At first sight, you would think you had seen Mammy Water, that fish god image created by Sir Victor Uwaifo, famous Joromi singer, Nigerian musician, sculptor and university lecturer. Should you run or obey Uwaifo? In Guitar Boy, Uwaifo sang: “If you see Mami water ohh,/If you see Mami Water ohh,/Never Never you run away,/Ehh, Ehh,/Never run away with your wife ohh.”
Or better still, you could think you were watching a dramatized version of Wole Soyinka’s The Trials of Brother Jero. Jero is a satiric comedy that parodies Nigerian religionists’ hypocrisy and cunning, which they garnish with seasonings of fraud and charlatanism. First produced at the Mellanby Hall of the then University College of Ibadan’s dining room in April, 1960, Jero was cast at the Lagos Bar Beach, with a self-labeled prophet protagonist named Jero, a master deceptor and manipulator. He deployed the beach church, without the usual brick and mortar, as avenue to eat other men’s wives’ marital cuisine, among other fleshly advantages. To Jero, prophethood was commerce, even as he exploited the cravings for power, social status and wealth of his client congregants.
A viral video, with almost same dosage of Jero’s, colonized the social media recently. From afar, it smelled of same scent of the Jero hypocrisy and charlatanism. It had its own Soyinka play’s Chume and Amope, although with different flavor. A protagonist cast self in the image of Jero, this time a woman. She sat inside the river, most likely the Lagos bar beach too, holding hands with four other men. The most identifiable of the lot was the voluble, stormy petrel of southwest politics and former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose. These bar beach enchanters were chanting in Yoruba, “Ayodele Peter Fayose, waa ri ogo re lo (you will recover and make use of your glory…).” What glory were they talking about? At a point, the woman Jero commanded the beach church congregants to hold their heads and chant, still in Yoruba, “my head, you will not goad me into calamity…” How can anyone reconcile a Fayose, embroiled in all those allegations of theft by the state and another allegation of acting as mole for the Lagos godfather, even while in the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) being in a place of sobriety like the church?
If you didn’t know, such level of spiritual enchantment, whether from sorcerers, babalawo, dibia, marabouts or occult prophets, brought to limelight, either by default or willingly by the Fayose beach prayers, is a miniature variant of what your high and mighty engage in. It is the regular broth that feeds Nigerian politics and government, a factor which, if a student of politics’ research methodology does not capture appropriately, they will only be pursuing a fatal academic mirage. How can you reconcile seeing a man who administered a Nigerian state for good eight years, a statesman by ascription – though not likely in conduct – descending into such abyss of what you may think is the province of the unlettered and bus conductors? While many ‘big men’ engage in similar rituals as Fayose did by the beach in that video, what could have propelled him into releasing it for the world to watch? Is watching the video part of the requirements of the ritual, to ensure that the world is conscripted into his spiritual agenda?
What is the place of occultism, black magic, Christianity, Islam and syncretism, in Nigerian politics, government and governance? In the first place, the received Western and Arabian religions predominant in Nigeria today met Africa with its full religions and practices. Chief among these are animism and deification of ancestors. In animistic beliefs, objects, creatures and places possessed distinct spiritual essences. Plants, rivers, animals, human handiworks like wood carvings, weather, astrology etc, were personified, made to possess animated existence and life of a living being. In other words, Africans created their gods in their own image and worshipped, most times, their own creations. Thus, when the west invaded Africa, armed with Quran and bible in one hand and commerce in another, they met a people who had centuries-old religious practices that had meandered into their bloodstreams and DNA. Over a century after this attempt to wipe away the culture and religion of Africa however, Africans still go back to their animism to explain their existence, their politics, economy and sundry life issues. It is why a pastor will be found burying a human being or other fetish things in the periphery of his church.
African politics is replete with this. At a conservative estimate, ninety per cent of people who go into political offices wangle their ways through by exploring the wands of the metaphysics of African religion. During the draconian rule of General Sani Abacha, marabouts were allegedly imported from Senegal and other North African countries to garnish the fortresses of Aso Rock with a pot-pourri of Arabian and traditional African sacrifices. Hundreds of cows were said to have been buried, not only on the peripheral outposts of Abuja, the Federal Capital, but in the surroundings of the Villa. That practice is said to subsist, even till today. No wonder ace columnist, Reuben Abati, claimed that there exist demons patrolling the outposts of the presidential Villa.
If Nigerians know the mounds of rituals and sacraments that go into pre-election processes, they will wonder whether they or African gods and goddesses indeed elect their so-called representatives into offices. Many of the governors dare not remove their dresses in public, lest the multifarious incisions and occult scarifications etched on their skins become public knowledge. A First Lady was alleged to have disappeared into the sea for two weeks to ensure the re-election of her husband while a live cow was once alleged to have been brought into the living room of an aspirant, preparatory to election. He later became governor.
In Yorubaland, roads that lead to political aspirants’ houses are decorated with corns and millets sacrifices called awo’ro (drawer of crowds). Awo’ro rituals are meant to invite multitude of electors to homes of these politicians. An ex-governor, during the period of electioneering, was alleged to have contracted some major sachet water companies to help him mix potions inside the water consumed by the underclass of his state. The aim was to trap electors to fall in love with him. At election time, fetish sacrifices adorned in palm oil litter road intersections where three footpaths meet, called oritameta. Seasons of politics are moments when dibia, babalawo and marabouts make their fortunes from these politicians. Christian and Moslem syncretists – Pastors and Imams – who use an admixture of western and Arabian liturgies and traditional African prescriptions also compete for the space, most times with rehearsed fraudulent prescriptions for these aspirants.
I was in the studio of Ibadan-based Splash FM last week, under the intellectual broadcasting direction of ace broadcaster, Edmund Obilo and this topic engaged interventions. This selfsame garrulous Fayose, in another viral video clip, alleged that governors come under the spell of some persons who hold them captive. Does metaphysics occupy space in Nigerian politics?
To be fair, recourse to extra-empirical indices as buoy for political offices and its sustenance isn’t strictly African. Chief of Staff to President Ronald Reagan of America, Donald Regan, in a 1988 book he authored, revealed secrets of his presidency and his and wife, Nancy’s penchant to travel the Fayose unempirical road. Regan had been ousted from office during the Iran-Contra scandal. In the book, entitled For The Record, which he called “the most closely guarded domestic secret of the Reagan White House,” Regan said: “Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House Chief of Staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favorable alignment for the enterprise.” This astrologer, who was later discovered to be Joan Quigley, decided the major decisions of Reagan and his wife Nancy, throughout their presidency. Quegley, in her 1990 book entitled What Does Joan Say?:My Seven Years As White House Astrologer to Nancy and Ronald Reagan, confirmed this, stating that: “I was responsible for timing all press conferences, most speeches, the State of the Union addresses, the takeoffs and landings of Air Force One. I picked the time of Ronald Reagan’s debate with (Jimmy) Carter and the two debates with Walter Mondale; all extended trips abroad as well as the shorter trips and one-day excursions.”
The effectiveness of astrology in controlled studies has not been ascertained. This has prompted submissions that astrology possesses no scientific validity, thus falling under same purview with pseudoscience like the engagements of marabouts, babalawo, Fayose’s Jero parody by the beach side and their allies. However, many critical decisions of state in Nigeria are said to be taken at the prodding and behest of spiritual godfathers, be they theologians, occult leaders and others. Those who seek favours from governors and key government officials are also said to approach officers of state robed in amulets and phials.
Is religious syncretism in Nigeria’s public space, especially by politicians, manifestation of greed of worship, unbelief in western and Arabian religions or going back to the roots? Do Nigerians indeed vote in their politicians or are aided to do so by juju? If elected or appointed public officials do not own decisions they take wholesale and are forced to do so by juju, why then do we hold them responsible for their failures? Should we then hold jazz(sorcerers, babalawo, dibia, marabouts or occultic prophets) responsible for the infiltration of 'religious' characters like Fayose as leaders of Nigeria, judging by how they bring low-mindedness into office and thus drag all of us, plus the fine art of governance, back to the first century AD?
Who will rescue our University of Ibadan?
The University of Ibadan, popularly known as UI, is currently undergoing one of its most challenging moments. The university that was once a great point of reference, even from its University College glory days, is now marooned as the epicenter of self-centered politics and everything-but-academic considerations. This has resulted in the threat against all those lofty achievements credited to this centre of learning, with the fear that they may be subsumed in the sewage. In the race for the Vice Chancellor office of the university is the proverbial wind that blew and the naked rump of a university associated with Professor Kenneth Dike is seen in its manifest dirt and rot.
UI, in its 73 years existence, had been dragged backwards severally by issues not strictly academic. From its Crescent and Cross crisis of the 1980s which pitted Islam adherents against Christian worshippers on its campus, to another religious war at its staff school which shot UI’s name into records of infamy, as well as allegations of plagiarism against some academics, the succession crisis of 2020 that the university sunk into after the expiration of the tenure of Professor of Applied Geophysics, Abel Idowu Olayinka, launched the school into another signpost of religion and tribe. A university that signposted the luscious growth of the academy for 73 years, began to dance to ethnic and religious tunes. In same 2020, Ibadan indigenes asked that Olayinka’s successor must hail from the former capital of the Western Region, while another group also came up to ask that whoever would be the next VC must wear a lapel of religion. The ghost of the Kenneth Dikes must feel insulted and assaulted.
Those who know say that the idea of the universe which the university stands for ended in UI with the glorious administration of Professor of Engineering, Olufemi Adebisi Bamiro and died with ex-Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole’s administration. His administration was said to have focused on governing the university like political governance. The carcass of the university was also said to have been exhumed by Olayinka and is threatening to die again, judging by the throes that the appointment of a VC for the school is undergoing. With Adewole, the VC began to drive in a convoy like political office holders and the VC appointed a Chief of Staff. It took the wise counsel intervention of the National Universities Commission (NUC) to stop this descent into the sewage of political governance by a respected academic institution.
Under Adewole, the main engagement of the university descended from strict academy to infrastructure, with the VC trapped inside the vortex of multiple contract awards. Today, contracts awarded by Adewole are said to be such that the contracts’ terminal life will outlive two VCs to come. The stake then increased for whoever would become the VC, commerce looming very large on the cards. Like they do in chieftaincies, lineups of who would be VCs for more than four consecutive terms were structured to reflect the “Adewole boys” professors. The clash of egos then became the second important factor in the UI crisis, with the afobaje (anointer) seeking to be relevant, even after leaving office.
Today, University of Ibadan oscillates on an uncertain loop. The several tendencies described above are competing heavily to outdo one another. As the tendencies clash, threatening to boomerang, the university’s Senate then met and appointed Professor of Philosophy and former DVC Academics under Olayinka, Adebola Ekanola, as its Acting Vice Chancellor, beginning from Dec. 1, 2020. Other tendencies are that of Adewole, manifested in Professor of Chemistry, Kayode Adebowale, who analyst said was Olayinka’s proposed successor, having served under him. Professor Abideen Aderinto, who personified the Muslim tendency, was Adewole’s candidate. Thus, apart from the Christian/Muslim tendencies of Adebowale and Aderinto, the clash between Olayinka and Adewole is also very dominant, with Adewole allegedly bringing in the fourth factor, the federal push, which manifests in suspected partisan intervention of Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, who allegedly dances to the Adewole beat.
University of Ibadan must reclaim itself from all these mundane tendencies and return to the business of academy. Stooges and surrogates of Abuja politicians who fool us with their scalpels and stethoscopes, with intention to turn our precious UI into a fiefdom, must be shown the way out. This can only be done by a proper assurance of the place of teaching and research in the university. Politicians masquerading as academics must be weeded out for the university to retain its sanity.