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The Royal Fatwa By Niyi Osundare

April 10, 2015

"But if Oba Akiolu’s speech was intemperate and frightening, the response of the Igbo delegation’s spokesman was irritating. To break into a soccer stadium pep song (‘Winner ooo, winner...) in that kind of achingly serious setting is downright irresponsible."


I watched, with apprehension and disbelief,  the video footage  of the recent meeting between  the Oba of Lagos, His Highness Rilwan Akiolu and  leaders of the Igbo communities in Lagos. The Oba spoke with the shuddering intensity of a monarch whose territory was under severe invasion.

There was an unmistakable agitation in his voice; a palpable seriousness in his body language. When a Yoruba monarch of Oba Akiolu’s caliber leaps  from his seat in the middle of a speech, you need nobody to tell you that the matter under discussion must be grave and grievous.

The burden of the Oba’s concern was the astonishing sweep in Lagos  by Igbo candidates in the March 28 federal assembly elections and their apparent support for a Lagos State gubernatorial candidate  that was far from the Oba’s favour.

To be sure, I am not one of those who buy into the illusion that our ‘royal fathers’ are  above politics, as if there is something in the royal wand that inoculates these ‘special’ people against the notoriously resistant virus of political partisanship.

Deep down, beneath the glittering glamour of the crown is the passion that tugs at the irrational part of the body-politic. We are all political animals.

Can anyone say beyond all doubt that the Nigerian figures that tumbled out for favoured candidates  in the last election in different parts of the country were completely without the royal blessing of some Eze or Obi in the east, some Amayanabo in the south- south, some Emir in the north?

Can anyone count the number of times we have seen people thumb-printing ballot papers in the royal father’s palace one full week before an election or how so often the palace has served as a safe haven for snatched ballot boxes on election day?

The evocative tenor of Oba Akiolu’s speech was just as frightening as the oracular  intensity of his pronouncements . Those versed in Yoruba metaphysics will tell you that you don’t invoke Osa (the Lagoon) without a prodigiously serious reason. That looming mysterious body of water is no place to wish anyone to end up, not even your most inveterate  political adversary.   

But if Oba Akiolu’s speech was intemperate and frightening,  the response of the Igbo delegation’s spokesman was irritating in its harlequinade and deceptive clownishness. To break into a soccer stadium pep song (‘Winner ooo, winner...) in that kind of achingly serious setting  is downright irresponsible.

To then get the Igbo delegation to chorus the name of the Oba’s pronounced favourite gubernatorial candidate is to carry the act of survivalist  pandering to a new, disingenuous low.  A cheap insult to the intelligence of all concerned - and the rest of us. The red-capped spokesman’s statement was belied by every word he spoke.

Both the Oba’s threat-soaked pronouncements and the Igbo delegation’s disingenuous response point up again that recurring decimal in the arithmetic of Nigeria’s political discourse: Nigeria is still very much a jungle of contending ‘tongues and tribes’.

The fear of ethnic domination that has dogged our steps for over a century is still there, gaining new guises, donning new masks in every sphere, in every forum, in every election season. The ‘National Question’ which received only opportunistic  political  mention   during the recent presidential campaigns is crying for a place in the forefront of our national discourse – and action.

We must not wait for another ethnic cleansing, then another civil war. President Buhari, Vice President Osibajo (titling you prospectively), please take a look at the video in question. Add its ominous implications to your list of presidential ‘to-do’s’ and ‘to-undo’s’.