluctance or outright unwillingness of the Yoruba intelligentsia and leadership to help their own. To make his case, Mr. Fagbenle also wrote the following:
“If you were looking for an example of people who act out the ‘crab in a basket’ syndrome, look no farther than the Yoruba. It is said that they typify the PhD disorder.”
This kind of suggestion is not just preposterous and gratuitous, it smacks of near aridity of intellectuality. In the realm of social science, it is untenable. In psychoanalysis, it sounds insolent and ridiculous. In anthropology, it is indefensible, pedestrian as it is untenable.
Dr. Aribisala and Mr. Fagbenle should come out and tell the rest us the stories of any race on the surface of the planet that has not the mix of the good and the bad. Not all Northern Nigerians are bad but not all of them are good either. This would apply to any race on the surface of the earth. Among the Hausa/ Fulani, we have those who are kind hearted and those who are plainly villainous. Same goes with the Yoruba, Igbo, Tiv, Kataf or any ethnic group in Nigeria. Go across the continents, you would see a representation of the good, the bad and the ugly amongst all the races of the world.
Those of us who have worked outside Nigeria have a lot of mixed experiences with several races. For example, one of my greatest benefactors is from Poland. But does that mean every Pole is a good and kind hearted man? Or that every European is a Saint? Simply because Dr. Aribisala’s experience with Professor Olusanya has been unsavoury, does that mean every Yoruba man is bad to a Yoruba man? Is Mr. Fagbenle suggesting that there are no Northerners who had sordid experiences with other Northerners? Does that mean that Northerners then, do not help Northerners?
The most vexatious and egregious part of Dr. Aribisala’s statement and reproduced by Mr. Fagbenle is the claim “Without Northerners, Nigeria would be a very poor country indeed.” This statement is not just vexatious, it is vacuous. Amongst most Nigerians who feel the pangs of the misery inflicted upon them in the last fifty years, this view would amount to adding insult to their injury and suggesting the rest of us are all nincompoops. I am not sure if a poll is conducted amongst Nigerians today, this sentiment of Dr. Aribisala echoed by Mr. Fagbenle, would be reflected.
It is very disappointing and indeed agonizing that vastly read men, such as Dr. Aribisala and Mr. Fagbenle could not see human nature and acknowledge it despite their pedigree of pulsating intellect, erudition and circumspection. But rather, they have to engage in ridiculous reductionism by making what is evidently a universally accepted fundamental of anthropology, and by extension, a human characteristic, and consecrate it as an idiosyncrasy exclusive to the Yoruba intelligentsia and or leadership. In their uncontrolled enthusiasm to “look good” to outsiders as “fair-minded”, they disregarded the ennobled caution of intellect, mauled the integrity of candour and mangled the very fairness they sought to advocate by unfairly blackmailing their Yoruba race and sacrificing its leadership/intelligentsia on the awful altar of egregious “holier than thou” fair-mindedness.