Not content with dividing the ‘throne’ of Ibadan and dashing them to his 21 kings, essentially to spite the current Olubadan of Ibadan, Oba Saliu Adetunji, Governor Abiola Ajimobi last weekend decided to add insult to injury: He said one of the young wives of the 89-year old monarch used to run love errands for him back in the days. That has spurred the “Authentic Ibadan Mogajis” to issue a seven-day ultimatum to Ajimobi to withdraw the statement. But the question is: If Ajimobi doesn’t withdraw his statement, and one of his commissioners has already made it very clear that the governor will not, what can the Ibadan Magajis do?
Fielding questions from reporters working for the state owned media agency, Broadcasting Service of Oyo State (BCOS), Ajimobi, who incidentally is an Ibadan man, minced no words as to who calls the shot between him and the Olubadan. “It was wrong of Olubadan not to come to Mapo Hall for the coronation (of the 21 new kings). Whether he likes it or not, he (Olubadan) is under the local government because he who pays the piper dictates the tunes. It is an offence for Olubadan to ignore government directive. I spent over N100 Million Naira on Olubadan’s coronation” said Ajimobi who added, “One of Olubadan’s wives is my younger sister. I used to send her to my girlfriends when we were young.”
There are so many ways to look at that abuse of power writ large. “I spent over N100 million Naira…” That is public funds Ajimobi is talking about but we all know about the lack of accountability and transparency in the Nigerian public space, even before the gubernatorial Freudian Slip in Oyo State. But if one can excuse the pompous allusion to he who pays the piper dictating the tune, and its ominous implications for good governance, it is very telling that Ajimobi would use one of the monarch’s wives to demonstrate their unequal relationship.
In neighbouring Osun State, there is a similar development as the saga of the broken marriage of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi, continues. Following some unsavoury insinuations, Olori Wuraola (maiden name, Zaynab Otiti-Obanor) last week issued a public statement that the marriage between her and the Ooni had indeed crashed. For effect, she added: “We have to stop this culture of shaming and vilifying women with false stories of infidelity and nefarious behaviour. The spreading of false information (through ‘sources’ afraid to be identified) is the mark of cowards and a cover up for guilty parties to justify their horrific actions. The attempt to tarnish the name of a Queen, in defence of a silent king, makes all involved look terrible.”
With that, the social media (where the entire marriage played out from the beginning to the end) went into overdrive. Yet, stripped of all pretensions, traditional rulers are human beings who, like the rest of us, can love and be loved; or more appropriately in this instance, be unloved. So, it is be no big deal that the Ooni’s wife has decided to take a walk from the palace. The snag, however, is that some Ifa priests have added their own drama to the mix by warning all interested men to stay away from the beautiful ex-queen or else…
According to the much respected Chief Yemi Elebuibon, “any man who sleeps with a queen or marries an ex-queen without the appropriate cleansing may die prematurely; he may be struck with sickness or there might be retrogression in his life.” Therefore, should the woman formerly known and addressed as Olori Wuraola seek to date again, she “will be asked to consult Ifa and Ifa will give directions on how she will make the necessary atonement for her cleansing.” Elebuibon explained further that for the ex-queen to remarry, she will have to do the cleansing with her new husband. “Any marriage she would be going into must not be elaborate. They should go far away and avoid any flamboyant wedding,” Elebuibon warned.
The question is: If you are a man and you hear of all these “prescriptions”, would you still be bold enough to take any risk with the former queen, no matter how much love you profess for her?
Meanwhile, if you imagine that it is only the rich and powerful that is in this game of love and its consequences, then you have apparently not been following the news around the country. Last weekend in Durmin Biri, a community in Kafur Local Government Area of Katsina State, a young man by name, Yari Inusa, died while competing in a Fulani traditional game of Sharo which entails two male suitors flogging each other for a woman’s hand in marriage. As the game goes, whoever wins between the two contending floggers will take the girl home as wife.
When the contest started, Inusa reportedly flogged his competitor, Ahmed Saidu, without any incident; but in the ‘return match’, Saidu literally took matters into his own hands by going for the head of Inusa, instead of hitting him on the back as the rules of the game dictates. Quite naturally, the love game ended on a tragic note: Inusa is now of blessed memory while Saidu is cooling off at a Police detention centre.
There is a way in which we can connect the three stories in a nation where gender not only shapes the distribution of power but also defines the mechanism and consequences of its relations. For instance, Ajimobi’s ‘your-Olori-was-running-errands-for-me’ loaded statement goes beyond a mere attempt to humiliate the Ibadan monarch; it speaks to an unequal power relation with gender as sub-text. The same goes for the attempt to foist on a divorced woman, regardless of who her former husband may be, a lifetime of forced celibacy, for reasons that border on mere ego, even when couched in some inexplicable traditions. And when men begin to physically duel for the hand of a woman in marriage, it goes without saying that the victor reserves enormous powers over such ‘trophies’ when won.
These are of course not isolated cases as they fit into a pattern of unequal gender relations in Nigeria. That explains why a 70-year-old widow in Ebonyi State was recently paraded naked around her village for having an affair with a 30-year-old man. Against the background that the age differential that led to the molestation of the woman would not have mattered were she to be a man, and the love interest of the opposite sex, you get the picture that the challenge of gender inequalities in our country is deeply political.
Unfortunately, this unequal relationship has more or less been given official imprimatur by President Muhammadu Buhari, whose appointments do not reflect gender sensitivity. Besides, by saying, as he did last year in Germany, that the role of his wife does not extend beyond the kitchen and “the other room”, the president was merely reinforcing the traditional gender stereotype that has no bearing on the reality of modern Nigeria and the contributions of our women.
That very point has just been underscored by the Albert Einstein Foundation that is currently “embarking on a global initiative to inspire the next generation of brilliant minds and bring fresh thinking to the problems facing our planet”. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the publication of Einstein’s ‘General Theory of Relativity’, the Foundation is releasing to the public the world’s first 3D-printed book titled, “Genius: 100 Visions of the Future”. And it is remarkable that among the “100 of the leading influencers, thinkers, artists and scientists of our time” selected from across the globe by the Foundation, are two Nigerians who happen to be women: Literary icon, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and technocrat-turned activist, Obiageli (Oby) Ezekwesili.
With each of these 100 personalities, among them Nobel Laureates and renowned scholars, writing a 250-word essay for the historic publication that will be launched this weekend in Montreal, Canada, the point I am making is that there is nothing to suggest that men are more endowed than women, even in Nigeria. Therefore, there is no basis for the privilege system that we seem to have institutionalized or the gender arrogance that has only held back our nation from the prosperity that comes from empowering our women and girls.
However, I must state very clearly here that I am not a feminist, whatever that may mean. But as a father of two girls and a boy, I refuse to accept that any of my children is superior or inferior to the other on account of gender while I detest all practices that tend to put down our girls and women or limit their capacity for self-actualisation. That was the point the National Assembly missed when, in the course of a recent Constitutional amendment process, they practically rendered married women in Nigeria “stateless” in the distribution of opportunities in the manner they dealt with the issue of “citizenship and indigeneship”.
All said, I am quite aware that it is not easy to change cultures and traditions that have evolved over centuries. But to develop as a nation, we must drop all gender bias and move towards an inclusive society that recognizes both the worth and the contributions (including the intangibles) that our women bring to the table. That will require not only deliberate policy choices but also a change in the mindset of the men in positions of power at all levels.
Ogbeha @ 70!
At the thanksgiving service for my late father in Ilorin, Kwara State in August 2006, I was surprised when I looked back to see a certain Jonathan Tunde Ogbeha inside the church, sporting the same Ankara print that my family and friends were also wearing for the occasion. Although I knew him to be a fan of my writing (which was what brought us together in the first place), I have since found out that Ogbeha, a retired Brigadier-General, former Military Administrator and two-term Senator from Kogi State, is a man who values friendships and relationships to which he is ever true. It therefore came as no surprise that as he clocked 70 last Friday (1st September), his small residence at Apo Legislative Quarters could not contain the crowd of important personalities that turned up as early as 7am for the morning Anglican birthday communion service to mark the occasion.
I have over the years learnt a lot from Ogbeha’s simplicity and strength of character and as he joins the class of septuagenarian, even when he doesn’t look it, I wish him many more years of good health and all-round prosperity.