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E ma Se Yonu By Pius Adesanmi

March 8, 2016

As the last born and only son of Alfred Dare Adesanmi and Lois Olufunke Adesanmi, I only narrowly escaped becoming a woman wrapper in my formative years. Had Baba Adesanmi had the Okonkwo inclination, he would have been extremely worried about my propensity to cling to Mama Adesanmi’s wrapper. 

Many of you who will read this essay will know Olajumoke the bread seller, your pastor, and the politician you can defend with your life while he robs your future. It is unlikely, however, that you have ever heard of Chinua Achebe or Things Fall Apart. That politician you are defending has destroyed the education system that would have taught you about Chinua Achebe. Okonkwo is the hero of Things Fall Apart, a famous novel written by the man called Chinua Achebe. In that novel, Okonkwo is worried about his son, Nwoye, who is clinging too much to his mother’s stories. That is why I said above that Baba Adesanmi would have been worried about me if he had Okonkwo’s temperament.

But Baba Adesanmi was not like Okonkwo. So I got to cling to Mama Adesanmi’s wrapper while growing up. In Isanlu, Kabba, and Egbe, the three Okun towns where I spent my entire childhood, Mama Adesanmi’s daily routine in the evening consisted of social visits to friends, extended family, and extended extended family. Sometimes she drove and sometimes she went around neighbourhoods on foot. 

On days that Mama Adesanmi did not drive, you would find me clinging to her wrapper with my left hand as we trudged the streets, stopping to greet every passerby. “E wokun Iya Iyabo.” Then the passerby would turn to me, pat me on the head, and say: “Bola omo mama e!” Then there will be the usual comment about me always clinging to Iya Iyabo’s wrapper. Mama Adesanmi’s first child, my elder sister, is Iyabo. Hence in Isanlu, Mama Adesanmi is Iya Iyabo to everybody. As for me, if you call me Pius, those who come from the first fifteen years of my life are usually lost. They know Bola, not Pius.

Bola clung to Iya Iyabo’s wrapper till he was nearly twelve years old. Everywhere we went, there was the usual gesture of communal giving and honoring. Iya Onireke will say, “Bola my son, take this sugarcane and be a good boy”; Iya Olosan will say, “Bola my son, take this orange and be a good boy”; Iya Onikuli will say, “Bola my son, take these kulikuli and be a good boy o; Iya Onidonkwa will say, “Bola my son, take this donkwa and be a good boy”; Iya Elepa will say, “Bola my son, take these groundnuts and be a good boy”; Iya Eleja will say, “Bola my son, take this dried fish and be a good boy”.

Giving a child clinging to his mother these kinds of gifts devolves from a very complex cultural architecture. The transaction is a gesture of “aponle” and “ayesi” (honour and respect) for the parent of the child. It would be sacrilegious for the child to accept the gift without first looking at his mother’s eyes and facial expressions for visual gestures of approval or disapproval. I would collect these gifts after ascertaining that a flicker of approval had crept into Iya Iyabo’s eyes. Then I would stand aside as Iya Iyabo would spend the next thirty minutes thanking the giver in an eternally-repeated cycle of “thank you”, “don’t mention”, “e seun ma” “haba, Iya Iyabo, ko t’ope. Omo mi daadaa ni Bola”.

There are days when the gift was monetary and this is where things got complex. Often, all the listed women would add one kobo, five kobo, or ten kobo to the gift. Mama Adesanmi would never allow me to collect money from these elderly women. I later came to determine that she allowed me to collect monetary gifts from only people in her own social and economic bracket or above: nurses, teachers, doctors, etc. One day I asked why there was class determination to who I could collect money from. 

Her answer has remained with me for more than thirty years. Whenever I allow you to collect monetary gifts from somebody, it means I know that the person can afford it and it will not cause him or his family any economic difficulties. Many of these Iyas offering you money are honouring your parents. They really cannot afford the money they are offering you. In our culture, you are not expected to collect such gifts. 

You recognize the gesture and their pure hearts. Iya alakara can afford to give you akara but she cannot afford to give you money. If she offers you money, she is just honouring your parents. That is why I always answer for you: “mama e ma se yonu”. What you do not know is that whenever your father hears that such poor women offered you money, he often returns to give them monetary gifts and receive prayers from them. Knowing when to say “e ma se yonu” when offered a gift is very important in our culture.

At about the time I was being taught the cultural significance of “e ma se yonu” in Isanlu, somebody was receiving the same lessons in a town called Ilaro in Ogun state. That person’s name is Femi Adesina, the man currently mismanaging President Buhari’s media machine – or mismanaging whatever it is that President Buhari isn’t mismanaging and wrecking all by himself.

Thus it was that at about the time President Buhari demonstrated his irredeemable blindness to symbolism by haughtily claiming that his kids are abroad because he can afford forex, my Nigerian of the year, a poor pensioner with a heart of gold, was busy donating her pension to help President Buhari fight corruption. I am fully in support of President Buhari’s anti-corruption war. I have always written that the bellyachers and badmouthers of that war – caterwaulers of President Jonathan’s edifice of corruption – should be ignored. I still maintain that point.

However, when Femi Adesina, a Yoruba man who grew up in the cultural world of “e ma se yonu”, runs gleefully to his Facebook page to announce the donation of a pensioner’s widow’s mite to his Oga’s anti-corruption effort, then you know that there is nothing that political aides cannot jettison in their erroneous belief that being marionettes for their principals is superior to being loyal to Nigeria. President Buhari had only just shown himself totally unworthy of this pensioner’s donation. Femi Adesina ought to have advised his Oga that the moment was tragically inauspicious for the Buhari presidency to seek to display such glorious symbolism and sacrifice for Nigeria on the part of a citizen since the President had only just done the exact opposite by showing himself incapable of symbolism and sacrifice.

In essence, what the man who announced the donation so gleefully on Facebook ought to have done is advise his Oga about the philosophy of “e ma se yonu”. Besides, I am sure that President Buhari does not have enough time on his plate to worry about what Femi Adesina posts on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. Whatever we see there is a function of his own choice and judgement. Time and again, Femi Adesina’s judgement turns out to be horrible.

All we need is to know about the great, patriotic gesture of this pensioner. You then add her to the 2016 National Honours List (alongside Dr. Stella Adadevoh). Then you elevate that pensioner to the status of a national example in civics, selflessness, patriotism, and sacrifice. But President Buhari cannot do any of this because he is in a bind. He is in no moral or ethical position to collect the gift of this pensioner on behalf of Nigeria because a citizen has risen up to make the sacrifice he has refused to make for Nigeria. Out of lack, a pensioner gives up the little she has to help Nigeria. Somebody who should be making the biggest sacrifice for Nigeria was on Al Jazeera declaring haughtily that he has enough forex to maintain his kids abroad. 

We know that. But the moment you become President, the exigencies of symbolism is not about what you can afford. If the President’s kids are in public schools in Nigeria, a lot would change. Adamu Adamu would not be on an extended siesta in the Ministry of Education for starters. He would know that the President’s children are in his sector. He would work his ass off to get things right.

That money cannot be accepted. The pensioner cannot afford to give it to Nigeria. By the way, Nigeria has never done right by pensioners. What must be done is to honour her along the lines that I have suggested. But if I know Nigeria, the next honours list could feature Dino Melaye, Bukola Saraki, David Mark, and Godswill Apkabio. And they will all have supporters singing na God win.