1st January, 2022
strong>By Oladeinde Olawoyin
He wanted to fly, but he eventually became a fly. Sunday Igboho sneaked into Cotonou with a secret plan to fly to Germany, but, accidentally, he landed on the most sensitive part of Nigeria’s genitals. What do our elders say about a fly that perches on the scrotum? Caution.
In July, weeks after he was declared wanted by Nigeria’s secret police, Sunday Adeyemo a.k.a Sunday Igboho was arrested by the Beninese police while trying to travel to Germany, and then transferred to the Cotonou Criminal Brigade. He has since remained in Benin, his fate hanging in the balance.
In the turbulent years of the Yoruba fratricidal wars, dubbed the era of revolution, brain and brawn separated men who survived or died in the numerous battles for crowns and kingdoms across the Yoruba country. Amid sounds of gunfire, kingdoms were founded and wiped off, warriors birthed and put to the sword, hamlets built and razed to the ground. From the ruins of wars, heroes emerged as villains and villains strutted around as heroes. Many who made names were thrown up by a blend of myth and might, especially from military cities like Ibadan, Ijaye, and Abeokuta.
Enter Ogedengbe, Ogunmola, Ibikunle, Odenlo, Kurunmi, Sodeke, Aole, Fabunmi e.t.c. Like the Oduduwa era before it, the Yoruba have since moved past the revolutionary era.
But in the first half of 2021, some towns and villages in Yorubaland fell into the hands of marauders and murderous gunmen. The people screamed and cried for help. It was as though they had been transported yet again to the revolutionary era when carcasses of humans littered the streets in a barbaric show of force. But this time, they reasoned, the war wasn’t fratricidal. In some places, especially in Oyo, survival became a matter of utmost savagery. Those who went to farm had their heads plucked off whimsically, and women who went to the stream returned with tales of carnal violence.
The hotbed of the crisis was Oke-Ogun region, where the streets of Igangan in the heart of Ibarapaland flowed with the blood of innocent souls.
In December 2020, a known philanthropist and influential employer of labour, Dr. Fatai Aborode, was murdered in cold blood. The murder, at the time, was just one of many other tales of deadly attacks and rape in the town, including the massacre of 20 people in June 2021
Meanwhile, in almost all of the narratives surrounding the criminal attacks in Igangan, as in other parts of Yorubaland, “Fulani herdsmen” appeared prominently as alleged masterminds. In the minds of many who weren’t witnesses to the crimes in those villages, including this writer, it was not as though some criminal elements of Yoruba descent couldn’t have been behind some of the evil acts. After all, crime has no ethnicity, as investigations into the late Aborode’s murder would later suggest. But at the height of the killings, many were genuinely worried about the laissez faire reactions of the Oyo government and, more ominously, the do-nothing posture of the federal government, headed by the insouciant Muhammadu Buhari.
So those who saw through the folly of campaigns and conspiracy theories premised on claims of “ethnic cleansing” sweeping across villages and cities in Oke-Ogun could do little or nothing to keep peoples’ anger in check, in the face of the clear absence of governance.
When the din got to its crescendo, a certain Sunday Igboho emerged from the rubble, threatening fire and brimstone. He would move through crowds of angry indigenes, appeal to their emotional needs, assure them of safety, and threaten to sack the invaders maiming and raping “awon anti ati broda wa” (our aunts and brothers) from “Ori Ile Baba wa” (our fathers’ land). Given the scale of criminality, and near-total collapse of governance in the region, he became an instant hero among the people, understandably so, and began to enjoy cult followership, like a true revolutionary.
Yet up until he was thrust forward by governance vacuum, Igboho was no revolutionary, at least in the estimation of many. He was at best an irritant, a ready-made weapon of political violence in the hands of the highest bidder.
In that sense he was no Yoruba hero in the mould of Awo, or Ajasin, or Adesanya, or Ige. He possessed not Awo’s moral stature, nor Ajasin’s sagely wisdom, or Adesanya’s principled doggedness, or Ige’s oratory prowess. Even though all of these leaders didn’t enjoy unanimous support among the Yoruba in their times, Igboho wasn’t even any close in terms of respectability and charisma.
Yet when the marauding men came, it was from Igboho’s direction that the people sought help. He was like the proverbial Yoruba ‘Omo Buruku’ (bad child) that has his own day of usefulness. And so, Igboho’s story shows yet again why all heroes aren’t necessarily heroic in the eyes of all.
Awo, bar Oduduwa, remains the most important leader of the Yoruba race. But the same revered sage, among a significant section of Igbos, remains an ‘ethnic jingoist’ who starved innocent children to death during the civil war. Achebe even claimed that Awo was “driven by an overriding ambition for power…” Ojukwu, who, at the height of the progrom up north, faced the challenge of shouldering the burden of Ndigbo, was widely considered a ‘beastly war monger’ in songs among folks in the north. Bello, whose death northerners still lament till today whenever issues of leadership failure comes up, remains a ‘rabid Igbo hater’ in the minds of some Igbo compatriots. Even Zik, who once loomed large across the African horizon, ended up as the ‘Owelle of Onitsha’.
Yet they are all heroes, these men.
In some ways, Igboho embodies these contradictions, appearing as both hero and villain in equal measure. So when he hugged media headlines and threatened to sack marauding herders from Yorubaland, many observers took his interventions with practiced caution: his inflammatory rhetoric was dangerous because of its dire consequences, yet an urgent intervention was necessary because of the carnage, which the government had failed to arrest.
But Igboho, ever brash and restless, failed to keep his excesses at bay. Led on by excitable profiteers like Olayemi Koiki, the philistine who failed in his desire to hide his commercial intent under some phantom “media agitation”, Igboho became a castrated bulldog, barking at almost everyone in sight. His “Yoruba Nation” secessionist agenda, about which he has no ideological clarity nor a depth of vision, collided with a more popular campaign to install peace in troubled parts of Yorubaland. He would only have it his way or the highway; anyone, including kings, who expressed reservations about secession became a ‘traitor’ that must be “gunned down”.
That way he mimics Ojo Agunbambaru, one of the surviving sons of Bashorun Gaa, who escaped to the Bariba country at the massacre of Gaa’s children under Abiodun. Agunbambaru indiscriminately slaughtered Oyo chiefs and threatened the Onikoyi, two major flaws that weakened his strength. It was plausible that if Ojo had acted with prudence, he would have succeeded in his mission, and wouldn’t have been deserted at the most critical moment.
Like Agunbambaru, by the time Igboho was nabbed in Cotonou, he had cursed and abused almost everyone that mattered, thus alienating so many people from himself. And so when his ordeals began, and there were claims of vindictiveness on the part of Nigerian government, many paid little or no attention.
Yet Igboho’s excesses notwithstanding, how the nation treats him matters in conversations around Nigeria’s march towards peace and development, as well as discourses around the twin concepts of justice and equity, in the context of its treatment of “repentant” Boko Haram members, “bandits” and their apologists. And in this case, it matters not what the government does behind the camera; perception is stronger than reality.
For one, although he isn’t Nnamdi Kanu whose voice envelopes government’s directive on the streets of Igboland, Igboho remains a hero in the hearts of many, especially in Igangan and environs where the people now enjoy relative safety. So whatever happens to him and his presumed followers (like the so-called ‘Babalawo’ that was so unfairly punished for months despite having no strong connection with Igboho) would have ripple effect, at least, on how the people view the state which failed to protect them yet chose to punish their “hero”. Given the near-helpless posture of the government on present insecurity matters nationwide, it appears better to ply a less turbulent route.
Again, any discerning observer could see through the sombre, penitent direction of Igboho’s recent interventions. Of course it could be a decoy, given his present condition, but then it could as well be genuine.
In all, as in Kanu’s, a political solution could be thrown into the mix, with compromise reached from both sides. What’s not in doubt is that a vindictive gambit isn’t the solution to the Igboho conundrum. For, until the government delivers good, inclusive governance that guarantees safety and equity in distribution of democratic dividends, it’s only a matter of time before another Igboho emerges from the trenches.
Sunday Igboho may have been demystified as a braggart, but he remains a fly perched on the most delicate part of Nigeria’s phallus. Caution.
strong>-Oladeinde tweets via @Ola_deinde