SUNDAY NARRATIVE: Two Fighting!
IN my primary school days, some of us were class monitors. Our job then was to compile names of noisemakers and other rule breakers while the teacher was away. The rules normally, were that, nobody should make noise and nobody was to move from his bench to another location. You also should not eat until it was break time, at which the school timekeeper would sound the bell. The job of the class monitor was to put down names of anyone who broke those rules. But when two pupils decided to engage each other in a fisticuffs, the monitor would dash out of the room to announce ‘two fighting’, in the hope that the class teacher or another senior person would come to rescue the situation.
In those days we were thought to be well comported at school, which is a public space. When we got home, parents were supposed to complement teachers’ efforts, so that at the end of the day, we would be well equipped as good and responsible citizens.
Today, I have found myself in an uncomfortable position of a class monitor and what I’m about to report could ‘draw some blood’. I do not intend to deliberately draw any blood and I am not offering any warning. I’m simply appealing that because of the subject of this narrative, some persons could get angry to descend heavily on me. I’m not looking for trouble, but I’m also not shy to talk about it in case others are.
I am announcing this morning that two elders are fighting. Two great personalities, great Nigerians and great Yoruba are fighting. And I’m searching frantically for fellow elders to calm them down, but I can’t find one. Some may have tried to wade into the matter behind close-doors, but the two personalities have remained recalcitrant. They are throwing feisty jibes at each other, not physically yet, but through press conferences, lectures, letters and most recently, in books, predetermined and deliberately woven to achieve certain damages, just like missiles are primed to do in Syria, Afghanistan or even our Samibisa forest.
In folklores, we actually did have occasions when rivalries were settled by words of mouth, as in using songs and poetry to pass very caustic messages. Sometimes, it is entertainment and nobody gets seriously damaged beyond being jeered at on the morning after at the market square. Perhaps, it is that same tradition that is at play here, using a different medium.
At the presentation of his latest book, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka had recently warned that he would draw blood. He said the book InterInventions would be the nastiest he has ever written. I am yet to see a copy of the book, but I can imagine that Prof’s regular customer, former president Olusegun Obasanjo will feature prominently on the list of those who got bloodied. Soyinka does not shy from a good fight and the weapons that he deploys are usually deadly. Prof. kills with language.
Obasanjo, on the other hand is equally rugged, a pugilist who does not discriminate about sizes of his preys, thick-skinned and controversy-hugging. He is equally murderous with his language. If these two greatests, no pun intended here, were on a stage, they would provide a robust and rewarding engagement for spectators. On a pay-per-view, whoever is their promoter would record box office success. But that is not what we have now, those benefiting are, perhaps, the two of them, their publishers and newspapers and other media outlets, who profit from the scurrilous effusions to make fascinating headlines.
On a second thought, I think the economics of it is really encouraging. Obasanjo’s last book, My Watch, has sold out. I do not have the figures, but I can bet it is a hit, even with the damage bootleggers are doing to it. I am an accomplice here, because I got the books at a filling station for far less than its official price. I’m really sorry, but I was tempted. But the point is that Obasanjo should be encouraged to write more and make more money for himself, his publishers and even the pirates. I just hope that the Ogun State government gets adequately rewarded in taxes, for providing an enabling environment for these two great elders to sit down and write captivatingly.
On content, this is where some people may have issues with what these men put into their books. Before now, Soyinka was the voice of everybody who is downtrodden and oppressed and frustrated. From his earliest days, he was Talkawa minded, and anti oppressive regimes. Socially, he was against dissemblers in public and private places, who cheat with religion and tribe and public resources. But of late, he shows some fascination for certain political leanings. For instance, we see more of All Progressives Congress (APC’s) governors at his coven, where he also makes regular political statements that betray his preferences. All men are political animals, they say, so the man is entitled to his choices. Except that he might begin to select his audience too. But generally, Soyinka’s stuff is genial and public spirited.
Obasanjo, on the other hand, carefully selects content to achieve certain targets. He seems in a hurry to pay back those who may have thought little of him in his growing and trying days. He is unforgiving of those who trespassed against him, but would trespass and ride roughshod on others. In most of his books, he is either explaining forcefully, claims that only him can verify, even when there are other characters in the books that are still living; or working hard to obliterate other facts of history.
We are not doing any book reviews here and we are also not profiling anybody. We are simply trying to understand a face-off that is getting fierce by the day, with the sole aim of providing an insight for good members of the public to intervene. I’m tempted to see of their fight the continuation of an old rivalry that may not be that life-threatening if the two continue to maintain good distance. Soyinka said he would not take a morsel from Obasanjo if he hosted him, unless the host swallows the first okele. That’s plain hyperbole, a joke. It is really not that bad.
If history will bear us witness, we had seen very entertaining and similar face-offs among equally great sons of Ogun State. We used to have a Fela Anikulapo, who did not give an MKO Abiola an inch of peace. Fela made MKO the butt of his abusive musical jibes. Some say they used to be college mates, an old rivalry that graduated into adulthood, perhaps. Obasanjo did not see eye-to eye with MKO, another carryover of an old rivalry too. Fela made huge mockery of Obasanjo and his acclaimed military exploits and was compensated by regular visits of the armed men. Soyinka was not the best of friends with MKO; I do not know of any personal quarrels, except there could be some social revulsion for MKO’s humongous and hard-to-countenance wealth, which could be hubris. But the good thing is that they made up. MKO reportedly prostrated for his egbon when he needed his blessings on his way to June 12. Good ending. Soyinka stood with June 12.
Obasanjo also has a disliking for the political leadership of Ogun State, beginning from the revered sage, chief Obafemi Awolowo, and all his disciples who came after. Obasanjo does not have political friends in the Southwest, apart from lackeys who benefit at his court.
It could be something about the spirit of the Yoruba man, fearless, independent-minded, creative, intelligent and unconquerable. I can’t put a finger to it. There are elders who can put it better and explain what is happening. My concern here is that there was a great sense in regional harmony when Nigeria seemed far saner. There is a far greater need for it now that she is grappling with the definition of a country. All politics is local, they say.
Apart from the economics and entertainment value of the elderly jibes, there is a corresponding social deficit. These men are great subjects of our social studies; in those days, we memorized names of our great historical, political and literary figures. The younger ones are watching and reading vituperations from our elders. They are probably mimicking their languages. Sociologists and historians may have a worry or two here. I leave them with the challenge of what to do.
Permit me to make a religious quip. At a certain age, we ought to contemplate the heavens as we detach earthily. We were told Soyinka knew everything about the Bible before age 12. Society has done a lot to make him change his mind. I can understand all that. Obasanjo has certified himself holy and may have awarded his own heavenly records even before the Final Judgment. But I still think we need God here.
Finally, I’m offering my InterInvetion in the face-off. I can be reached anytime.